No, McGill is not antisemitic

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

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.

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Jews in the Bosom of Father Abraham — and America

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-16-12

Imagine, if you can, an American Jewish nightmare. What would American Jewish voters do if a presidential candidate they considered good for the country was bad for the Jews – or Israel? Would they vote as “good Americans,” judging governing philosophy, domestic policy preferences, and personal character, or would they act as single-issue voters?

A great irony of American Jewish history is that most people, Jews and non-Jews, consider Jews single-issue voters who always place Jewish interests first– even though voting patterns suggest otherwise. Long before the age of Barack Obama, American Jews have been far more passionately pro-choice than pro-Israel. For most, their liberalism has always trumped their Zionism at the voting booths, because so many blur their identities as Jews and Democrats.

Of course, one of American Jewish history’s great blessings is that Jews have rarely faced such an unhappy, Hobson’s Choice. Support for Israel has been a bipartisan tenet for decades, while the United States has welcomed Jews warmly overall.

And yet, despite American Jewish history’s generally happy demeanor, this sense of vulnerability persists. The anxiety partly stems from the community’s reputation as being more particularist than patriotic. Moreover, the opening contrast was unfair – single-issue voting is as “good,” as “American” a political choice as voting for a candidate’s philosophy, policies, or personality.

People fascinated by these questions, and by American Jews’ enduring ambivalence about power, will particularly enjoy reading Jonathan Sarna’s new tour de force, When General Grant Expelled the Jews. An award-winning-historian at Brandeis University and chief historian of the new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, Sarna begins his short compelling book about Grant’s General Orders No. 11, promulgated in 1862, with this “central conundrum of Jewish politics” from Ulysses S. Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign. Most Jews at the time believed that the late Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party was best suited to lead the country. But some hesitated to choose Grant as Lincoln’s successor, given Grant’s involvement in what might be the most outrageous act of anti-Semitism in American history, the banning of Jews “as a class violating every regulation of trade” from Tennessee during the Civil War.

Sarna’s book – which he wrote while on sabbatical in Jerusalem, where I was lucky enough to befriend him – provides good news cubed. First, this “worst” act of American anti-Semitism was mild, and quickly rescinded. Second, by the time Grant ran for president six years later in 1868, he had repeatedly done tshuva – repented – for what his own wife Julia called “that obnoxious order.” And third, Grant worked so hard to undo this stain on his honor that, Sarna writes, as president, he relied on a prominent Jewish advisor, “appointed a series of Jews to public office, attended a long, tedious synagogue dedication – staying until the end — and had aides help save “persecuted Jews in Russia and Romania.” “General Orders No. 11 marked a turning point in American Jewish history,” Sarna argues. “Paradoxically, Ulysses S. Grant’s order expelling the Jews set the stage for their empowerment.”

A great historian at the top of his game, Sarna cannot resist telling the story of General Orders No. 11 with all its traditional melodrama, while helping the reader retain enough skepticism in case the tale’s most colorful aspects were embroidered. The irresistible story has one Prussian immigrant who settled in Paducah, Kentucky, Cesar Kaskel, defending the Jewish people against expulsion – the smuggling by some Jews had endangered them all — by lobbying the President of the United States. What Sarna subtly calls “the oft-quoted report” claims Abraham Lincoln responded grandly, Biblically:

“And so the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?”

Kaskel responded: “Yes, and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, asking protection.”

“Father Abraham” then replied, “And this protection they shall have at once.”

The kind of broad-minded historian who uses small incidents to make sweeping points effectively, judiciously, Sarna turns the book into a celebration of American exceptionalism. And his ending is not just “happy” but downright poetic. Grant’s transformation from the General who expelled “Jews as a class,” Sarna writes, “to a president who embraced Jews as individuals – reminds us that even great figures in history can learn from their mistakes.” Sarna finishes, powerfully: “In America, hatred can be overcome.”

That finale makes the book most suited for this season – and for the excellent “Jewish Encounters” Series, a Shocken-Nextbook collaboration, so ably edited by the novelist and essayist Jonathan Rosen. These gems sparkle because, as with Sarna’s book, they take a small moment, or one theme, and in a short, punchy, readable monograph, illuminate bigger, important, dimensions of the Jewish experience.

Sarna’s salute to America captures American Jewry’s optimistic mood today — despite the epidemic political nastiness, despite the lingering economic troubles, despite the looming threats to the American dream. American Jews are feeling good about themselves – as further exemplified by the extraordinary New American Haggadah that leading American Jewish novelists, journalists, and essayists produced this year. In fact, whereas most Israelis and Zionists have learned not to indulge in Shlilat HaGolah – negation of the Diaspora – we are starting to see a new, arrogant, Shlilat Zion – an American Jewish condescension toward Israel as world Jewry’s perpetual headache, viewing America as the Jews’ Promised Land

Sarna’s Grant book focuses on the story’s happiest elements – the public dimensions. An earlier work of Sarna’s, American Judaism, highlights the more ambiguous, fraught, private American Jewish religious story – a story of assimilation, for better and worse. The more humbling assessment that follows reminds us, as we prepare to celebrate Israel’s 64th birthday, that the relationship between American Jews and Israelis should be mutual. Each side benefits when the other thrives.

The writer is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his next book will be Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight against Zionism as Racism.

Let Gunter Grass visit Israel – and encounter democracy

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-10-12

“Let Gunter Grass visit Israel – and encounter democracy”

A popular YouTube parody at www.collegehumor.com, which my kids love, has a youngGerman named Gunter Granz working in an American office, refusing to shake his Jewish co-workers’ hands, assuming all their fathers are rich bankers, and humiliated by Germany’s World War II misdeeds – because if only Hitler had not made the country so vulnerable with the long supply lines in Russia, he would have won. Meanwhile, in the real world, the German novelist Gunter Grass talks about Israel, the Jewish state, in equally absurd ways, bordering on parody. Grass should be mocked, refuted, confronted. But Israel’s Interior Minister is wrong. Rather than banning the author, Israel should welcome him – showing Grass a real democracy in action rather the bogeyman he targeted.
Grass’s poem “What Must Be Said” throbs with the false bravado and self-righteousness of the laptop warrior against Israel. There is this conceit, among Israel’s critics, that, somehow, by joining the international pile-on against Israel they are being brave, breaking the silence, saying what must be said, when they actually are being conformist, acting in vogue, echoing clichés.Especially in Europe, and most especially in Grass’s leftist circles, attacking Israel – or the US — is as natural, and as imaginative, as grumbling about high gasoline prices or low book advances.
Among Western radicals, prejudice against Israel and the US is the last legitimate bigotry, the only hatred acceptable in polite circles. As Richard Wolin explains in The Seduction of Unreason:  The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism, America has long functioned as European thinkers’ Schreckbild, image of horror.  Israel, what those lovely Iranian mullahs call, Little Satan, is now similarly targeted, in a move reeking of anti-Semitism that also feels natural to European elites. Attacking each country’s essential character transcends anger at specific policies, often confusing cause and effect. The French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel notes that the same critics attack America as “unilateralist” and “imperialist” when it intervenes internationally but then call Uncle Sam “isolationist” when it does not.
Similarly, Grass colors within the lines, slavishly following the bash-Israel formula.  His critique is one-sided, exaggerated and hysterical. Iran can threaten to “wipe out” Israel but Grass and his ilk accuse Israel of threatening Iran, of endangering “The already fragile world peace.”  Such “wonderful illogicality” suggests not “rational analysis” to Revel but “obsession.”
I agree with Grass when he writes in his leaden, clumsy poem: “I am tired of the hypocrisy/ Of the West; in addition to which it is to be hoped/That this will free many from silence,/That they may prompt the perpetrator of the recognized danger/ To renounce violence….”  We just differ in our threat assessments and our definitions of hypocrisy.  I am more outraged by charlatans like Grass who cannot criticize Third World dictators and human rights abusers, and whose fight against nuclear proliferation mysteriously lost steam when the oil-rich Iranians decided they desperately needed what, an alternative energy source? And when it comes to trusting one country to act responsibly, I bet on Israel’s democracy over Iran’s mullocracy.
Grass sees the Middle East as a “Region occupied by mania” with Israelis and Palestinians living “cheek by jowl among enemies.” Beyond not wanting to deploy state power against an aging, irrelevant blowhard whose great achievement, The Tin Drum dates to 1959, before I was born, I believe Israel has nothing to hide. Grass should visit Israel now during Passover.
I wish he could have wandered, Seder night, like the spirit of Elijah the Prophet did, from house to house, watching a society stop, gather in groups of friends and relatives, to contemplate questions of justice and injustice, slavery and freedom. I wish he could visit the country’s parks and historic sites, seeing many of the same families now enjoying Israel’s natural beauty and historical grandeur as backdrop. I wish he could frolic in Sakhne, which attracted as many as 1500 people a day this Passover, and see Arabs and Jews “cheek by jowl” splashing in the water, enjoying the mini waterfalls. I wish he could inspect the wards of Hadassah Hospital or work out in the YMCA gym in Jerusalem and see Arabs and Jews “cheek by jowl,” living together, working together, playing together. I wish he could wander through the Old City and speak to those Palestinian-Israelis who have worked so hard to get Israeli citizenship, asking why those papers are so precious to them.
And I wish he could meet the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of refugees from his native Germany, who survived the sadism of the Waffen SS Grass joined and then lied about, to see the lives they have made for themselves. Those monuments to the human spirit are more impressive than any monuments to the dead at Yad Vashem.
And yes, let him get political and visit the territories. Let him visit the Palestinian photographic art exhibits in Jaffa and elsewhere Israelis attend, and seek parallel expressions of sympathy for Israel, artistic or otherwise, in the Palestinian territories.  Let him visit Sderot, or my cousin’s Kibbutz, Nirim, to see how Hamas in Gaza chose rocket-launching over nation-building when given the opportunity to do what it wished after Israel withdrew in 2005 –nearly seven years ago already! –and then the Islamists seized power. And let him meet victims of Palestinian terror, learn about their missing limbs – or missing family members – and unravel why Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian leadership turned from peace talks to suicide bombs.
Israel has nothing to hide – and would botch it if it tried. Democracy begins in conversation. Freedom thrives from exposure. Let Grass come visit Israel and learn. Then, let him make Tehran his next stop, if he dares.

The writer is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his next book will be Moynihan’s Moment:  The Fight against Zionism as Racism.

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

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

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.

Occupy Wall Street: Preoccupied with PC Posturing

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-8-11

Last week, I occupied Wall Street. Okay, I only jogged around Zuccotti Park, and talked to some people. I figure, though, that if tent encampments housing hundreds of people popping up here and there can be exaggerated into a mass movement that reporters claim has changed the American conversation, I can turn my short visit into an “occupation.”

The true story about “Occupy Wall Street” is how preoccupied the media is with a marginal movement. In 1962, the historian Daniel Boorstin coined the term “pseudo-event” to describe made-for-the-cameras events, which barely stand alone without the klieg-light-induced boost. Similarly, this movement is more of a con than a conquest of capitalism, more of a charade than a parade of reforming game-changers. Their slogan, “we are the 99 percent,” is inaccurate – more like .0000000009 percent.

When I visited, at 8:30 AM one morning, and saw masters-of-the-universe in their powersuits photographing the squatters, I wanted to shout, “Turn around! You, the supposed bystanders, the passers-by, are the real story.” Wandering around Wall Street on a weekday morning thousands of people stream by, going to work. Their energy, their diverse styles, their different tasks, their props – wired into their iPods, armed with their Starbucks – tell the real story of modern America. Passing the cops and the drivers, the security guards and the security analysts, the secretaries and the stock brokers, the real people who make the city work, I felt they would save America. Amid the many worker-bees paying their bills, digging out of debt, sending their kids to college, are the few queen bees, the future Steve Jobses working maniacally to innovate, rather than “chilling” in a park.

There’s an awkward sociological reality to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The “occupy” tent encampments’ free food, available tents and the cool buzz of the mostly young slacker-protestors have attracted street people. Homeless people have rights, too, of course. But many are mentally ill. They enhance the impression of marginality, injecting an air of randomness as well. At “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy DC” at McPherson Square in Washington, DC, which I also visited, the real victims of this troubling, lingering recession seemed missing – the single moms trying to feed two or three kids on Walmartized jobs, meaning minimal wages with artificially limited hours to ensure no benefits; the middle-aged, once-middle-class dads who lost their jobs and are not even being considered for others because they are too experienced, too expensive, and at the age of forty plus, too old, no matter how fit; the retirees who could live off interest rates of four and five percent but suffer when they hover between zero and two percent.

“Occupy Wall Street’s” lack of focus also weakens it. We know what the movements for feminism, environmentalism, pro-life, pro-choice, free Palestine, or Zionism are about. These protestors barely know what they are against and have no idea what they stand for. Their answer to this FAQ – frequently asked question — is to affirm 1. “We must be accountable to ourselves” and 2. “Our government must be accountable to us and corporations must be accountable to the government.” I agree. Now what?

So far, the handbills distributed offer a smorgasbord of lefty concerns. It’s green. It’s queer. It’s very, very PC – politically correct. It’s a politics of postures and gestures more than one of policies and ideas. Occupy DC lists 16 “guidelines” starting with: “Respect each other, each other’s stuff and space.” It makes the important, poignant point, rule number 5, that “we consider working class police officers part of the 99%,” so they are not instinctively seen as the enemy. Rule number 10 is “Don’t assume anyone’s gender. When possible go with gender-neutral pronouns and nouns such as friend/comrade instead of brother/sister.” The movement often seems like those free-associating, earnest, PC political message boards, that sprout like weeds on campuses, brought to life – only garbed in layers of ill-fitting clothing and reeking of body odor.

Alas, Jews, and especially Zionists, do not make it onto the lengthy list of protected groups – insulated from any criticism — by the prevailing PC sensibility. It’s unfair to accuse OWS of anti-Semitism. The movement is too diffuse to turn a few errant signs or some offensive loudmouths into a statement. But at Occupy DC, the African-American guy who was ranting about the 9/11 conspiracy, inevitably, predictably, denounced Zionists, their power, their “apartheid” state, and the “Uncle Tom in the White House” who supports Israel. I am quite sure, that in this same special space which encourages gender-neutral pronouns, the friends/comrades would not tolerate pejorative language about any other group, or a racist slurring of President Barack Obama’s name in any other context. Yet this has emerged as the great leftist blind spot — insensitivity about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism too often gets a free pass.

In DC, when I spoke to an organizer, he asked me where I was from. “Jerusalem” I answered – curious to see his response. He smiled. “You guys had those great protests,” he said, “sorry to hear how expensive housing is.” “Yes,” I responded, “those protests had a huge middle class base” –he insisted ODC did too.

This interaction made me doubly proud. After years of scarring from the delegitimization battles, it was nice to see Israel inspiring leftists again. And, yes, Israel’s protest movement also has to figure out Act 2, to solve that difficult post-Cold War conundrum of how we develop a thriving capitalist economy with some seichel, some social justice, some soul without socialism. But Israel’s protests are not pseudo-events. They are broad, middle-class, open, inviting, mainstream, real – and politically formidable – something Occupy Wall Street, despite all the media hype, has yet to become.

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 History of American Presidential Elections.”giltroy@gmail.com

September Backgrounder: Zionism, Racism and Durban

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Prof. Gil Troy (updated version of an article published March 29, 2009)

Among the many casualties of the continuing Mideast violence is the term “Zionism.” Whereas it once epitomized idealism, romanticism, and the best of nationalism to millions of Jews and non-Jews, Zionism today is politically incorrect. In a depressing retreat to the harshest days of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Zionism is again being demonized. Critics regularly twin the term with a grab-bag of reprehensible “isms”: expansionism, colonialism, imperialism, racism, and, most perversely, Nazism.

The renewed attack on Zionism overshadowed the United Nations conference held in Durban, South Africa which began on August 31, 2001 and ended on September 7.  The “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance,” wanted to condemn “the racist practices of Zionism,” call Zionism a movement based on racial superiority, and condemn Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “a new kind of apartheid.” Some delegates distributed a booklet of vile and ancient anti-Semitic caricatures showing Jews with hook noses and fangs dripping blood. It was hard to take such overt racism at a supposed anti-racism conference seriously — but also hard to ignore it. The United States — and even the (at the time) compulsively “evenhanded” Canadian government — mobilized against it. The U.S. Secretary of State at the time, Colin Powell, the first African-American Secretary of State, desperately wanted to attend the conference, seeing it as a critical moment in South Africa’s transition from enduring a racist Apartheid regime to being purged of such ugliness. Yet, ultimately, frustrated, Powell boycotted the event, sending a mid-level U,S, representative instead, because he realized that focusing on Zionism at an anti-racism conference hurt the cause of racism – and allowed truly racist regimes to dodge responsibility as the world piled on Israel, and Zionism.

To attack Zionism, rather than Israeli policies or the Israeli government, is to repudiate the State of Israel and the idea of a Jewish state. For Zionism at its simplest is Jewish nationalism, the understanding that Jews are a people, that Judaism is not just a religion, and that Israel is the Jewish homeland. Singling out Jewish nationalism as racist, in a forum of the 192-member United Nations, is itself bigoted anti-Semitic behavior.

In targeting Jewish nationalism in its broadest, murkiest, and most abstract incarnation, critics betray their true colors. Anti-Zionism goes way beyond the question of the settlements or Ariel Sharon or Avigdor Lieberman or any particular Israeli actions. Anti-Zionism attacks the very rights of the Jews to their homeland. This sweeping assault then naturally metastasizes into the anti-Semitic caricatures in so many Arab newspapers and into the epidemic of violence against Jews throughout the world that so many supposed humanists rationalize.

This anti-Zionist vitriol ratchets the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians from the realm of the negotiable up to an arena of mutually exclusive absolutes. Those who negate Zionism are declaring war on Israel and the Jewish people. This broad-based assault, combined with the wider-ranging campaign of terror launched in 2000 against all Israelis, explains why the Israeli left has all but collapsed, and the region is so polarized.

Trying to turn the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into a racial conflict, caricatures Israelis as colonialist, imperialist, racist whites, and Palestinians as noble, victimized, oppressed, people of color. But the facts collide with this simplistic propagandistic scenario. The conflict is a national conflict, with some religious overtones. But there are dark-skinned Israelis and light-skinned Palestinians. Moreover, there are no racial or racist laws on Israeli books – unlike the despicable South African apartheid regime with all its racial classifications among blacks, whites and coloreds. Whereas Israel has made heroic efforts to rescue tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews from Africa, all too often, too many Arabs are behind some of the worst racist conflicts in the world, notably Darfur today.

Proof that Zionism is most definitely not racism comes from America’s first African-America president, Barack Obama. During his campaign, Obama explained that when he was in sixth grade he attended a summer camp and learned about Zionism, Israel and the Holocaust from a Jewish counselor. Obama recalled how the counselor “shared with me the idea of retuning to a homeland and what that meant for a people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. For a young man like Obama, searching for his roots, for his identity, this message resonated. And so, he proclaimed, “my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best tradition and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

President Obama understands that not only is Zionism not racism, not only can the Zionist story inspire African-Americans and displaced people everywhere, but that we all should strive to do what he understand Zionism has done: excavate our best traditions and our best selves.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. 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.

Center Field: A detox program for haters

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

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

Dear President Obama,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Yes, I am an Oven Dodger, and a Humanist, a Jew and a Zionist’

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, February 16, 2011

When the Egyptian uprising first began, a blog entry I wrote for a New York Times web forum assessing the impact on the Middle East Peace Process landed me a gig on Russia’s English-language TV. The expected duel followed. Two talking heads described the Muslim Brotherhood as benign democrats while maligning Israel as an anti-democratic oppressor. In response, I challenged Egyptians to create a true democracy respecting the rule of law, basic freedoms, and gays, women, Christian Copts – even Jews. The responses denouncing me on the program’s website were scorching, most laced with profanity. One posted an “old Polish proverb”: “The Jew screams in pain as he strikes you.” Another wrote — ungrammatically: “Oven dodgers its only a matter of time. That you will be put in your place.”

I never heard that term “Oven Dodgers” before. But you don’t need a Ph.D. in history to know what it means when an anti-Semite directs it at a Jew after Auschwitz. Having been born in New York to two American-born parents, whose own parents escaped to America from anti-Semitic Russia and Poland a century ago, I never “dodged” any “ovens,” nor did any close blood relative. But despite being born free, I guess I am an Oven Dodger – and proud of it.

I am an Oven Dodger because I am a humanist. Just as I feel the pain of Darfurian blacks, Saudi Arabian women, Palestinian gays, Russian free thinkers, I feel the pain of Jews who were and are threatened, be it by mass murderers or by illiterate idiots on the Internet.

I am an Oven Dodger because I am a Jew, and as members of one interconnected people, who live our history deeply, daily, we all are survivors of Auschwitz, to some extent, especially because the Nazis wanted to kill us all – every Jew living then and all future generations.

And I am an Oven Dodger because I am a Zionist, and the ethos of Jewish nationalism entails remembering our traumatic past, responding proudly to current threats, while working to ensure a better, safer future for us, our children and the world.

Franklin Roosevelt said “Judge me by the enemies I make.”  I am flattered that these forces of darkness recognize me as an adversary. But I am not just an Oven Dodger – and that is the secret to our collective successes as well as to my happiness as a humanist, a Jew and a Zionist. I won’t let my enemies define me. Life is too rich with possibilities. Their worldview is too perverted by hatred to grant them such a victory.

I have learned from my women friends. Just as feminists march to “take back the night,” for a decade now I have been calling for us to Take Back Zionism – which has become the world’s punching bag.

I am happy to report that just a few weeks ago the Birthright Israel alumni organization launched its own campaign to Take Back Zionism – and more than 800 alumni participated at a happening in New York  (Full Disclosure: I chair Birthright’s International Educational Committee and I consulted on the project, but only after they initiated it and named their campaign). This campaign takes the right approach to Israel, to Zionism, to Jewish Identity, to life.  It invites members of the next generation to define Zionism – on “our own terms, as a young generation who loves Israel.”

“You have the power to change the conversation about Zionism,” Rebecca Sugar, Executive Director of the Birthright Israel Alumni Community proclaimed at the opening, defining Zionism as “a proud movement that inspired and ignited the passion and energy of our people for the realization of a better world, a better Israel and a better Jewish community.” Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, defined Zionism “very, very simply,” as “Jews taking responsibility for themselves as Jews.” Then, representing Israel to the young Jews assembled, he added: “The State of Israel is there for you. It belongs to you – it belongs to all of us.

One of Birthright’s founders, Michael Steinhardt, said that “Being a Jew, being a Zionist, takes pride and knowledge and commitment to the Jewish future, and probably a commitment to Israel as a central aspect of that Jewish future.

Since that launch, hundreds of Birthright alumni and dozens of organizations have responded, posting what Zionism means to them on www.takebackzionism.orgAmeinu calls Zionism “an expression of our progressive, liberal values.” Artists 4 Israel says “Zionism is liberationism.” The Green Zionist Alliance says “Zionism is environmentalism.” Jerusalem Online University says “Zionism is connecting yourself to an extraordinary people, a golden homeland, and a timeless tradition.”

More personally, one person wrote that Zionism means “the past, the present and the future of the Jewish people.” Another one called it “What defines us and unites us as Jews.” A third wrote simply, “The right to go home.”

Zionism is Jewish nationalism, understanding that Judaism is not just a religion but that Jews are a people, with a national homeland, Israel. More broadly, Zionism is the Jewish national liberation movement, dedicated toward building Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, in the Jewish homeland, Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.

Asking “What Zionism means to me” opens the conversation to a rainbow of diverse views while encouraging us to take it personally. It learns from Lester B. Pearson, the Canadian Nobel Prize winner who said “Ideas are explosive.” By redefining this idea, we can revive Zionism, recapturing it from its detractors. And we can show that rather than just playing defense, just being “Oven Dodgers,” we are life affirmers, state builders, truth seekers and do-gooders. That is what inspires me as a humanist, a Jew, and a Zionist, despite our enemies — not to spite our enemies.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. He is the author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.” giltroy@gmail.com

What the vandals could learn from their targets

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 1-27-11

On a cold Montreal night in mid-January, criminals vandalized five synagogues and a school.  Canadian leaders from left to right denounced the crime, proving that North American antisemitism today is unlike the antisemitism of Europe then or too many Arab countries now.
Antisemitism in Canada – and the rest of the civilized world – is a crime committed by marginal misfits, not an extension of state policy or local politics. As of this writing, the criminals remain at large, but we can nevertheless learn some important lessons from these outrages.

Jews should learn once again the essential lesson of Jewish unity. The criminals struck Ashkenazi and Sephardi institutions, four Orthodox synagogues, one Conservative and one Reconstructionist shul. These hoodlums target Jews, regardless of ethnic or denominational difference. We should reaffirm our mutual respect for one another. We may pray differently or believe a bit differently. We may look or sound a little different. But we are one.

That unity, of course, shouldn’t simply be because we all look the same in the antisemite’s crosshairs, but because we share a rich tradition, many similar values and a common fate. Traumas such as these are never welcome. But we should exploit them as opportunities to reaffirm our common sense of peoplehood, maintaining the Jewish tradition of making poetry out of our enemies’ perversity.

If these hoodlums are caught, I hope that – after they (or their parents) pay not just for the damage but to improve each institution somehow – they are forced to learn about their six targets. Simply learning about the six names alone would expose them to the richness of Jewish tradition and history.

Let them start with Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem to learn about King David and the Holy City of Jerusalem. Let them learn David’s psalms, which show how glorifying God elevates humanity. And let them learn how even King David was not above the law, enduring God’s punishment when he sinned by pursuing the married Batsheva. Let them learn about the Temple’s grandeur in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, a time when few humans had seen such a large structure, let alone built one.

Moving on to Yavne Academy, I would teach about Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, who in 68 CE established Yavne as a centre of Jewish learning outside Jerusalem so Jewish scholarship and civilization could continue – and keep us thriving – after Jerusalem’s destruction two years later. I would teach why we use the term “CE” (common era) rather than AD (anno domini) to organize the western calendar. We acknowledge Jesus as an epoch-making historical character without characterizing him as our lord – or the lord of many others who don’t believe in him.

Congrégation Sépharade Beth Rambam would provide an opportunity to introduce Rabbi Moses ben-Maimon, Maimonides, the extraordinary rabbi, doctor and philosopher who lived from 1135 to 1204. Maimonides’ life symbolizes the rich mix of western, Muslim, and Jewish cultures that flourished in medieval Spain, and flourishes now. Learning about Maimonides reveals the creative tensions between rationalism and faith, between secular learning and religious studies, with the message that we don’t have to make false choices between two good things. Life involves balancing, synthesizing and learning from difference.

I would continue the history lesson – with its life lessons – with Beth Zion Congregation, teaching how Zion, the mountain in Jerusalem, became a focus of longing and unity through nearly 2,000 years of exile. Learning of Zion flows naturally into learning about Zionism, about the remarkable return to the Jewish homeland and the unfortunate hatred this extraordinary Jewish and human enterprise endures.

Finally, I would end with Congregation Dorshei Emet, the Truth Seekers, and Shaarei Zedek Congregation, the Gates of Justice, teaching about the eternal Jewish – and human – quest for understanding and righteousness. Note that Judaism judges people by their good acts, their mitzvot, not their beliefs – by what they do not what they think.

I would end with another creative clash defining Judaism today, between modernity and tradition – and how that yielded Conservatism and Reconstructionism, as well as Orthodoxy, because Orthodoxy itself is a modern concept forged in rebellion against the Reformers of the 1800s.

Wouldn’t it be great if all antisemites learned about the richness of Jewish civilization from these synagogues and other sources? Then again, wouldn’t it be great if every modern Jew could not only take this kind of course, but teach it?

Racist Right and the silent Center: Stop delegitimizing Zionism

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-28-10

Unfortunately, those of us fighting the delegitimization of Zionism face a new challenge.  Anti-Semitic Arabs and European useful idiots, the loony left and their puppet professors, relentlessly attack Zionism, caricaturing the liberal, democratic movement of Jewish nationalism as racist.  Now, in a strange perversion whereby victims of a smear absorb some characteristics bigots attribute to them, an ugly strain of Israeli racism is festering, threatening to delegitimize Zionism from within. Silent centrists must not stand by, idly watching racist rabbis in Tsfat ban selling houses to Arabs, young Jewish hooligans in Jerusalem beat Arabs, and loud bigots rally against Arabs and immigrants in Bat Yam and Tel Aviv.  Zionists must reject these immoral and outrageous acts as unwelcome in our otherwise big broad Zionist tent devoted to building a thriving, democratic Jewish state in the Jewish people’s traditional homeland.

Jewish racists betray Judaism and Jewish history. Having taught the world how humane and open religion can be, we must never forget Judaism’s sensitivity to others. Having suffered from discrimination, we must never practice it.

Similarly, Zionist racists betray Zionism and the Zionist mission.  Zionism’s rise is intertwined with liberal democratic nationalism, mixing ethnic and civic nationalism. And Zionism’s mandate to end anti-Semitism must never degenerate into discrimination against others.

The bullying bigots constitute a shrill minority – and have been widely denounced. Police arrested the hooligans. The Likudnik Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin – among many others – said the racist Rabbis’ letter “shames the Jewish people.” Given the relentless attacks on Israel and Zionism, given how mainstream anti-Semitic discourse is among Arabs, given how Palestinians routinely outlaw land sales to Jews, given how intellectuals have camouflaged modern anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism, it is a tribute to Zionism’s moral fibre that these voices remain so marginal.

Still, the demagogues test us all, morally, ideologically, educationally. The bigotry – which is nation-based not race-based – festers due to many problems today. It highlights the Israeli rabbinate’s corruption, hijacking state funds to advance a soulless, picayune, anti-Zionist, non-humanistic perversion of Judaism that has alienated generations of Israelis. It showcases epidemics of educational failure, growing violence, untrammeled aggressiveness, pagan youth, religious Jews loving land more than people or peace, in an increasingly rudderless society needing strong leaders and a reaffirmation of its founding ideals. It reflects the growing scar tissue of a society inured to any mistakes made regarding Palestinians because of Palestinian violence and rejectionism – which the world enables.

Silence is consent. Every rabbi, every educator, every settler, every Israeli citizen, every Zionist must boldly, loudly, and constructively denounce this ugliness. Rabbis must reaffirm the Torah’s teachings seeking justice based on mutual respect, because we were strangers in a foreign land.  Educators must launch a civics curriculum teaching democratic values based on inherent rights. Settlers, so often caricatured as anti-Arab aggressors, can distance themselves from this scourge by rejecting racist rabbis in their communities and implementing programs affirming democratic values.

Israeli leaders must spearhead this fight while all Israeli citizens should recommit to the defining civic, democratic values expressed in Israel’s Proclamation of Independence and embodied by David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. Meanwhile, Zionists everywhere should reaffirm the teachings of Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Ahad Ha’am and Rav Kook, that healthy nationalism rejects racism, that a Jewish state can be a democracy not a theocracy, that Zionism involves cultivating the best in us not bringing out the worst.

Contempt for “the goyim” is an ugly Jewish characteristic Zionism tried burying in Europe. Oppressed peoples use insularity and superiority as defense mechanisms. African-American humor mocks white Americans; Jewish humor mocks non-Jews. But when you return to history, wield power, become a majority, those jokes stop being funny – or necessary.

Zionism was about becoming whole again, about taking responsibility. This Altneuland was to be another normal expression of nationalism, as so many other peoples fulfilled their rights of self-determination through nation-states. This old-new state was also to be a special framework for fulfilling Jewish values in a state, not theorizing about them in seminaries.

In the happy meeting between Judaism and modern Western thought, after nearly two millennia of misery, most Jews internalized fundamental democratic ideals. Jews saw how the most welcoming polities respecting individual rights and fostering mutual respect, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, were also the most successful societies. Jews also functioned as society’s watchdog, denouncing anti-Semitism and other prejudices.  Every one of us who demanded in the 1980s that Jesse Jackson disavow Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, every one of us who demanded in 2008 that Barack Obama disavow the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s anti-Jewish and anti-American demagoguery, must combat our own anti-Arab, anti-immigrant bigots.

The Obama case is instructive. Many of us resented that Obama and his family regularly attended a church led by a man whose offensive rantings targeted us. We abhorred Obama’s passivity, dismissing his denunciations in 2008 as calculated and long overdue. Here now is our opportunity to lead, demonstrating that every movement produces extremists, every form of nationalism has its xenophobes but constructive, democratic movements understand the value of self-policing and living up to our highest standards, not treating others as our enemies treat us.

Political morality transcends policy differences.  We need a passionate debate about the complicated questions regarding growing anti-Zionism among Israeli Arabs, regarding the messy immigration dilemmas bedeviling America and Europe not just Israel, regarding the complicated quest to empower a Jewish majority and an Arab minority in a democracy besieged by its neighbors. But we also need red lines against stereotyping, demonization, and bigotry.  Tzfat’s racist rabbis, Jerusalem’s Jewish hooligans constitute an ugly minority. They pervert Zionism, threatening to corrupt the collective Jewish soul, while unintentionally inviting us to clarify our values and affirm defining principles.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute 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

How did it get to that point?

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 12-23-10

Once again, as I watch a Canadian campus get roiled – and a university shoot itself in the proverbial foot – I ask, “Where are the grown-ups?”
The British agitator George Galloway spoke at York University in mid-November. Rabbi Ahron Hoch circulated an e-mail urging community members to protest. In it, Rabbi Hoch characterized York’s president, Mamdouh Shoukri, in ways I never would, saying “Mr. Shoukri has again showed his amazing tolerance for antisemitism and lack of vigilance regarding the feeling of safety for Jewish students on campus.” A lawyer for York responded with a letter that I would never write, calling Rabbi Hoch’s words “actionable” while warning Rabbi Hoch and his supporters to stay off campus because the university is “private property.”

Predictably, the clash intensified. Rabbi Hoch circulated the exchange on the Internet, asking why York grants free speech to anti-Israel agitators such as Galloway (who also has said insensitive things about Darfur) but not to pro-Israel Jews. Meanwhile, the university felt harassed, not realizing how much the lawyer’s letter exacerbated the latest mess.

As an outsider, I’m shocked that no one in the York community with ties to the rabbi and the president could talk both sides down, protecting the principle of civil free speech for all and the university’s reputation. I urge York’s president and his counsel to consult with key faculty insiders before pouring oil on future fires.

I understand the university counsel’s first instinct to defend Shoukri against even the hint of an accusation that he’s antisemitic or tolerates antisemitism. It is an ugly charge against a decent man with a tough job. The charge of “lack of vigilance” regarding the safety of Jewish students or any students is devastating enough. The antisemitism jab was inaccurate, even incendiary.

But the prospect of a university suing a rabbi – which is what actionable means – is a lose-lose. A clever lawyer could tar the university’s reputation and cost York big bucks fighting it out regarding what constitutes “tolerance” for antisemitism. More importantly, universities should be bastions of free civil speech. Our recipe for bad speech should be more speech. Few academics can afford to defend themselves against libel suits. A university should never encourage resorting to courts of law rather than courts of public opinion, the sheer beauty of an effective rebuttal or truth itself.

The second half of the counsel’s letter, which most people overlooked, was equally disturbing. The letter unfairly accused Rabbi Hoch of trying to disrupt with more radical action when he merely invited community members to a rally. Yes, the lawyer is correct, technically. Universities are private property. But universities want members of the public to spend money to hear speakers, attend plays and watch films on campus. They celebrate when tourists, potential students, and, of course, most important, potential donors, visit. No one wants universities to be bunkers with “Keep Out” signs.

A lawyer’s job is to make sure a client remains true to core ideals and to talk the client out of foolish, emotional overreactions. Judging by this letter, it’s a shame no one served that function for the university’s lawyers this time.

Meanwhile, as leading Jews squabble with York’s leaders and the university’s core values get trampled in the crossfire, the true enemies of civility and scholarship flourish.

Let’s face it. York has become a flashpoint. I hear about students who have second thoughts about enrolling and about employers who first ask job applicants what’s happening on campus rather than what they’re learning in class. I also hear of a thriving Jewish and intellectual life on campus nevertheless.

This incident was predictable and avoidable. People of stature committed to university values should learn from this experience: those values include students feeling safe, even if they’re Jewish and pro-Israel; encouraging civility and mutual respect, not just for students but for university presidents, and keeping universities as open, welcoming spaces for the public.

There will be other incidents. Will there be grown ups be ready next time to stand up, mediate and avoid another PR disaster for York and the university community?

Fighting Zionism: Racism’s big lie

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-10-10

Thirty five years ago, on November 10, 1975, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, America’s Ambassador to the UN proclaimed: “The United States … does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” The “infamous act” was Resolution 3379, calling Zionism racism, slandering one form of nationalism, Jewish nationalism.

That same day, Israel’s Ambassador Chaim Herzog, carrying the dignity of four thousand years of Jewish history, declared: “I stand here not as a supplicant…. For the issue is neither Israel nor Zionism. The issue is the continued existence of this organization, which has been dragged to its lowest point of discredit by a coalition of despots and racists…. You yourselves bear the responsibility for your stand before history… We, the Jewish people, will not forget.” Herzog then ripped the resolution to shreds.

The 1975 UN resolution set a template for attacking Israel and Zionism using liberalism and human rights rhetoric. Arabs learned, that before a lazy, complacent world, they could mask sexism and homophobia, terrorism and dictatorship, their continuing rejection of Israel’s right to exist, behind a smokescreen of rhetoric treating the national struggle between Israelis and Palestinians as an expression of Jewish racism, colonialism, and imperialism. This New Big Lie was so potent it would outlast its Soviet creators, derail the UN, hurt the cause of human rights – and make Israel what the Canadian MP and human rights activist Professor Irwin Cotler calls the Jew among nations.”

Fortunately, Moynihan and Herzog also set a template for defending Israel and Zionism. They labeled this propaganda ploy an assault on democracy and decency. They predicted, accurately, that by targeting Israel and the Jewish people the UN would sacrifice its credibility and demean its most important currency, the language of universal rights developed after World War II.

Still, being right can feel lonely. On the day of their heroism, Moynihan and Herzog felt indignant but abandoned. Moynihan felt pressure from his fellow diplomats and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to be more “diplomatic,” meaning appeasing. Herzog felt pressure from Israel’s Foreign Ministry not to take the UN too seriously. Even the American Jewish community was slow to react, initially.

This week at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, it was also easy to feel lonely. The first day of the conference, two back-to-back sessions examined the modern campaign to delegitimize Israel. Despite the excitement of 5000 Jewish do-gooders gathering together, despite the appearance of The Rev. Dr. Katherine R. Henderson, President of Auburn Theological Seminary, who has heroically challenged her fellow Presbyterians to stop delegitimizing the Jewish state, despite the new $6 million Israel Action Network being launched to be proactive not just reactive, the panel discussion I participated in with Dr. Henderson gave me battle fatigue. I resent that 62 years after Israel’s founding, Israel is the only country in the world on probation. I bristle at the self-righteousness of the Apartheid-libelers, gleefully quoting Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, each of whom has sloppily echoed the Apartheid lie – albeit only once – stupidly echoing this word which does not apply to Israel because whatever “apartness” Israel imposes is not based on racial distinctions but national conflict.

I felt even more fatigue as I left New Orleans hours after arriving, flew to Atlanta, arrived shortly before midnight, took a 6:30 AM plane to Toronto, then connected to Ottawa.

Fortunately, there I found the Parliament building glowing with the spirit of Chaim Herzog as 140 latter-day Pat Moynihans convened the Ottawa Conference on Combating Antisemitism. These legislators, representing 53 countries from six continents, are leading lights helping redeem a world constantly flirting with a terrible darkness. “There has been a globalization of the problem of Antisemitism,” Professor Cotler observed, “but there is also a globalization of parliamentary concern.”

I had the honor of presenting to an interparliamentary working group exploring campus Antisemitism. The legislators were sophisticated, sensitive to university sensibilities, appreciating the importance of free speech, academic freedom, and the legitimacy of criticizing Israel. They also agreed that all students must feel safe and not scorned. They wanted to embed the fight against Antisemitism in the broader quest for mutual respect, open intellectual inquiry, and academic integrity. “Discrimination is discrimination,” said one MP. We all shared the indignation – also expressed at the GA – that the unholy alliance of Islamists and misguided leftists tried making Israel so toxic as to justify blatant cases of hatred on supposedly hyper-tolerant campuses as long as they targeted pro-Israel Jews.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was particularly Moynihanesque. Harper said that “when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand.” He admitted that “at the United Nations or any other international forum, the easiest thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just about being even-handed and to excuse oneself with the label of ‘honest broker.’ But as long as I am prime minister,” he vowed, “Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us.”

Harper and his guests recognize Antisemitism as a gateway hatred, opening up portals of perversity that threaten Jews first, then others. They refuse to let this evil fester. We should join their fight, and catapult from the interparliamentary coalition against Antisemitism to the intraplanetary coalition against Antisemitism and for thriving democratic values.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book will look at Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Zionism is Racism Resolution, the fall of the UN and the Rise of Reagan. giltroy@gmail.com

Center Field: Why do they hate us?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-2-10 

Amid media frenzy surrounding Yemen letter bombs most ignored the terrorists’ intended victims. Alas, Jews being targeted is not news.

The news that Islamist terrorists sent letter bombs to two Chicago-area synagogues should have stirred worldwide outrage, not just hysteria. Amid the ensuing media frenzy, as video seminars detailed how cargo is shipped and who the suspected Yemeni terrorists are, most journalists ignored the terrorists’ intended victims. Alas, Jews being targeted is not news. Once again we have to wonder, why do they hate us – and why does the hatred often invite indifference? Yes, I know, “they” hating “us,” is the language of paranoids, xenophobes, the illiberal, the intolerant. We are supposed to be more polite, more sanitized and more self-critical, wondering what we did to bring this plague upon ourselves.

I confess, I hate writing these kinds of columns. I detest this topic. I was raised with the post-Auschwitz covenant; anti-Semitism was supposed to be buried in the ashes of Auschwitz by the world’s retroactive remorse when there was nothing left to do but say “sorry” and feebly promise “Never Again.”

But “Never Again” has become “I am not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist,” as history reshuffles the deck once again.

There is a “they” and an “us,” actually, two “theys” and two “us-es.”

The first, obvious “they” is the Islamists fueling an anti- Semitic, anti-American, anti-Western nihilist movement addicted to terrorism.

In a recent Newsweek column Hayri Abaza and Soner Cagaptay clarified the issues which are often purposely obscured. “The Left is wrongly defending Islamism – an extremist and at times violent ideology – which it confuses with the common person’s Islam,” they write, “while the Right is often wrongly attacking the Muslim faith, which it confuses with Islamism.”

Islamists are not reacting to the Ground Zero mosque controversy or settlement expansion. They are fighting a global, millennialist jihad rooted in their perverted understanding of their religion, and counting time in centuries.

They still mourn Spain’s fall to the Christians, and the Crusaders’ rise; they use the Palestinian issue and fleeting controversies as modern fig leafs to seduce today’s useful idiots.

SURPRISINGLY, IT works. Herein emerges the second “they.” Many opinion leaders in the West somehow justify terrorists targeting Jews and Israelis. Alleged “crimes” against the Palestinians offer excuses for multiple abuses; when Jews and Israelis are involved, terrorism is graded on a curve and the world’s outrage dulls.

The crimes of 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in England generated more horror than the bus and café bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Al-Qaida is considered beyond the diplomatic pale, yet more and more Westerners are making nice with Hizbullah in Lebanon while pressuring Israel to negotiate with Hamas. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Columbia University, his desire to wipe out the Jewish state triggered minimal outrage, but his claim that Iran had no homosexuals alienated his audience.

Too many of the “chattering classes” and cultural elites in the West today soft-pedal the Islamist problem. A surprisingly seductive combination of post-colonial, post-imperial white guilt mixed with liberal condescension has dulled the moral senses. A racist cult of white American terrorists would trigger much more outrage. The logical rage against Islamist anti-Semitism is further diluted, festering in Apologia Alley, at the fog-inducing intersection where Western self-hatred and traditional Jew hatred meet.

Again, I hate writing this but the second “they” are the Islamists’ fellow travelers, the carriers of the West’s anti- Semitism gene.

They are the ones who single out Israel, making it “the Jew” among nations while excusing the far worse crimes of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. They are the ones at UNESCO who can decide the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are not shared properties reflecting Jews’ and Muslims’ common cultural heritage, but should be exclusively Palestinian. And they are the ones who will downplay the anti-Semitic intent when a synagogue in Chicago is targeted or an El Al waiting area in Los Angeles is attacked.

This blind spot regarding Jewish oppression offers an odd echo of the reporting during the 1940s. Then, reporters described Hitler’s victims as civilians not Jews, while ghettoizing the coverage of the few anti-Hitler protests by labeling them Jewish protests, which were more easily ignored.

If the double “they” is the Islamists and their fellow travelers – the two “us-es” are Westerners and Jews. Yes, Westerners have been targeted. But Jews are doubly targeted, as Westerners and Jews. In yet another bizarre twist, while many anti-Semites have long rejected Jews for not being Western enough, part of the Islamist revulsion rejects Jews as the ultimate Westerners.

It is easy, in such a world, to turn bitter. In the classic documentary Shoah, a kibbutznik who survived the Warsaw Ghetto and seems perfectly normal stops, stares at the camera and barks: “If you could lick my heart, you would be poisoned.”

Our challenge is to let only the haters be poisoned by their own hatred. If living well is the best revenge for people who grew up in dysfunctional families, the same advice applies to an embattled people living in a dysfunctional world. We must defend ourselves, our people, our homeland, our values, our Western civilization, as intensely as possible. But we cannot forget our capacity to love, enjoy, hope and dream.

Let our enemies marinate in their own poison. We need to move on, without ignoring them but without being defined by them either. With apologies to Rabbi Hillel: If I do not defend myself, who am I? But if I only defend myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

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

giltroy@gmail.com

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.

The toxic context of ‘the Israel debate’

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-10-10

We have become so used to it we take it for granted, but one of the great scandals of modern politics is the way Palestinian negationism and terrorism have been facilitated by the UN and championed by the left, cloaking lethal desires to wipe out Israel in the language of human rights.

Moreover, as Professor Shalom Lappin of Kings College, London testified to Britain’s All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Against Anti-Semitism, which issued its report September 2006:

The Israel-Palestinian encounter has been largely denaturalised and removed from its political and regional context. It is no longer seen as a political and military struggle between two nations with a long and complex history…. Instead, it has been endowed with the peculiar status of an iconic clash between good and evil. Israel has increasingly come to be construed as the purest embodiment of imperialism, racism and oppression whose sole national purpose is to dispossess the Palestinians.”

This inaccurate, Manichean misreading of the conflict encourages perverse behavior. Again and again, institutions violate their own core ideals. Again and again, the blinding bias against Israel obscures facts, precedents, common sense itself.

In this toxic context, the distinguished scholar and Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, was shouted down repeatedly while speaking at University of California, Irvine. The Muslim Student Union “strongly condemn[ed] the university for co-sponsoring, and therefore inadvertently supporting, the ambassador of a state that is condemned by more UN Human Rights Council resolutions than all other countries in the world combined.”

Note how the libels get recycled. The UN’s bias against Israel legitimizes the Muslim Student Union protest – which escalated into shouting and hooliganism, resulting in eleven arrests.

Fortunately, at least one academic with a conscience defended Oren. “This is beyond embarrassing…,” Professor Mark P. Petracca proclaimed. “This is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech.”

Meanwhile, across the continent, a 20-year-old’s personal decision to join the Israeli army triggered a brouhaha in New York because his father is the New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief. Ethan Bronner, despite a distinguished decades-long record of reporting which includes some hard-hitting reports criticizing Israel, was accused of “pro-Israel bias” because his son enlisted in the IDF. Even the Times’s public editor Clark Hoyt suggested reassigning Bronner – although Bill Keller, the executive editor, refused.

Bronner’s response, “I wish to be judged by my work, not by my biography,” is perfect. But the operative assumption fueling the controversy is disturbing. The arguments against Bronner assumed the son’s actions reflected the father’s wishes and would bias the father in favor of Israel. Twenty-year-olds frequently defy their parents. And many Israelis criticize Israeli policy even more intensely because their children serve in the army. Especially given even very Zionist American Jews’ ambivalence about their sons enlisting, why assume young Bronner’s decision will make his father more sympathetic to Israel?

Yes, reporters have personal lives. Who knows how many Times reporters have army-age children serving in Iraq and Afghanistan? Journalists are not nuns, although they belong to a guild with its own assumptions, norms and narratives. Usually, reporters are judged but what they write, not who they are – until we get to Israel.

These two incidents put another raging controversy in context. The organization Im Tirtsu was called “McCarthyite” for issuing a report detailing “a staggering example of a self-propelled process: the very organizations that pressed for the establishment of the [Goldstone] commission provided the testimonies used by the Goldstone commission to justify its claims against the IDF and Israel, and most of these organizations are supported by the NIF [New Israel Fund].” The report also revealed that the Coalition of Women for Peace – also an NIF grantee – initiated the writing of a letter on December 22, 2009, to top British officials demanding they try top Israeli officials.

Israel is a vibrant democracy. I am proud that organizations like the New Israel Fund exist to support a full range of Israeli human rights organizations. However, I am frequently dismayed by these organizations’ one-sidedness. The report notes that few of these organizations bothered supporting Sderot or reaching out to Israeli victims of Palestinian terror – don’t Israelis have human rights too? Moreover, many of these organizations do not acknowledge the toxic context in which the discussion about Israel takes place, and take no responsibility for their role in further poisoning the atmosphere. The New Israel Fund would boost its credibility by refusing to fund organizations that single out Israeli leaders for war crimes allegations. It would increase the credibility of the organizations it funds if it demonstrated some sense of proportion, some sensitivity to the disproportionate, hysterical demonization of Israel emanating from the Arab world and, I regret to say, rationalized by the left.

Typically, while attacking Im Tirtsu for daring to look at who the NIF funds, Ha’aretz and other critics looked at who funds Im Tirtsu. And while objecting to criticism of the NIF’s chairwoman Professor Naomi Chazan, as well as making her a martyr to free speech, her supporters overlooked The Jerusalem Post’s justification for dropping her column; because she threatened legal action against the paper. None of us, reporters, academics, or politicians, can afford to turn our ideological battles into legal wars. Only the lawyers win.

Of course Israel should not be immune to criticism, and Israel’s democratic values must be maintained. Citizens should argue about the Im Tirtsu report, while the Knesset and Cabinet should keep away, demonstrating respect for free speech. But citizens have rights as well as responsibilities. Voices from the left should leverage their credibility – and ultimately enhance it –  by condemning the cycle of demonization rooted in Arab anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, then rationalized and perfumed by the UN and the left, resulting in hooliganism on campus, vendettas against reasonable reporters and a one-sided, hysterical discourse that makes the dream of peace appear ever more distant.

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

Parliamentary hearings deserve praise

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 12-10-09

If the traditional definition of chutzpah has the murderer who kills his two parents pleading for leniency because he’s an orphan, the modern anti-Semite’s chutzpah is expressed by screeching about Israel obsessively, then being shocked when that obsession is noted, let alone criticized.Today’s new anti-Semites don’t even have the courage of their convictions. They mask their traditional Jew-hatred behind a politically correct veneer of anti-racism, anti-apartheid, anti-occupation, we-are-the-world talk. But all their lovely liberal rhetoric can’t hide the venom behind their disproportionate focus on Israel – and the harm they do to liberal ideas, as well as the Jewish state, with their hatred.

Predictably, the all-party Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) had barely convened its hearings when it was already being bashed. On the new website “The Mark,” John Baglow complained that the “new parliamentary coalition against anti-Semitism is really about shutting down criticism of Israel” and that “the word ‘anti-Semitism’ has lost its original meaning almost entirely, and has become code for criticism of Israel and too-vocal support for the Palestinian people.” Without listening to the hearings, Baglow and others instinctively caricatured this bipartisan initiative as a pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian witch-hunt.

I don’t seek special treatment, only equal treatment. Would critics pounce so quickly on a parliamentary inquiry into racism, sexism or homophobia in Canada? And would anyone feel comfortable publicly suggesting that any of these scourges have disappeared “almost entirely?”

I wish Israel-bashing wasn’t such a popular sport, on campus and off. I wish violence against Jews was trending down, not up. Alleging that human rights activists fighting Jew-hatred are McCarthyites squelching debate is absurd, considering how frequently Israel is criticized, both in Israel and abroad, by Jews and non-Jews. And I wish so much criticism of Israel wasn’t intensified by historic anti-Semitic markers.

It’s easy to differentiate between legitimate criticism of Israel and illegitimate criticism rooted in traditional Jew-hatred. For starters, anyone who suggests that critics of Israel have a hard time getting a hearing has overlooked what a boon Israel-bashing has been to the careers of Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt and now Naomi Klein. Especially for Jews, shrill anti-Israel invective is a fast-track to more media exposure, higher lecture fees and booming book sales.

More benignly, every day in synagogues around the world, as well as in Israeli newspapers and, these days, in the White House, Jews and non-Jews, presidents and regular folk, criticize Israeli actions without delegitimizing Israel – which is the clearest red-line to draw.

It doesn’t make sense that Israel is singled out for disproportionate criticism, that Israel is the only UN member state whose existence is challenged, and that so much of the world’s attention focuses on such a minor conflict. Describing the Israel-Palestinian national clash as a racial conflict or comparing Israel to South Africa – or, worse, to the Nazis – also doesn’t make sense – unless, that is, you acknowledge the anti-Semitism that treats Israel, the Jewish state, as the Jew among nations, accused of disproportionate but secret power, or undue influence in squelching debate, and nefarious aims and methods in what is a complicated, tragic conflict, then tarred with accusations of “racism,” “apartheid,” and “genocide,” when other countries whose actions truly fit those damning indictments escape notice.

Hopefully, the CPCCA hearings will help others draw the line more clearly, seeing where honest criticism ends and demonization, delegitimization and obsession begin.

But the hearings should also help us understand the historical pathology of anti-Semitism by highlighting the similarities between today’s targeting of the Jewish state and the traditional targeting of the Jew. Yet we must learn from the modern mutation, too. The way the new anti-Semitism manifests itself, sometimes obscured by its “we’re pro-Palestinian and we’re just criticizing Israel” rhetoric, hides a despicable anti-democratic agenda. This upside-down agenda rationalizes terrorism, romanticizes violence, justifies extremism and perverts justice while purporting to defend it.

Exposing that charade isn’t just important for Jews and the Jewish state, but for all of humanity, and especially western democracies such as Canada, which deserves applause for launching these important hearings.

The double double standard against Israel

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-6-09

Excerpt from a testimony I will give on Monday at hearings at the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism.

Allow me a personal note – I hate this topic. I take no joy in pointing out the ugly anti-Semitism afflicting our world today. That the problem is so serious it merits an inquiry of Canadian parliamentarians, violates the post-Auschwitz covenant the world made with the Jewish people after the Holocaust – and into which I was born in 1961. This was supposed to be yesterday’s problem, a stale relic of the old world in Europe. And yet, today, in the new world of the Americas, too many (not all) Jews feel tense on campus, especially if they dare to be pro-Israel.

Today, in the New World, my kids – and others – have had to pass through security guards or other elaborate security systems to enter their Jewish day schools, in Westmount, in Cote St. Luc, otherwise among the world’s safest neighborhoods. Today, in the New World, synagogues have been defaced, graves desecrated, people harassed, for the sole crime of being Jewish. So, I thank you for taking the time to explore this problem. I wish you not only Godspeed but real speed. Please complete your work quickly, solve this problem clearly and make your commission and this whole topic irrelevant, anachronistic – an unpleasant ghost from the past – as swiftly as possible.

Alas, it won’t be so easy. Although this commission has not even issued any recommendations, you are being falsely accused of squelching genuine criticism of Israel and support for Palestinians by invoking the powerful pejorative term “anti-Semitism.” Your critics want us to believe that we cannot distinguish between being critical of Israel and anti-Semitic. They hide their ugly bigotry behind some of the noblest impulses in Canada and the world today, namely the fight against racism. Too many anti-Semites today cross the line while obscuring the line, camouflaging rank bigotry, an aggressive Jew hatred, behind a smoke screen of human rights rhetoric.

Israel and Zionism do not deserve special treatment – just equal treatment. The singling out of Israel, the demonizing of Zionism, have all too frequently descended from the realm of the political to the pathological. It is hard to explain the obsession without mentioning anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionists are honest if not consistent. Too many show their true colors, expressing traditional Jew hatred – throwing pennies at Jewish students during the Concordia riots against Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech on campus in 2002, firebombing a Montreal Jewish day school in 2004, targeting synagogues while supposedly “only” criticizing Israel. Anti-Zionists have repeatedly crossed the line despite their rhetorical attempts at delineating the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

So, no, it is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel, to question Zionism. However it is not “just” criticism of Israel, but reeks of anti-Semitism when the criticism is disproportionate – the obsession about Israel continues the West’s historic obsession with “the Jew.” And it is not “just” criticism of Israel, but degenerates into anti-Semitism when Israel is demonized with traditional anti-Jewish tropes, really tics, exaggerating the power of the Jewish lobby, making the Jewish state the one pariah nation, transforming the old big lie of “Christ killer” into the new big lie of apartheid or Nazi-style racist.

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And it is not “just” criticism of Israel, but resonates with the historic anti-Semitism when Israel is the only nation in the world delegitimized.

ZIONISM IS Jewish nationalism, the idea that the Jews are a people, a nation, not just a religion, tied to one historic homeland Israel, even while being spread out and serving as loyal citizens in countries around the world. That in a world where nationalism remains the major vehicle for organizing polities, nation-states, only one form of nationalism – Jewish nationalism – is rejected reflects the deep-seated bias distorting the debate.

And it is not “just” criticism of Israel, but becomes the new anti-Semitism when the BDS – boycott, divestment sanction movement – actually the blacklist, demonize and slander movement – wants to ostracize Israel, again, alone among the nations of the world. The burden of proof is on the blacklisters. They must explain: Why exile democratic Israel from the family of nations, not dictatorships like Libya, Iran, China, Sudan?

Underlying all this is an essentialism familiar to scholars of anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice. People poisoned by hatred denounce the actor not the act. To criticize Israeli actions regarding the Palestinians can be justified, but why leap from criticizing actions to negating Zionism and Israel’s right to exist?

Here is the double double standard. First, Israel is held to an artificially high standard and denounced disproportionately. Then, key groups violate core ideals in their zeal to denounce Israel. Gays overlook Muslim homophobia, feminists ignore Arab sexism, liberals forget Israeli libertarianism, to bash Israel. Academics override their professional mission to tell the truth and acknowledge the world’s complexity by caricaturing Israel in simplistic terms. When (some, not all!) gay activists, feminists, liberals and academics violate defining values – and their own group interest – to malign Israel, they are doing what bigots do, leaving the realm of the logical for the pathological.

ALLOW ME to focus on two practical suggestions for fighting this scourge.

First, within the academic world, we need leadership not censorship. When violence erupts, universities have failed. Professors, as the moral authorities on campus in regular contact with students should step in, from across the political spectrum, and foster civility.

Moreover, academic freedom must be preserved, but professorial bullying over politics is “academic malpractice” and must be stopped. The government can help universities establish procedures teaching students what to do when their own professors fail to act professionally in classrooms.

And second, let us fight anti-Semitism by fighting bigotry all over.

Wouldn’t it be great if this commission generated a Citizenship 2.0 curriculum teaching young people how to fight hatred on the Web – and in general cultivating a sense of citizenship on the Web?

Both these suggestions show that the fight against anti-Semitism is a subset of a broader struggle against hatred. I’m an historian. I know there will always be haters, bigots and, yes, anti-Semites. But I also know that civilization relies on good people who are willing to fight the poison, and not just say no to anti-Semitism, hatred and bigotry, but to say yes to higher ideals of democracy, civility, liberty, as you all have done – and are doing.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University on leave in Jerusalem. Based on testimony being given Monday at hearings at the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, consisting of 23 members of Parliament and one senator from all four parties in the House of Commons, held in Ottawa.

Creeping of Anti-Semitism

By Gil Troy, The Mark, 12-1-09
American history author; Professor, history, McGill University.

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When it comes to Israel, there is plenty of legitimate criticism. The problem is that there is so much illegitimate criticism rooted in hatred as well.

Gil Troy on how to keep criticism of Israel kosher

In a recent article for The Mark, John Baglow complains that “the word ‘anti-Semitism’ has lost its original meaning almost entirely, and has become code for criticism of Israel and too-vocal support for the Palestinian people. ”

Alleging that human rights activists fighting Jew-hatred are somehow McCarthyites squelching debate is absurd considering how frequently Israel is criticized, in Israel and abroad, by both Jews and non-Jews. I just wish so much of the criticism of Israel was not distorted, and intensified by anti-Semitic tropes.

The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism has not launched some pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian witch-hunt, as Baglow alleges – without evidence. In fact, it’s very easy to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and illegitimate criticism rooted in a hatred of Jews.

Let’s start with the easiest case – and a moral test to Israel’s critics. Much Arab criticism of Israel and far too much Palestinian nationalism is interlaced with crass anti-Semitism. Too many Arabs and Palestinians conflate “Israel” and “the Jews.” Hamas’s charter could condemn Israel without invoking a classic, I am sorry to say it, Islamic phrase in Article 7, among other places, quoting “the Prophet” Muhammad saying:

“The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

Cartoons in the Arab media could caricature Israeli leaders without giving them the hook-noses, fangs, and Shylock sidelocks of Nazi propagandists. And protesters against Israel could make their point without signs lamenting that Hitler did not finish the job. Then there are the attacks on synagogues and Jews in Europe.

Alas, Canada has not been immune from this. Jews did not concoct the charge that the April 2004 firebombing of a Montreal Jewish elementary school was connected to pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel forces. The criminals themselves made the link.

Israel’s critics could distance themselves from these vile expressions but rarely do. And we have learned from the civil rights movement, feminism, and gay liberation, that the moral onus is not on the victim to parse who is criticizing legitimately and who is perpetuating prejudice. If more critics of Israel denounced the anti-Semitism poisoning so much of the Palestinian movement, fueling so much criticism of Israel, there would be no need for Parliamentary inquiries.

More subtly, it is quite easy to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism, or criticism propelled by anti-Semitic tropes. Every day in synagogues throughout the world, in Israeli newspapers, and, these days, in the halls of power in Washington, DC, Jews and non-Jews, presidents and regular folk, criticize Israeli actions without delegitimizing Israel – which is the clearest red-line to draw. The fact that Israel is singled out for disproportionate criticism, that Israel, alone among the 192 UN member states, has its existence challenged, that so much of the world’s attention is focused on such a small conflict, does not make sense.

Describing the national conflict between Israel and Palestinians as a racial conflict, or claiming that Israel is like South Africa or, even worse, like the Nazis, also does not make sense. Unless, that is, you acknowledge the anti-Semitism that treats Israel, the Jewish state, as the Jew among nations, accused of disproportionate but secret power, undue influence in squelching debate, and nefarious aims and methods in what is a complicated, tragic conflict, then tarred with accusations of “racism,” “apartheid,” and “genocide,” when other countries whose actions would fit those damning indictments far, far better escape notice.

Finally, note another way too many Israel critics reveal an ugly anti-Semitism. We see gays overlooking Muslim homophobia, feminists overlooking Arab sexism, and liberals overlooking Israeli libertarianism in their zeal to bash Israel. We see academics overriding their primary professional obligation to tell the truth and acknowledge the world’s complexity in their rush to caricature Israel in simplistic terms. When (some, not all!) gay activists, feminists, liberals, academics, and others violate their core identities and defining values to malign Israel, they are doing what bigots do – leaving the realm of the logical for the pathological, and only diminishing themselves.