Progressive Outrage Over Gaza Rockets?

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 10-26-12

Being associated with Open Zion is a great privilege, but I confess, sometimes I get frustrated. I just clicked on to the site, and saw the usual assembly of thoughtful, high quality essays – but tinged, I regret to say with the progressive obsession about Israel’s alleged “apartheid” and “racism.” Nowhere did I see an article reflecting the major Israeli concern this week – dozens of rockets fired from Gaza over the Green Line aimed at peaceful Israelis, just daring to live their lives. Where is the outrage against these aggressive, hateful moves? Where is the sympathy for nearly a million Israelis forced to rush to bomb shelters, to miss school and work, to build fortified extensions in their homes, to live from red alert to red alert?

Seen at dusk from along the Israeli-Gaza Strip border, a trail of smoke is seen as a rocket is launched from the Palestinian Gaza Strip towards southern Israel on October 24, 2012. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)
Seen at dusk from along the Israeli-Gaza Strip border, a trail of smoke is seen as a rocket is launched from the Palestinian Gaza Strip towards southern Israel on October 24, 2012. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)

We need more broad-based anger against these rockets. We need to hear more progressive voices denouncing these hate-filled, peace-killing, missiles. These rockets are in no way defensive, in no way constructive, in no way justified. They have one, clear aim and message: that innocent Israelis should die because these terrorists do not believe that Israel should exist. And the collateral damage, even when the kassams fall in an empty field, is tremendous. Every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts those of us who support a two-state solution, because they symbolize to many Israelis, left, right and center, the utter failure of the Gaza withdrawal and the futility of further negotiations or withdrawals. Every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts those of us who believe that in order to have any kind of compromise, some quiet, some stability, is a necessary first step. Every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts the Israeli left, as it struggles to find some credibility, some vision, in the decade since the Oslo peace hopes degenerated into the Palestinian terrorist onslaught. Every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts those Palestinians who seek compromise, including Palestinians like the Palestinian Authority Prime minister Salem Fayyed, who prefer to build their own state rather than destroy the Jewish state. And every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts peace-seekers worldwide who abhor terrorism, and prefer what Winston Churchill called jaw-jaw to war-war.

I know of no country in the world which endures so many missiles crossing its internationally-recognized, undisputed border with such equanimity and restraint. Why does Israel continue to allow the flow of any supplies, any electricity, into an entity which launches unprovoked lethal assaults against it? Why does Israel continue to accept Gazans into Israeli hospitals when their fellow Gazans seek to kill Israelis? A neighboring country is under no moral or legal obligation to provide any goods or services to a hostile neighbor. That Israel continues to allow even some flow is a tribute to the country’s humanitarian generosity—but morally problematic when one assess the country’s own obligation to protect its citizens.

And make no mistake about it, many citizens in the area near Gaza are suffering. My cousin Adele Raemer has started a facebook group “Life on the Border with Gaza—things people may not know (but should).” Adele lives in a left-wing kibbutz that yearns for a two-state solution and true peace with all Arabs. What they have endured over the last eight years of rocket fire is unfathomable. Most recently, she reported on CNN’s iReport, about the dilemma she and some friends faced when she received a text message advising all area residents to go into their safe houses—while in the middle of a Yoga lesson.

“We all chose to finish our yoga lesson,” she writes. “At least if something fell on us, we would be the most chilled out and limber bunch of survivors the rescue teams would ever have come across. Sometimes you have to insist on keeping things sane. That is just an example of how some of us make it through these rough days, here on the border with the Gaza Strip.”

True, Adele and her friends demonstrate a remarkable, upbeat, living-well-is-the-best-revenge kind of spirit, which is characteristically Israeli. But, reality check: no one should have to live like that. No one should have to resort to that kind of gallows humor. Anyone who cares about Middle East peace, and about a fair, equitable, solution for all the people in the area, should start protesting against those Islamist rockets from Gaza, loudly, indignantly, consistently.

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

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Gil Troy: My Response to Rashid Khalidi

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By , Open Zion, The Daily Beast, 4-27-12

Professor Khalidi is anxious to bar me from the debate about the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem’s building site that adjoins an ancient Moslem graveyard by questioning my credentials. And I guess he is right.

Offering a symphony of subtlety to a Middle East problem may well be too “American.” It is unfortunate that he could not see in my response any basis for common discourse or compromise or acknowledge that my essay essentially endorsed his goal of preserving the Mamilla Cemetery out of shared reverence for his ancestors and out of respect for his—and others’—feelings.

However, I am sorry to disappoint Professor Khalidi. I will not retreat in the wake of his assault. I stand by my criticism. Without rehashing the entire debate, allow me to offer three correctives to his version of events that prove my point that the whole situation is a classic Middle East muddle rather than a black-and-white situation with the Israelis and Jews acting as evil stick figures.

For starters, Khalidi indignantly dismisses what he calls “the canard regarding the Palace Hotel.” Sounding more like a lawyer than an historian, he carefully emphasizes that “it was always outside the boundaries of the cemetery, so the specter of the Mufti invoked by Troy” is like “a ghost rattling chains to scare the naïve and ignorant.” I had pointed out that the “fiery Palestinian nationalist Haj Amn al Husseini … built the magnificent Palace Hotel on one side of this huge expanse” and “decreed the end to burials in the cemetery.” If we’re interested in full disclosure, we should acknowledge that one of the architects who worked on the Palace Hotel, Baruch Katinka, wrote in his memoirs that while excavating the foundations, workers discovered human remains—suggesting that the boundaries of the Mamilla Cemetery were less clear than Khalidi would have us believe.

Moreover, when Katinka reported this discovery to the Grand Mufti, the Islamic leader ordered Katinka to rebury the bones elsewhere.  To be fair, because I acknowledge complexity, I will admit that this triggered a religious and political dispute among Muslim religious leaders, and that is why I conclude that the Simon Wiesenthal Center has rights to build but would be wiser not to exercise them.

Similarly, it would be fair to acknowledge this dispute’s timeline, because that, too, lightens the burden on the Wiesenthal Center. As described in the Israeli Supreme Court opinion, the building plan was published on August 29, 2002, the application was approved on October 27, 2004, and remains were only found toward the end of 2005, triggering an even later objection. So the Museum of Tolerance did not target a Muslim cemetery. It began building an important project on an area that was an eyesore—an ugly multistory parking lot—then stumbled into this mess.

Finally, the Supreme Court judgment detailed three different compromise solutions offered, which are often used when human remains are found on building sites in Israel. These included “hand excavation,”  “freezing the area” then extracting the bones, or cutting the graves out, raising them on a wooden platform and transporting them to an “alternative site” with no direct human contact being made to respect the graves’ sanctity. These proposals, even if not fully satisfying to the plaintiffs, also demonstrate more good will and intricacy than Khalidi suggests.

Maybe those Wiesenthal people have a point when they complain that their attempts at compromise have been rebuffed. But there again I guess am showing my alleged ignorance by trying to avoid a zero-sum, black-white, good versus evil discussion here.

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

How To Model Tolerance

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Open Zion, The Daily Beast, 4-16-12

Critics of Israel are having a grand old time turning the proposed Museum of Tolerance under construction in Jerusalem into a symbol of Israeli intolerance, given the museum’s seemingly insensitive decision to build its monument to broadmindedness on a centuries-old Muslim cemetery. Rashid Khalidi’s “Tolerance of Whom?” is the latest attack on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s initiative, this time deeming it “grotesque” and an “abuse of the dead.”

But the outrage over the building is one of those made-in-the-Middle-East cases of selective indignation and political grandstanding. The Wiesenthal Center has every right to build there and is the victim of a political mugging. Nevertheless, sometimes solving a problem with a touch of grace and self-sacrifice is preferable to standing on principle and asserting your rights.

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Frank Gehry’s proposed 2004 design for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem., Getty Images

In his screed against the Wiesenthal Center, Professor Khalidi overlooked the historian’s favorite text—context—and forgot that scholars are not supposed to fear complexity. Khalidi writes poignantly about the generations of his ancestors buried there and fears that this Muslim presence is being “erased.” In fact, many Zionists welcome modern Israel’s rich Arab heritage. I, for one, share Khalidi’s appreciation for the history that consecrates the ground there for him and for many of us who cherish the traditions of all the peoples of the Middle East.

I particularly love the Mamilla burial grounds. Over the years, my children and I passed many hours on visits to Jerusalem, wandering around, absorbing the history, delighting in some of the elaborate burial structures, and imagining the biographies of the many people buried there.

But Khalidi mislead readers by failing to tell them that the story of the Mamilla Cemetery is a complicated tale of a graveyard no longer in use, no longer considered sacred, and oft-violated already by Muslims, not just Jews. Most dramatically, in the 1920s, the fiery Palestinian nationalist, Haj Amin al Husseini, decreed the end to burials in the cemetery, designated the area as a commercial space, and built the magnificent Palace Hotel on one side of this huge expanse in the heart of Jerusalem. Since then, Muslim religious authorities have considered the cemetery “Mundras,” spiritually abandoned. After 1948, much of the Mamilla area became Gan Ha’atzmaut, Independence Park, and much of the controversial corner where the Wiesenthal Center is building became a parking lot.

Moreover, the Wiesenthal Center people note that for decades, no longer considering the area sacred, Muslims approved of the various commercial activities Arabs and Israelis performed on the site. Even for the first five years after the Museum initiative began, no one filed any religious objections, until some Islamist activists sensed a good opportunity to embarrass Israel—and the trouble began. Living in the Middle East—and especially Jerusalem—means constantly time-traveling through many different historical zones. Layers of history underlie most areas, and bones show up in the most inconvenient of building sites. Here, too, although consistency is a virtue, hypocrisy is rampant. The same progressives who are so outraged at the Museum of Tolerance’s alleged intolerance seethe when ultra-Orthodox Jews try stopping archaeological digs or building projects they deem to be on Jewish burial grounds (while ignoring this controversy, of course).

Ultimately, the legal, historical, and religious record justify the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s decision to build its Museum of Tolerance on the Mamilla Cemetery’s outskirts. Yet, if I were in charge, I would make my blow for tolerance by moving the project. While reaffirming the Jewish claim, while blasting the protesters’ duplicity, while filling in the facts, I would nevertheless build elsewhere. Civility entails knowing your rights but sometimes knowing enough not to assert them fully. Civility emerges from occasionally conceding graciously, even if unilaterally, not solely for the sake of others, but for your own sake. Mamilla Cemetery should be preserved as a Garden of Tolerance, fully administered by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for a generous fee, with a Museum of Tolerance built somewhere else in Jerusalem.

Not all conflicts need be zero sum, with clear winners and losers. To give the Wiesenthal Center and the Israeli Authorities the necessary nudge, deep-pocketed, peace-loving Arabs or Europeans or Americans should help create a rare Middle Eastern win-win. Let these do-gooders tally up all the court costs, real-estate fees, and construction costs to buy out the Center, while finding the Museum of Tolerance a new home. Let the building of the Museum of Tolerance become itself a model of tolerance, achieving its founders’ vision in ways that are all too rarely achieved in the Middle East of simplistic spin and fanatic finger pointing.

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

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