Honoring the Alchemy of Education: Israel’s Honorary Doctorates

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-12-12

What do the scientist Howard Cedar, the historian Deborah Lipstadt, the Israeli Supreme Court justice Salim Joubran, the industrialist Eitan Wertheimer, the sociologist Robert Putnam, the Nobel prize winner Dan Shechtman and the singer Yehoram Gaon have in common? These are among the luminaries reminding us that it is honorary doctorate season again at Israeli universities. The newspapers are filled with lists of super-duper high achievers being celebrated for jobs well done and lives well lived.

Honorary doctorates are often distributed at commencement ceremonies to salute particular heroes, emphasize certain defining values, and introduce graduating students to inspiring role models. The juxtaposition of young graduates embarking on their careers with impressive individuals who have already made their mark reminds us of the alchemy of education. We remember that watching others frequently stretches us and that success is not preordained – each of these honorees sweated, suffered and improvised, surviving and thriving in challenging environments.

The seven mentioned – of dozens being honored this spring – offer a broad celebration of modern Israel’s values. Professor Cedar, a top geneticist, represent Israeli science’s extraordinary achievements while Shechtman, the iconoclastic chemist, shows that Israeli greatness is finally being recognized. Wertheimer, of Iscar, now owned by Warren Buffett and Berkshire-Hathaway, represents Israel’s invigorating entrepreneurial climate.  Justice Joubran represents Israel’s muscular legal culture and great strides towards equality in welcoming Israeli Arabs into leadership positions. Gaon represents Israel’s delicious creativity and the commitment of some celebrities to use their fame for public service. Professor Lipstadt, the historian who confronted the Holocaust denier David Irving, represents Israel’s great partnership with the United States and the happy consonance of Jewish, Zionist and academic values, while Putnam, the Harvardian who taught us that this generation likes to Bowl Alone, unlike our more communitarian parents, represents the sweep of achievements in the humanities worldwide. These worthy superstars honor the institutions that honor them.

Missing from the lists I examined for this year were leading politicians – reflecting the current state of political despair. For all its strengths epitomized by its impressive universities, Israel is enduring a leadership vacuum and a crisis of popular confidence in politics. As in the US, many Israeli voters doubt their leaders or their institutions can solve the serious problems afoot. Universities are sometimes happy alternatives, and, frankly, sometimes ugly mirrors reflecting what goes on – as my Jerusalem Post writing colleague Seth J. Frantzman reported last week. The phenomenon of what he calls “Incitement U” is a serious problem demanding frank discussion and creative reform.  Frantzman was called a “collaborator” at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev last week for daring to think politically incorrect thoughts – backed up by research — about Beduin land claims. Still, during honorary degree season, even Israeli universities usually are on their best behavior.

In a more ambiguous category are the many honorary degree recipients who earned their honors by donating generously to the university. On the one hand, philanthropy is a fancy name for Tsedakah, righteous charity, and should be rewarded. Universities need the help; generous benefactors deserve the thanks. Giving generously in a contemporary culture of self-indulgence which makes few people ever feel like they have accumulated enough is an act of heroism and selfless commitment to the next generation. The usual honorary degree mix of genius academics, general high achievers, and generous donors itself represents the tripod on which the academy stands – pure knowledge, pragmatic action, and community spirit.

At the same time, the “look Mom, I bought a doctorate” game fools no one. As the Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel writes in his illuminating new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, the game is a form of corruption: “Money can buy things, but only in somewhat degraded form,” he writes. He then imagines what would happen if universities were honest, saying at the degree-granting ceremonies to a wealthy donor: “We confer honorary degrees upon distinguished scientists and artists for their achievements. But we award you this degree in thanks for the $10 million you gave us to build a new library.”  Of course, “the transparency would dissolve the good.” Instead, Sandel notes, universities “speak of public service, philanthropic commitment and dedication to the university’s mission – an honorific vocabulary that blurs the distinction between an honorary degree and a bought one.”

Blessedly absent from the Israeli honoree community are those absurd salutes to the famous – simply for being famous. In recent years, American universities have devalued their honorary degrees by granting doctorates to Shaquille O’Neal, Jack Nicholson, and Dolly Parton. Such awards often thrill parents, students, alumni and donors, giving them opportunities for celebrity namedropping back home – but they demean the process.

Six years ago, Knox College granted the television comedian Stephen Colbert an honorary degree. His best career advice for students, he said, was: get your own TV show. It pays well, the hours are good, and you are famous. And eventually some very nice people will give you a doctorate in fine arts for doing jack squat.”

Fortunately, Israeli universities, especially these days, are not honoring the jack squatters but the thinkers, doers, and builders of today and tomorrow. Even without any rah-rah blue and white speeches, even without quoting Herzl, these ceremonies are profoundly moving Zionist acts. They tell the story of a society that is growing, that is contributing to the world – and recognizing the world-class achievements of others. When we pull back the historical lens and consider that these universities were not established in 1249 like Oxford or 1636 like Harvard, but mere decades ago, when we remember all the traumas and travails, we should not only salute the honorees, not only praise the universities, but hail the Jewish people and the entire Zionist enterprise.

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

No, McGill is not antisemitic

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By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 5-28-12

An e-mail sent to me and copied to McGill’s principal Heather Munroe-Blum grabbed my attention. It contained a forwarded article headlined “McGill University’s Rampant, Historic, and Current Anti-Semitism,” which concluded that “Antisemitism is clearly engrained into the culture at McGill University, and any proud Jew wouldn’t go anywhere near the university.”

As a proud Jew associated with the university for more than 20 years, knowing that it is led by another proud Jew whose first public letter to the McGill community eloquently denounced antisemitism, I thought the issue required investigation.

The article’s author certainly had grounds for being furious. The trigger was an outrageous smear in the McGill Daily that ran this past March calling Israel “The Land of Milk and Heroin.” This latest anti-Israel libel accused the Jewish state of encouraging heroin addiction among Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem. This article belongs to a genre we can call “Israel as bogeyman,” which seeks to blame the Jewish state for any problem even vaguely associated with the Middle East or Israel’s existence. Such delegitimization and hatred reeks of antisemitism, with its extremism and essentialism.

The version of the article I read online was already sanitized, shorn of its most offensive statements, thanks to the effective response of Michelle Whiteman, Quebec regional director of HonestReporting Canada. As she explained in a Times of Israel blog entry, HonestReporting confronted the Daily, and even though the paper only ran a heavily edited letter from HonestReporting six weeks later, it cleaned up the article online, partially.

Gone were such absurd, unfounded libels, based on “Palestine TV’s arguments,” that “Israeli authorities are actually responsible for encouraging and facilitating heroin use among Arabs for political reasons.” Still, pathetic, inaccurate faux anthropological insights abounded, such as the claim that “drug abuse is often found burgeoning in regions facing political conflict, with rates of addiction rising during times of both physical and structural conflict – it is seen as being a defence strategy to cope with insecurity and violence.” How this “insight” explains the spike in heroin addiction during the prosperous 1960s in the West or the fact that Israeli Jews and Arabs have similar rates of heroin addiction – except among Arab women, where it plummets – is beyond me.

Still, while the article was heavily biased against Israel, and while I understand the historic resonance of antisemitism fuelling such smears, and while I recoil from the blatant antisemitism in the Arab world that is now, to my horror, shaping the conversation on too many college campuses, that does not make McGill an antisemitic institution.

For starters, the McGill Daily is known on campus for frequently running shoddy, provocative, extreme, “politically correct” articles. Despite being a professor who rarely turns away from a good ideological battle, I won’t lower myself to responding to Daily articles. I was thrilled that HonestReporting did – although I wish McGill students themselves had done it, as some did in the online comments. Second, the Daily is a student-run publication that does not represent McGill University in any way. Finally, McGill has a thriving Jewish student life, many Jewish students, professsors and administrators, a first-rate Judaic studies department, an impressive Hillel, and an exciting, student-run Ghetto shul – attributes that make it one of the most welcoming campuses for Jews.

The bigger issue here is the shrillness of debate about Israel. Again and again, so many of Israel’s opponents seem utterly incapable of making a nuanced argument when it comes to the Middle East. Israel is demonized in multiple ways worldwide. In response, I regret to say, some of Israel’s defenders also overreact. When our allies in the fight for Israel unfairly call an institution such as McGill “antisemitic,” we all suffer. It undermines our credibility. When I have seen antisemitism, I have fought it, passionately, and have the professional scars to show for it. But when I see false and extreme accusations, even when I understand the pain underlying it, I also have to respond.

And let me be clear: my response is not only tactical, made because we might look bad. We need to set the highest standards for the pro-Israel community, demanding truth, consistency, nuance and accuracy. Hysteria hurts us, distracting us from the real issues and the bigger problems. It also alienates us from our environment unnecessarily, blinding us to potential allies and even to true friends.

iEngage: Hartman Summer Internship: Continuing the Jewish Mentorship Tradition

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By Gil Troy, iEngage — Shalom Hartman Institute, 3-22-12

The new bestselling tell-all memoir by Mimi Alford, the 19-year-old Monica Lewinsky of the John Kennedy White House, who detailed her 18-month-long affair with JFK, has once again made the phrase “White House intern” a mark of shame rather than a badge of honor. More broadly, the internship, a lovely, often life-changing rite of passage, is the latest sacred cow under attack.
 
Reductionist radicals who only view society through the prism of power as exploitative, have assailed internships as providing organizations with free labor, giving rich kids a form of affirmative action, because only they can afford internships, and muscling out workers who need the paying jobs. These attempts to pathologize what for many young people and organizations is a constructive win-win, mentorship growth opportunity, overlooks an essential Jewish value which internships epitomize, the beauty of learning by doing.
 
This summer, we at the Shalom Hartman Institute hope to have a tikkun, repairing the breach by creating the right kind of internship.
 
Despite being the People of the Book, Jews have a profound, historical, even theological appreciation for the educational osmosis that occurs when a talented young person shadows a worthy role model. Two of the greatest Biblical leaders were first nurtured as interns. Joshua was, we learn in Numbers 11:28, “the attendant of Moses from his youth.” In his role as Moses’ assistant, protege and shadow, Joshua received the ultimate opportunity, the most intimate look at the greatest moment for Moses and the Jewish people – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Exodus 23:13 says, “Moses rose up and Joshua, his attendant.” In both cases the Hebrew root of the word shin-resh-taf speaks of service, of ministering, of intense devotion.
 
Similarly, the great prophet Samuel was an intern to Eli at Shiloh. Although that career choice seemed to have been made for him by his Jewish mother ­- an action that became so common it became a staple of American popular culture – Samuel 1, 3:1 says “the boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli.”
 
Although statistics are unreliable, the world capital of internships may be Washington, DC. Every summer, America’s hot, muggy capital attracts swarms of young, fresh-faced college and post-college students, eager to work for senators, representatives, government agencies, NGO’s, thinktanks, authors, and, most coveted of all, the president, at least symbolically, in the White House. These earnest, dressed-for-success young men and women have their own hangouts, their own rental patterns, their own group rituals. Some can afford not to work for money, but others will hustle as waiters or in other capacities at night to finance their daytime dream-job. Each one ends up with an individualized experience that can range from frustrating grunt work to what feels like profound, holy work, as it did to Samuel and Joshua.
 
The Zionist movement has long treasured the ideal of peer leadership, not for cheap labor but for ideological purity. The combination of role-modeling and on-the-job training has empowered generations of Jewish leaders in Israel and abroad. Peer leadership reinforces the traditional Jewish value of learning by doing with the Zionist commitment to self-reliance, authenticity, and returning to history.
 
A successful internship depends on the intern – but it also depends on the mentor. A successful internship flourishes as what the philosopher Martin Buber called an “I-Thou” relationship, not as an “I-it.” An “I-it” internship throws at the young person a pile of unappealing work that no one else wants to do. An “I-Thou” internship requires investment from the mentor, who models an approach to work and to the mission behind the work, so that even filing and answering correspondence can feel important. Not everyone who has an uncompleted to-do list can handle an intern. The “I-Thou” mentor takes the time to pass on a suitable project that stretches the intern, that teaches the intern, that builds a relationship – many of which last for decades.
 
This year, at the Shalom Hartman Institute, we are launching an iEngage Shalom Hartman Summer Internship that we hope will model how to train young people, in the same way we hope our iEngage project will model a new way to talk about and appreciate Israel. The three critical elements in building what we hope will be lasting relationships with a cadre of talented young people every year are: study in the morning, learning about the foundations of Judaism together, with each other as hevruta, as learning partners, with top Hartman scholars, work in the afternoon on the Engaging Israel project, either working closely with one of the EI scholars on a particular research project or working in small groups on some of the projects the EI team has identified as essential next steps in our educational mission, and finally, a commitment in the following school year to host one EI Hartman program on campus, to put the learning to work.
 
Beyond that, we expect our interns to breathe in the atmosphere of the city of Jerusalem and this think tank over the summer – enjoying many free lunches – as rabbis, scholars, ministers, teachers, philosophers, and activists gather on the Hartman campus in Jerusalem and do what we hope the interns will do – work together, think together, laugh together, bond together, and learn together. Click here for more information on the iEngage internship program.

Time to refute the Israel-Apartheid & Zionism-Racism big lies with subtlety on campus

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-21-12

I had a disorienting experience in New York two weeks ago. I attended a discussion about Israel on campus that lacked hysteria, acknowledged complexity, and advocated nuance. The David Project launched its white paper “A Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges.” The question mark after “Burning Campus” reflected a growing sophistication in American Jews’ conversation about Israel on campus.
The writers of the David Project’s analysis – with whom I consulted and for whom I wrote the foreword – dared announce that “Campus is largely not a hostile environment for Jewish students.” Actually, Jews are enjoying a golden age in American universities. There have never been so many Jewish students and professors, Jewish studies programs and identity-building experiences.  “Relatively few” of the more than 4000 post-secondary American institutions “have an anti-Israel problem.” Yet, this also is a golden age for Israel-bashing on campus. The study correctly warns that “pervasive negativity toward Israel on key leading American university and college campuses is likely to erode long-term bipartisan support for the Jewish state.”
We cannot be complacent. American university culture welcomes hard left views that trend against Israel. Too many professors commit academic malpractice, preaching not teaching, frequently propagandizing to demonize Israel. Outside class, an aggressive, self-righteous anti-Israel movement intimidates many pro-Israel students and has discouraged pro-Israel forces from using the Z-word – Zionist. This anti-Israel movement will soon launch anti-Israel hate weeks in a dozen or two campuses across North America, perpetuating the New Big Lie that Zionism is racism and comparing Israel to South Africa’s racist apartheid.
In A State Beyond The Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel, the British journalist Robin Shepherd accurately diagnoses the problem afflicting Israel on campus: All these attacks’ cumulative effect on Israel’s “reputation” is “devastating….  “Consider the words and images with which Israel has in recent years been associated: ‘shitty,’ ‘Nazi,’ ‘racist,’ ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleanser,’ ‘occupier,’ ‘war criminal,’ ‘violator of international law,’ ‘user of disproportionate force,’ ‘liability.’ …. No other state in the world is talked about in such terms.” Shepherd’s insight resonates with one of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s fears after the UN General Assembly passed the “Zionism is Racism” resolution when he was America’s UN ambassador in 1975. Moynihan worried that, increasingly, “Whether Israel was responsible,” for particular world problems, “Israel surely would be blamed: openly by some, privately by most. Israel would be regretted.”
While recognizing these dangers, pro-Israel circles – they should call themselves Zionist! – are debating the dangers of overreaction. When Zionists spotlight some anti-Israel conference or hate week, do we highlight activities that otherwise would be ignored? We must choose our battles carefully – although our campus problem partially stems from too many decades of being too passive.
We need jujitsu moves, turning negative forces into positive energies – while telling our story, and offering our affirmative vision. If, as is occurring in nearly fifty campuses this spring, anti-Israel hate week triggers rounds of “Israel Peace Week,” then Israel’s adversaries will be the ones seeing their strategy backfire. Whoever calls themselves pro-peace must learn to be anti-delegitimization. In relationships between countries — as with people — you cannot go into a defensive crouch and an expansive hug simultaneously. Fighting against delegitimization is fighting for the conditions that facilitate peacemaking.
Similarly, let the week perpetuating the Apartheid libel trigger weeks of learning about what Zionism is – a movement of Jewish national liberation – and what it isn’t – racist. Let’s learn what the American civil rights leader Vernon Jordan said in 1975 after the UN’s Zionism is Racism Resolution:“Smearing the ‘racist’ label on Zionism is an insult to intelligence,” Jordan wrote. “Black people, who recognize code words since we’ve been victimized by code words … can easily smell out the fact that ‘Zionism’ in this context is a code word for anti-Semitism.” Jordan blasted the General Assembly for “saying that national self-determination is for everyone except Jews.” And he detailed Arab discrimination, against Christian Copts, Kurds, Sudanese Blacks and Jews – especially dark-skinned Sephardic Jews.
Back then, thirty years after the Holocaust, most Americans, left and right, black and white, would never link the word “racism” to anything connected to Zionism or Judaism.  The former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver was “[s]hocked because of all people in the world, the Jews have not only have suffered particularly from racist persecution, they have done more than any other people in history to expose and condemn racism…. To condemn the Jewish survival doctrine of Zionism as racism is a travesty upon the truth.”
Further left politically, the anti-poverty activist and Democratic Socialist Michael Harrington joined the chorus of outrage. “If one preposterously charges that Zionism is racist, then so are all nationalisms which joined to condemn it at the U.N.,” Harrington said. “And that is to drain the concept of racism of any serious meaning.” Harrington warned that “By inventing a non-existent racism in Israel, the UN has undermined the effectiveness of mobilizing serious action against the real racism of Southern Africa.” Jean Daniel, a French radical and frequent critic of Israel called this “diabolic idiocy,” which discredited “the Arab cause” and the Third World, “counter-revolutionary and anti-Socialist.”
Since then, the New Big Lie has become a broadly accepted truism despite remaining untrue. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is national not racial. The Soviet-Arab decision to call Zionism racism and compare Israel to South Africa was a clever propaganda move to demonize and ostracize Israel – and Jews.  That the Soviet Union fell, the UN repealed the Resolution in 1991, and Israel made peace with some Arab neighbors shows that history can get better. That this libel outlived its Soviet concocters should spur our fight against this New Big Lie, and for Zionism, with strategy, with nuance, with effective education not just indignation, no matter how justified.

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 History of American Presidential Elections.

Beware ‘HIsraesteria’: Friends’ and foes’ hysteria over Israel

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-14-12

The unfortunate drift to theocracy continues. Recently, religious leaders in the army wanted to read a letter at prayers denouncing a policy shift that so infuriated them, they wrote: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.” Initially, high ranking officials did not want the letter read to religious troops because it “could be misinterpreted as a call to civil disobedience within our nation’s military ranks.” Cooler heads prevailed. Even as the army brass conceded that the letter’s “dissemination … as part of a religious service was not a matter for Army review,” the fundamentalists eliminated that one line and distributed it from their military pulpits.
Had this brouhaha occurred in Israel, with rabbis as the “religious leaders” and settlers as the “religious troops,” renewed warnings of Israel becoming like Iran – as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charged recently – would have trumped the happy news of compromise. But this news came from the Catholic News Service. It refers to Catholic opposition to the Obama administration’s plan to force Catholic institutions with non-Catholic workers to pay for abortions and contraception under Obamacare. President Obama ultimately relented, and will allow outside insurance providers to cover those services. Before that, as part of a nationwide campaign of rage, Catholic military chaplains distributed the harsh letter from the Archbishop for the Military Services – minus the offending line.
While the issue aroused passions in the US, this military power struggle raised no worries about America turning theocratic. Although some bloggers shrieked that Obama was destroying religious freedom, few Americans feared the republic was imperiled. For Israel, the incident is doubly instructive. First, it reminds us that Israel is not the only democracy navigating complicated religion and state issues, it is not the only democracy with a religious infrastructure embedded within its armed forces, and it is not the only democracy still working out core identity issues through values’ clashes.  Democracies are disputatious; important rights frequently collide. Such tensions, even painful dilemmas, are signs of life not forebodings of death.
A second lesson is that there is a particular hysteria — call it “hIsraesteria” — surrounding discussion of many issues in Israel. “HIsraesteria” afflicts friends and foes of the Jewish state. For Israel’s supporters, it manifests itself in constant anxiety, reducing Zionist hopes into perpetual fears, viewing Israel as the central headache of the Jewish people. In fairness, the hysteria is sometimes justified. Israel has real enemies, with deep enmity, who seek to exploit any weaknesses. And Israel is a young country with an immature democracy, a democracy frequently tested by war, terror and espionage, populated by millions raised in undemocratic political cultures, especially Russia and the Arab world.
Israel’s enemies use “hIsraesteria” to try furthering their goal of delegitimizing the Jewish State. With Israel the one country in the world on probation – the one country whose legitimacy seems contingent on “good,” meaning compliant, behavior, critics quickly jump from criticizing Israel to repudiating it. Critics love pathologizing Israel’s day-to-day problems, magnifying the common conflicts any democracy might experience into some epoch-making, dream-tarnishing, weakness-inducing immoral mess. And “hIsraesteria” often leads Israel’s critics to caricature Israel’s friends, treating Zionists as heavy-handed bigots.
Two weeks ago, I endured such caricaturing, when I was attacked in the Harvard Crimson, based on a lecture I gave three months earlier and a Jerusalem Post article I wrote about it the next day. The irony is that I reported good news – that I had been warmly, respectfully received at Harvard. Emphasizing that, to show how we can have productive, open-minded campus conversations about Zionism, Israel, and Jewish identity, I mentioned that “on too many campuses” – emphasizing some not all—pro-Israel or Zionist speakers have been “harassed.”
Caricaturing my argument, trying to set me up as a straw man – or a Zionist bogeyman – a student radical on campus pole-vaulted past my words claiming, Troy “relies on the assumption (which he has put forth in other articles) that ‘pro-Palestinian’ means ‘anti-Semitic.’” In the article, I never used the term “anti-Semitic”—I mentioned “anti-Zionist forces.” Moreover, I have acknowledged repeatedly in writing that many people are pro-Palestinian or critical of Israel without being anti-Semitic. The student distorted my “assumptions” and my “writing” with no evidence but with a clear purpose:  to set herself up as open-minded and enlightened while caricaturing me – and by implication all Zionists – as petty and prejudiced. The title of the article “What Anti-Semitism?” treated modern Anti-Semitism as an exaggeration, the pathetic fantasy of extremist minds, as she supposedly proved it didn’t exist by falsely claiming I said it existed where I didn’t say it existed — then not finding it there.
I rebutted the charge quickly but was left wondering about this Jewish student’s motivation, and the broader phenomenon. This spring, on too many campuses – again, some not all – pro-Palestinian forces will mount an anti-Israel week. Central to the charge will be the erroneous, offensive comparison between Israeli security policies and the systematic racism of the old Apartheid state in South Africa. This modern libel is another form of “hIsraesteria,” making an exaggerated claim – insulting to Jews because it libels the Jewish state and insulting blacks because it hijacks the experience of those who genuinely suffered in South Africa.  Just as false analogies diminish the Holocaust, they diminish Apartheid, which legally typed people by skin color.

Students and professors should make their rebuttal – without succumbing to the hysteria.  It is much better to invest, as so many are, in building an Israel Peace Week, than to get too mired in shadowboxing against false charges, made by hysterics. Let us not forget. Overall, Israel is thriving – that should be our headline and inoculate us against “hIsraesteria.”

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 History of American Presidential Elections.

Fighting anti-Israel week with historical facts

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By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 2-9-12

As some universities brace for the annual spring round of anti-Israel weeks, which falsely accuse Israel of the great crimes committed by South African apartheid racists, we must put this absurdity in historical perspective. For starters, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a national one, not a racial one. The false comparison between what happens in the Middle East today with what non-whites experienced under South Africa’s apartheid regime, dishonours the suffering blacks in South Africa endured. Anyone who perpetuates the big lie accusing Israel of practising apartheid or claiming that Zionism is racism is simply passing on Soviet propaganda that has outlived its maker. In that spirit, let’s contemplate the African-American community’s response in 1975 to the United Nations General Assembly resolution claiming that Zionism is racism.

The day after the resolution passed, on Nov. 11, 1975, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the umbrella group of 32 leading American Jewish organizations, organized a noontime “rally against racism and antisemitism” in Manhattan. Many blacks attended the rally, and three important African-American leaders spoke: Percy Sutton, a famous lawyer and politician; Clarence Mitchell, a veteran NAACP official, and the activist Bayard Rustin. Many in the black civil rights community resented the Arabs hijacking their language and sloppily misapplying it to the Middle East.

“Smearing the ‘racist’ label on Zionism is an insult to intelligence,” wrote Vernon Jordan, the then-40-year-old president of the National Urban League. “Black people, who recognize code words since we’ve been victimized by code words like ‘forced busing,’ ‘law and order,’ and others, can easily smell out the fact that ‘Zionism’ in this context is a code word for antisemitism.” Jordan, a Southern-born lawyer, based his case against the General Assembly for “saying that national self-determination is for everyone except Jews.” And he detailed Arab discrimination against Christian Copts, Kurds, Sudanese blacks and Jews – especially dark-skinned Sephardi Jews.

One African-American speaker in particular, Bayard Rustin, stole the show. Born in 1912, a Communist during the Great Depression, a pacifist and draft resister during World War II, a gay activist long before it was safe to be one, and a labour union organizer, Rustin coached his friend, Martin Luther King, Jr., in Mahatma Gandhi’s ethos of non-violence. Rustin believed in “social dislocation and creative trouble.” Nicknamed “Mr. March,” Rustin helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, meeting Daniel Patrick Moynihan shortly thereafter on the civil rights circuit. Rustin worked closely with Jews, championing Israel as a democratic sentry surrounded by Middle East dictatorships. Rustin knew how much Jews wanted black support for Zionism in refuting the UN’s racism charge, and he happily provided it.

Rustin considered the resolution “an insult to the generations of blacks who have struggled against real racism.” In his newspaper column, he described the “incalculable damage” done to the fight against racism when the word becomes a “political weapon” rather than a moral standard. Rooting anti-Zionism in the ugly intersection between traditional antisemitism and the Arab desire to eradicate Israel, Rustin quoted Rev. King, a strong supporter of Israel, who said:  “when people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking antisemitism.”

Rustin and others also feared distraction from the anti-apartheid fight. Before the vote, 28 African-American intellectuals appealed to the General Assembly to bury this “extraneous issue.” The scholars warned that a taint of antisemitism around the broader mission “will heavily compromise African hopes of expunging apartheid from the world.”

Given his roots in the labour movement, Rustin resented the Arabs’ hypocrisy, considering their traditional contempt for black labourers. At the rally, Rustin noted Arabs’ historic involvement in the African slave trade. “Shame on them!” he shouted.  “[They] are the same people who enslaved my people.”

Tall and handsome, with his Afro sticking up and looming over his high forehead, Rustin ended his speech by bursting into song, singing Go Down Moses. As thousands of New Yorkers, black and white, Jewish and non-Jewish, joined in shouting “Let my people go,” the black and Jewish experiences reached a harmonic convergence.

We need to learn our history. We need to learn the facts. We need to fight the apartheid libel with the truth.

And we need to challenge Palestinians to devote a week to celebrating their own nationalism rather than focusing on destroying Israel and denigrating Zionism.

Harvard Crimson: Response to an inaccurate attack by Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14

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By Gil Troy, Harvard Crimson, 2-3-12

My skin is itchy—Sandra Y.L. Korn ’14 in her February 1 article “What Anti-Semitism?” set me up as a straw man. I now have to deny her accusation that I was making an accusation I never made, while noting that had I made that accusation with just a little more subtlety­—she herself admits it would be justified.

Korn attacked an article I wrote about my talk about Identity Zionism at Harvard last semester, so there is no ambiguity, the written record is clear. I described the warm, intelligent reception I received at Harvard, noting that “on too many campuses” – and I italicized “too many,” emphasizing some but not all—pro-Israel or Zionist speakers have been “harassed.”

Caricaturing my argument, she wrongly suggests I contrasted Harvard with everywhere else. She ignores the article’s intention of encouraging civil discussion about Zionism. And she pole vaults past my words claiming, Troy “relies on the assumption (which he has put forth in other articles) that ‘pro-Palestinian’ means ‘anti-Semitic.’” In the article in question, I never used the term “anti-Semitic”—I mentioned “anti-Zionist forces.” Moreover, I have acknowledged repeatedly in my writing that many people are pro-Palestinian or critical of Israel without being anti-Semitic. Korn distorts my “assumptions” and my “writing”—with no evidence.

What I have said, repeatedly, although not in that article or that talk, is that Israel’s critics, including Palestinians and their allies, have a moral obligation to distance themselves from those pro-Palestinian activists who are anti-Semitic. I have challenged them to condemn the anti-Jewish stereotypes in the Arab press resurrecting Hitlerian caricatures when attacking Israel, and to repudiate those extremists who engage in Jew-hatred when championing Palestinians.

Of course, not everyone who is pro-Palestinian is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. But many pro-Israel speakers have been disrupted on campuses, including Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, and there have been documented incidents of anti-Israel protestors waving placards denouncing Jews, wishing Hitler had “finished the job” or  throwing pennies at Zionists. Even Korn admits that, “some advocates for Palestinian rights are undoubtedly anti-Semitic.”

Finally, again without documentation, she says she is “assured by others” that “across the globe” the “arguments for economic sanctions on Israel do not stem from deep-seated anti-Semitism.” Here, she at least pretends to adduce proof by inserting a hyperlink. But her “evidence” is an article about the problem of falsely making accusations of anti-Semitism. The article says nothing about the worldwide anti-Israel boycott movement – which has some activists who are anti-Semitic, who deserve condemnation.

How odd. Korn feels compelled to allege falsely that I invoked anti-Semitism to then minimize claims of anti-Semitism by others even though she acknowledges that some pro-Palestinian voices are anti-Semitic. This exhausting tryout for the apologetics Olympics, cut off from the truth, minimizing the serious problem of anti-Semitism which does exist, suggests a moral blindness and animus that are unworthy of the Crimson and of Harvard.

 

Gil Troy ’82, Ph.D. ’88

Professor of History

McGill University

 

Gil Troy ‘82 is a Professor at McGill University in Canada.

Montreal a model for other Jewish communities

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 11-10-11

The mid-October issue of the Jerusalem Report exploded as a naches-bomb for me. Naches, of course, is that delicious Yiddish word meaning delighting in someone else’s accomplishments. My delight stemmed from two articles in that issue demonstrating how young Montrealers are revitalizing the Jewish world. These articles raise the question of how did these transformative, creative juices start flowing in Montreal?

The first article described downtown Toronto’s vibrant Jewish scene, centring on the hip, Carlebachian “Annex Shul.” One co-founder, Richard Meloff, is a Torontonian who studied at McGill University in the mid-1990s, while the Annex’s spiritual leader, Yacov Fruchter, is a Montrealer who enrolled at McGill in 2002.

The second article was written by a Montrealer who is now a Jerusalemite, Justin Korda, executive director of ROI community, an international network of 600 social entrepreneurs and Jewish innovators in 40 countries, created by American Jewish philanthropist Lynn Schusterman. Korda’s article, “Innovating Jewishly,” describes how social entrepreneurs are transforming modern Jewish life at the grassroots level, social entrepreneurs being innovators who combine “the vision of a social reformer with the business acumen of an entrepreneur.”

The Montreal flavour to these welcome Jewish revolutions struck me because when I moved to Montreal in 1990, I saw a stodgy, top-heavy, uncreative Jewish community. Even the few young Jews involved in this decaying city seemed prematurely old, shmoozing their elders, not wowing their peers. Although still dining out on its Yiddishist, Zionist prime earlier in the 20th century, the city was now traumatized by Quebec separatism, which sent many young Jews packing. Montreal Judaism seemed more likely to turn Jews off than turn them – and others – on.

I asked Meloff how he explained Montreal’s success in helping to incubate exciting new Jewish expressions. “Montreal’s Jewish community was where I was when I started to feel the tug of my faith and heritage and it was a wonderful, welcoming place,” Meloff responded. He was impressed by Montreal’s ideological diversity – “there was Hillel and Chabad, Revisionist Zionists and progressive Zionists, and perhaps most critically, a tight-knit and traditional community that surrounded the school. Toronto is huge and impressive, but the community is far-flung. Montreal seemed so intimate yet still had the amenities of a significant community.” Meloff got the message that “you could do anything you wanted from a community point of view” – which soon resulted in the launching of the “Ghetto Shul,” a vibrant, intimate, student-based synagogue in Montreal which has inspired – and helped populate – Toronto’s “Annex Shul.”

Fruchter notes that Montreal’s traditionalism provides such solid grounding for Jewish life in the city, including “a fairly strong knowledge base,” as well as “strong Holocaust education and a commitment to Israel.” He also draws inspiration from leading activist Orthodox rabbis such as Rabbi Reuben Poupko and Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz. Fruchter appreciates the “Moroccan (French) element of the Jewish community,” which “has remained distinct while adding some ‘cool’ and spicy flavour to the overall community,” as well as the “fertile ground for cross-denominational exchange” resulting from the mix of Toronto and Montreal Jews at McGill. Finally, Fruchter mentions that “Hillel and the Ghetto Shul are set up to maximize empowerment and ownership. When I was the student president of Hillel Montreal, I controlled the $50,000 program budget.”

In his article, Korda, who with his friend Sig Shore created a dynamic duo of Jewish activism during their days at McGill, added another critical element, the successful Birthright Israel program which has connected thousands of young Jews to each other and to their heritage through “transformative free trips to Israel.” Birthright Israel helped inspire the founding of the Ghetto Shul, which inspired the founding of the Annex Shul, while ROI logically flows from philanthropist Lynn Schusterman’s generous involvement with Birthright.

I would also add two important “I” words – infrastructure and investment. Montreal has a rich Jewish organizational and educational network, maintained by a strong federation and thousands of generous donors. Visionary donors such as Charles and Andy Bronfman were also critical in funding identity-oriented initiatives, small and large, which bore fruit later.

The Montreal formula, then, emerges. A traditional, literate, well-organized, and well-financed community also needs strong youth-oriented programming, empowered young leaders and an openness to new ideas. But ultimately, you need sparkplugs, young, passionate, creative people to create a new mix, putting their dynamic modern twist on our ancient, enduring, traditions.

Harvard WhoDunit: How to foster a civil, substantive, satisfying Zionist conversation

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

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

The standard narrative about Zionism on campus today is one of crisis and conflagration, of academic propagandizing and intellectual hooliganism, of Jewish students harassed and Israel defamed. Unfortunately these problems occur too frequently on too many campuses. We must be intolerant of the intolerant, confronting professors and students who violate academic ideals by committing academic malpractice in the classroom, bullying at student events, or distorting the truth in books and articles. But we should not overreact or exaggerate. Every day on many campuses, especially in North America, a civil, substantive, satisfying discussion about Israel and Zionism takes place.

On Monday, October 31, Harvard Hillel invited me to speak about “Building Identity Zionism: Envisioning a Positive, Liberal, Big-Tent Identity Zionism for the Twenty-first Century.” Frankly, I expected a small turnout – and was ready for a seminar-style exchange among a dozen or so thoughtful students. I also wondered whether there would be “fireworks.” Nevertheless, I prepared for the talk I wanted to give – emphasizing modern Zionism’s ideological meaning to Jews today – but thought about how to keep the discussion focused if hostile anti-Zionist forces tried hijacking it.

I had two surprises. First, the lecture hall was quite full – I didn’t count because I was speaking but it could have been as many as fifty people, undergraduates and graduate students, including a senior Israeli diplomat touring North America. I considered that a great turnout for an event billed as ideological not confrontational – conflict, or the anticipation thereof, draws many more in. The second surprise was unpleasant. As I began, a friend whispered: “Two Palestinians students just entered with signs they plan to wave at some point to disrupt your talk.”

I looked into the crowd and saw students, with a smattering of “grown ups.” It was not obvious who the hostiles were – even as I maintained eye contact with the audience during the talk. But I followed my plan. I lectured with a PowerPoint presentation ( available here) for half the time, reserving a solid 45 minutes for questions and comments.

My message was simple. I argued that not every conversation about Israel should be about “The Conflict,” just as every conversation about the United States cannot be about racial strife and every conversation about Canada cannot be about linguistic tension. And I insisted that talking about the meaning of Zionism for us today, in Israel and the Diaspora, asking how this exciting project called Israel answers our deepest needs, addresses our existential concerns, fulfills our souls, expresses our values, is not a sidestep. I am not dodging the real conversation – this is it, I said.

In fact, we all should recognize that wherever we stand on the political spectrum, we are children of the age of delegitimization. We have so internalized the “Israel as problem” mode of discourse that we are too quick to run to our battle stations rather than listen to our muses. Singling out of only one country, Israel, for attack, only questioning its legitimacy, its right to exist, robs us of the opportunity to appreciate how lucky we are to have a Jewish state, to dream about how to perfect it, and to tolerate a range of opinions about what it should be. We need a big tent that accepts all those who believe in a Jewish state as Zionists, encouraging the kind of free exchange universities and all democratic movements should relish. And we need a hyphenate Zionism, a passionate Zionism that fuses strong ideological visions with equally strong commitments to a Jewish state, providing updated versions of the Labor-Zionism, Revisionist-Zionism, Religious-Zionism, Cutural-Zionism that animated the Zionist movement a century ago.

Underlying all this is an understanding that as Jews we belong to a people as well as sharing a common religion, and that as a people we can find our fullest ideological expression with sovereignty in our national homeland. To be is to belong, I insisted, justifying national identity in general. I am not arrogant to say that Zionism is the only way. But it is one way to get traction in this world and make our tribalism transcendent. I also talked about the obstacles facing this ideological conversation – including the pulls of the “I” in the age of the iPod and iPad when Zionism is about “us.” I insisted that they have to be the builders, thinkers, and visionaries to make Zionism relevant, inspiring, effective.

The questions and comments were superb, showing that the audience embraced the message. Students said they rejected youth group graduates’ “canned,” Israel-right-or-wrong Zionism and anti-Zionists’ “nihilistic” rejectionism. They wondered how to avoid feeling neutered as American Zionists, understanding they are not citizens of Israel yet want to contribute. They worried that some segments of Israeli society envision a very different Israel than one they would find acceptable. They asked about triggering a parallel Zionist conversation among young Israelis and about how to confront campus anti-Zionism when it does appear. And they asked about me and my struggles, what it was like working within the university while adopting these controversial positions.

I walked away extremely impressed with these thoughtful, passionate, committed young idealists, who assured me that the typical Israel conversation at Harvard was about Israel and Zionism not about the conflict or the Palestinians. And, by the way, at some point the Palestinians left the room, quietly, respectfully. They had the intellectual integrity to realize that their prepared disruption did not fit the talk and would have made them look foolish – a stance not all their comrades always adopt.

So here is the answer to the Harvard Whodunit – we had a serious conversation about the meaning of Zionism, thanks to smart, idealistic students – and the enduring power of the Zionist dream.

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

Yale Learns that scholars should study anti-Semitism

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-21-11

After abruptly cancelling the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism – and enduring two weeks of criticism – Yale University is now launching the new Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism (YPSA). Ignoring the last two weeks’ absurdities — the hysterics who called Yale “anti-Semitic” because of its decision and Yale’s ham-handed handling of the issue — the new center is most welcome. That one of the world’s leading universities recognizes anti-Semitism as worthy of scholarly study is significant. This center should study anti-Semitism past and present, in the United States and the world – acknowledging the characteristics defining what Robert Wistrich calls “The Longest Hatred” and its many variations.

The Yale program’s mission is scholarship not advocacy. YPSA should not be the ADL for Ph.Ds. The program should not train the global Jewish orchestra’s violin section to play the haunting sounds of Jewish suffering to score points. It should not be the center of strategy for the Jewish entry in the great American victimology sweepstakes, with different groups quibbling over who suffered the most to determine who most deserves sympathy along with affirmative action. Nevertheless, scholars must study the issue clearly and boldly, no matter how politically incorrect their conclusions.

It is surprising how lonely this new program will be; there are few such centers in America. In an age of super sub-specializing among scholars, and despite campus hypersensitivity to injustice, that five years ago there were no American centers studying anti-Semitism is scandalous. Dr. Charles Small deserves great credit for launching the first center in America, and for demonstrating through his able leadership how illuminating such centers can be.

Small needed to be a pioneer because anti-Semitism in America is often obscured by an invisibility cloak. The “Longest Hatred” is today a most overlooked, masked, and rationalized hatred. The obscuring is partially because American Jewish history is an extraordinary love story, a tale of immigrants finding a welcoming home suited to their skills, values, and ambitions. American anti-Semitism does not compare to American racism or European anti-Semitism. The whys and whats of these differences are fascinating and invite study.

The invisibility cloak works most effectively in hiding the “New anti-Semitism,” which singles out Israel and Zionism unfairly, disproportionately, obsessively. “Delegitimization,” an awkward term for an ugly phenomenon, is familiar to pro-Israel insiders but means nothing to most others, many of whom simply explain all hostility by pointing to Palestinian suffering. This rationalist analysis ignores Israel-bashing’s irrational, often anti-Semitic, pedigree. The modern anti-Semite often claims, “I am not anti-Semitic, I am just anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.” And the discussion quickly becomes muddled, because there are valid criticisms to make about Israel and Zionism – as about all countries and nationalisms.

On campus today, the burden of proof usually lies with bigots to demonstrate they are not biased. Except, somehow, the burden of proof usually falls on Jews when we encounter bias. Treating Israel as what the Canadian MP Professor Irwin Cotler calls “the Jew among nations,” frequently is anti-Semitic. Especially on campuses, the discussion is distorted because much modern anti-Zionist anti-Semitism comes from two sacred cows, the Red-Green alliance, that unlikely bond between some radical leftists and Islamists. They should be natural enemies. Yet they unite in hating Israel and Zionism.

Because so many professors and students are progressive, especially at elite universities, they frequently dismiss criticism of leftist anti-Semitism as McCarthyite or “neo-con.” But the anti-Israel hatred found on the left has its own morphology and pathology. Good scholarship analyzing it could explore its roots in the Stalinist 1930s and the anti-colonialist 1960s, could compare its European and American strains, while explaining what it says about the left’s stance towards the Western world and the Third World. More broadly, there is an historical mystery involved in how Zionism was tagged with the modern world’s three great sins – racism, imperialism, and colonialism – and why Israel is compared frequently to two of the 20th century’s most evil regimes, Apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany.

In abandoning the realm of the rational, these accusations also demand study. Consider that Israel’s struggle is national not racial – so how is Zionism one of the few forms of nationalism deemed racist? Knowing that colonialism means settling land to which settlers have no prior claim – why are Israel’s origins called colonial? And how does imperialism properly describe the world’s 96th largest country holding on to neighboring territories it acquired after a war for self-defense, given that there are security as well as historic-religious reasons and given Israel’s willingness to return the Sinai to Egypt in 1979 for the promise of peace? With so many absurd accusations piling up, and frequently echoing with historic anti-Semitic tropes, scholars can provide clarity – without addressing the right or wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Scholars can also clarify the relationship between this genteel, often masked, “progressive” indictment and the cruder Islamist indictment, part of a systematic campaign to delegitimize Zionism, ostracize Israel, and characterize Jews as apes and pigs, monkeys and shylocks. How central is this rhetoric to the Islamist movement? What is the significance of the ugly caricatures and rhetoric emanating from the Arab world, which are a familiar fixture in the Arab press. It is not anti-Islamic or anti-intellectual to note, and analyze, the centrality of Jew-hatred in this anti-Western ideology.

We need consciences, not scholarship, to condemn anti-Semitism, and we have institutes galore to track it. Scholars can help define boundaries, create categories, sharpen vocabulary, explain origins, compare phenomena, provide context – also giving a reality check, warning of pro-Israel overreactions too. Anti-Semitism has been around for too long, done too much damage, perverted too much contemporary diplomacy and campus politics, to be ignored. Yale University should be congratulated for relaunching this program – other universities should follow.

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

Gil Troy: Anti-Israeli campus activists are normalizing hate and death threats

By Gil Troy, National Post, 3-24-11

Reuters

A twidiot’s weapon.

“I want to shoot everyone in this room,” a McGill University student recently announced using his online Twitter feed, claiming he had surreptitiously “infiltrated” what was in fact an open film screening of Indoctrinate U, hosted by Conservative McGill and Libertarian McGill. “I should have brought an M16,” read another of his messages. In short toxic tweets, the student called the conservative gathering “a Zionist meeting” and a “Satanist ritual,” while sprinkling in insults about Jews.

Having taught thousands of students during 20 years at McGill, I will not allow one idiot tweeter — a twidiot, if you will — to define my McGill experience. But his story of intellectual hooliganism is sadly familiar. And the timing — during the two weeks in March that anti-Israeli activists call “Israeli Apartheid Week” — was telling. The student broadcasting this poison had breathed in the intellectual and ideological equivalent of second-hand smoke.

Fanatics and borderline personalities are feeding off the anything-goes hysteria demonizing Israel. (At Queen’s University, the student rector himself recently, and nonsensically, decried “the genocide happening in Palestine,” which he described as “perhaps the biggest human rights tragedy of my generation.”) Shrill language — and even threats — apparently now are seen as a normal part of the campus experience, both offline and online, when they are directed at the Jewish state and its supporters.

The twidiot — who has been investigated by the police, and whose name I’ll omit — does not own a gun. Therefore, McGill’s administration said nothing until the campus Tribune newspaper exposed the incident. The dean of students claimed “there was no need to advise the community of the matter because there was no danger posed to the community.” Actually, such barbs endanger cherished values, our sacred space where we should learn how to disagree without being disagreeable, and confront ideas we even may abhor peacefully, civilly.

Ultimately, these hate-tweets offer a “teachable moment” to explain what the university is for. We must explain not just what one McGill administrator called “the downside of social media,” but the upside of academic tolerance, of learning from others, of approaching issues with an open mind, not a clenched fist. If we cannot create a safe intellectual space for our students where they can express different opinions — including support for democratic Israel — we are wasting our time. We all are diminished if even one student feels politically intimidated.

This year, the president of the University of Winnipeg, Lloyd Axworthy, countered the annual assault against Israel with programs giving the Middle East conflict a “full and fair hearing as opposed to a one-sided hearing.” The principal of McGill University, Heather Munroe-Blum, responded to the toxic tweeter with a powerful statement championing “the civilizing influence of knowledge,” proclaiming “McGill stands firmly for tolerance — and just as strongly against hate.”

We in the university must uphold academic values of integrity, civility, mutual respect, authenticity, accuracy. We must cultivate a culture of ideas, preserving an island of sanity amid the polarizing blogosphere, the media carnival and a politics that scapegoats the United States and Israel. And we must teach that verbal violence harms not only the target but the judgmental partisan, so busy “infiltrating” and judging and issuing threats, there is no time to think or learn — which is what universities should be about.

National Post
giltroy@gmail.com

–  Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, and a visiting scholar affiliated with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

Quoted: Jihad on campus: inside and outside of classrooms, Gil Troy says

By Joanne Hill, Jewish Tribune, 3-1-11

There are “two different jihads” taking place on campus today, said Prof. Gil Troy: “the campus jihad,” which takes place outside of classroom hours, and “the academic jihad,” which takes place inside the classroom. To counter both, it is necessary to “get out of defensive mode” and insist on a return to traditional academic values.

“How do Zionists get a passing grade on campus? By bringing academia back to academic values. And if we do it right, we won’t just improve the situation for Jews and Zionists on campus, we’ll remind professors, administrators, students and parents about who we are and what our mission is…. Because there’s a broader issue on campus today: a lack of concern with quality of teaching (and) a lack of concern with the quality of the students’ interactions and feelings.

“There’s a paradox today: this is a Golden Age for Jews on campus…but we have to notice that it’s also a Golden Age for Israel-bashers on campus.”

Troy gave several suggestions for ways to create positive change.

“First, we have to rescue academia from all these corrupt academics…. When we talk about the content of the pro-Palestinian professor, we lose…. We’ll always lose the battle over academic freedom. But if we talk about educational malpractice, if we talk about hijacking the podium to advance your own personal political position, whether it be for the right or the left, whether it be pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, if we link it to a broader conversation about how to improve teaching quality…then we have a chance at succeeding and a chance at improving the university.”

Salim Mansur said the West cannot solve the problems of the Arab/Muslim world but must instead focus on fixing its own “desperate” situation. He warned that the separation of religion and politics in the West might be lost because too many intellectuals are “ready to surrender it to sharia (Islamic law).”

People of the West must remember their own “bloody” history as they view the “convulsion process” currently taking place in many Muslim countries and not indulge in polemics. The focus should, instead, be on principles that are exemplified by the affirmation of individual rights such as freedom of speech and the rejection of multiculturalism.

“We are a culture that affirms individual rights and the ultimate minority in the world is the individual. The minority of the world is not a Jew, it’s not a Hindu, it’s not a Confucian, it’s an individual. (When) we protect the rights of the individual, we protect the Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, everyone, because we protect that person as an individual.”

“What are we teaching our students: to respect sharia? I am a Muslim and I have no respect for sharia…. Shariah is a legal construction of the 8th, 9th, 10th century. What has it got to do with Islam? It’s got to do with the thinking of 8th, 9th, 10th century men that puts the privilege of men over women, Muslim over non-Muslim, free person over slave. That’s 8th century thinking and it’s being upheld in the 21st century not simply by Iran…. Where are all the Jewish students and where is everybody else standing up? That’s the principle we need to fight for.”

Dr. Catherine Chatterley’s contribution to the panel was an academic look at the evolution of antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

“Today Israel is confronting a coordinated global strategy to weaken its connection to the West, including the Jewish diaspora. If speaking out in defence of Israel is made the equivalent of defending apartheid, then the hope is that Israel will eventually collapse in isolation or be coerced into negotiations that make it vulnerable to dismantlement or destruction. This is the larger context in which IAW must be understood if we are to see it clearly for the political program that it is.”

Shabbat + Humus = A New Zionist Vision

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-1-11

On Sunday night, February 27, more than 200 people, mostly “gap year” students who will attend North American colleges next fall, jammed into the Yad Ben Zvi Institute’s headquarters in Jerusalem. In the simple hut, once the Israeli president’s official greeting hall, over a dozen speakers honored Avi Schaefer’s memory by Re-imagining Israel on the North American Campus (livestreamed here). Schaefer was a Brown University student from Southern California who survived three years of volunteering in an Israeli combat unit only to be killed by a drunk driver last year.  He championed Israel at Brown – while befriending Palestinians – insisting that advocacy and empathy are not contradictions. When he died, the Brown campus was festooned with Israeli flags in his memory. For four hours Sunday evening this extraordinary 21-year-old’s spirit permeated that historic hut – challenging a new generation to find personal and Jewish fulfillment by becoming Zionist thinkers and doers, speaking about Israel from their hearts, in their language, through their networks.

In truth, the conversation often was sobering. MK Einat Wilf’s intelligent overview put this “new mutation” of anti-Zionism into historical perspective. The Arab effort to destroy Israel evolved from trusting military force between 1948 and 1973, to economic boycotts and “international terrorism,” which all failed. Today’s “intellectual assault” is “no less” threatening than “physical danger,” Wilf warned, because “Israel was an idea before it was a country…. If this idea of the Jewish people’s right to a homeland is undermined, the fundamental vision of Israel” as a Jewish state “is undermined.” 

The noted author Yossi Klein Halevi, from the Shalom Hartman Institute, analyzed how “anti-Zionism” has “restored respectability to anti-Semitism.” Defining anti-Semitism as “the tendency of a given civilization to identify the Jew with precisely what that civilization considers its most loathsome qualities,” he showed that making Israel, the collective Jew, the “arch violator of human rights … corrected the aberration of Nazism.” Classical anti-Semitism masqueraded as a benign force fighting bad Jews until Nazism’s evil destroyed that illusion. Modern anti-Zionism, blessed by Jewish shills, rehabilitates this historic hatred, going beyond legitimate debate over the outcomes of 1967, meaning Israel’s boundaries, to rejecting the results of 1948, treating Israel’s existence as criminal.

Speakers proposed solutions too. The Reut Institute’s Daphna Kaufman recommended the Restoring Sanity petition which distinguishes between legitimate criticism and delegitimization (Full disclosure: I helped write it and we used the name before Jon Stewart did). For those seeking to repudiate the upcoming anti-Israel week falsely peddling the Apartheid libel, encouraging debate about the petition – and collecting signatures – are easy first steps. Aviva Raz-Shechter from the Foreign Ministry described how students successfully “delegitimized the delegitimizers” at Durban II. Ilan Wagner of the Jewish Agency moderated an important panel emphasizing individual students’ power to change campus dynamics through thoughtful, constructive, sincere activism, as part of a broader quest to build positive Jewish identity.

This “Power of One” idea is the theme of Stand With Us, which co-sponsored the event with the Avi Schaefer Foundation through the effective organization of the educational consultant Dr. Elan Ezrachi.  And Mark Regev, representing the Prime Minister, spoke movingly, endorsing Avi’s message of empathy in advocacy and true love in patriotism – a mature love acknowledging that “Israel isn’t perfect” while working to make it “better.”

Summarizing the event, as the only professor there, I reassured the students that most North American campuses are not aflame. In fact, this is a Golden Age for Jews on campus – there have never been so many Jewish professors and students, so many Jewish Studies programs and strong Hillels. That it is also a Golden Age for campus Israel-bashing requires subtlety. If students come ready to fight they risk forgetting to learn and misreading their campus’s political culture.  So, yes, the Campus Jihad inflames some campuses. And the Academic Jihad turns most Middle Eaststudies courses into anti-Israel propaganda exercises, helping make Zionism politically incorrect on campus. But most students succumb to the careerist snoozefest, ignoring politics. Hysterics won’t cure these leaders of tomorrow of the anti-Israel poison; appropriate, tempered, democracy-loving, proactive strategies will.

Ultimately, the evening’s message was best articulated by Avi Schaefer in an opening video, echoed by his twin brother, Yoav Schaefer, who also volunteered in the IDF.  Yoav Schaefer described his brother’s “deep idealism,” noting how Avi used his credibility as a soldier and his personal humility to inject humanity into a conflict that too frequently polarizes.  By “listening deeply to others,” Avi helped change the tone at Brown. One Palestinian friend in the video thanked Avi for “helping me unclench my fist” – an impressive achievement in today’s atmosphere.

Avi’s secret lay in respecting Palestinians but not forgetting to respect himself, his people, our story. He understood that Judaism is not just a religion. The Jewish people constitute a nation – and like other nations deserve to express our national rights in our homeland. Avi spoke passionately about Shabbat and about humus. He loved wandering Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s home base, wishing people “Shabbat shalom” and feeling normal, understood, accepted. And he loved the little things, including Israel’s national foods.

Young Jews should follow Avi’s example, creating their own Zionist vision rooted in some of our most profound religious traditions and national expressions – like Shabbat – while delighting in the fun details that make a place feel like home. And they should build this Zionist identity not to score points, not to defeat anti-Semites, but to forge the kind of rich, fulfilling human identity, Avi’s parents Rabbi Arthur and Laurie Gross-Schaefer clearly gave him. In so doing, as a bonus, today’s students – tomorrow’s Zionist thinkers — will rise to Yoav Schaefer’s challenge and “build for Avi the world he would have built for us.”

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

Advocates for Civil Liberties Hold First Forum: Jews Fight Back

by Fern Sidman, INN NY Correspondent, Israel National News, 2-20-11

[Photo : from left,Dr. Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University, 3rd from left, Dr. Phyllis Chesler, op-ed contributor for Israel National News, 4th from left, Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founder director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism.]

Advocates For Civil Liberties (ACL), a new organization of attorneys, professionals and concerned citizens dedicated to spotlighting anti-Israel propaganda on university campuses across North America, held its first event last week.

The day-long symposium that drew over 400 people, entitled “When Middle East Politics Invade Campus,” was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Toronto.

Conference coordinator Meryle Kates explained that the ACL has been established to advocate for civil liberties protection in Canada, particularly in university settings:

“The ACL seeks to collaborate with academic officials to devise appropriate, enforceable ground rules for campus political activities. Increasingly, demonstrations such as, but not limited to, the upcoming “Israeli Apartheid Week” on campus, create a hostile atmosphere, and one that stifles the genuine exchange of views on sensitive Middle East issues.”

Israeli “Apartheid” Week

“The only way to disprove a lie is to establish the facts,” declared Judge Hadassa Ben Itto as she delivered the opening remarks of the conference via video feed from Jerusalem. Judge Itto is best known for her scholarly monograph entitled “The Lie That Wouldn’t Die, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (2005), on the text that has been used for a century to demonize Jews and delegitimize Israel.

“In 1964, the Protocols were finally declared ‘the hoax of the century, yet both the Jewish people and Israel are now targets of haters who still insist that there is a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world”, she observed.

“The organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week prove that they know nothing about Israel. Professors at some universities are guilty of presenting distorted information about Israel along with one-sided bias and slanderous rhetoric. Boycotts of academics and the assault on the free marketplace of ideas are replicas of the public square where public opinion is dictating policy today.”

Adding that she personally witnessed “real apartheid” in South Africa years ago, she condemned the concept of an Israeli Apartheid Week as “outrageous” and called for responsible educators to set the record straight.

Campus Harrassment

Students at York University in Toronto are no strangers to the acrimony that is engendered during Israeli Apartheid Week as their campus has previously morphed into a hotbed of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred during past events of this kind. Five appeared at the event.

Sara Akrami, an Iranian second year political science student at York said, “Clubs are established at York with the sole purpose of creating discord and promoting anti-Israel violence and the administration takes no action against them.” Ms. Akrami noted that the November 2010 appearance of British parliamentarian George Galloway was opposed by a majority of the students at York. Galloway is a highly polemical figure who achieved notoriety as a rabid hater of the Jewish state.

Josee Chiasson, a fourth year student at York completing an honors BA in psychology, has assumed the role of president of Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

“I knew nothing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during my first year at college. It was only when I visited Israel and witnessed the truth firsthand, did I begin to understand that the insidious rhetoric of the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week simply did not hold true.”

Ms. Chiasson said, “Hitler promised world peace if only the Jews were eradicated and so did Galloway. He said that if Israel makes peace with the Palestinians then there would be world peace and we know that that is a complete falsehood.” She exhorted students and faculty alike to, “challenge the radical beliefs that are rampant on our campuses” as she spoke of “students who have been targeted for abuse and threats” by vehemently anti-Israel organizations on campus.

Michael Payton, a cognitive science major at York, sociology major Afroza Mohammed and Noah Kochman told of students being subjected to verbal invective and physical assaults by members of the Muslim Student Association and other anti-Israel groups. Mr. Kochman, a member of the Canadian Association of Jewish Students, spoke of the violent outbursts of Palestinian student groups that led to the cancellation of an address scheduled to be delivered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia University in Montreal as far back as 2002. “Pro-Israel student demonstrators were trapped in their own space, unable to move, because of the overt aggression of the demonstrators who resorted to violence.”

Academic Boycotts

Andrew Roberts, noted British author, historian, lecturer and founding member of the Friends of Israel Initiative,  spoke of the aims of that relatively new organization.

Established in August of 2010 to challenge the British boycott of Israeli academia, Mr. Roberts said that among the goals of the Friends of Israel Initiative were to “counter the growing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and its right to live in peace within safe and defensible borders. The Initiative arises out of a sense of deep concern about the unprecedented campaign of delegitimization against Israel waged by enemies of the Jewish state, and perversely, supported by numerous international institutions.” Among the founding members of the Friends of Israeli Initiative is John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations.

Jihad on Campus

Professor Richard Cravatts of Boston University and author of a forthcoming book entitled, “Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel”, which documents the web of Islamist influence on the university campus, spoke of “brand hijacking” in terms of Israel’s global image. “Those who would re-write the history of Israel and the narrative of the Palestinians in the Middle East have hijacked Israel’s branding”, he said, adding that we live in a “world turned upside down in its relationship to the interpretation of the reality in the Middle East.”

“We ignore the fact that Arabs in the territories would receive the death penalty for selling an apartment to a Jew, but we never raise our voices when Israel is roundly condemned for building 1300 apartments in East Jerusalem; a right that any other nation takes for granted.”

Warning of the existential threat that Israel faces from the burgeoning Muslim Brotherhood, Eliot Chadoff, a political and military analyst and lecturer on the history of the Middle East said, “There is an all out assault on Israel taking place” and reminded his audience of the parallel between the recent revolution in Egypt and the Iranian revolution that took place in 1979. “It was students, intellectuals and shopkeepers that led the revolution against the Shah of Iran,” he said, but the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood were predicated upon a Nazi-like ideology.

“The campuses have become increasingly and aggressively anti-Israel and pro-Islam”, declared Dr. Phyllis Chesler, prolific author, emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at CUNY and a foremost expert on gender and religious apartheid in the Muslim world.

“Pro-Israel students are verbally humiliated and physically attacked. Professors in Middle East Studies teach students only one point of view — the pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel point of view”, she said, adding that “this has been the case at York University, Concordia University and the University of California at San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Irvine.”

On apartheid in the Middle East, Dr. Chesler said, “Israel is not an apartheid nation. Islam is the world’s largest practitioner of both religious and gender apartheid. Muslims have persecuted, murdered, and forcibly converted the entire Middle East, India, parts of Africa, Asia and now Europe.”

Dr. Chesler outlined her work on the phenomenon of “honor killings” of Muslim women throughout the world that was published in 2009 and 2010 in the Middle East Quarterly. “Islamic gender apartheid is a human rights violation and cannot be justified in the name of cultural relativism, tolerance, anti-racism, diversity or political correctness” .

“We are facing two jihads”, said Dr. Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University in Montreal and author of the book, “Why I am A Zionist.”

“As we’ve discussed today, there is the jihad on campus and a jihad in the classroom, in our textbooks and emanating from our professors,” he said. Exhorting students and parents to become more involved in the sphere of academia, Professor Troy said, “We are living in a golden age for Jews on campus, but we must raise the standards of teaching and rescue academia from corrupt academics and fight educational malpractice.”

Attacking multiculturalism, Salim Mansur, professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario said, “The right of Israel to remain a safe and secure state must be defended against the ideology of multiculturalists”, adding that “multiculturalism is a big, odious, disgusting lie. China, Japan and the Arab nations are not practicing multiculturalism so why are we?”

Dr. Catherine Chatterley of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism spoke of the historical basis of Israeli Apartheid Week saying, “The ideology behind Israeli Apartheid Week is not a new one. The former Soviet Union was a leading proponent of this anti-Zionist philosophy. This was the ideology that declared that Zionism is tantamount to imperialism, racism, discrimination and organically linked to the repression of the human being.”

“The concept is part of a global, political strategy to dismantle the Jewish state. The week began as a Canadian invention and now takes place in over 55 cities worldwide. She added that the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week are making concerted efforts to build alliances with the disenfranchised in general, thus furthering their anti-Zionist distortions.

Impetus for founding ACL came from Canadian professionals, including Lorne Saltman, an attorney with the firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell, LLP, Stephen Posen of Minden Gross, LLP, and Robert Grant of FusionPro UK.  Jonathan Kay, a managing editor at Canada’s National Post newspaper and a columnist on the newspaper’s op-ed page, acted as forum moderator.

(IsraelNationalNews.com)

University Presidents Should Fight Academics Delegitimizing Israel

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-6-10

The leaders of the country’s universities must face the facts. The issue is already on many donors’ agendas: The campaign to delegitimize Israel is gaining traction, with a few, shrill, oft-quoted Israeli academics participating enthusiastically.

Board of Governors season for Israeli universities is approaching. Hundreds of wealthy Jews from across the world will rub elbows with wealthy Israelis as leading “Friends of” their favorite university, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Beer Sheba and Haifa, Rechovot and Ramat Gan. They will be wined and dined, schmoozed and boozed. But this year, as the universities finalize their schedules they must decide. Are they treating these people as sheep waiting to be fleeced or will they address them as intelligent idealists struggling with the destructive role some Israeli academics are playing at home and abroad today?

Israel’s university presidents must face facts. Whether or not they put it on the schedule, the issue is already on many donors’ agendas. The campaign to delegitimize Israel is gaining traction, with a few, shrill, oft-quoted Israeli academics participating enthusiastically. These people have no trouble benefiting from donors’ largesse – and the state’s educational subsidies — while trashing Zionism and Israel. They curry favor with non-Jews by denouncing Israel, without taking responsibility for how Israel’s enemies use their words.

FOR EXAMPLE, on April 6, 31 members of “Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS call from within” – many of whom are Israeli academics – cheered the Berekely Student Senate for endorsing an anti-Israel diverstment initiative, writing: “we were very happy to hear of your decision.”

This letter complicated an intense but nevertheless ultimately successful campaign to uphold the student body president’s veto of the resolution.

This academic year began with one Israeli department head calling in the Los Angeles Times, the London Guardian and elsewhere for “an international boycott” as “the only way to save Israel from itself.” I am omitting names and universities because I do not want to demonize individuals or single out particular institutions. The problem is general, and growing.

When university presidents have addressed this issue they have correctly defended these caustic critics’ rights to free speech and academic freedom. I agree. I question the integrity and class of those who advocate boycotting a university while cashing its checks, but I defend their rights to be foolish, harsh, greedy, and inconsistent. Natan Sharansky’s famous test for a democracy – can you go to the town square and denounce the government without being arrested – is essential in universities.

But treatises on academic freedom are not enough. Donors justifiably resent being given a Zionist fund-raising shpiel while fearing their hard-earned dollars are subsidizing the worldwide anti-Zionist campaign.

While protecting the freedom of everyone to speak freely, university leaders must start leading on this issue. No Israeli university president has denounced delegitimization as boldy as Lawrence Summers did when he was president of Harvard.

FORE STARTERS, universities should distinguish between academic freedom and educational malpractice. There have been reports – which require more study and careful documentation – that there are many Israeli professors, and even certain academic departments, who push a harsh anti-Israel line so aggressively that students and untenured professors feel pressured into parroting the dominant radical anti-Zionist agenda. Universities must ensure that students are exposed to a wide-range of views and that students do not feel bullied politically – from the left or the right.

University presidents should crack down on educational malpractice, which includes lazy professors using their classroom podiums as political platforms, doctrinaire professors squelching students’ opinions, and a host of other bad practices not connected to politics. In too many universities, in Israel and abroad, teaching is handled with benign neglect, as an afterthought sandwiched in between research and committee work. Simply raising the issue raises consciousness and raises standards. Universities needs ombudsmen, who teach students how to respond if they feel bullied and should educate professors to become better educators. These quality-of-life initiatives will result in a better experience for students.

Second, just as the university presidents on parade boast about the scientific and technological innovations emanating from their universities, they should showcase the positive social benefits bubbling up on campus, while honoring those professors who stand up for Israel abroad – even if it costs them a research grant or two.

The efforts, for example, of Hebrew University’s Robert Wistrich, whose towering new volume A Lethal Obsession details the history of anti-Semitism, illustrate the benefits of having an open university. Wistrich’s credibility would be damaged if he came from a doctrinaire university that squelched free speech; in many ways it is enhanced knowing he emerged from an academic environment which is reputed to be hypercritical of Israel and Zionism.

Finally, the university presidents should show they are proactive by becoming proactive. Together, they represent an impressive group of world-class scholars. These scholars are the best argument against a boycott, proving that it would hurt the boycotters more than the boycotted.

Universities should encourage more study from abroad, more academic collaborations, and more initiatives helping democrats all over the world understand how to distinguish between criticizing particular Israeli policies and demonizing the Jewish state. Perhaps the presidents should draft a joint statement, signed by hundreds of academics, defending academic freedom while affirming the importance of not singling out Israel, not demonizing Israel, not delegitimizing Israel. Let them declare their commitment to Israeli democracy, to patriotism, to a renewal of a big tent Zionism that is not defined by boundary disputes but transcends our political divisions to launch a conversation about how we achieve meaning in this world individually and collectivelly, as citizens and a nation.

And once they are hosting the Governors, these elaborate schmooze-fests with a network of leaders from Israel and abroad – why not include them, substantively, respectfully, in on the conversation. Acknowledge the dilemmas, the complexities, while enlisting these generous, thoughtful donors in on the much-needed campaign in Israel and abroad to reaffirm Jewish and democratic values, defend Israel, and renew our Zionist dreams.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal 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.”

Students, legislators stand up for Israel

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 3-11-10

With many people justifiably worried about the constant attempts to delegitimize Israel on college campuses, especially in Canada, we should highlight some successes.
Recently, we have seen that being creative, passionate and edgy can help reframe the conversation about Israel. The key is to be clever, not defensive, and to master your own particular strategic terrain.

In early February, McGill University students mobilized against an unfair and misleading resolution being proposed by their student society. There has long been an unspoken ceasefire on the McGill campus, with both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli forces holding their fire, being more committed to the tradition of civility on campus – and, frankly, to the more academic atmosphere overall. A year ago, pro-Palestinian forces broke this deal, by proposing a resolution condemning Israel’s Gaza operation. Pro-Israel students mobilized and voted it down at the student society’s General Assembly.

Last Passover, pro-Palestinian forces became even more aggressive, planting 1,415 Palestinian flags and 13 Israeli flags in the central green space on campus, supposedly representing the disproportionate death toll during Israel’s Gaza operation. This dramatic display sought to politicize the entire campus environment.

The administration should never have allowed this break with tradition, which threatens to have every other group try similar antics. I have no desire to come to work and be bombarded by one undergraduate attempt after another seeking to dramatize whatever issues is trendy one season or the next.

Undeterred, the pro-Palestinian forces this year cooked up a seemingly harmless resolution demanding McGill invest ethically, which actually was a one-sided resolution targeting Israel. Although the General Assembly votes only on the “be it resolved” clauses, two “whereas” clauses singled out Israel for special opprobrium. This was an attempt to get the many people who support ethical investing to condemn Israel implicitly. Pro-Israel – and pro-civility – forces rejected these unfair terms. At the General Assembly, they voted down the two offensive (and historically inaccurate) “whereas” clauses, then passed the resolution.

Similar out-of-the-box thinking shaped a controversial web-based ad campaign, launched by the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students. Critics have called the “size doesn’t matter” video crude, vulgar and sexist. It is certainly crude and vulgar; I’m not sure if it’s sexist. But it’s also funny, attention-grabbing and speaks to college students in their language, with their sensibility. We want to speak to the “more than 80 per cent of students on a given campus who haven’t made up their minds about Israel and the Middle East,” one of the project’s creators, Noah Kochman explained. The video, which received more than 18,000 hits in its first few days, is a lure to get students learning facts about Israel.

As a professor, I wish my students got references to Aeschylus and Agamemnon. But if I want to be understood, I have to speak about Michael Jackson and Tiger Woods. Similarly, it would be great to live in a G-rated world, but our students live in an R-rated one. Kochman and his team shrewdly recognized that and spoke that language.

In a far more respectable vein, Peter Shurman, a Progressive Conservative legislator in the Ontario provincial legislature, refused to be passive in the wake of the anti-Israel week targeting campuses. Explaining that resolutions in the legislative assembly “do one thing only: they send a message, moral suasion pertinent to any given subject,” he proposed a resolution regarding something “I am passionate about” in late February. Shurman rose in chambers on Feb. 24, proclaiming: “I move that in the opinion of this House, the term Israeli ‘Apartheid Week’ is condemned as it serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and the use of the word ‘apartheid’ in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.” The resolution passed unanimously – and was applauded worldwide.

Edmund Burke famously noted, “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.” These examples show that when good people do something, evil can be defeated, or at least, rebuffed.

Are we ready for Anti-Israel Week?

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 2-11-10

Like clockwork – or a recurring infection – Anti-Israel Week is returning to a campus near you.

One Israel-bashing website declares: “Mark your calendars – the 6th International Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) will take place across the globe from from the 1st to the 14th of March 2010!” Note the duplicated “from” reflecting the organizers’ sloppiness. Note the organizers’ lack of awareness that a “week” is usually seven days, not 14. Their knowledge of history and their moral sensibilities are equally wanting, although that doesn’t stop them from becoming popular on many campuses.

In fact, of the 40 “cities” they claim as participants, 12 are Canadian, and many of those are actually just Canadian campuses. Still, the website indicates that Israel’s enemies are planning an elaborate assault on Israel’s legitimacy, just weeks from now. Are we in the Jewish community ready? Is our university leadership ready?

Pro-Israel activists need an action plan, and so do university leaders. Recently, when a series of academic administrators testified before the Canadian Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, most were so busy reassuring concerned legislators that all is well that they failed to acknowledge the trouble and dilemmas they face.

Of course, Canadian campuses aren’t hotbeds of anti-Semitism, but that doesn’t mean the scourge of anti-Jewish animus isn’t motivating and shaping many political attacks on Israel.

Administrators need to prepare carefully for Anti-Israel Week (repeating the actual name echoes the lie). They should keep five guidelines in mind:

First, academic freedom protects all students, enabling them to express a range of opinions on campus.

Second, civility is also a value on campus and must be nurtured. Professors and administrators should take advantage of teachable moments to foster a culture of civility and mutuality.

Third, no student should ever feel menaced or threatened. Hooliganish behaviour, even if politically motivated, should be punished harshly – and swiftly.

Fourth, Jews don’t need special treatment but deserve equal treatment. If there’s a no-criticism zone on campus around gays, women, blacks and Third Worlders, it should extend to Jews, too. If there’s a special attempt to be sensitive to particular groups that have been oppressed historically, Jews merit that sensitivity, too. Moreover, many of the groups trying to ostracize or delegitimize Israel are perpetuating traditional anti-Jewish tropes, accusing Jews and Israel of being at the centre of the world’s troubles, of being all-powerful, or of being devious and manipulative. These libels don’t pass historical smell tests.

Finally, leadership is about turning potentially destructive moments into constructive moments. Campus leaders – administrators, professors, and, yes, students – need to be proactive pre-emptive and creative in seeing the great opportunity here to turn a week or two of tension into a time of engagement and bridge-building, or at least a truce.

The pro-Israel community should also have some guidelines, including:

First, firefighters need to extinguish fires not stoke them. Sometimes anti-Israel activities are best ignored.

Second, your goal is not to convince anti-Israel activists of anything. Your target audience is other Jews and the vast majority of non-combatants.

Third, don’t let haters set the agenda. Far better to celebrate Israel than to get defensive.

Fourth, speak the language of campus on campus. Note that Arab autocracies are anti-democratic; apartheid doesn’t apply to a national conflict between two peoples, both of whom have blacks and whites as members; blacklists and boycotts are illiberal and close-minded; many of the attacks on Israel are wildly inaccurate; Palestinians help legitimate terror as a tactic, and that life is more complex than the simplistic sloganeering of Anti-Israel Week.

Finally, do your homework and, like good Scouts, be prepared. Read Alan Dershowitz’s devastating critique of the Goldstone report. Use a timeline and maps. Understand the background of the Gaza disengagement and the Oslo accords, which both resulted in massive violence against Israel after concessions, and, most important of all, understand why Jews are a nation, not just a religion, why we need a homeland, and why we have a valid historical, ideological, legal, political and living claim to Israel.

Jewish joy in the ghetto needs your help

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 11-12-09

The great financial meltdown of 2008 continues to wreak havoc, causing the great organizational shakedown of 2009. We should take advantage of these hard times to close institutions that only survive thanks to inertia or clever politicking. But we must ensure that worthy organizations aren’t wiped out, too.

Since 2000, Montreal’s student community has been blessed by an amazing institution called the Ghetto Shul. The jarring name – reflecting its location in the neighbourhood bordering McGill University known widely as the student “ghetto” – gives this generation of students a positive association with a word burdened by the scars of our tragic past. But making young students feel good about the word “ghetto” is only one of many ways the Ghetto Shul engages in tikkun olam, or fixing the world. At a crucial time in young Jews’ lives, the Ghetto Shul offers a welcoming, hip, inspiring, warm, Jewish space to pray and play, learn and eat, and sing and dance.

Led by a dynamic husband-and-wife team, Rabbi Leibish and Dena Hundert, the Ghetto Shul helps make Friday night what it has been for centuries – the highlight of the week, the moment to delight in welcoming the Sabbath Queen, with utter joy. Every week, dozens of Montreal students – and 20-somethings – crowd into the shul. Some are observant and lucky they can do Jewish at an institution that has become central to McGill Jewish life. Some are traditional, and might have drifted away from Jewish life at other universities but have been attracted to the shul’s friendly, intense, Kabbalat Shabbat – and it’s all-important Shabbat dinner scene. And some are uncommitted, having grown up without Shabbat dinner and all of a sudden going occasionally, or even regularly, because, believe it or not, it’s fun.

All, as Jews in the modern world, are searching for something. All are blessed and cursed by the dizzying array of choices that today’s world offers, able to be whatever they wish but overwhelmed by so many options and so few anchors. Many, unfortunately, arrive at the Ghetto Shul already Jewishly scarred, having been bored by Hebrew school, narcotized by their staid synagogue back home, or misled by their parents’ sorry example into thinking that Judaism is a thin gruel of ethnic food, juvenile holiday rituals, colourful expressions and simplistic lessons, with one day of fasting a year and a big blowout guaranteed when you turn 13.

The Ghetto Shul is constructively counter-cultural. It’s a place of warm hugs, not awkward handshakes. It’s a place of ecstatic prayer, not polite posturing. It’s a place of substantive spirituality, not superficial guilt-mongering. It’s a place where students feel welcome and at home, but they also feel Jewishly stretched and fulfilled.

Unfortunately, the Ghetto Shul is also a place at risk of closing. If more individuals and more institutions don’t support this amazing institution, it won’t survive, certainly not in the long term. This isn’t a matter of figuring out how to raise money for a year or two. The question here is how does the broader Jewish community ensure that this positive Jewish space grows, that it inspires legions of imitators, and that it helps guarantee Jewish survival in the 21st century.

In the real world, one of the first steps in that process is securing regular funding. A place such as the Ghetto Shul should be flooded with honorary memberships. Alumni, parents, Montrealers, Jews from the rest of Canada and others should step up to pay the $360 annual fee to join the Ghetto Shul. And they should commit to doing so for the next 10 years. This way, Rabbi Leibish, Dina and their devoted student leaders can focus on nurturing their community rather than raising money to stay afloat.

If a small number of people, say 300 or 400, undertook to make this relatively small investment, the payoff would be enormous. These people and others would be contributing to a successful Jewish community that serves hundreds of students and Montreal-area 20-somethings every year, while pioneering institutions rooted in our past, fulfilling us in the present and guaranteeing us a meaningful future.

Gil Troy: Professors can stop campus hooligans

By Gil Troy, Toronto Star, 3-5-09

AARON HARRIS/TORONTO STAR A protester stands in the Wallberg Building at U of T on March 3, 2009, during lectures for Israeli Apartheid Week.

Day after day we read about aggressive student protesters and dithering administrators at universities across Canada, but particularly at York University.

Radical student hooligans there intimidated and even temporarily incarcerated Jewish students last month as cries of “Die, Jew, get the hell off campus,” were heard.

This week, tensions are bound to escalate at York and other campuses as Palestinians try equating Israel with the now-defunct racist South African apartheid regime. Even the posters advertising the week have sparked tensions. Recoiling at the violence at York and elsewhere, we need to ask: Where are the professors?

During times of political trouble we tend to forget that campuses are primarily educational institutions. They are also the professional homes of professors who need to take a stand when violence and hooliganism invade their academic sanctuary.

With all due respect to campus security and police officers, when the call goes out to them for help, we as professors have failed.

A campus that needs the “thin blue line” of law enforcement is a campus that has violated its fundamental obligation to keep students safe and to host the free exchange of ideas so essential to good learning.

Yet even when disaster strikes and the 911 call goes out, professors can still step in.

Professors underestimate their own moral authority. Our power goes far beyond the ability to give out As or Fs. We are the university’s public face, the basic service providers, the campus role models.

The human dimension in education remains central in our hypertechnological age. Our students are always watching us. They learn from our actions – and our inactions. At York University and any other university where even one student feels physically threatened, professors must mobilize and – as the feminists say – take back the night.

For starters, a broad range of York professors, from different fields and from across the political spectrum, should denounce the violence. Professors highly critical of Israel should take the lead, teaching that the issue is not about Israel, pro or con, but about student security and campus civility.

Professors should volunteer to escort any students or student groups who feel unsafe. And yes, if necessary, professors should stand between rival groups on campus, literally standing for civility not just endorsing it.

Rather than relying on the monochromatic uniforms of campus security, the professors should don their multicoloured academic gowns. If professors feel comfortable parading around in these robes at commencement to celebrate student achievement, shouldn’t we don them when the core values of our university are threatened?

Finally, professors should turn these traumatic events in the university’s life into what we in the education biz call “teachable moments.” Both regular class time and special teach-ins should be devoted to learning about free speech; about the mutuality of rights so we don’t have “free speech for me and not for thee”; about the centrality of civility to campus life; and about the historic roles of campuses as centres of civility.

Professors at places like Carleton, where the apartheid posters have sparked controversy, should also step in and work to keep the debate civil and avoid the violence that erupted at York.

I do not mean to single out my colleagues at York University. We at McGill or anywhere else in North America would do no better – and have done no better.

Since the 1960s, we as professors have abdicated responsibility for campus life outside the classroom, ceding it to students and administrators.

Most professors have preferred to dodge the politically charged issues that have periodically roiled campuses since those days, and there is often little political consensus among colleagues. Avoidance has been safer than engagement.

Moreover, we live in the age of the academic careerist, where most of us are too overextended as well as too cautious to take bold stands.

Unfortunately, the ugly violence that now threatens York’s reputation and its future demands professorial action and leadership. Students and administrators have failed. Donors are understandably getting restive. Parents and potential students are worried.

York professors have a responsibility to defend their academic home and a great opportunity to heal it.

No one goes into academics these days because it is the easy path. And most of us who research and teach believe in the redemptive power of learning.

York professors have a responsibility and a privilege to help solve the problem plaguing their university. Teaching is not just a job, it is a calling. It is time for York’s professors to answer the call and redeem their university.

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University.

Gil Troy: Student unions should stick to student issues

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 2-26-09

Earlier this month, McGill University students voted 436 to 263 to postpone indefinitely a Students’ Society resolution condemning the “bombings” of “educational institutions in Gaza.”

The initiative paralleled similar resolutions that passed at other Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto and York. But a clear majority of McGill students proclaimed that they didn’t want their student union developing a foreign policy. As pro-Palestinian forces try to import yet another round of the Middle East conflict to campus, the McGill majority endorsed the vision of a student society devoted to students’ needs and enhancing campus society, not pontificating about political conflicts far away.

True, it’s the academic’s conceit to comment about everything. We enjoy passing judgment from our cushy ivory towers, inviting our students to join our know-it-all chorus. Few students need such encouragement, compelled as they are by their own youthful vanity to judge the world that their elders have bequeathed them.

Student political organizations convey that spirit, legitimately. Campuses should be filled with many social, political and religious organizations, reflecting diverse attitudes, ideologies and political persuasions. I’m proud of my students who campaigned for now-U.S. President Barack Obama, and my student – note the singular – who supported Senator John McCain. I love seeing young Liberals and Conservatives electioneering, and I applaud the passion of those from beyond the conventional political spectrum, too.

Nevertheless, students’ partisan identities shouldn’t intrude on student union politics. The inspiration that so many students drew from Obama was commendable, but it would have been appalling if a student union had circulated a motion praising Obama and condemning McCain. This breach of political etiquette would have turned the student union into partisan Democratic headquarters, making it the student disunion.

Following a similar rationale, the anti-Israel resolutions are divisive and distracting, as well as disproportionate and discriminatory. They sabotage the modern university’s commitment to diversity. All great universities today welcome students of different religions, nationalities, races and creeds. Pronouncing on such a hot-button issue, implying that students share some consensus position, imposes thought control and presumptions of uniformity where none exist. This posture of unity will foster disunity, importing passionate divisions into an arena where they don’t belong.

Such incendiary, irrelevant resolutions distract from what should be a student society’s mission: improving students’ experiences.

Five years ago, engineering and commerce students at Concordia University rebelled against their student union’s political obsessions. Students were embarrassed that all too often, job recruiters related to Concordia as a place characterized by radical, sometimes violent, pro-Palestinian stands rather than as a centre of academic excellence. The students elected new leaders committed to helping students, not developing a foreign policy.

Finally, the resolutions themselves give a slanted view of a complex conflict. They ignore the role of Hamas, a terrorist group with an anti-Semitic, genocidal charter that advocates Israel’s destruction, in triggering the recent violence, cowering behind educational institutions, mosques and hospitals, and targeting Israeli schools.

Where were these concerned students when 10,000 Palestinian rockets bombarded Israel? Where were student unions when these rockets fell on Sapir College in the Negev or on nurseries, kindergartens, elementary schools and high schools in Sderot and its environs? Where is the outrage that smuggled Grad missiles menaced Ben-Gurion University, or that Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva – which serves Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and Bedouin equally – is targeted? Does anybody care that Soroka had to place sandbags on its sleep lab and evacuate its maternity ward under fire?

More profoundly, has anyone condemned Hamas for threatening chances of a two-state solution by using the Gaza pullout to launch rockets and dig tunnels rather than building a functioning civil society? The umbrage at Israel’s actions seems false and disproportionate, thus discriminatory, singling out the Jewish state for special scrutiny and particular enmity.

Campuses are fragile ecosystems, special places where many different people congregate to live together and learn together. Campus leaders have a special responsibility to avoid polluting the atmosphere with poisonous rhetoric, biased behaviour and irrelevant assaults on fellow students’ sensibilities. Indulging in foreign policy postures regarding explosive issues, particularly the Middle East, fails that test – raising tensions rather than alleviating them, doing nothing to solve the conflict and importing tensions from 10,000 kilometres away too close to home.