Anti-Israel Essay Desecrates Martin Luther King’s Memory but Wins an M.L. King Award

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-22-12

The anti-Zionist blogosphere is celebrating that a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Award to a Jewish high school student who fancies himself a hero for freeing himself from the yoke of supporting Israel. Comparing himself – and his people — to King’s Southern redneck “oppressors,” this junior wrote that, as a pro-Israel Jew, “I was grouped with the racial supremacists. I was part of a group that killed while praising its own intelligence and reason.”
Dietrich College of Carnegie Mellon University chose this essay “Fighting a Forbidden Battle: How I Stopped Covering Up for a Hidden Wrong” to share first place honors in the High School Prose category in its annual competition. This self-important, sloppy screed would have appalled Martin Luther King, who said “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking antisemitism.” Carnegie Mellon should disassociate itself and Martin Luther King’s noble name from the politicized decision to honor this essay that betrays King’s commitment to fighting bigotry.
Unfortunately, this essay typifies the lazy reasoning and false analogizing clouding much discussion about Israel. The essay begins, Woody Allen style, calling Judaism “a religion that allows those of us who believe in it to feel that we are the greatest people in the world—and feel sorry for ourselves at the same time.” Having caricatured Jews as arrogant yet “self-pity[ing],” the student distorts Israel’s actions in what seems like Operation Cast Lead but he fails to specify. Accusing Israel of “genocide,” he claims Jews described “the situation in shockingly neutral terms,” hiding behind formulations that “it was a ‘difficult situation.’”
Having incorrectly used the G-word – when genocide means slaughtering unarmed millions not firefights that result in limited casualties – he then stretches to suit a King Day competition by introducing the four letter word “race.” He alleges that once, “after a fresh round of killings … I asked two of my friends who actively supported Israel what they thought. ‘We need to defend our race,’ they told me. ‘It’s our right.’”
Most educators would recognize such a pat quotation as overdoing it. I have never met any modern Jew, let alone a Jewish teenager, who talks about defending the Jewish “race” — the Jewish people, maybe.  Race-talk died with Hitler. If the student claimed friends invoked the Holocaust or said something bigoted about Palestinians, I would have winced but found it plausible. This unconvincing, unsourced quotation undermines the essay’s credibility, and the judges’ judgment.
The student describes attending temple.  After a “seventeen-minute cello solo,” during the rabbi’s Q and A, the student asks how he can “support Israel … when it lets its army commit so many killings?” The rabbi supposedly answers:  “It is a terrible thing, isn’t it? But there’s nothing we can do. It’s just a fact of life.”  I hope the rabbi will write in and claim he was misquoted too. However, there are idiot rabbis who answer challenges about Israel with such empty equivocations.
Some critics are blaming the student’s angst on the Israel-is-perfect brainwashing American Jews supposedly receive.  The essay may reflect an opposite problem. The student also claims:  “I was fortunate enough to have parents who did not try to force me into any one set of beliefs.” Too many American Jewish rabbis, educators and parents are so ignorant, so awash in ambiguity, they cannot explain why Israel felt compelled to enter Gaza after unilaterally withdrawing from it but then suffering thousands of rocket attacks. Too many American Jews are too morally confused to detail Israel’s attempts to limit civilian casualties while fighting terrorists cowering behind mosques and hospitals, schoolyards and family compounds.
This essay includes the basic elements of the classic anti-Zionist attack: misreading chosenness as arrogance, charging genocide against Palestinians whose population continues to grow, viewing the conflict as about race not nationalism, analogizing falsely to demonize Israel. Mass-produced in the 1970s, this formula received UN approval after its 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution.
That a naïve teenager might swallow this Big Lie, given how frequently it is repeated, is not news. That this young Jew will feel so self-righteous, pretending that denouncing Israel is a courageous, countercultural move rather than a politically correct act which eventually wins him a prize, is an old story. What is newsworthy is the way this kind of Israel-bashing risks becoming the conventional wisdom, especially among academics like the Carnegie Mellon judges who swallowed it whole.
Martin Luther King’s family has nothing to do with this desecration of his name. Anyone can make an award and call it anything they like. Tomorrow, I could, on my university stationary, announce the Noam Chomsky-Yasir Arafat Appeasement of Terror awards for sniveling dupes who distort Zionism and libel Jews. But my university would not assign its public relations team to publicize it. I would expect university leaders to distance themselves from such a move, because academics should not implicate their universities in polemics. Similarly, Carnegie Mellon should be embarrassed that this biased, inaccurate essay, with at least one crucial line that is so implausible, dishonors King and perpetuates prejudices.
Using Martin Luther King’s name to spread any form of bigotry is disturbing enough. But to use his name against Israel is particularly dismaying. On March 25, 1968, shortly before his assassination, King called Israel, “one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.”
Meanwhile, Sunday night’s Avi Schaefer memorial Jerusalem symposium “Z-Word: Re-Imagining Zionism,” attracted a sold-out crowd of over 300 students. These students are the real heroes – who will have to fight trendy anti-Zionism, especially on campus. These countercultural Zionist activists, like the late Avi Schaefer, who fought in Israel’s army but also fought for peace, would have made Martin Luther King, Jr., proud.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The History of American Presidential Elections.

 

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

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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

The Court Jews of the 21st Century: ‘Confessions’ of ex-Zionists dehumanize Israelis and delegitimize Israel

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-28-11

The recent bouts of ‘confessions’ from ex-Zionists dehumanize Israelis and delegitimize Israel.

Confessional testimonies of the latest Jewish, anti-Zionist poster children recall Puritan Americans’ “captivity narratives.” Virtuous seventeenth-century women kidnapped by Indians described their brutal incarceration, then, their redemption. The new captivity narrative, modern-spoiled-American-Jewish-suburban style, recounts a young Jew’s harrowing redemption from Birthright Israel or Zionist summer camp.

Force-fed diets of Zionist folk tunes, midnight adventures, passionate friendships, and hunkalicious Israeli soldiers, they courageously flee their brainwashing into the welcoming bosom of the New York intelligentsia, rejecting Israel while embracing Palestinians, about whom they claim they never were taught. Kiera Feldman, describing her Birthright Israel trip for The Nation, writes: “Chronically underslept, hurled through a mind-numbing itinerary, I experienced, despite my best efforts to maintain a reportorial stance, a return to the intensity of feeling of childhood.” Village Voice film editor Allison Benedikt in “the Awl,” recalls: “Those summers blur together, but each day begins and ends at the flagpole, where we raise and lower two flags: the American and the Israeli. We make blue and white lanyard bracelets, carve Israel out of ice cream, and sing ‘Hatikvah.’” She adds the self-loathing line: “Because it’s all Jews, I’m considered cute.” She ends the memoir recalling her escape from these cy-ops executed against her by mysterious, manipulative, nebbishes in Bermuda shorts saying: “My best memories from childhood are from camp, and I will never, ever send my kids there.”

Even the rare compliments are dehumanizing. Benedikt’s non-Jewish husband, whose contempt for Israel triggers her transformation, visits Israel, rudely condemns her sister’s “morally bankrupt decision” to make Aliyah, “but at least concedes that … the women are hot.” The “hot” Israeli women and handsome Israeli soldiers reduce these new Jews to all brawn, making American Jews smarter, civilized but flaccid. The stereotyping parallels the racist and sexist 1950s hipsters who considered white men all mind — feminized and impotent — but black men all body — hyper-sexualized and super-potent.

Emboldened by the intellectuals’ conceit that their marginal views reflect popular sensibility, welcomed by a left-leaning media echo chamber, they believe their redemptions signal a mass movement. “Most of my Jewish friends are disgusted with Israel,” Benedikt reports. “It seems my trajectory is not at all unique.”

With this allegation, anti-Zionist delusions meet pro-Israel fears. “Oy the kinde,” loyalists yell, fearful “we” are losing “our” youth. “Ah, we enlightened ones see through that Israel trip tripe,” hipsters rejoice. The surveys from Brandeis University’s Cohen Center and elsewhere calling younger Jews today more pro-Israel than their immediate elders – thanks to big bad Birthright — are irrelevant. Never let evidence ruin a good rant.

These testimonials do suggest that anti-Zionism is ever trendier among America’s elites. The narratives pivot on a zero-sum ideological universe, first caricaturing the Zionist message as “Support Israel Right-or-Wrong,” then treating Israel as all-wrong and all right-wing. The “brainwashing” set-up imputes to the Zionist educational process a mythic, monolithic propagandizing power. I have helped shape the educational programming of the Young Judaea movement Benedikt mocks as well as Birthright Israel. There is more ideological fluidity, self-criticism, and anguish over the Palestinian problem than is alleged. Simultaneously, the redemptive deprogramming paints Israel as uniquely depraved. As Feldman writes, “With the relentless siege of Gaza, the interminable occupation, the ever-expanding settlements, the onslaught of anti-Arab Knesset legislation, Israel has earned its new status as an international pariah.”

Feldman’s essay spews out modern anti-Zionist clichés, as lecherous billionaires bankrolling Birthright seduce naive American Jews with a bewitching cocktail of sex and Israel advocacy. Everything Israeli is militarized, right-wing, racist, tainted by occupation. Kibbutz Gvulot is a “kibbutz cum military outpost.” AIPAC and Stand With Us are “right-wing Zionist groups … whose members have been known to target Jewish anti-occupation activists with Nazi slurs and pepper spray” – news to me. Philanthropists like Lynn Schusterman and Charles Bronfman, who finance Israel’s left, are “hawkish,” with one small educational grant over the Green Line used to accuse Schusterman of “financially support[ing] illegal Jewish settlements.”

Like a jilted lover, the apostate’s sanctimony, mixing penitential self-righteousness with insider’s knowledge, ultimately sounds petty, vengeful. These testimonials rankle because by repudiating Israel itself rather than criticizing Israeli actions, these Jews feed the delegitimization campaign against Israel. This disapprobation treats Israel as the only country on probation, reinforcing the anti-Semitic Arab campaign against Israel’s right to exist.

Ignoring such complexities, these posturing progressives are the New Galut Jews, the court-Jews of twenty-first century elite society, purchasing acceptance from others by mocking their own. While the nineteenth-century German poet Heinrich Heine saw conversion as the admission ticket to European culture, some American Jewish extremists now use anti-Zionism as their admission ticket to hip, progressive circles.

Refugees from leftist circles could mock Birkenstock-wearing, vegan know-it-alls as tree-huggers claiming to save humanity by recycling paper while ignoring American racism, poverty and violence. But rather than trading insults and perpetuating the false claim that liberalism and Zionism are incompatible, better to learn about the liberal Zionist synergies Rabbi Richard Hirsch celebrates in his new book For the Sake of Zion, which Natan Sharansky hailed at a book launch this Monday in Jerusalem.

A leading Reform Zionist, Hirsch shared his Washington office space with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1960s, and has championed liberal Zionism since first visiting Israel as a rabbinical student in 1949. Sharansky thanked Hirsch for supporting his dual role in the Soviet Union as a human rights activist and a Zionist, understanding particularism as a path to universalism. Hirsch sees tribalism as comforting, familial, not stultifying because these “special relationships” never stopped him from criticizing Israel when necessary. To him, controversy demonstrates caring and belonging: His response to Israel’s struggles: “Let the debates continue.”

These Zionist captivity narratives ignore the debates that shaped their educational processes, and the debates shaping Israel today, silencing further discussion through their contempt and ridicule. Instead Hirsch’s Zionism is a Zionism of controversy and loyalty, of nuance and complexity, of proudly belonging while ambitiously striving to improve Israel – and the world.

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

Treat antizionist Rabbinic students like the Four Sons

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-20-11

Word on the street – at least Jerusalem’s byways – is of anti-Zionism spreading in liberal rabbinic programs, especially in rabbinic year-in-Israel training programs. Most rabbinic students are either pro-Zionist or neutral. Yet a loud anti-Zionist minority seems to be setting the tone regarding Israel, making implicitly anti-Israel, one-sided, encounters with Palestinians a don’t-miss component of every aspiring rabbi’s year, mourning what the Palestinians call “the nakba,” catastrophe – meaning Israel’s creation in 1948 – and intimidating the majority with politically correct self-righteousness.

Recently Rabbi Daniel Gordis condemned this phenomenon in these pages. Among the outrages he publicized was one rabbinic student’s birthday party in a Ramallah bar – resulting in Facebook photos of young-rabbis-to-be merrily posing in front of Jihadist posters emblazoned with slogans urging Palestinian victory and Jewish misery. The birthday boy replied, 1970s-style saying “I’m OK. You’re OK.” “When I visit a place like Ramallah…,” he wrote, “I read, see and hear things that make me feel uncomfortable. There are also many places in Israel where I feel uncomfortable as a liberal Jew, a Zionist and an American. Feeling uncomfortable is not an invitation to disengage, close myself off or stop listening…”

The statement while increasingly commonplace is shocking. The student suggests some sources of alienation while offering a cartoonish moral calculus. Many liberal – i.e. non-Orthodox – rabbinical students justifiably resent the Rabbinic establishment’s fascist hold on Israeli Judaism – I don’t use that f-word lightly. I say to these students what I say to alienated Israeli and American Jews – we must not legitimize fanatic rabbis by surrendering, letting them define Israel or Judaism.

The students’ statement treats America as the new Promised Land, dismissing Israel as too illiberal, too nationalist, too foreign, too messy. These Americanists, if you will, never delegitimize America because of its flaws but are quick to abandon Israel. They are the new Hareidim, albeit liberal, shaved and rainbow-clad, mistakenly letting religion eclipse people-hood, letting spirituality trump community.

Underlying it is this moral numbness, comparing the “discomfort” resulting from an overbearing rabbi – or an Israeli military overreaction – with a Palestinian cult of terror the Ramallah posters celebrate, which has maximized anguish on both sides and repeatedly undermined chances of peace.

Especially during Passover, it is tempting to deem students like this “Rasha,” wicked, and “Hakeh et sheenav” – hit ‘em in the teeth, rhetorically. But that approach is counterproductive. That is why I don’t mention the student’s name. We need educational processes encouraging students to experiment intellectually, recognizing that one student’s question – or answer – usually represents many other students’ too.

We should treat these students – and all students, even those who have internalized the Ivy League sneer singling out Jewish nationalism meaning Zionism as the only illegitimate form of nationalism – as the Haggadah treats the wise son. They are struggling with ideas, even if they are challenging. We should update Israel curricula, and people-hood platforms, explaining Jewish nationalism and Jewish sovereignty in more sophisticated ways while creating more opportunities for questions, criticism, dialogues which clarify and empower.

But as the wise ones mature from students to leaders, they will have to acknowledge three facts. Like it or not, Israel is now the world’s largest Jewish community. Two, Israel, for all its faults, is enduring a particularly vicious assault. And three, communal leaders are paid to uphold communal consensus points. The traditional revulsion against Jews who violate Shabbat in farhesia – publicly – extends to rabbinic students who wear t-shirts proclaiming themselves anti-Zionists in an age of delegimitization when Jewish leaders’ attacking Israel feed a worldwide assault on Israel’s right to exist.

Moreover, this scrutiny the anti-Zionist rabbinic students may now feel is basic training for the nit-picking, second-guessing, and role-modeling of rabbinic life.

Of course, every Jew, like every individual, is entitled to free thought, free expression. But all communities operate with certain norms. “There are things a Jewish community shouldn’t be doing, like serving a bacon cheeseburger on Yom Kippur,” Andrew Apostolou, a Washington DC Jewish Community Relations Council member explains. Apostolou’s postulate should get young rabbinic students – and synagogue hiring committees – thinking about what core ideals rabbis should support — because the ideas are valid and mainstream.

The lessons of the two additional sons can help too. Thinking about “She-eynu yodeh leshol,” the one who does not ask, should encourage us to stir the pot, to pose tough questions. Not enough Jews today ask “why do we need a Jewish state,” “how does Israel sovereignty enhance the Jewish religion,” “how does a Jewish state avoid theocracy” – thereby missing the opportunity to define boundaries between Jewish peoplehood or nationhood and Jewish ritual or spirituality.

Finally, the father’s embrace of the simple son, understanding he must define the educational interaction, should challenge Zionists to change educational approaches. We should embrace all young learners visiting Israel. Why not have a Bakka-Encounter – with the various Anglo-heavy synagogues in Southern Jerusalem doing more to encourage members to host young student visitors to Jerusalem? But rather than just trusting the magic of the perennial kosher-wine-lubricated debate about which challah tastes best, why not prepare some guidelines, some questions?

These Shabbat dinner and lunch encounters could become more meaningful if hosts were encouraged – openly not secretly – to share their stories of why they came to Israel, explaining why they stay. Some coaching could embolden hosts and guests to share more openly, to address questions which might prove inspirational, enlightening, constructively confusing – even to the Americanists.

I admit, I find some stories of anti-Zionist student excess appalling. But I blame much of this on the previous generation of parents and educators who failed to convey a compelling and complex Zionist narrative. Like Danny Gordis, I am eager to engage the educational debate, not to demonize or squelch but to stimulate and stretch the students’ vision – and our own.

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

Shabbat + Humus = A New Zionist Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campus anti-Zionism is a consumer protection issue

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-24-10

A recent trip to Toronto unsettled me.  Speaking to various “Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center,” I heard many parents confess their fears about their children’s “safety” on campus.  They had heard too many examples of both pro-Palestinian activists and anti-Zionist professors bullying students.  They resented these hyper-politicized students and educators who pushed their points so aggressively that Jewish students feel harassed, hiding their identities or obscuring their true thoughts to avoid conflict or lowered marks. They lacked faith in the administrators whose job description should include ensuring student safety.  These discussions convinced me that campus anti-Zionism is a consumer-rights issue, not just a human rights issue.

Finding universities “unsafe” distresses me, having devoted my life to academe.  While this is a golden age for Israel-bashing this is also a golden age for Jews on campus. Never before have we had so many Jewish presidents and professors, Jewish students and Jewish studies programs. And on most North American campuses, Jews feel comfortable.  Moreover, I set the bar high before declaring a campus a hostile environment or labeling it anti-Zionist, let alone an anti-Semitic atmosphere. One or two anti-Zionist professors, a dozen anti-Zionist loudmouths, and the occasional anti-Zionist speech, are not sufficient.

Some campuses, however, have become infamous centers of anti-Zionism.  Even though universities usually are hyper-tolerant places, on too many campuses intolerance for Israel, pro-Israel students, and, sometimes Jews, festers.  There, students going about their business are assailed by shrill attacks on Israel, while students who wear Jewish stars or express their Judaism or Israel identification are frequently shouted down. There, regularly, speaker after speaker, rally after rally, demonizes Israel. On those campuses, students coming to, say, a women’s study class, unrelated to the Middle East might find themselves forced to walk through a “mock checkpoint,” in order enter their classroom, or regularly endure a math professor’s anti-Israel harangue.

For years, many of us have fought this as a human rights issue. We noted that for all other self-identified groups on campus, be it African-Americans or gays, women or Hispanics, the burden of proof is on the bigot when a group feels harassed, not on the victim. Only with Jews, it seems, is the burden of proof on us to show that it is truly anti-Semitism and not “just” anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel. As a result, Israel’s adversaries have wrapped themselves in human rights rhetoric, realizing they can be extremely aggressive as long as they claim to be defending the oppressed Palestinians (invoking false charges of apartheid and charges of racism always helps).

This remains a matter of equity, justice, dignity and civility. It is unacceptable when pro-Israel Jews feel demonized, when they feel demeaned by professors who are constantly bashing Israel, when they choose not to wear their Hebrew t-shirts or hide their Jewish  jewelry, or stop defending Israel because they fear harassment, bad grades or harm.

Framing this as a consumer protection issue universalizes it, raising important, often ignored questions, about quality of campus life. Fighting classroom harassment of pro-Zionist voices (in Israel too, alas) as an educational malpractice issue, shifts from a fight about rights, meaning academic freedom, to questions of educational competence. Any professor who fails to establish an open environment, wherein students feel safe to question, is a failure. Professors who make students uncomfortable for questioning the professors’ line are abusing the power of the podium. How can students learn in a defensive clinch? Fighting against educational malpractice might spark a much-needed campaign for classroom competence.

Learning from our feminist friends, we need zero-tolerance for casual remarks or frontal assaults fostering a hostile environment. This goes beyond the blatant heavy-handed abuses that constitute educational malpractice, and includes the campus as well as the classroom. Here, Jews and pro-Israeli activists should not ask for special treatment, only equal treatment. In these vulgar times, students have to be taught civility. I don’t want a sterile, politically correct environment wherein students fear expressing themselves.  But we need more self-imposed groundrules, and more sensitivity to the discomfort too many students – and their parents – feel.

Finally, donors, alumni and boards of governors must assess a university’s academic leader by asking if students feel safe on campus, personally, psychologically, educationally, as well as physically. If a student, let alone groups of students, don’t feel safe on campus, that campus is in crisis with a failing academic leader – no matter how much money might be raised that year.

Students and parents can take the lead on this consumer issue.  Amid the many guides to life on campus, Jewish students should compile a guide to Jewish life on campuses. The guide should assess the atmosphere for pro-Israel students, and give grades for campus “safety.” Without editorializing, the guide could also detail specific statements and incidents wherein professors and campus hooligans make Jews – or anyone else – feel unsafe on campus.

In Toronto, one gentleman said that with all the attacks on Israel in Canada, he feels safest in Israel. I know what he means.  After a session against delegitimization in New Orleans at the GA, the Interparliamentary coalition against anti-Semitism in Ottawa, and a day talking intensively about anti-Semitism and campus anti-Zionism in Toronto, I arrived in Jerusalem last week and breathed a sigh of relief. How soothing it is to deal with Israel as a real place, as a happy place, as a thriving place, not just as a problem. We need to fight for Israel on campus and beyond, but we cannot so internalize our enemies’ views of Israel, be so busy defending Israel, that we forget how lucky we are to have a Jewish state, and how much inspiration we can draw from all its wonders.

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, as well as The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

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

Let’s mobilize against anti-Israel week

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-7-10

We historians don’t predict the future – the past is foggy enough. But allow me one prediction. Within weeks, the Jewish world is going to be in high dudgeon, outraged at the Anti-Israel Week activities on campuses across North America. And, judging by the past, and the current situation as far as I know, we will shift into temporary crisis

mode, reacting and overreacting, flailing about with little discipline, little coordination, little strategy, little tactical gain, but much frustration.

Our enemies – and yes, they are our enemies – have been planning this Israel hate-fest for a year, if not longer. One Israel-bashing Web site declares: “Mark your calendars – the 6th International Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) will take place across the globe from the 1st to the 14th of March 2010!” True, a “week” usually lasts only seven days; our adversaries count days as sloppily as they recount the past. These Israel-libelers claim 40 cities will participate – 12 in Canada alone – mostly on campuses. Rather than dithering then scrambling, we must plan – in fact, planning should have started months ago.

David Olesker, the director of JCCAT, the Jerusalem Center for Communication and Advocacy Training, warns that before planning tactical responses, we must clarify our strategy. “Where do we want to be in five years, where are we going with our arguments and advocacy?” he asks, noting how rarely pro-Israel advocates think about the big picture, although our adversaries do.

Thinking strategically, the pro-Israel community should remember “Three P’s.” First, Push back, but push back intelligently, remembering our target audiences. We will rarely sway with mere facts someone who has swallowed the apartheid libel and drunk the anti-Israel Kool-Aid. Our target is wavering Jewish students and the vast uninformed and uninterested middle. We should play off the radical demonizers, making them look extreme and foolish as we demonstrate our informed commitment, our enlightened passion, the rightness and righteousness of our cause.

Second, Position Israel better as a modern democracy fighting terror, sometimes forced to make unhappy decisions like other countries. The truth is our friend. Israel has compromised – and seen withdrawals from territory and other concessions “rewarded” with violence. Until critics deal with that, they are simply Israel-bashing with no real commitment to peace. And speaking of peace, let’s call the libelers’ bluff. Those who falsely accuse Israel of practicing racist, South African-style apartheid, are essentially saying Israel is so odious that, like that regime, it should not exist. How can such a libelous, historically misinformed attack advance the peace process?

Third, be Proud of Israel as an extraordinary old-new land, one of the great successes of the twentieth century, now leading the way technologically in the twenty-first century. Just as the US is not only defined by its racial troubles, and Canada not only defined by its linguistic tensions, Israel is not just about the Palestinians. It was the central conceit of Yasser Arafat and his terrorist henchmen to make every conversation about Israel revolve around them – and it worked. In taking back the narrative, we should jump to a different track, not always talking about Israel in the context of defending Israel or justifying its existence but celebrating Israel, delighting in Israel’s achievements, pluralism, values, democracy and historically redemptive role.

Tactically, as we wait for the latest initiatives rumored to be in the works in North America and Israel to help galvanize and centralize pro-Israel sentiment, we should mobilize the Jewish Netroots. Let us put out a call to the pro-Israel blogosphere for an approach defined by the “Three H’s.”

For starters, we must be Horizontal, understanding that today’s informational, ideological and political playing field is vast, chaotic and democratic. Students, bloggers and activists should speak their minds, display their passions, forge their own relationships with Israel and express their pride as effectively, as creatively, as widely, as they can.

This more horizontal approach must be Hip, singing, rapping or tweeting a new song of Zion, one that is relevant, resonant, inspirational, conversational, internalized among millions of pro-Israel and pro-democracy activists, rather than dictated from above or simply inherited from our ancestors.

And finally, we should not be afraid to be Hysterical¸ to laugh among ourselves while mocking the heavy-handed propagandists who build their entire ideology on negation – investing time, money, energy in denigrating Israel rather than building anything constructive for Palestinians, or anyone else, for that matter. Israeli culture is improvisational – demonstrated particularly by the ingenuity of the IDF and the creativity of high tech entrepreneurs. Those same skills should be deployed in the fight for Israel’s legitimacy, but with humor, not a heavy hand. We should mock our enemies – because their positions are laughable and because ridicule is such an effective tool on the net.

We must go global and virtual in Israel advocacy, not because of anti-Israel week but because we have a great story to tell. And in the virtual world millions can take the lead in celebrating Israel. For too long, Israelis have sat on the sidelines, watching their brothers and sisters flounder in the Diaspora, or, even worse, allowing a small minority of Israelis to fuel the fires of anti-Zionism abroad, giving Israel and particularly Israeli universities a bad name. But today, Israelis and non-Israelis can work together – or at least in parallel – broadcasting a pro-Zionist message while ridiculing and undermining our enemies.

In a country that must engage its youth in more nationalistic, values-oriented projects, and at a time when parents lament how much time their kids spend on the computer, here is a great challenge for the country’s high schools and universities. The anti-Israel forces wish to wipe Israel off the map and demonize Zionists as the “New Nazis.” If we fail to fight back, they will continue poisoning the discourse around Israel, especially on campuses and in Europe. Let young Israelis learn enough history to defend themselves and their country effectively on the Internet. Let this be a great virtual contact point, building relations between Israeli and Diaspora youth.

Wouldn’t it be great if next year, the anti-Israel forces canceled their annual festival of nihilism because the push-back they triggered simply wasn’t worth it? Now that’s a strategic goal worth pursuing.

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.

Now Tel Aviv is under attack, at the Toronto Film Festival

By Gil Troy, The Jewish Chronicle, 9-10-09

Jane Fonda: supported a boycott of films about Tel Aviv.

Jane Fonda: supported a boycott of films about Tel Aviv

In the relentless attempt to demonise and de-legitimise Israel, the latest flashpoint is the Toronto International Family Festival.

The TIFF is toasting Tel Aviv’s 100th birthday as “a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates diversity”.

In protest, the Canadian film-maker John Greyson withdrew his film from the festival, comparing honouring Tel Aviv films to “celebrating Montgomery buses in 1963… Chilean wines in 1973… or South African fruit in 1991”.

Predictably, various leftist celebrities, including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover and David Byrne, cheered Greyson’s boycott.

The TIFF is a world-class cultural festival, running this year from September 10-19. In 2008, the festival screened 312 films from 64 different countries. The trendy celebrity protest violates the festival’s spirit.

More disturbing, it delivers another blow to the peace process by advancing an exterminationist agenda against the Jewish state. If even a benign celebration of Tel Aviv’s film-making community — which is quite pro-Palestinian — is unacceptable, then nothing Israeli is OK.

Comparing Israel to the American South’s Jim Crow regime, Pinochet’s dictatorship and South African apartheid makes the protestors’ aims clear: they wish to tar Israel with the crime of racism and seek its obliteration.

These ignoramuses try to read racial conflict into what is a clash of two nationalisms. They fail to acknowledge that there are light-skinned Palestinians and dark-skinned Israelis, let alone that Israel has welcomed African refugees often persecuted by racist Arabs.

In distorting the truth, these critics march to the beat of a propagandists’ drum rooted in Arab antisemitism, Soviet anti-Zionism, and Nazi racism.

This is not to say that all criticism of Israel is illegitimate. But the “Zionism is racism” libel, which the UN General Assembly embraced in 1975, had these illegitimate ideological ancestors.

If these people truly want peace, they should learn from the history of the conflict that Israel makes peace when it feels comfortable, not threatened. Those who seek a true two-state solution must stop delegitimising either nation.

Israelis learned this in accepting the Oslo Peace Process of the 1990s. Unfortunately, too many Palestinians and their allies resist this lesson and campaign for Israel’s isolation and annihilation.

Israel is not perfect. But celebrating Tel Aviv at the TIFF should have been an opportunity to toast its diversity, democracy and creativity. The critics’ myopia reflects their bias. We must delegitimise these delegitimisers, highlighting the cesspools which spawned their one-sided enmity and the risk they pose to peace in the Middle East.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal, Canada

Gil Troy: Canada takes lead in fighting the new anti-Semitism

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 3-25-09

Canada is leading impressively in fighting modern anti-Jewish bigotry, even when it’s camouflaged as criticism of Israel. The minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, has defined today’s obscenely trendy form of anti-Semitism as “predicated on the notion that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland, the anti-Zionist version of anti-Semitism.” Even though many Canadian campuses are polluted by systematic anti-Israel bias and most western countries are passive, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is building Canada’s reputation for defending human rights. As well, Liberal party leaders such as Irwin Cotler, Bob Rae, and Michael Ignatieff have demonstrated that Canadians’ commitment to fighting Jew-hatred is bipartisan.

Canada has distinguished itself by being the first country to boycott the upcoming “Durban II” meeting in Geneva. In 2001, anti-Israel forces turned its predecessor – the United Nations’ conference against racism, held in Durban, South Africa – into an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist hate-fest. Next month, the world’s human rights abusers who bash Israel to cover their own sins are preparing a repeat. Canada will not join this outrage. At the recent Inter-Parliamentary Forum against Anti-Semitism in London, co-chaired by Cotler, the distinguished Canadian jurist and MP, Kenney mocked his European colleagues for dithering, saying, “I always thought Europe prided itself as having its own independent foreign policy aligned with its own values and interests.”

Addressing the conference, Kenney singled out both the Canadian Islamic Congress and the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) for fomenting anti-Semitism. Leaders of the CAF have circulated hostile e-mails demonizing Rae because of his wife’s Jewish communal activism, and its president recently called Kenney a “professional whore” for Israel when he denounced supposed “peace” rallies that championed Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists. Ottawa cut nearly $500,000 in grants to the CAF, showing that an organization that insults Canadian leader and demonizes fellow Canadians should not enjoy Canadian largesse.

In that same spirit, Ignatieff, the Liberal leader, denounced the week devoted to linking democratic Israel to the racist, apartheid regime that terrorized South Africans (repeating the week’s name furthers the unholy attempt to link Israel and that evil). Boldly criticizing union forces in CUPE and elsewhere who perpetuate these lies, Ignatieff wrote that such a week on campuses “betrays the values of mutual respect that Canada has always promoted.” This big lie moves beyond legitimate criticism to demonization, Ignatieff explained, because “international law defines ‘apartheid’ as a crime against humanity,” so the false equation is an attempt “to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state itself.”

In London last month, Kenney announced that he “would be delighted to host the next conference of the inter-parliamentary commission in Canada.” Next year, Canada will showcase its best practices in fighting anti-Semitism to the world.

As the parliamentarians monitor their progress in fighting this scourge, the parallel “experts forum” should reconvene, tapping into North American expertise in building positive group identity and fighting bigotry. Harper could talk about how his government has chosen to be a proactive force in fighting anti-Semitism. McGill University political philosopher Charles Taylor could speak about multiculturalism and modern identity-building. Cotler could speak about Canada’s contribution to the UN Human Rights Declaration and the fight against genocide. South African refugees could describe apartheid’s true nature and explain how false analogies minimize the systematic racism that South Africans endured.

Ottawa police officials could describe their unique community outreach efforts in fighting bigotry. Leaders of different faith communities could discuss their own struggles against prejudice and how they co-operate to achieve social harmony. Canadian Jewish leaders could describe how they foster a rich Jewish identity while fighting bigotry and contributing to the broader community. Bringing these kinds of local insights would enhance the discussions that took place this year in London on fighting Internet hate, stopping systematic demonization, changing the dynamics on campus and cataloguing hate crimes.

Ideally, by next year, such a conference will be unnecessary. But as long as it’s needed to combat discrimination, leaders such as Harper and his bipartisan colleagues should be hailed for refusing to stay silent amid this new outbreak of an ancient, but persistent, plague.

Center Field: Disproportionate, dishonest and discriminatory critics

Israel’s justified, in fact long delayed, military response to the rocket fire from Gaza triggered debate worldwide. Some criticism was reasonable, anguished, sympathizing with a state’s right to self-defense after eight years of bombardment, no matter how intermittent, while questioning the response’s intensity. Alas, much criticism was – dare we say it – disproportionate, dishonest and frequently discriminatory. Shouting at Jews “go back to your ovens” in Fort Lauderdale, vandalizing synagogues in Chicago, smashing Starbucks Coffee windows in London, lacks any ambiguity. The barrage of criticism launched illustrates how quickly condemnation of Israeli actions degenerates into anti-Zionism, which is often a thin veneer for anti-Semitism.

Although calling the response disproportionate implicitly conceded that some response was justified, most critics went further. Critics silent about Muslim murders of fellow Muslims in Gaza, Iraq or Sudan became obsessed with Israel’s “crimes,” no matter how surgical the IDF tried to be. More disturbing, the Mideast conflict’s dysfunctional, polarizing gravitational physics led many who criticized Israel’s actions to idealize Hamas.

Demonstrating this dishonesty in prominent essays in The Washington Post, Guardian and The New York Times, respectively, former president Jimmy Carter, Avi Shlaim of Oxford University and Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University all sanitized Hamas to demonize Israel.

Carter treated Hamas as a peace-loving movement seeking a “comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza,” ignoring its charter’s vows to destroy Israel. Khalidi defined Israel’s 2009 war aims by unearthing a 2002 comment from Moshe Ya’alon, chief of General Staff at the time, about trying to crush Palestinians, ignoring many more recent, far uglier, Palestinian calls to annihilate Israel. And in a down-is-up essay, wherein Israel’s painful withdrawal from Gaza became an attempt to expand its territory, Shlaim treated Hamas as a democratic movement even though it seized power in a coup by murdering fellow Palestinians.

Shaim wrote of Hamas: “Denied the fruit of its electoral victory and confronted with an unscrupulous adversary, it has resorted to the weapon of the weak – terror.” It is particularly disingenuous for an historian to claim Hamas only “resorted” to terror due to the evil Israelis – as if Hamas had not first used such “weapons of the weak” back in the early 1990s, to sabotage the Oslo peace process.

Despicably, others used Holocaust shorthand to berate Israel. Calling Gaza a “big concentration camp,” as Cardinal Renato Martino, the Vatican’s justice and peace minister, did, or writing in on-line in Spain that “the Machiavellian brain of this entire extermination operation is no different from that which designed Nazi Germany,” crossed the line. For starters, the Holocaust – and other genocides – killed thousands, tens of thousands, millions – dwarfing the Palestinian civilian casualties in the hundreds despite three weeks of war.

Moreover, there is something particularly dastardly about preying on an ethnic group’s historic sensitivities. President Barack Obama will endure much criticism, but if critics make slavery analogies or refer to minstrel shows, their condemnation will be racist. During her campaign, Hillary Clinton and her supporters did not deem attacks on her Iraq war stance sexist. They complained about excessive attention to her clothes, speculation about her grit and other comments invoking stereotypes which historically demeaned women.

MANY OF these anti-Zionist attacks resurrected the historic ghost of anti-Semitic essentialism. When asked about his fellow protester in Florida who shouted at Jews, “You need a big oven, that’s what you need,” one rally organizer initially seemed to disavow the remarks. “She does not represent the opinions of the vast majority of people who were there,” Emmanuel Lopez told Fox News. But Lopez quickly added that “Zionism in general is a barbaric, racist movement that really is the cause of the situation in the entire Middle East.” Lopez, a state coordinator for ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) engaged in classic racist essentialism.

For centuries, critics of Jews have degenerated from criticizing specific Jews’ individual actions to generalizing about Jews and Judaism. Generalizing about Zionism’s essence condemns Jewish nationalism with this age-old anti-Semitic tactic. A sign at a Melbourne rally took this rhetoric further, crying: “Clean the Earth from Dirty Zionists.” You do not need a PhD in Jewish history – or in genocide studies – to see the Hitlerian overtones. Many victims of racism – and most especially the Jews in the Holocaust – were tagged as unclean, thus deserving of extermination, lest the general population be infected.

The ugly inverted rhetoric follows its inexorable logic: accusing the victims of the 20th-century’s most horrific genocide of committing genocide, then essentializing and demonizing their movement for collective national fulfillment, leads to calls for eradication. (It also excuses Iranian calls for Israel’s genocide). Jews have seen this happen too often to be blasé about it, whether the speaker is a Vatican official or a street punk.

Essentialism poisons the environment and corrupts other arenas. In the past 40 years, no Western power has engaged in any major military action that did not trigger massive criticism. However, the broad lynch-mob atmosphere against Israel singularly questions its existence, not just the proportionality of its actions. More than 60 years after the country’s founding, the world still has the Jewish state on probation, seemingly only accepted when it behaves well. Rogue states like Pakistan – an artificial creation carved out of a crumbling British Raj – do not have their existence questioned, while Israel constantly has to justify itself.

It is depressing in the 21st century to see such anti-Semitism, especially among those who designate themselves knights in the fight against racism. But the disproportionate demonization, the idealization of Hamas, the essentialism, the animosity coursing through so much criticism of Israeli actions suggests that the world has yet to heal from one of its most persistent afflictions.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University in Montreal. The author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.