Stephen Harper’s foreign policy is truly Canadian

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By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 10-22-12

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done it again. By confronting Iran, he has championed Canadian values, and democracy. It’s ironic that one of the criticisms of his assertive, affirmative foreign policy is that it is somehow “not Canadian.” Fighting evil and refusing to maintain business as usual, even to the point of withdrawing your diplomats, marks a fulfilment of Canadian ideals, not a violation of them. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian mullocracy disrespect peace, order and good government. Canada’s controversial, principled prime minister has once again showed that he understands what each of those core concepts means.

Actually, we should ask the opposite question. What made serious, good, idealistic Canadians start believing that appeasement was the Canadian way? Diplomacy is, of course, a noble pursuit. And peace is preferable to war. But history teaches that frequently strength, morality and vision are the best guarantors of peace – especially when facing evil, ambitious, greedy powers. As every parent knows, giving in often makes unacceptable behaviours worse, not better.

Canadian academics and politicians took a lead role in trying to heal the world after the horrors of World War II. The Canadian contribution to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with McGill University’s John Peters Humphrey taking the lead, is a justifiable source of pride to Canadians. Similarly, Lester Pearson did great work in teaching the world that human rights standards should be universal and that peace can be achieved through what Winston Churchill called “jaw jaw” not “war war.”

But Pearson was no relativist. Among his great achievements was helping the world recognize its obligation to support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine in the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan. Supporting the initiative entailed taking a stand, articulating a moral position and rocking the boat. Similarly, when he said in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize that “ideas are explosive,” Pearson was acknowledging the power of ideas, while admitting that some ideas can be forces for good, even as others can be extremely harmful.

Unfortunately, the cataclysmic 1960s upset the moral compass of many of Pearson’s and Humphrey’s successors. As the United Nations degenerated from the world’s democracies’ attempt to spread democratic principles worldwide into the Third World dictators’ debating society, many in the West lost heart. Rather than defending the universality of certain key principles such as human rights, they succumbed as a crass coalition of Soviets, Arabs and Third World Communists politicized and thus polluted the human rights apparatus in the UN and elsewhere.

On Nov. 10, 1975, when the U.S. Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan – a Stephen Harper precursor – stood strong against the “Zionism is racism” resolution, he was making a stand against the new perverted world order that was emerging. Saul Rae, father of interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae and the Canadian ambassador to the UN at the time, supported Moynihan and denounced the infamous antisemitic and anti-democratic resolution.

But the resolution passed, and the appeasers caved.

Since the 1960s, many in the West have been more guilt-ridden than principled. Suitably abashed at the West’s culpability in an earlier era’s crimes of colonialism, imperialism and racism, many have refused to stand up to the new criminals of today, because they’re still seeking forgiveness for those earlier sins. But a moral inversion has occurred, as some of the victims have become victimizers, which is what is occurring with Islamist terrorists and the Iranians.

Since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian mullahs have harassed their own people, devastated their own economy and violated their own culture’s character. Moreover, they violated centuries-long international rules by kidnapping and holding American diplomats hostage, they entered into a bloody war with Iraq that caused more than one million deaths, and they have threatened Israel – and the United States – with destruction. Persian civilization was sophisticated, disciplined, and tolerant for its day. Iranian Islamism has been crude, violent and infamously intolerant in an increasingly tolerant era. Now, this outlaw regime is seeking nuclear weapons, and progressing rapidly in its perverse quest.

I confess: I don’t get it. How is it progressive or peace-seeking or in any way Canadian to indulge these monsters in their immoral pursuits? We need to echo Moynihan in his eloquent denunciations. And we need to follow Harper’s way, refusing to conduct “business as usual” with regimes that are unnaturally evil.

Commitments Not Reaffirmed

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By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 10-2-12

Are there any progressives out there sufficiently committed to the peace process and the two-state solution to criticize Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly? Abbas’s address once again proved his “moderation” to be a masquerade, as he plunged Palestinians and Israelis into round after round of the delegitimization derby, piling on insults and libels, making it difficult for any self-respecting Israeli government to respond constructively. And the fact that after more than 1,600 words of denunciations and demonization, he claimed to “reaffirm, without hesitation,” his and his people’s commitment to “peace and international legitimacy,” suggested that he was insulting the international community’s intelligence, not just the Israeli “occupier.”

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2012 in New York City. (John Moore / Getty Images)

 

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2012 in New York City. (John Moore / Getty Images)
 

Before Abbas’s false call for peace, he warned of “the catastrophic danger of the racist Israeli settlement of our country, Palestine.” He used the code words his mentor Yasser Arafat first injected into the Israeli-Palestinian conversation: “racist,” “discriminatory,” “ethnic cleansing,” “siege,” “apartheid,” “terrorism,” “colonial,” etc. etc. Most of these words were purposely imported into the language about the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the 1970s to turn discussion of the conflict from its local particulars to universal condemnations, as a way of linking the Palestinians with all Third World victims of Western powers. Bringing new meaning to the word chutzpah, Abbas then complained about “an Israeli political discourse that does not hesitate to brandish aggressive, extremist positions, which in many aspects and its practical application on the ground is inciting religious conflict.”

By contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech began with an affirmation of Jewish history not a negation of the Palestinians. He segued into his call for “a durable peace with the Palestinians” by talking about a point of common civility: how Israeli doctors treated Palestinian Arabs in Israelis hospitals. Netanyahu did criticize Abbas’s rant by saying: “We won’t solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the U.N.,” but he limited his denunciations of the Palestinian Authority to two sentences, admittedly spending more time than that attacking Iran and Islamism.

This is not to say that Abbas’s speech had no merit and that Netanyahu’s speech was unassailable. It was heartbreaking to hear Abbas’s account of what he called “at least 535 attacks perpetrated” against Palestinians by Israeli settlers “since the beginning of this year.” The Israeli government must have zero tolerance for such criminal behavior, which is legally and morally wrong. At the same time, Netanyahu’s crude cartoon illustrating the Iranian bomb threat was undignified and unhelpful. Domestic critics are mocking Netanyahu’s address as “the Looney Tunes speech”—and such criticism is deserved.

But on the Palestinian issue, one cannot equate the Israeli Prime Minister’s constructive approach with the Palestinian Authority President’s rhetorical howitzers. Of course, that is precisely what the New York Times and others did. Generating the usual fog of moral equivalence, the Times editorial “Talking at Cross Purposes,” acknowledged Abbas’s “exceptionally sharp rhetoric” while excusing it, and noted Netanyahu’s “reference to wanting peace with the Palestinians” while dismissing it as “brief” and insincere.

For peace to be achieved—in fact, for any real progress to occur—all actors in this enduring drama will have to break out of their assigned roles. Palestinians will have to stop playing the victim and demonizing Israel. And those observers supposedly devoted to peace will have to start criticizing, cajoling, inspiring, and reassuring both sides, showing a willingness to condemn Palestinian actions when warranted and even grant compliments to Israel, if warranted.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Intstitute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

Romney’s Understandable Views on Palestine

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By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 9-21-12

Mitt Romney’s remarks at the Florida fundraiser four months ago were indeed “shameful,” as Peter suggests. It is shameful that presidential candidates sell briefings to donors wherein they disrespect opposing voters and undermine their own publicly stated positions. It is shameful that a culture has developed wherein both Barack Obama, with his “bitter” remarks in 2008, and Romney with his recent, newly infamous “47 percent” riff, obviously feel compelled to explain to people who are investing in their campaigns how others could possibly oppose them. However, most unfortunately, I find it easier to understand Mitt Romney’s pessimism about Palestinian intentions regarding the peace process than to share Peter’s optimism—as articulated in both his recent blog post and his book.

A Palestinian man holds a Hamas flag. (Ilia Yefimovich / Getty Images)
A Palestinian man holds a Hamas flag. (Ilia Yefimovich / Getty Images)

As someone who supported the Oslo Peace Process (remember that?) and desperately hopes that his fifteen-year-old son will not have to do anything in the Israeli army in three years that squelches another people’s national ambitions, I genuinely wish that I believed Ehud Olmert’s claim that Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinians are deeply committed to the peace process. But, I confess, I am stuck. I am stuck in the trauma of Yasser Arafat’s turn from negotiations back toward terror in 2000. I am stuck in the trauma of Hamas’s ongoing calls to wipe out Israel and the Jews. I am stuck in the decades-long, worldwide, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist campaign of too many Arabs and too many Muslims. And I am stuck by the continuing Palestinian campaign to delegitimize Israel, which many (not all) of these supposed “moderates” and peace partners finance, encourage, and frequently orchestrate.

It is too easy to dismiss these as “right-wing” views. Such caricatures absolve Palestinians of too much responsibility and miss the implosion of the Israeli left—precisely because the left failed to acknowledge Palestinian terror and delegitimization. My friend Yossi Klein Halevi states it quite elegantly. He says the Israeli right failed to learn the lesson of the first intifada—that the Palestinians are a people who deserve national self-determination and are not going to disappear or be bought off. They should be respected and they need their own state—for their sake and for Israel’s. But the Israeli left failed to learn the lesson of the second intifada—that too many Palestinians remain committed to Israel’s destruction. They are still trying to refight the 1948 war over Israel’s existence, not just win the 1967 war regarding Israel’s borders.

While Peter blames Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for perceptions that he is not fully committed to peace, he gives Palestinian political culture a free pass. One of the essential lessons of our season of repentance is that we are each responsible for our own behavior, and for the way others see us, too (within limits given that there are bigots in the world, of course). Doubting Palestinians’ peaceful intentions is logical, and certainly understandable, based on history and based on much Palestinian rhetoric, especially the continuing celebration of terrorist murderers as martyrs, as well as the condemnation of Israel as a racist, imperialist, apartheid state—crimes which in the modern world are seen as being worthy of the national equivalent of the death penalty.

While this does not mean that I endorse Romney’s entire analysis, he did use an interesting word that I also believe is unappreciated. Peter perceived Romney’s call for “stability” as code word for creeping annexation. Having spent a lot of time in Israel during the reign of terror ten years ago, I believe that more stability could be the pathway to peace. Stability can be the start of bridge-building and reconciliation, not the end of progress.

I believe the Golda Meir cliché that when Palestinians are more committed to building their state than destroying the Jewish one there will be peace. I have been thrilled to see the first serious attempts at nation-building initiated by Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister. I have personally met with peace-seeking Palestinian moderates—whose courage demonstrates that they are an often unwelcome, embattled minority in the non-democratic Palestinian Authority culture. And I await new signs that the Palestinians are ready to wean their political culture from the addiction to terror, delegitimization, and demonization, which have proved to be such lethal obstacles to the peace process.

In my forthcoming book, “Moynihan’s Moment,” I show how delegitimization, and Zionism-is-racism rhetoric have encouraged extremism on both sides, and in 1975 helped invigorate settlement expansionism. In this new year, I call on the pro-peace forces, left and right, to fight delegitimization and demonization—of both sides—vehemently and vigorously to improve the climate so that stability can become a launching pad for progress not a dead end.

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Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Intstitute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

Memo To The US: Avoid Extremes While Fighting Islamists

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-18-12

With anti-American riots persisting, and the loved ones of the murdered American diplomats and security personnel mourning, the debate about Middle East matters remains polarizing – and depressing.  Two schools of thought dominate, and both are wrong. The first group, the submitters, is too quick to apologize, too quick to appease. The second, even more unappealing group, the bigots, is too quick to demonize, too quick to swagger.   In the long torturous history of the clash between East and West, both extremes err – by negating Western values in a pathetic attempt to woo the East or by perverting Western values in a contemptible expression of contempt for the East.

Unfortunately, too many American diplomats and Obama administration officials are submitters. These are the people who immediately accepted the false rationale blaming the anti-Mohammed video clip as the rationale for the Libyan riots, without noticing that these events were occurring on 9/11 – and that the Libyan “protestors” came well-armed and well-briefed about the Benghazi diplomatic compound.  These Arabist apologists quickly repudiated the now-infamous video, forgetting that citizens in a democracy cannot take responsibility for every ugly way fellow citizens might use freedom of speech – while also forgetting that throughout the Middle East official government organs, especially religious leaders, spew anti-American bigotry.

David Harris, the thoughtful Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, notes that Palestinians have a culture of blame, Jews have a culture of guilt; his insight applies more broadly too.  Especially since the 1960s, the West is perpetually seen as guilty of many sins, while anti-Americanism has become as ubiquitous in the Middle East, as sand, oil, Islam, kaffiyas, and anti-Zionism.   Too many Americans have internalized this detailed indictment of our culture as imperialist, colonialist, and racist.

As Westerners who talk about diversity and tolerance but are surprisingly limited in their imaginations, the submitters tend to believe that every one around the world thinks and acts as they do.  And as rationalists unable to fathom the Arab street’s twisted illogic, too many assume that if we demonstrate our goodwill, if we behave properly, we will reconcile with our Eastern neighbors.  This thinking prompted Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, and fed elite America’s enthusiasm for the so-called Arab Spring. Seeing Arab protestors as incipient Jeffersonians with laptops – without fathoming that they might become Islamist warriors with RPGs – they waxed poetic about the new democracies aborning, abandoned American allies, and condemned Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israelis for daring to doubt, for worrying before celebrating.

Especially at the start of his administration, Obama frequently telegraphed a sense of American guilt. While anti-Americanism existed long before Obama appeared on the national scene, it is fair to ask whether his apologetics – and general hesitancy in leadership – broadcast a dangerous message of American weakness which emboldened the Islamist attackers.

These submitters frequently apologize for and feel superior to the bigots, who tap into longstanding prejudices against anyone who is different, as well as particular Western condescension toward Muslims and Arabs, as pagans and savages.  The reprehensible video clip; the misinformation that the producers were an Israeli with 100 Jewish donors backing him, reflect the bigots’ simplistic, perverse, dog-eat-dog – or more accurately group-fight-group – worldview – how convenient to scapegoat Israelis and Jews.  Moreover, these people think that patriotism is about bluster, xenophobia, and demonization, when democratic patriotism entails pride, moderation and discernment. Mitt Romney has to be wary of stirring these extremists, either directly or indirectly.

In 1975, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan was American ambassador to the United Nations, he rejected the State Department culture of guilt and appeasement. He found most American diplomats unprepared for the realities of the new world, where the US was in opposition, a world of blaming America as a way of absolving your own country of responsibility.  Moynihan wanted to hold countries accountable for their rhetoric –- and their UN votes — especially if they received American subsidies.

Moynihan took what other countries said and did seriously, and he wanted to end America’s post-Vietnam self-flagellation spree. His approach thrilled the American people. He became an American pop star, cheered for his stand, beloved for his courage, and won four elections to the US Senate over the next quarter-century. But Moynihan’s approach was too countercultural for a State Department that had internalized the Sixties Counterculture’s values.  He only lasted as Ambassador for eight months, resigning after being undermined by Henry Kissinger’s Machiaevellian moves.

Channeling Moynihan’s defiant defense of American democracy, a proper, patriotic defense of America should include Mitt Romney’s refusal to apologize, with Barack Obama’s sharp reminder to Egypt’s president to act like an ally. It should avoid demonization of Islam, Muhammad, or any Arab country, without apologizing for American values and American freedoms. Countries which accept American help should be expected to accept America as a friend, which includes not having official state organs and nationally-subsidized religious leaders rabblerousing against the US.  Americans have every right to be furious – and should attack this anti-Americanism indignantly and aggressively. American diplomats should confront leaders who use anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism as the stimulant of the Arab masses.  Diplomats must remember their primary mission is to defend their country’s interests and dignity, not make friends at any cost.

There is a perverse reversal in the Middle East today.  Americans should be the ones rallying on 9/11 against their enemies—because they were victimized.  Americans should be demonstrating angrily against the outrageous attacks against their representatives in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere. Fortunately, overall the tradition of national self-restraint holds, even as marginal loudmouths like the Reverend Terry Jones spew hatred. Neither submitting meekly nor succumbing to racism, Americans should continue resisting this constant, systematic assault, championing democracy, American values with a proud, constructive, strategic but strong, don’t tread on me approach.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and an Engaging Israel Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism” will be published this fall.

Israel’s Allergy to the Arab Spring—Justified Again

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By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 9-13-12

When the Arab Spring erupted in Egypt in January 2011, Israel’s cautious response did not play well. Many Israel critics—always quick to see Israel as abandoning democracy—decided that Israel’s worries were about democracy itself. Rather, the concerns were about how this particular series of popular revolts would play out in the Middle East cauldron. Moreover, most American experts and politicians, ignoring decades of ugly anti-Americanism and Islamism on the proverbial “Arab Street,” viewed the Arab revolutionaries in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere as the best of Thomas Paine, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela and their favorite blogger combined.

An Egyptian protester waves the black al-Qaeda flag as he stands above the door of the US embassy in Cairo (Khaled Desouki / AFP / GettyImages)

An Egyptian protester waves the black al-Qaeda flag as he stands above the door of the US embassy in Cairo (Khaled Desouki / AFP / GettyImages)

 

Israel’s anxiety then—and today’s unhappily confirmed fears—reflected a closer reading of the dynamics within each Arab country and throughout the Muslim universe. American hopes were rooted in a two-centuries-long American belief that the rest of the world wants to replicate their revolution, spiced up with a longstanding romantic view of the Arab world, especially among elites. This came even after the decades-long phenomenon of Arafatian terrorism, Islamist fundamentalism, the rise of Hamas, the trauma of 9/11.

Now, nearly two years after that politically correct euphoria, Americans are burying an ambassador to Libya and three colleagues, defending the embassy in Yemen in nearly hand-to-hand combat, and—surprise, surprise—disappointed by the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian government’s tepid response to the rabid mobs menacing the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Meanwhile, Israel has a newly unstable border with the Sinai, an even colder peace with Egypt, and an expanded role as the Middle East scapegoat.

One can fear the Muslim Brotherhood, the spread of Islamism, the ugly, ubiquitous, frequently violent, anti-American and anti-Zionist demagoguery poisoning the Arab world without fearing democracy, or pining away for Hosni Mubarak and Muamaar Qaddafi. Change is frequently difficult and by definition unstable. Things can still shift for the better. But to help facilitate a necessary change in the Middle East, to help Egypt, Libya and other countries evolve into more stable, more democratic, more free, more humane entities, Western policymakers need to be clear-eyed and not romantic, tough without being dogmatic, and far-sighted rather than myopic. I, for one, am still waiting for such leaders to emerge, from any country, from anywhere along the political spectrum.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Institute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

History’s handcuffs: The Iraq and Lebanon wars feed skepticism about attacking Iran

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-11-12

As the debate rages over Iran’s nuclear intentions – and Israel’s options, both military and otherwise – we need to acknowledge three recent moments that are making many people doubt the wisdom of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.  Both Israeli and American policymakers need to be aware of the dark, nearly blinding, shadow of recent history, because in our 24/7 media world, responding to those fears is an essential part of telling the right story. And getting it right is not just spin. It is of strategic value in democracies like the United States and Israel.

Those supporting a military option against Iraq have invoked Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler, Jimmy Carter’s indulgence of the Ayatollahs, and the West’s tendency to tolerate dictators as negative examples. They have mentioned the fight against Nazism, the resistance that ultimately defeated the Soviets in the Cold War, and Israel’s super-successful, surprise-strikes against Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities as positive examples.  Bullies crumble, the optimistic chorus suggests, and democracies rise to the challenge, when necessary.  Having done it successfully before, the reasoning goes, Israel, and the United States can and should do it again.

Many Americans, however, are doubly traumatized by the Iraq war, which began in March, 2003 but was triggered by the September 11th terrorist attacks.  Most important, many continue to believe that George W. Bush lied America into the conflict. The absence of WMDs – Weapons of Mass Destruction — suggests to them that Bush manipulated the data and imagined a Saddam Hussein weapons program where none existed, to drag America into war.

The sorry spectacle of the most credible member of the Bush Administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell, making the case for war and WMDs before the United Nations Security Council, seemingly confirms the impression that the whole buildup to the war was a farce. The WMD story seems to be a cover for a VMA – a Very Mad America after the 9/11 trauma – and, unfortunately, Benjamin Netanyahu is closer to George W. Bush in the public credibility scale than he is to where Colin Powell was in public trust and esteem before the unfound weapons debacle.

There are two alternative scenarios. First, that there were WMDs and they were hidden, perhaps in Syria, which is what Israeli intelligence seemed to believe. And second, the fact that British intelligence, Israeli intelligence, and Colin Powell himself believed Saddam Hussein’s WMD posturing, suggests to me – and to others – that the liar was Saddam not Bush.  Saddam Hussein overdid his con, convincing credible people that he was further ahead in his weapons development than he was, and paid for it with his regime and his life.  That interpretation treats Bush and company as themselves gullible not venal. Still, whatever your interpretation, the Iraq war first teaches skepticism regarding claims that one regime or another is “close” to nuclear capability.

The second lesson of the Iraq War is even more sobering. Historians have long taught that even though many nations frequently go to war to preserve the status quo – the status quo is every war’s one guaranteed victim.  The Iraq War reinforced that lesson dramatically, resulting in chaos and shaking Americans’ own faith in their military might. Americans learned that we could defeat Saddam, but we lacked the power to impose the kind of peace we wanted at the kind of pace we could accept.

Israelis learned a similar lesson from the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Israel crushed Lebanese infrastructure – and wiped out many Hezbollah strongholds, especially when the war began. But Israel could not crush Hezbollah, stop the missiles raining on the north, or even capture Hassan Nasrallah, who continues to manipulate Lebanese politics today, six years later, even as he remains in hiding.

The Second Lebanon War ultimately ended the nearly four-decade old Six Day War heroic hangover for many. If the Yom Kippur War of 1973 buried the myth of Israeli invulnerability, the Second Lebanon War of 2006 buried the myth of Israeli invincibility. The Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack made Israel bleed – but Israel’s army revived and conquered. The Lebanon War made Israel doubt, for Israel’s army flailed away at the Hezbollah rocket launches without solving the problem.

Leaders cannot be handcuffed by history, but they should heed its lessons. There are political and operational warnings aplenty. Neither the Israeli nor American public has much appetite for failure, for prolonged conflict, or for ambiguity in the precipitating factors or the ultimate results.

In this case, both Israeli and American policy makers must figure out how to convince a skeptical public that Iran is rushing to go nuclear, they have to reassure millions that there are no other alternatives to war, and they have to deliver a decisive blow with minimal fallout or blowback.  The kind of sloppiness that had the United States unprepared to govern Iraq, the day after Saddam fell, is not acceptable now.  After all this talk, after all this preparation, Israel and the United States will have to justify the move – and the wait.

I do not feel competent to judge whether or not a military attack is now justified. The papers seem full of cover stories, political postures, military feints, and misdirection. But if Israel and/or the United States enter into a war with Iran, the PR challenge is to explain, to spin, but ultimately to sell. The military challenge is to win – and win big.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism,” will be published this fall by Oxford University Press.

Nuke-Washing Iran

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By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 9-7-12

For more than six decades, the fight against nuclear proliferation has been a central concern of the left. From J. Robert Oppenheimer in the 1940s to Helen Caldicott in the 1980s, proclaiming “No Nukes” has been an easy way in for the “Yes We Can” crowd. The 2008 Democratic platform, envisioning  “a world without nuclear weapons,” reflected Barack Obama’s deep yearnings, and the left-leaning academic milieu from which he came.

Given that, it is surprising—and dismaying—that the fight to block Iran’s rush toward nuclear weapons has not stirred progressive passions. Such things are hard to quantify, but it has not been a popular issue on the left. The level of activism pales in comparison to1980s’ standards. There has been no 700,000-person demonstration in Central Park, no prime time apocalyptic television movie like the ABC 1983 blockbuster “The Day After,” no push like the one from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.

Anti-nuclear demonstration in Sydney, Australia, in 1983 (Patrick Riviere / Getty Images)

Anti-nuclear demonstration in Sydney, Australia, in 1983 (Patrick Riviere / Getty Images)

 

Here we seem to have a case of nuke-washing (or radioactive cleansing, as it were), with two possible explanations. First, just as Palestinians who target Israelis are often called “militants” when their al-Qaeda comrades who target Americas or other innocents are “terrorists,” threatening Israel does not generate the same outrage as threatening other countries. The Non-Aligned Movement farce that played out in Teheran last week, not only undercut the Obama administration’s salutary push to isolate and sanction Iran, but it made countries like India complicit in Iranian war-mongering when their delegates  did not object to the rhetorical targeting of Israel. Similarly, on campus and in other progressive centers, Israeli checkpoints for security trigger many more protests than Iranian plans for weapons of mass destruction.

My late grandfather would have sighed and said, “Jewish life is cheap.” But it’s a culture of blaming Israel, demonizing Zionism, and romanticizing Palestinians that gives Israel’s enemies a free moral pass in too many quarters. Israel’s controversial policies regarding the Palestinians have created a popular construct that delegitimizes the Jewish state (and the entire Zionist project) well beyond the confines of the Holy Land.

The concept of “pinkwashing,” for example, had to be developed to overcome progressive cognitive dissonance. How could a country that has been so demonized, whose very essence has been deemed corrupt and evil, be so much more enlightened than its neighbors on that core value of the left, equal rights for the LGBT community? Simple: turn that genuine expression of Israeli democracy and human rights into a propaganda ploy by the supposedly sinister, all-power Israeli Hasbara manipulators and lobbyists.

The second explanation reflects a broader historical phenomenon. Since the 1960s, the culture of Western self-flagellation has created an outrage gap, exaggerating any Western, liberal democratic imperfections while excusing many serious Third World crimes. We saw this in the 1970s, when the UN was silent for years regarding the genocide in Cambodia, occupying its time instead branding Zionism as racism and bashing the U.S. as colonialist. We saw this in the 1980s, when the left-wing “no nuke” protests in Europe and the U.S. focused much more on American proliferation than Soviet expansionism and weaponry. This culture of self-blame purports to be anti-racist, but actually reflects liberal condescension and its own imperialist arrogance. Rather than holding every country to the same moral standard, all too often dictatorial enemies of the United States get a free pass—especially those from the Third World.

While the myopic left long excused the sins of others, there was a more muscular, less hypocritical progressive tradition in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s that vigorously fought dictators and international outlaws. As our own Peter Beinart wrote in his 2006 book, The Good Fight, “antitotalitarianism” once sat “at the heart of the liberal project.” It was the Henry Wallace—George McGovern—Michael Moore counter-tradition that “preferred inaction to the tragic reality that America must shed its moral innocence to act meaningfully in the world.”

Barack Obama arrived in the Oval Office in 2009, frequently sounding like he was a standard bearer of that purist, pacifist, appeasing counter-tradition. Yet in his steely determination to hunt down al Qaida terrorists with drones, and in his cool-headed approval of the plan to take down Osama Bin Laden, Obama often took the tougher approach, though still with a liberal outlook. Whether he will be equally strong with Iran remains to be seen.

Of course, the “no nukes” crowd will be quick to talk of a nuclear-free Middle East, sweeping Israel into the push against Iranian nuclear proliferation. Here, too, the nuke-washers will reflect a double standard. Israel’s weilds its presumed decades-old nuclear power quietly, as a democracy accountable to its people. The Iranian theoocracy, which threatens the United States, not just Israel, cannot clam the same restraint or accountability to its citizens.

I challenge my colleagues and this generation of the left: stand strong and shout “No Iranian Nukes.” Obama committed himself to non-proliferation, and to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons, but he needs the support of progressives, and liberals at home and among the international community.

There could be an immediate peace payoff if the protests take off. Mass protests against Iranian nuclear proliferation might help make sanctions work, might rein in the Iranians, and might make Israel feel less embattled and less compelled to defend itself militarily, even possibly unilaterally against what the Iranians’ own rhetoric has suggested could be an existential threat to the Jewish state and other democracies.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Intstitute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

Yes, there is no occupation – legally not practically

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-10-12

With the mind-numbing predictability of ants entranced by food, Israeli leftists and rightists are instinctively condemning or praising the former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy’s Committee for declaring that “Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria.” The report concluded that the laws of occupation “as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable to the unique and sui generis historic and legal circumstances of Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria spanning over decades.” I agree. Israel’s control over the West Bank is legal. But that does not mean it is practical, advisable, tenable, moral or should be perpetual.

Both the Left’s hysteria and the Right’s euphoria distort the debate.  Rather than condemning the three-person commission report as “born in sin,” “stupid,” “ideological” not “legal,” and authorizing “crime” – as Yesh Din’s attorney Michael Sfard did — leftists should acknowledge the arguments’ validity. July 24 will mark the 80th anniversary of the League of Nations’ confirmation of the British Mandate in 1922 which granted Jews the rights to settle between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, given “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine.” Those rights remain.  November 29 will mark the 65thanniversary of the UN partition plan which due to the 1948 war was not fully implemented. This created a legally ambiguous situation in the West Bank, both when Jordan, ahem, “occupied” it until 1967, and continues today, after Israel seized the disputed, legally undefined territory in a legitimate war of self-defense. And the post-Six Day War, UN Resolution 242 called for “Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” – not “the territories” or “all the territories,” while using the o-word, occupied.

These arguments are legally and historically valid. Leftists who profess to love peace should accept them, then confront Israeli rightists by saying, “Yes, we have legitimate, legal ties to this land. But I love peace so much I am willing not to exercise those valid rights because hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live there with their own national rights and needs.”  Israeli leftists lose credibility by minimizing the importance of Judaea and Samaria, of Hebron and Gush Etzion, to the Jewish people and the Zionist story. Returning something you believe you stole is meaningless.  Giving away something you know is yours, for pressing practical or ethical reasons, is magnanimous.

Israeli rightists have foolishly allowed their accurate reading of history and law to blind them to the complicated realities. Most Israelis do not want to control millions of Palestinians. A workable two-state solution would be good for the Jews, not just the Palestinians.

Just as Americans frequently misuse the word “constitutional” as a synonym for “good,” the international community often declares actions it likes “legal” and actions it dislikes “illegal.” This intellectual tic reflects the elaborate international legal structure developed after World War II which hoped to prevent another worldwide catastrophe. Unfortunately, the post-1960s politicization of these once universal principles, and the promiscuous labeling of phenomena as legal and illegal, have frequently confused matters, especially in the Middle East.

Rather than quibbling about legalities, let’s address the complicated realities. I reject the international community’s assumption – increasingly shared by many American Jewish elites – that the “occupation” is “illegal,” that settlements present the main obstacle to peace, and that the Palestinians have valid rights to the entire West Bank while the Jews do not.

Instead, I start with the historical understanding that in the area of historic Palestine, borders shifted and populations moved. Anyone’s monism – treating the messy Middle Eastern story as based on one single unifying idea – makes me moan. Accepting the chaos of the past encourages compromising in the present. In that spirit, the 70 percent Israeli peace consensus – the mainstream of the country consistently open to compromise – would keep the historic Jerusalem suburb of the Gush Etzion Bloc but would sacrifice historic Hebron, while affirming valid legal and historic rights there too.

The history that concerns me more is the tragic, destructive and self-destructive history of the Palestinian National movement, which has consistently rejected compromise. We should mark today, July 11, as the End of Arafat Delusion Day, the 12th anniversary of the start of the Bill Clinton-Ehud Barak-Yasir Arafat Camp David talks. Remember that Arafat did not even offer a counter-proposal in July 2000 to Barak’s sweeping proposal for a two-state solution – as Clinton himself confirmed. Arafat then proved to be the terrorist he was rather than the Nelson Mandela many dreamed he would be by unleashing a wave of terror. In his gripping, enlightening, stunningly fair book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, Hirsh Goodman reminds us that: “The failure at Camp David and the ensuing violence were seen by both the Israeli Left and the Israeli Right as a total renunciation of the concept that peace was possible if Israel returned to the 1967 borders. Barak offered Arafat a deal considered by all to be substantial, fair, and beyond what any other Israeli had offered in the past. Still, the Palestinians wanted it all.”

Goodman notes that the pattern persisted through Mahmoud Abbas’s repudiation of Ehud Olmert’s generous proposals. Goodman wants to end the “occupation.” But he has too much integrity to manufacture a distorted history to serve his ideology, and instead acknowledges Israel’s “ball of thorns.”

Arguing about the legality of settlements and occupation is like neighbors quarreling about which one will have to pay the water bill as their row house burns. The core issue remains how two stubborn peoples in love with the same land learn to live together. Ideologues ignoring realities from all sides make peace more elusive, whether they label themselves “peaceniks” or not.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

How do you solve a problem like Obama…

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-7-11

I understand Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s instincts to confront President Barack Obama. Obama’s blaming Netanyahu while absolving the Palestinians is unfair. Obama’s ignoring Israel’s many concessions, Netanyahu’s movement toward a two-state solution, and the improved ground conditions under Netanyahu, is unacceptable. Obama’s humiliating Netanyahu with cold shoulders one trip, and pre-emptive speech strikes another trip, is ungracious. And Obama’s overlooking that Israelis feel burned, having watched Oslo’s concessions produce Palestinian terrorism, the Lebanon withdrawal fuel Hezbollah’s ascendance, and the Gaza disengagement yield a rain of rockets, is unfathomable.

If Netanyahu or anyone else in the pro-Israel community could prophesize that Obama will not get re-elected, the current strategy would make sense. But Obama still looks stronger for November 2012 than any Republican wannabes. Because Israel might face a President Obama until January 2017, with four final years unconstrained by re-election hopes, it is foolish to try embarrassing or circumventing him.

Netanyahu must remember that American foreign policy hinges on one individual, the President. Pro-Israel forces should not call this president anti-Israel, when he endorses “a secure Israel… as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people.” Barack Obama may be America’s most pro-Palestinian incumbent president (Jimmy Carter is the most pro-Palestinian ex-president). Obama absorbed the politically correct atmosphere of Harvard Law in the late 1980s, along with the academic disdain and his preacher’s hatred for Israel in Chicago in the 1990s. But chariness is not hostility, especially in today’s universe of Israel-bashing world leaders. Labeling Obama anti-Israel is inaccurate, insulting and risks making him so.

How, then, do you solve a problem like Obama? Seeking subtlety, remember that the last two Presidents. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, while now considered “pro-Israel,” each clashed with Israel. Clinton, like Obama, craved a comprehensive Middle East peace, struggling with an Israeli Prime Minister named … Binyamin Netanyahu. Clinton hosted the arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat more times than any other foreign guest. Similarly, when the Palestinians first returned to terrorism, George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, regularly characterized Israel’s reactions as “too aggressive,” feeding the “cycle of violence.”

Eventually, Palestinian extremism transformed both Presidents. In 2000, Clinton blamed Arafat for unleashing the violence. Days before Clinton left office, Arafat visited the White House yet again, calling the President a “great man.” Clinton lashed back: “No, I’m not. On this I’m a failure, and you made me a failure.”

Two years later, in January 2002, Arafat tried bluffing George W. Bush, denying any involvement with Iran’s Karine-A arms shipment – contradicting clear proof. “Arafat lied directly to Bush,” one official reported. “No one does that, least of all someone who’s already on probation,” it being four months after September 11. Lawrence Kaplan in The New Republic described Bush’s disgust: “As a result, Arafat has accomplished what Ariel Sharon never could. He has aligned the United States and Israel more closely than at any time since the Reagan presidency.” Three months later, in April 2002, Bush backed Israel’s counter-offensive against Palestinian terrorism.

Never stop your enemy when he is harming himself. Considering that Mahmoud Abbas rejected Ehud Olmert’s generous territorial offer, why should Netanyahu hinder progress? Without sacrificing national self-respect, without accepting historical lies, Netanyahu should position himself as Obama’s ally in seeking peace. Netanyahu should emphasize his already stated openness to negotiations – including the proposed Paris talks. He should highlight his embrace of a two-state solution. And he should minimize disagreements with the President. Trust the Palestinians to reject the peace plan, while hoping they might be ready to make peace.

While Israel reveals its true character and defining consensus by pursuing peace, the pro-Israel community should follow the AIPAC strategy emphasizing American support for Israel as bipartisan. Calling the President or the Democrats anti-Israel, making Israel a wedge issue, is self-defeating. Anti-Israel Democrats should feel marginalized, not validated by seeing a polarizing, frontal assault on the President. Most Americans are pro-Israel. The party dynamics should reflect that happy reality.

The political dynamics must change from Bibi versus Obama to the Palestinians versus peace. Netanyahu made his stand, garnered his American applause, and reaped his domestic popularity bonanza. Now he needs damage control.

Words count. No one should attack “Obama’s 1967 border plan,” but the Palestinians’ all-or-nothing border plan. When the Palestinians encourage delegitimization of Israel, we should quote Obama saying “efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.” When the question comes as to who should show up at a peace parley, Israel should declare its willingness to negotiate and quote the President, asking the “Palestinian leaders” for “a credible answer” to the question “how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist.”

Words count. Still, American politics remains a contact sport. Pro-Israel donors should withhold their donations to Obama’s re-election, not because Obama is “anti-Israel” but because he has been ineffectual in unfairly burdening Israel. We should continue explaining historically why the Palestinians are lying when they claim they accepted the 1947 partition, and are hindering peace when they try freezing time by demand a right to return for descendants of refugees or consecrate the improvised 1949 armistice borders. Better to target these Palestinian positions, destructive Palestinian actions, the PA’s continuing incitement to evil, Hamas’ exterminationist charter, Hezbollah’s mad dash for missiles, and Iran’s genocidal aims, while leaving the President out of range.

Essentially, the pro-Israel community should trust the truth, emphasizing Israeli willingness to compromise, Palestinian addiction to rejectionism and violence, along with the broad, bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus. This upbeat, subtle approach may deprive Israeli voters of displays of macho bravado. It may not provide Diaspora supporters a kick in the Zionist adrenals. But it just might work.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”giltroy@gmail.com

Dueling diplomacy: Bibi’s boo-boo triggered Barack’s backlash

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-24-11

In the latest diplomatic slap down pitting the President of the United States against the Prime Minister of Israel, Israel lost – as did both leaders. Barack Obama looked like an amateurish bungler, roiling a region which needs calm while once again pouring cement onto three Palestinian positions which need softening– the 1967 borders, the “right” of return and the continuing refusal to negotiate. Binyamin Netanyahu may have looked less foolish – and looked less petulant in their dueling White House soliloquies – but he did more harm. This debacle was avoidable, but Bibi’s boo-boo triggered Barack’s backlash.

Watching Obama’s State Department speech was like reading a bad undergraduate paper. The first part, regarding the Arab spring, was too vague. The second part, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was too specific. Obama seemed unprepared. He did not sound ready to articulate an Obama Doctrine that can guide American action as the Arab world changes. Beyond endorsing democracy and peace, Obama neither explained his previous reactions nor offered clear guidelines for future actions. Meanwhile Obama’s Dictate for Israeli-Palestinian progress felt rushed, not properly previewed to prevent squabbles, struggles, then backpedals. The brouhaha over his endorsing 1967 borders with swaps, and the fear he fed the Palestinian delusion that the “right” of return is achievable, were both avoidable. But, like a harried undergraduate producing a pointless paper just to be on time, Obama had his own deadline. He hurried to pre-empt Netanyahu’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress.

The Republican Speaker of the House must be delighted with the trap he sprang on the Democratic president – using Bibi as bait. John Boehner drew the President into this mess, which probably alienated more Democratic donors, forced Obama to massage his Thursday remarks on Sunday, and sparked a distracting firestorm which can only damage the President.

When Republican leaders invited him to address Congress, Netanyahu probably considered this a great coup. Bibi would have one of the world’s greatest stage sets to show off his oratorical talents, while outmaneuvering Obama and fellow Israel-skeptics before pro-Israel Republicans.

But Netanyahu overlooked the defining rule of gravity in Israel-America relations – in any confrontation between the President and the Prime Minister, Israel loses. With the United States the superpower and Israel the lonely little guy, Israel’s dependence on American friendship is too great. An Israeli Prime Minster may succeed in tweaking a particular policy, but only by draining the reservoir of presidential goodwill. So when, as happened Thursday, an Israeli Prime Minister yells at the American Secretary of State, just before a major presidential address, Israel loses. When the Prime Minister denounces presidential proposals before visiting the President, Israel loses. When the President stews as the Prime Minister lectures him, albeit eloquently and indirectly, Israel loses. And when the President sits at a joint press appearance, with his hand placed protectively over his body and under his chin, telegraphing mistrust of the Prime Minister, Israel loses.

Once Obama said what he said, Bibi had to say what he said. But Obama said what he said because Bibi was going to say what he wanted to say to Congress. With a president like Obama, who instinctively blames Israel as the obstacle to peace, the less attention he pays to the region, the better. Netanyahu made his ritualistic visit to AIPAC a big deal by accepting the Congressional invitation. Predictably, the New York Times headline “OBAMA PRESSES ISRAEL TO MAKE ‘HARD CHOICES’,” resulted.

Not all exchanges hurt Israel. Obama disapproved of delegitimizing Israel and said the Palestinians must explain how to work for peace while working with Hamas, whose charter advocates Israel’s destruction. And there is value in the vigorous debate that erupted about what peace can look like, and how to use history as a helpful guideline, not an incendiary device.

Barack Obama believes that to support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, he must free Israelis from today’s status quo prison, reinforced by comfortable complacency and existential fears. That goal explains why he focuses on the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control, yearning for real statehood and full civil liberties. But as America’s most pro-Palestinian president since Jimmy Carter, Obama also must free the Palestinians from their nostalgic prison reinforced by lingering longings and deadly hatreds. He must tell them that time does not stand still, that they must dream more about their future state rather than deliriously demanding or violently planning a return to 1967 or 1947. Yet, somehow, Obama’s finger points more easily and wags more vigorously at Israeli caution than Palestinian obstructionism, rejectionism, and violence.

The logical starting point in advocating a two-state solution comes by acknowledging that borders shifted and populations moved, particularly in historic Palestine. Only fools or fanatics claim that borders were ever perma-marked. We cannot undo history. We must move forward, from 2011, trying to minimize disruptions to populations while maximizing satisfaction on both sides. Rather than trying to freeze one random moment in historical time, demography and the current status quo should be our guides, tempered by sensitivity, creativity, and some history, but not too much. And being realistic entails dealing with the current president effectively. In assessing this week’s errors, hopefully Bibi Netanyahu will learn that not to provoke the President, and that scoring debating points only goes so far.

When Israelis and Americans squabble, Palestinian rejectionists rejoice. This spring’s great outrages are not Obama’s proposals or Netanyahu’s hesitations, but Fatah’s new friend in Hamas, Egypt’s new unreliability as a peace partner, Iran’s continuing rush to nuclear power, and the Arab world’s continuing war against Israel’s existence, aided by the left’s useful idiots. These common enemies, along with enduring common values, should keep America’s President and Israel’s Prime Minister cooperating, whatever tactical quibbles may arise.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”

giltroy@gmail.com

Obama Offered Two Speeches in One — Neither Worked

By Gil Troy

Despite the talk about “Obama’s Mideast speech” Thursday, I actually heard two separate addresses. In the first, President Barack Obama offered vague nostrums about the “Arab spring,” best summarized in three words: Democracy is good. Obama transitioned awkwardly to the second speech, about Israelis and Palestinians, saying: “Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.” In this section, the professorial president turned from airy abstractions to problematic particulars. Although it was impossible to predict America’s next move in the Arab world from the speech’s first part, we now know exactly how an Israel-Palestine peace treaty would look if Obama could dictate it and those annoying people who live there would just follow.

Sophisticated cinema buffs will have identified the inspiration for the “Democracy is good” quotation – that frat house classic, “Animal House.” In the fictitious campus where the movie’s hijinks occur, the founder’s statue features the empty motto “Knowledge is good.” Of course it is, and so is democracy – for many of the reasons Obama identified. But I defy anyone, based on that speech, to explain why Obama abandoned Hosni Mubarak in Egypt rather quickly, attacked Muhammar Qaddafi very definitively, and dithered with Bashar al-Assad, only abandoning him quite recently. Moreover, can anyone predict Obama’s next move based on this speech or identify just what principles will guide him?

Having failed the tests of consistency and retroactivity, Obama’s words also lacked clarity. The biggest conundrum he faces as various Arab allies face popular revolts, and as other Arab countries potentially face Islamist revolts, is how he balances America’s interest and ideals. Obama identified “core interests,” including “countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.” He endorsed finding “mutual interests and mutual respect.” But how to balance all those factors is difficult. I have no idea how to do that, which is why I am happy not to be president. But, as a voter, I have no idea how Obama plans to do it either.

Finally, and surprisingly, Obama’s words lacked legs. Not one phrase seems likely to resonate. And judging by the Franklin Roosevelt majestic, memorable, “four freedoms” standard, Obama’s “universal rights” are mushy and forgettable. Compare Roosevelt: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear – with Obama – “And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.” The “Yes We Can” poet of 2008, has become the technocratic cataloguer of 2011, forgetting basic rules like the power of parallelism in rhetoric.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s more specific and pointed Israel-Palestine peace plan has attracted the most attention – and controversy. Here, by being too specific, Obama once again complicated future negotiations. As President of the United States, dealing with understandably nervous allies in an explosive region, he had a moral obligation to reconcile his proposal with his predecessor’s plans, acknowledging if he was deviating from an earlier consensus while upholding commitments earlier Presidents have made.

Yet, in discussing Hamas, Obama ignored the conditions the Quartet of the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations embraced – requiring the Palestinian government to recognize Israel, renounce violence and honor past agreements. Asking Palestinians to find a “credible answer to the question … How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist” is a start – but lacks the specifics Obama’s predecessor and allies endorsed.

Even more problematic was his call for “the borders of Israel and Palestine” to “be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” These words not only seem to contradict George W. Bush’s vow to Ariel Sharon based on decades of American policy, but the deification of 1967 boundaries lacks historical nuance in a region obsessed with nuance and history.

The logical starting point in advocating a two-state solution comes by acknowledging that in the region particular borders shifted and populations moved. Anyone who talks about people frozen in place for centuries or borders as if they were permamarked on a map is either a fool or a fanatic. Bible-based Israelis must admit that the boundaries of Biblical land of Israel, varied, just as passionate Palestinians must admit that the boundaries of Palestine-Israel in the twentieth-century alone shifted repeatedly.

We cannot undo history and we must move forward, from 2011, trying to minimize disruptions to populations while maximizing satisfaction on both sides. Rather than trying to freeze one random moment in historical time, demography and the current status quo should be our guides, tempered by sensitivity, creativity, and a touch but not too much historicity. Obama’s overlooked line about the “growing number of Palestinians [who] live west of the Jordan River,” explains why each of the two clashing people should have a state. Peace will work if it passes the test of what Obama called populism, working logically for many people today, not at some random point from the past.

Obama did speak beautifully about “a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.” Alas, this speech did not do enough to buttress the forces of hope over hate, and by feeding the 1967 obsession, Obama himself was too shackled to one unhelpful perspective on the past.

Can Obama recognize the ‘Nakba’ nakba?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-17-11

Center Field: The harsh realities of the Middle East have contradicted President Barack Obama’s fanciful notions.

Obama and Netanyahu
Photo by: REUTERS

President Barack Obama came to town riding on a series of assumptions about the Middle East. But the region’s harsh realities have contradicted his fanciful notions. Demanding a settlement freeze increased Israeli mistrust and Palestinian extremism. The “Arab spring” proved that the Palestinian problem was not the keystone to Middle East progress, or world peace. This week’s Nakba Day violence revealed that Israel’s existence since 1948, not its occupation since 1967, remains the Palestinians’ target. Obama must recognize that this “Nakba” nakba – the Palestinians’ catastrophic reading of Israel’s founding as a catastrophe – damages peace prospects. Yet again, Palestinians seem more committed to destroying Israel than building their own state.

Although outsiders cannot tell Palestinians to ignore their anguish over Israel’s founding, Nakba Day is a new, post-Oslo, 1990s phenomenon. Yasser Arafat inaugurated the day in 1998. It feeds Palestinians’ worst instincts – freezing time, distorting history, wallowing in victimhood, dodging responsibility, vilifying Israel, treating the conflict as a zero-sum game. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s New York Times op-ed on Monday epitomizes these vices with ahistorical lies claiming that “shortly” after the 1947 UN Partition declaration, “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened.” Reversing chronology and causation, Abbas ignores that Palestinians rejected the partition plan; that many Palestinians fled voluntarily; and that Arab armies attacked as Israel became a state, not because of any Israeli action.

Yet the Palestinians have snookered the world, seeking a free pass for violence, incitement, delegitimization, exterminationism and intransigence. World leaders function as the great enablers of Palestinian dysfunction, rationalizing Palestinians’ political culture of negation and hatred while according them special treatment – including treating their refugee status as hereditary, whereas tens of millions of other refugees from the 1940s have settled down.

Every president must make post-inauguration adjustments, replacing outsiders’ presumptions with the insider’s perceptions. Obama’s Middle Eastrelated rigidity is not some idiosyncratic shortcoming. He is imprisoned in a groupthink reading that is popular and resistant to reality.

Too many elite Americans mistakenly compare the Palestinians’ struggle for statehood with African-Americans’ struggle for civil rights (when most Europeans hear “occupation,” they think Nazi or Soviet, which is even more inaccurate and problematic). In his Cairo speech, by reminding Palestinians that American blacks rarely resorted to violence, despite “suffer[ing] the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation,” Obama made the comparison. Condoleezza Rice was more explicit, equating her childhood miseries in the segregated South with Palestinian suffering, while comparing Abbas to Martin Luther King, Jr.

This analogy is sloppy, perverse, yet irresistible to many Americans who usually view the world through homemade prisms, with the civil rights movement looming as a compelling, heroic and digestible historical standard.

Additionally Palestinian propaganda has pushed this comparison for decades. The UN’s New Big Lie in 1975 labeling Zionism racism implicitly cast the Palestinians as noble blacks and the Israelis as oppressive rednecks.

The false analogy distorts the story into one of racial oppression, not national conflict. This reading sanctions Palestinian violence, given our abhorrence of racial tyranny.

Perpetuating the Nakba treats Israel’s very founding as its original sin, like slavery is America’s original sin, which had to be undone violently by Civil War. This falsehood also views Palestinians as passive, less responsible players, feeding into a modern liberal condescension empowering those perceived as white rather than those labeled black (ignoring the light-skinned Palestinians and dark-skinned Israelis).

By contrast, recognizing the Palestinian- Israeli conflict as a national conflict – linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict – restores balance. It makes Palestinians responsible for their choices. It highlights their power, as part of the broader Arab assault against Israel, which, unlike the Civil Rights movement, threatens Israel, seeking its destruction. Understanding this fight as a national struggle among more evenly-balanced forces also explains Israeli sensitivity to Palestinian rhetoric. Calling Israel’s founding, its very existence, a catastrophe delegitimizes Israel and dehumanizes Israelis, justifying violence against this supposed disaster of a state.

Restoring historical balance and moral accountability would also restore mutuality. Imagine the outrage if Israeli leaders spoke about Palestinians the way leading Palestinians speak, write, teach, preach and broadcast about Israel. Imagine the scandal if Israel ever proposed, let alone adopted, anything paralleling the Hamas Charter’s anti-Semitic and genocidal wording. Note that this month, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is volunteering new concessions, Abbas is embracing Hamas terrorists.

Jews’ culture of acute self-criticism juxtaposed against the Palestinians’ culture of self-righteous condemnation creates absurd imbalances. While Jews, mired in guilt, agonize over how to validate detractors like the playwright Tony Kushner, who spread Palestinian lies alleging Israel committed sins like “ethnic cleansing,” Palestinians, in their enforced no-criticism zone, feel their biased accusations are justified, yet again dodging any responsibility. Similarly, minor Israeli abuses are treated as major human rights crimes; major Palestinian abuses are ignored.

The multi-dimensional war between Israelis and Palestinians includes a clash of narratives. As America’s story-tellerin- chief, Obama can shape a narrative that brings the parties closer – or divides them further. Obsessing about Israel’s settlements, exaggerating the conflict’s international significance, excusing Hamas’s genocidal rhetoric, or encouraging the “Nakba” nakba intensifies Palestinian intransigence and Israeli insecurity.

Obama must affirm that “threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of [Holocaust] memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.”

He said that in Cairo. Now, Obama should show he means it, by insisting that all parties, especially the Palestinians, end incitement, stop demonizing others and learn to preserve their own national stories, including tales of woe, without using words that reveal a collective desire to destroy those whose trust you need to achieve peace.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman research fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his latest book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. giltroy@gmail.com

Three Steps to a Two-State Solution

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-6-11

I do not worry about the biased UN recognizing a Palestinian state. When Israel disengaged in 2005, Gaza became an independent Palestinian entity. Why not call it a state – and demand it act responsibly rather than blaming Israel for its failures? Similarly, much of the West Bank, even if you call it Judaea and Samaria, is fully Palestinian.  Vast swaths are inaccessible to even the most ideological, stereotypical, gun-toting, Brooklynese-speaking, big-kippah-wearing, payes-flowing settlers.   Oslo’s essential insight of having as few Palestinians as possible under Israeli control as quickly as possible has allowed millions to live under Palestinian rule for years now.  Given these realities, Israeli policy should focus on getting diplomatic – and American — credit for already ceding much territory, making Palestinian maximalism and Arab rejectionism of Israel’s existence the issues, not Israeli intransigence about borders.  Every attack on Israel’s legitimacy must be seen as a blow to peace. 

Despite calling terrorism counter-productive, Israel frequently rewards Palestinian violence by conceding under the gun.  Rather than waiting for populist Palestinian “Arab spring” protests, Israel should make a pre-emptive strike for peace by accepting the reality – and risks — of a Palestinian state. Inaction is also risky. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition may be best suited to make the best deal possible. Besides, it is immoral to control millions of unwilling non-citizens if there is an alternative which does not threaten Israeli lives. 

Accepting a state requires a third conceptual revolution for Israelis regarding Palestinians. The Oslo peace process in the 1990s forced mainstream Israeli opinion to acknowledge Palestinian national rights. A decade later, the wave of suicide bombings forced Israelis to admit they needed clear protected borders with Palestinians – rightists realized they could not keep everything, leftists learned that fences saved lives. 

Palestinians need even more dramatic conceptual revolutions. They must end their addiction to delegitimization and terrorism. Beyond accepting Israel’s existence they must accept Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state. Finally, Palestinians will have to choose what they might consider an imperfect peace over perpetual war. 

Netanyahu’s government has already taken important strides which the world should respect as Step One to a Two-State solution. At Bar Ilan, Netanyahu recognized Palestinian national rights. His government has started no new settlements, dismantled Gilad Farms, and curtailed construction within existing settlements, even if reluctantly. In 2010 alone Israel’s Army eliminated 98 roadblocks. While relaxing security restrictions and issuing 42 percent more entry permits, the IDF invested millions improving Palestinian infrastructure to facilitate traffic flows. Palestinians now usually move freely between Jenin and Hebron. The Palestinian Authority controls a much larger contiguous area than at any time since Palestinians’ return to terror in 2000 triggered a necessary crackdown. 

As a result, Netanyahu’s “economic peace” is flourishing. The Palestinian economy is growing 9 percent annually. The average minimum wage increased 6.5 percent. Tourist traffic entering the much-less-occupied territories surged 49 percent. Israeli-Palestinian joint ventures are proliferating, with building permits up 23 percent.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is the un-Arafat, a courageous technocrat more committed to building his people’s state than destroying the Jewish people’s home. He is cultivating the conditions that could lead to peace rather than fighting a perpetual war. 

President Barack Obama, along with the Europeans and the UN, should acknowledge this progress, celebrating this successful first step. The challenge is psychological and political. These new conditions should be publicized as bold moves, building confidence.  The second step should then emphasize mutual recognition to foster the trust needed for the final border discussions when Israelis will have to sacrifice land, as Palestinians sacrifice some of their longstanding demands. 

To prepare for that sensitive stage the second stage requires zero tolerance for incitement in any Palestinian institution, including mosques, the media, and schools. Serious international supervision should impose real punishments for violent words and deeds.  Every act of incitement or violence should delay Palestinian statehood by a month; rockets from Gaza should result in pushing the border back a few hundred meters each time. Similarly, Israel must dismantle all illegal outposts while starting a serious national conversation about which settlements to abandon to create new boundaries. 

Palestinians must take responsibility for Israeli fears – given the last decade’s unhappy track record when Israeli withdrawals brought Palestinian violence not peace. Israelis must take responsibility for Palestinian worries – given Oslo’s unhappy track record when Israeli settlements increased. Palestinians should acknowledge the Jewish state. And Israel should acknowledge Palestinians’ right of return, offering citizenship to any Palestinians who lived in Israel in 1948. Palestinians wishing to move back should be compensated for any homes others currently inhabit – but, as in the rest of the world, refugee status should not be inherited; their descendants will have to relinquish fantasies of “return” to fulfill realistic dreams of statehood. 

Israel’s actions should not be motivated by guilt. Israel has legitimate rights to Judaea, Samaria and Gaza – historically and based on the justified Six Day War. But having rights does not require exercising them. Sometimes, historical or demographic realities intrude. Israel should sacrifice some historical rights to achieve peace – without risking lives for an illusion of progress. 

Given Palestinians’ long history of rejectionism, this delicate second stage should take at least two years. During that time, the details of stage three, creating a peaceful Palestinian state, should be finalized. 

This brief column cannot detail an entire peace plan. But supporters of a two-state solution must start envisioning progress. And Israelis who reject compromise should explain – what do you do with millions of Palestinians sharing the same space, yearning for a state? Neither side can achieve its maximal demands. But Israelis have controlled too many Palestinians for too long – while Palestinians still cling to too many unrealistic demands and lethal desires. Many in the Middle East seem ready to take risks for war – true courage entails taking risks for peace. 

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGillUniversity and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

Purim 2011: Making History Better in a Topsy-Turvy World

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, March 22, 2011

Purim 2011 was a time of Nahafochu, of complete turnarounds, as the world seemed particularly topsy-turvy. In the Arab world, the popular revolts continued to surprise dictators and democrats, as even Syrians started protesting.  In Israel, the parental smiles amid the Purim celebrations masked continuing heartbreak about the Itamar massacre, with the two butchered Fogel parents along with their three martyred children becoming national icons.  And in Japan, a country famed for its earthquake preparation and general efficiency, the unexpected earthquake-Tsumani wallop exposed human sloppiness and nature’s awesome powers.

 

Nahafochu has two meanings, as these events confirm.   As a descriptive term, it teaches that humans occasionally confront dizzying revolutions, sometimes good, sometimes bad, like the happy, sudden switch Jews experienced, flipping from being Haman’s target to the King’s favorites. But as a prescriptive term, Nahafochu teaches not to be passive when history happens to us. We should transform reversals into potential gains as Esther, Mordechai and the Jews’ communal fasting did. 

The Arab upheaval has triggered many transformations. Just weeks ago, Israel advocates’ lamenting about the lack of rights in the Arab world usually were ignored. Back in those days of –another Purim concept  — Ad Lo Yada –inability to distinguish good from bad, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya helped lead the UN Human Rights community. Hosni Mubarak was a cherished American ally, the keystone to Middle East peace and stability. Many academics, not just the London School of Economics toadies, begged gifts from Libya and other dictatorships.

 

Suddenly, mainstream world opinion started caring about Arab civil liberties. But rather than acknowledging that pro-Israel advocates were right or wondering how so many Western dupes were so numb to Arab rights and dignity for so long, the Ad Lo Yada relativistic crowd bashed Israel as anti-democratic. Yet Israelis’ guilty fears that these popular uprisings might not yield peaceful democracies are justified.  The conventional wisdom ignores how Hamas and Hezbollah are the Arab street’s monstrous spawn,  the Moslem Brotherhood’s popularity in Egypt, and the way some populist Arabs call their perceived enemies “Jew, Jew” or
otherwise link opponents to Israel.

 

At the same time, by focusing on military intervention the West is misguided.  Wherever possible, citizens of a particular country should decide whether and how to remove their dictators.  The world should react when a Muammar Gaddafi starts slaughtering his own people –but only as a last resort, although preferably without dithering for too long.  The best way democratic outsiders can help is by cultivating true democracy inside the Arab world. Cold War programs that nurtured democratic infrastructure in Eastern Europe should be resurrected, expanded, exported, translated into Arabic and applied intelligently. Visionaries like Natan Sharansky, who recently testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, understand this as the West’s greatest gift to give.  After decades of enabling Arab autocracy, democrats should enable true Arab democracy, respecting rule of law, mutual rights, basic civil rights, civil society, and a functioning free market, not just votes. That would be a constructive Nahafochu.

 

Many Ad Lo Yada morally-comatose Westerners continue to misread the Israeli-Palestinian conflict too. The Itamar massacre again highlights the cancer of violence corroding the Palestinian national soul – and constituting the greatest obstacle to peace. The civilized world should repudiate the Itamar murder or murderers who stabbed to death the five Fogel family members, including three-month-old Baby Hadas. The world should recoil at the incitement which produced these baby-killers – while also condemning those Palestinians who welcomed home the murderers that night. The pictures of the blood-soaked mattresses suggest that anyone involved in those murders returned drenched in blood and sweat, reeking of death. Welcoming an obvious murderer is a criminal act of collaboration; celebrating homicide with candies is unconscionable.

 

But now too many are accusing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of raising the incitement issue to avoid peace talks. In fact, Nahafochu, the opposite is true. If Palestinian political culture cleansed itself of its death cult, if the world restrained expressions of Arab anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and delegitimization of Israel, border questions and other issues could be dispatched quickly. In Israel, those who believe in settling the entire land of Israel at any price are a small, loud, minority. These ideologues find reinforcement in the pragmatic majority which justifiably fears the Palestinian violence, Palestinian demonization, Palestinian incitement that the Oslo peace process unwittingly fed rather than cured by trusting Yasir Arafat. Western leaders combating incitement, Palestinian visionaries taking responsibility to wean their people of violence  – for the sake of their own souls — would transform the Middle East, making peace a procedural question rather than an existential  challenge for most Israelis.

 

Amid this tragedy, all this complexity, it is easy to read the Japanese catastrophe as an invitation for passivity, a prompt to despair. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by Tsunamis, earthquakes, and radioactive releases, this terrifying intersection where acts of God meet the mistakes of man.  But we cannot ignore the acts of godliness among so many people, in the Tsunami of love enveloping the Japanese, and the impressive international efforts to avert the feared nuclear meltdown.

 

A story circulating in Israel this week told of Rami Levy, the little guy from the Mahane Yehudah market who established a supermarket empire, showing up daily at the Fogel shiva, filling the refrigerator in the mourners’ home. At one point, he supposedly told a relative, get used to me, I will do this every week until the youngest surviving Fogel child – a 2-year-old – turns 18.

 

This Purim in particular teaches us that Nahafachu is prescriptive.  We cannot avert every catastrophe.  We can turn any catastrophe – Rami Levy style – into an opportunity to overcome challenges, assert our common humanity, help others, and change history for the better.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” and, most recently, “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”giltroy@gmail.com

Center Field: A detox program for haters

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-16-11

(Center Field Column: Dear President Obama: How could somebody slaughter Baby Hadas?)

Dear President Obama,

The murders of Uri and Ruth Fogel, along with Yoav, 11, Elad 4, and Baby Hadas, raise an elemental question. “How could somebody do something like that?” my children asked.  Mr. President, as a father of young daughters, and a peace-seeking statesman, you also must answer that question.

To reply properly we should ask who the victims were – or more accurately who they appeared to be. The Hamas thugs in Gaza who celebrated this slaughter see them as “Jews” and “Zionists.” According to the Hamas Charter, the Fogels deserved to die by being born Jewish, by being Israeli.  Such Hitlerite anti-Semitism pollutes mosques and the Arab media, prompting calls by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others to “wipe out” Israel. America’s boycott of Hamas reflects your understanding that interacting with these people is futile unless they repudiate this genocidal ideology – which often targets Westerners too.

In the West, too many people view the Fogels as “settlers,” meaning evil Jews and Zionists.  As such, CNN reported their murder as a “terror attack” – in quotation marks — while other media outlets called the murders “militants,” “extremists,” even “intruders” but  not terrorists. If the t-word is reserved for targeting innocents, somehow these victims were guilty. When a deranged man slaughtered 6 people and shot another 13 including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, many media outlets immediately politicized the event, blaming the Tea Party. You wisely refrained from that rush to judgment. When Palestinians murder, many of those same institutions rush away from judgment, decontextualizing the event, insulating Palestinian political culture from the crime.

Defining the Fogels only as “settlers” dehumanizes them. It comes from blaming this multi-dimensional, century-long, two-sided conflict on settlements.  Someone can advocate withdrawing from territory, including the Fogels’ village of Itamar, without believing this fable. In fact, more peace-loving Israelis should emphasize Jews’ legal rights to the disputed territories, thereby demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice land for peace. In focusing so much anger on Israel’s settlements, you have helped distort the conflict, absolving Palestinians of too much responsibility

The Fogel massacre occurred during that intellectual abomination “Israel Apartheid Week.” On campuses, which should be centers of complex, critical thought, pursuing truth, hotheads accused Israel of “genocide” – although the Palestinian population has nearly quadrupled since 1967 – and of “apartheid” and “racism” when this is a national conflict.  Exaggeration, distortion, obsession, and perversion of core values signify political fanaticism and bigotry.  When such simplistic sloganeering and dehumanizing rhetoric becomes epidemic on our comfortable campuses, it is not surprising that it metastasizes into murder in the Middle East.

These Israel-bashers affix “apartheid” and “racist” as all-purpose adjectives to any Israeli action, disconnected from true meanings. The South Africa analogy treats Israel as so reprehensible it should collapse. The Soviet Union and Arab rejectionists invented this racism and apartheid libel in the 1970s, when trying to expel Israel from the UN.

As a skilled wordsmith you know that words can heal or kill, words can elevate or desecrate. If you seek Middle East peace, shouldn’t you try harder to demand that Palestinians use words that promote peace rather than fostering baby-killing?

Having read the White House condemnation of this “heinous crime,” recalling your empathy – as a parent – when you visited Sderot, stirred by your defining Zionism as an “incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves,” and a believer in your “Yes We Can” humanism, I am sure you mourn the Fogel family as fellow humans. But mourning is not enough. If you believe that hatred is not instinctive but instilled — which is what I guess you would tell your daughters – you also must believe in stopping the hate-mongering. That the US, by subsidizing the PA, even indirectly bankrolls this incitement should disgust you – and prompt dramatic actions.

Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israelis should not have to raise this issue — the Roadmap requires “All official Palestinian institutions [to] end incitement against Israel.” The international community should combat Palestinian incitement independently, vigorously. The US, EU, and UN should start funding the two independent organizations, MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch which track Palestinian incitement, and impose sanctions when the PA glorifies murderers, the PA Culture Ministry finances events spreading the Israel-Apartheid libel, and when Palestinian media, mosques or schools preach hatred.

You have tremendous power. Your pressure has curtailed construction in the settlements, making the settlements such an issue that Israel responded to the terror attack with new settlement housing starts, to punish the Palestinians. You must put similar pressure on the Palestinians to reform their political culture as a precondition to further progress.

By using the presidential bully pulpit to fight Palestinians’ bullying culture, you can foster an atmosphere conducive to peace.  Israelis cannot compromise when families are being slaughtered or their very rights to exist are attacked. After decades of worshiping Yasir Arafat and other terrorists in their guerilla culture, Palestinians need help detoxifying their political culture. The pressure you exert can help builders like Salam Fayyad defeat the destroyers.

You can also score political points domestically by showing you understand that terror emerges from a perverted political culture and you know how to combat that.

The answer you give your daughters, the answer I gave my kids, and the answer you teach the world should be the same. Before a human being slits a baby’s throat, the hatred must be taught, a soul has to be poisoned. We must teach the opposite lesson, humanizing one another, so that everyone sees every child as a potential friend not a future enemy to murder. Those who fail to teach that lesson should feel your wrath.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” and, most recently, “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

The Palestinian Gandhi?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post Magazine, February 11, 2011, p. 41

While reading this book I showed the table of contents to two colleagues at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel project, a “Jewish Values Project” reconceptualizing modern Zionism.  Chapters asking “What are States For?” “Can Values Bring Us Together?” and “How Can We Move the World?” startled them.  “Who wrote this?” they asked, worried that someone had “our” take. When I showed them the title page, they broke into broad, relieved, smiles.

Sari Nusseibeh’s book What is a Palestinian State Worth? should be received with great joy – and relief. People seeking Middle East peace have long asked “where is the Palestinian Gandhi,” straining to hear a voice calling for civil disobedience, then peaceful reconciliation, amid the thuggish chorus championing violence and Israel’s destruction.

The spirit of Mahatma Gandhi permeates this book.

Invoking India’s prophet of peace, Nusseibeh teaches that “acts of goodwill infinitely outnumber those dictated by selfish greed and hate, which pit individuals and nations against one another.” He compares the parallel partition attempts as Britain’s Empire crumbled after World War II in the Indian subcontinent and Palestine.  Most important, Nusseibeh tries applying the “Gandhian imagination” to today’s Middle East, urging combatants to affirm their common humanity, choosing, as he puts it, life over rocks.

This thoughtful philosopher, the president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, seeks “a moral order based on human values” appreciating that “peace matter[s] more.”  Without finger-pointing, he challenges Palestinians and Israelis to envision a peaceful future freed from their parallel prisons of anger, fear, and mistrust.  He asks: “How much killing can a group suffer or commit before the suffering and the loss of life begin to outweigh the values on whose behalf the killing is being committed? “

Nusseibeh counters the cycle of violence with “the human imperative,” insisting that “respect for and preservation of human life, rather than violation of life in the name of any cause, should be what guides both Israelis and Palestinians in their pursuit of a just peace.” By emphasizing “core human values,” Nusseibeh sees just how confusing both Israeli and Palestinian identities are.

In one of many bold deviations from standard, simplistic Palestinian propaganda, Nusseibeh dissects Ahmad Tibi’s dueling identities.   A harsh critic of Israeli rule over Palestinian Israelis, Tibi nevertheless serves in Israel’s Knesset and bristled when an al-Jazeera reporter asked him if his village Taybeh should join the new Palestinian state he so ardently champions. “As a Palestinian, Tibi argued in favor of the creation of an independent Palestinian state,” Nusseibeh explains. “But as a Palestinian Israeli” he resents any attempts to sever his political connection to Israel.

In highlighting the Palestinian’s “jigsaw identity,” Tibi’s “Byzantine polemic” raises the book’s central question of what is a Palestinian state” for?  Taking a “utilitarian” view of states, transcending the nation-state’s conventional contours, Nusseibeh questions whether Palestinians need an army, clear boundaries, even their own currency. Nusseibeh would accept a demilitarized Palestinian entity with islands of control creating an “archipelago” intertwined with a more conventional Israeli state.  This arrangement would address the Palestinians’ need for basic civil rights guaranteeing “peace and stability without oppression.”

“Ours is primarily a down-to-earth affair of longing to live normal lives in our homeland,” he writes, explaining that the suicide bombings of the early 2000s, made him wonder “what the state we were fighting for is worth.”   Valuing quality of life above all, Nusseibeh invites Palestinians – and implicitly Israelis too — to stop “looking upon their own patriotism as a religious or national cul-de-sac, and begin viewing it instead as an overarching affinity with the land and its multifaceted racial as well as religious history.”

These out-of-the-box arrangements require creativity, flexibility, and trust.

In that spirit, although I disagree with some of his interpretations, Nusseibeh’s brief history of the conflict is far more balanced than the accounts most undergraduates get today in Western universities.  Without citing them, he acknowledges points made by experts Palestinian propagandists target – or ignore.

Acknowledging the fluidity of the “nomad[ic]” Palestinian population and Arab identity before 1948 confirms the work of Joan Peters. Palestinian apologists have blasted her 1984 book From Time Immemorial for debunking the myth that every Palestinian in 1948 lived in the same village for centuries. And in blaming “the Nakba” on Palestinian “leaders’ mismanagement and bad planning,” Nusseibeh echoes Efraim Karsch’s important but overlooked book from 2010, Palestine Betrayed, showing how violent demagogues like Haj Amin El Husseini undermined their own people’s dreams.

One great book does not a Gandhi make. When leaks about any Palestinian concessions trigger indignation, when popular uprisings against Arab dictators risk breeding Islamic radicalism not democratic reason, when Nusseibeh is marginalized politically, his vision seems far-fetched. He is realistic enough to ask, in one chapter, “Who Runs the World, ‘Us,’ or Thugs?” Nevertheless, he updates Theodor Herzl’s Zionist cry “if you will it is no dream,” by channeling a Gandhian teaching, emphasizing “faith in human being as makers of their own destinies.” These days, simply dreaming, taking these first steps toward rethinking, is revolutionary, inspiring, and brave.

Clearly, Nusseibeh has the words and concepts – in English for Harvard University Press. Can they be translated into Arabic and sold to the Palestinian street, then translated successfully into Hebrew?

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”

NYT Discussion: Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace: Anxiety and Skepticism

Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace

What does the crisis in Egypt mean for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace

Introduction

Netanyahu and MubarakReuters Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, left, and President Hosni Mubarak at a meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on Jan. 6.

The uprising in Egypt has created turmoil for Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who have their own complicated relationships with the Mubarak regime.

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Hosni Mubarak has been his strongest ally in the region. At the same time, Mr. Mubarak has been a firm ally of the Palestinian Authority and a staunch supporter of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Egypt has also tried to broker reconciliation talks (so far, unsuccessfully) between Fatah, the party governing the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

What does the crisis in Egypt mean for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? How crucial is Mr. Mubarak to dialogue between Israel and its neighbors? Will change in the Egyptian regime make progress in Mideast peace talks even less likely?

Read the Discussion »

Anxiety and Skepticism

By Gil Troy, New York Times, 2-1-11

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem.

Egypt’s uprising has already undermined most Israelis’ sense of security and their willingness to take risks for peace with the Palestinians. Israelis now worry about the biggest risk they ever took for peace: the withdrawal from Sinai in 1982.

Many Israelis wish they could support this popular move against Mubarak, but bitter experience has taught them to be skeptical.

A radical Egypt downgrading or abrogating its peace treaty with Israel would top the litany of failed peace-making attempts and reinforce the argument of right-wing skeptics against trading land for peace with the Palestinians. Moreover, a hostile Egypt would reinforce the sense of betrayal so many Israelis have felt since 2000, as the failure of the Oslo peace process triggered a wave of Palestinian terror, the withdrawal from Lebanon boosted Hezbollah, and disengagement from Gaza brought Hamas to power.

Israelis have longed for greater intimacy with the Egyptian people, always speaking of “peace with Egypt” not with Mubarak. Yet this “cold peace” has been government to government not people to people. Israelis have accepted the limits, given their alternatives.

Mubarak’s Egypt has served as an important counterweight to Ahmadinejad’s Iran. The recent Wikileaks documents suggested some of the benefits Israel enjoyed from its alliance with Mubarak, including diplomatic support, intelligence sharing and military cooperation. Most important have been decades of non-belligerency. With the loss of that sense of security on its southern border, Israelis will be much more reluctant to cede control of their eastern border to an independent Palestine.

This week’s hysterical headlines in the Israeli press about the potential loss of Egypt, the dip in Tel Aviv stocks, the debate about whether President Obama can be trusted to support American allies, all suggest that Israel’s strategic doctrine is being hastily rewritten.

The prospects of peace become even more unlikely if Egypt turns Islamist. Israel’s safest border will suddenly look menacing. Hamas will look stronger in Gaza with an Islamist Egyptian regime not even pretending to try to stop the flow of arms. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will look like a less viable peace partner with fundamentalism ascendant, and any pro-peace or pro-Western Palestinians demonized as collaborators. Moreover, Israeli policymakers will feel caught, doubting Mahmoud Abbas as another unelected autocrat while fearing the popular Palestinian street more than ever.

Israelis find themselves once again in dissonance with the international community. Many Israelis wish they could wholeheartedly support this popular move against an aging dictator. But the bitter experience of the last ten years suggests that skepticism is in order.

J-Street: Why urge Obama to sic the UN on Israel?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-25-11

J Street’s call on the US administration not to veto yet another biased resolution makes as much sense as turning to Ehud Olmert to teach political ethics.

J Street has joined the latest anti-Israel pile-on: encouraging the Obama administration to support this month’s anti-Israel initiative in the UN Security Council instead of vetoing it. J Street supports the resolution because it condemns the settlements.

Yet urging the Obama administration to sic the UN on Israel with yet another biased resolution makes as much sense as turning to Ehud Olmert to teach political ethics, or asking Hamas to run a seminar on peaceful conflict resolution.

Once again, J Street’s actions have undermined its claim to be the “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.”

Those of us championing big-tent Zionism feel no joy when J Street stumbles. It speaks to US Jews seeking a revitalized liberal Zionism which is pro-Israel, yet anti-settlement. The number of dovish American Jews has been exaggerated. There are many ways to reconcile liberalism and Zionism. We should welcome all who love Israel, even if they criticize its policies.

In the 1950s America, Arthur Schlesinger, Adlai Stevenson and others forged a muscular, post-Stalinist liberalism: tough and realistic enough to be anticommunist; humane and patriotic enough to be effective.

Similarly, Zionism today needs a revitalized, post-Oslo left that is tough and realistic enough to be anti-terrorism and anti-delegitimization, yet compromising and patriotic enough to be transformational, not just effective. Is J Street up to that challenge? In 2010, J Street seemed to find a more mature, constructive footing, despite lying about its financial reliance on the anti-Zionist George Soros and other mysterious funders. Whereas it originally so opposed the Jewish establishment it could not even ally with mainstream Jewish organizations when they were right about Hamas or Iran, this teenage rebellious phase seemingly faded. Most notably, J Street denounced the global anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

In repudiating the boycotters’ “punitive approach toward Israel” and their “failure to focus on the responsibilities of all parties to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” J Street saw through the human rights masquerade of so many anti-Israeli forces, especially on campus.

Its website condemned the Palestinian BDS National Committee for failing “explicitly to recognize Israel’s right to exist” and “ignor[ing] or reject[ing] Israel’s role as a national home for the Jewish people.”

On campus, J Street commendably endorsed investing in peace projects, not divesting from Israel.

HERE, J STREET drew what I and others call “red lines” when criticizing Israel while respecting “blue-and-white lines” – affirming why Zionism remains a legitimate form of nationalism. These lines – and the unreason of Israel’s enemies – created a big tent to oppose its delegitimization. Of course we can criticize Israel – dissent is democracy’s lifeblood, and the Jewish national pastime. Of course we can disagree about just what formula might solve the conflict – it’s a complicated mess, vexing many smart, moral people. And of course we should unite in delegitimizing the delegitimizers – trying to demonize Israel with human rights talk serves as a smoke screen obscuring hatred while undermining any peace process; compromise is difficult when you ostracize or are ostracized.

All this makes J Street’s recent turn to the UN so foolish. The UN, aka the Third World dictators’ debating society, is the international headquarters of modern anti- Zionism, the delegitimizers’ main legitimizer. Since the General Assembly condemned Zionism as racism in 1975, the UN has targeted Israel repeatedly, spearheading the worldwide attempt to gussy up the toxic combination of traditional anti-Semitism and modern Arab anti- Zionism in idealistic human rights language. In so doing, it has sacrificed its own credibility and reduced human rights talk to a partisan battering ram.

This new big lie that Zionism is racism festers, although it reeks of communism’s rotting corpse. The Soviet Union, which choreographed the resolution to embarrass America’s democratic allies, collapsed. The General Assembly repealed the resolution in 1991. Alas, this toxin injected into the international political bloodstream enjoyed renewed potency after the infamous Durban conference in 2001, and gains strength each time the UN demonizes Israel.

True, the Security Council is not as bad as the UN Human Rights Council. But that is grading with a depressingly low standard.

Assuming goodwill, trusting that secret Saudi funders are not manipulating J Street into ignoring all this, one explanation emerges. It has again succumbed to that contemporary political malady, the occupation preoccupation, wherein opposition to settlements blots out all other aspects of the narrative, undermining all reason.

This UN resolution – and implicitly J Street – overlooks the Palestinian culture of hatred and terrorism which remains the major obstacle to peace.

This resolution – and implicitly J Street – overlooks the continuing challenge Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionists pose. It ignores the latest Palestinian anger that Mahmoud Abbas even considered compromising on Jerusalem. This resolution – and implicitly J Street – overlooks Barack Obama’s settlement freeze fiasco, which gave the Palestinians a new precondition without even getting them to negotiate for most of the time settlement construction was stopped.

Ironically, in planning to veto the resolution the Obama administration reveals that it may be cured of the occupation preoccupation which J Street, among others, championed.

In fighting US plans to veto this latest UN outrage, J Street is failing to “Give Voice to Our Values” – the slogan of its upcoming conference. J Street is failing to be either pro-peace or pro-Israel, because biased UN resolutions undermine trust rather than building confidence. And J Street is forgetting its own repudiation of the boycotters, because this resolution, like the BDS movement, once again takes a “punitive approach toward Israel” and fails “to focus on the responsibilities of all parties to help end the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.”

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman research fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His next book will look at the UN’s 1975 Zionism is racism resolution.

giltroy@gmail.com

Center Field: And the prize goes to…

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-14-10

Eli Yishai seized the ‘Amir Peretz’ prize for his blunder during the Biden visit, for which he should be fired.

Who will pay for the Biden blunder? So far, it seems that only Israel and the Jewish people will. This was a classic lose-lose from left to right. Those who desire territorial compromise lamented the derailing of Vice President Joe Biden’s goodwill tour, thanks to the announcement of 1,600 new housing units being built in east Jerusalem. Those who hope to continue building settlements under the radar screen, as well as those who distinguish east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, are now going to see more American scrutiny and more diplomatic clumping of Jerusalem with the other territories which Israel won in 1967. This rank incompetence put the issue of a united Jerusalem in the American government’s crosshairs, not just in the occasional media spotlight.

In a sane political system, heads would roll. If he had any class, Interior Minister Eli Yishai would resign even before the prime minister fired him. Last week, Yishai seized the “Amir Peretz” prize from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for the cabinet member least qualified for his essential post but only there because of the country’s dysfunctional political system.

Alas, instead of paying for his mistake, Yishai is keeping his job while his Shas allies remain as unrepentant as ever. “The prime minister remembers who gave [Binyamin] Netanyahu his job,” one source “close to Yishai” told The Jerusalem Post, still demanding payback for Shas’s refusal to join Tzipi Livni’s proposed Kadima government in October 2008. Such arrogance reducesthe prime minister to a head waiter, simply serving his political allies the goodies they demand at the snap of their fingers.

An executive unable to fire is neutered, like a conductor barred from waving a baton, or a rabbi banned from teaching. Some South American countries under US sway were once banana republics; Netanyahu’s government – like too many Israeli governments – risks becoming a doughnut democracy with no power in the center and too many greasy pols circling around. Netanyahu should fire Yishai – even if it means having his government fall.

WHILE IT is always hard to predict the future, let alone the Israeli political scene, if Netanyahu faced down Yishai on this issue, he and the Likud probably would emerge stronger, even if new elections resulted. The public would applaud Netanyahu for showing some spine, especially if he framed the issue as an attempt to end government by blackmail.

And if, while leading boldly, Netanyahu proclaimed that his government would not fracture the Jewish people by stirring up the who-is-a-Jew hornet’s nest, he would improve his standing in the Jewish world and Jewish history too. The fact that some politicians and the Chief Rabbinate have even suggested blocking those converted abroad from being recognized under the Law of Return is outrageous. They forget Naomi’s welcome of Ruth in the Bible. More practically, politicians cannot complain about lacking allies in the world and then target or embarrass Israel’s most loyal friends, meaning the American government and Diaspora Jewry.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s continuing overreaction to the Biden blow-up will box Netanyahu into a corner and prevent him from doing what he needs to do. Apparently Biden’s delaying of a private dinner with Netanyahu, lecturing him about the slight, getting repeated apologies for the unintended offense fromthe prime minister and reprimanding Israel again during his Tel Aviv University speech did not satisfy President Barack Obama. The president also had to have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounce Israel’s misstep as “insulting” and have his government “condemn” its actions.

As Elliott Abrams, a former George W. Bush administration official and senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted in The Washington Post, “The verb ‘condemn’ is customarily reserved by US officials for acts of murder and terrorism – not acts of housing.” One wonders whether certain Obama administration officials are enjoying Israel’s stumble just a little too much – and using this to put the screws on the Jewish state.

Even so, there is no excuse for giving Obama this opportunity. The stakes are too high for such low-level sloppiness. Can anyone, anywhere in Israel’s vast, overstaffed, overpaid, underperforming bureaucracy claim ignorance either as to the timing or the sensitivity of Biden’s trip? My children knew about the trip. Anyone who gets a salary from the people and was in the dark about the trip or the impact such an announcement would have made should be fired too – and without the typical cushy government severance package.

LAST WEEK in Jerusalem, my friend and colleague Saul Singer officially launched Start-Up Nation, the book he coauthored with Dan Senor about Israel’s economic miracle. Taking advantage of the excitement the book has generated, Singer generously turned his hometown launch into a fund-raiser for the Jerusalem Circus, which builds trust between young Arabs and Jews who must support one another while standing on each other’s shoulders or catching one another as they jump.

Singer linked the creative, impressive, world class hi-tech entrepreneurship his book describes with the equally path-breaking social entrepreneurship the Jerusalem Circus and many other worthy initiatives represent. I left thinking: How tragic that a country which produces such brilliant computer wizards, such visionary social activists, is stuck with so many political clowns who turn the government into a circus.

Eli Yishai’s Biden-based boobery has presented Netanyahu’s doughnut democracy with its ultimate test. Here is an opportunity for Netanyahu to lead – and emerge more popular, more powerful, and more able to deliver the quality governance the people of Israel need and deserve.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

To be pro-Ahmadinejad is to be anti-peace

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-3-10

History is dynamic, not predetermined. There are crossroads in the life of nations, and 2010 could be such a moment for Iran. With the international community looking weakened and the rule of international law being mocked, this could be the year the Iranian nuclear project passes its point of no return, and this ugly repressive regime is strengthened. Alternatively, in 2010 the Green Movement of Iranian students and dissidents could save the world – and the Iranian people – from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s grip. People of conscience throughout the world cannot stand by. We can make a difference, we must make a difference.

That was the theme of an extraordinary press breakfast held at the King David Hotel in the final days of 2009, just short of US President Barack Obama’s deadline for the Iranian mullahocracy. Professor Irwin Cotler, the human rights champion, Canadian Parliamentarian and former justice minister and attorney general, presented his “Responsibility to Prevent” petition demanding the international community fulfill its legally mandated responsibility and punish Ahmadinejad’s Iran for inciting to genocide, sponsoring state terrorism, illegally pursuing atomic weapons, and oppressing its own people. Cotler denounced the “culture of impunity,” whereby Iran has defied international law. He said Iran presents “a clear and present danger to international peace and security, to Middle East stability, as well as to its own people” – and must be sanctioned.

An impressive array of human rights activists and jurists reinforced Professor Cotler’s detailed, tightly-reasoned legal plea. Professor Suzanne Last Stone of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law noted this was “not a policy matter, but a legal obligation.” The countries of the world have signed treaties obligating them to act against these crimes with “specific remedies.” Calling in from Boston at 2 a.m., Professor Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School emphasized that “The crime has already been committed,” saying “This it the time, this is the moment, this is the true test” for the international community. “History will judge us all,” Professor Dershowitz warned, if we are silent, and thus “complicit in this evil.”

Bassem Eid, the executive director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, offered another dimension, warning that Iran pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into Hamas, trying to fuel the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and undermining the PA. Keeping the Middle East “unstable” plays into the mullahs’ hands, Eid noted. He said he had not heard “any clear statement from the international community in terms of supporting the opposition and putting pressure on Ahmadinejad’s Iran.”

While Professor Cotler and his colleagues focused on international law and leaders, students and grassroots activists have a crucial role to play now. The silence of campus activists and the broader human rights community in the face of Iranian crimes has been deafening. The student heroes of Iran must know that students throughout the world are protesting for them, supporting them. Yes, appeasers will caution that too much support from the West will enable the Iranian regime to claim the dissidents are Western dupes. The Iranian autocrats are making that charge anyway, shouldn’t we at least show the Iranian heroes they are not alone, that the rape, torture, murder and beating they endure are not being ignored and will not be forgotten?

As students return from their holidays, the fight to support the Green Movement in Iran should be the top item on the student activist agenda. Rallies should spread from the universities to the capital cities, attracting more media coverage, stoking more popular outrage, demanding more international action, especially sanctions. Politicians will run for cover if they can – they will act when they cannot.

The pro-Iranian movement – and that’s what it is when it opposes Ahmadinejad’s Iran – should focus on effective pressure points. Germany should be a particular target, given the billions of dollars in business Germany conducts with Iran annually. The country responsible for the 20th century’s most horrific genocide should do what it can to derail the country so far most brazenly promising to enact a genocide in the 21st century – especially given that Jews were the target then, and now. Iranian diplomats throughout the world should be shouted down, shamed in public, targeted – in nonviolent, creative ways, of course – for representing this despicable regime. And every government in the world today must be held accountable for its inaction in fighting this evil. President Barack Obama in particular must hear from the young Americans who idolize him that his “Yes We Can” message must resonate more loudly, clearly, pointedly, and yes, aggressively in Teheran.

While the pro-Israel student community should forge broad alliances against Ahmadinejad, campus Zionists should focus their activities on Iran in the next few weeks, building up to the annual anti-Israel week during which the democratic state of Israel is falsely compared to South Africa’s abhorrent Apartheid regime. Maybe this is the year to ignore the anti-Israel activities that week by simply beefing up the push against Ahmadinejad.

Let us draw a clear line in the sand for the hypocrites of today who purport to love human rights. Invite them to join up against Ahmadinejad’s Iran. Either they do, and we have common cause in a pressing concern – or they don’t and we see where they stand on human rights, and, if we follow Bassem Eid’s analysis, on seeking real attempts to bring peace to the Middle East. Being pro-Ahmainejad is essentially being anti-peace.

And let us not be ashamed to stand as pro-Israel Jews against Ahmadinejad’s Iran. When asked at the breakfast if all the petition-signers were Jews – they are not and include distinguished Arab and Muslim leaders – Denis MacShane, the British parliamentarian calling in from the UK, bristled. MacShane said that increasingly, the so-called human rights community seeks to silence the Jewish voice on human rights issues. MacShane, who identified himself as a proud Catholic, encouraged Jews to stand as proud Jews on this defining human rights issue of our time.

A poignant plea came from Vancouver, from Nazanin Afshin-Jam, “Miss World Canada 2003,” and the President of Stop Child Executions. “I thank you for hearing the cries of the Iranian people who are suffering under this oppressive reigme…,” she said. “The Iranian people need your help. They need the support of the international community.” How dare we ignore her – and their – pleas.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, was recently published by Oxford University Press.