Stephen Harper’s foreign policy is truly Canadian

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the resolution passed, and the appeasers caved.

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

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

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

To Rome (from Jerusalem) with love — of nationalism

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-17-12

Visiting Rome reminds us of the magic of cities and the power of nationalism.  Like people, cities have distinct characters. You can no more take the romance out of Rome, than take the Jew out of Jerusalem. While some tourists are cultural scavengers, cannibalizing disjointed elements of rich, integrated civilizations, tourism at its best is holistic and nourishing, stretching visitors to embrace the unfamiliar, the exotic. Hopping across the Mediterranean from Jerusalem to Rome reinforces the deep atavistic understanding that people do best in thick, historically-resonant, values-laden communities, bound by multiple ties, while making their tribalism transcendent.

Of course, the wandering Jew in Rome is a fiddler on the roof, dancing delicately between delight and despair. The proud, historically-conscious Jew takes guilty pleasure in Rome’s grandeur. You don’t need to see the Arch of Titus, which toasts our Temple’s pillaging, to remember how destructive was the power represented in the towering columns that punctuate today’s Rome as frequently and dramatically as potholes popped up in 1970s’ New York.  But like a wounded lover nobly trying to restore lost faith, the Jew must not be imprisoned by past traumas. While honoring our martyrs’ memories and refusing ever again to be helpless, we distort history and risk poisoning our souls if our collective rearview mirror remains only tinged blood-red.

The story of Rome and Jerusalem, like the Jewish story overall, is not just about Jews confronting non-Jews but about Jewish and non-Jewish collaboration, consonance, and creativity.  Martin Goodman’s 2007 book, Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations, ends tragically but starts happily.  “At the beginning of the first millennium CE both cities were at the peak of their prosperity and grandeur, each famous throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond,” Goodman writes. “They were two cities with a culture partly shared, from the gleam of ceremonial white masonry in the summer sun to acceptance of … the influence of Greek architecture and philosophy.”

Seventeen hundred years later, the two cities epitomized the old-new power of Europe’s romantic nationalist resurgence. In Rome and Jerusalem: The Last National Question, Karl Marx’s colleague Moses Hess pivoted from universalist socialism’s false cosmopolitanism toward the Jewish nationalism that Theodor Herzl later called Zionism.   Nationalism was roiling Hess’s Western world in 1862, as Europeans began what Daniel Patrick Moynihan called “matching” various peoples with particular states. That year, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s “Iron and Blood” speech helped unify Germany; Giuseppe Garibaldi tried and failed to incorporate Rome into modern Italy; while Abraham Lincoln was struggling to quash Southern separatism and redeem American nationalism.

“On the ruins of Christian Rome a regenerated Italian people is arising,” an inspired Moses Hess wrote.  Returning to his own people after “twenty years of estrangement,” Hess rejoiced, “Once again I am sharing in its festivals of joys and days of sorrows, in its hopes and memories. I am taking part in the spiritual and intellectual struggles of our day.” Hess was not retreating to the ghetto but reawakening a more natural, authentic, organic self. He derided the “really dishonorable Jew” who is “ashamed of his nationality,” no matter how many “beautiful phrases about humanity and enlightenment … he uses so freely to cloak his treason.” Hess’s renewed communal sentiment empowered and enlightened.  He hailed “the thought of my nationality, which is inseparably connected with my ancestral heritage, with the Holy Land and the Eternal City, the birthplace of the belief in the divine unity of life and of the hope for the ultimate brotherhood of all men.”

Hess made the classic nationalist move, which is often unappreciated in our age of faux-cosmopolitanism. He repudiated the thinness of the universalist’s righteous-sounding but hollow “we are the world” postures while reveling in the thickness of the Jewish nationalist’s ambition to redeem his people and then the world. He understood that the pathway toward uniting Rome and Jerusalem in constructive collaboration was for the Italians to renew Rome and for the Jews to renew Jerusalem. Only by triggering a “national renaissance” rooted in their authentic collective selves could these communities tap into the necessary energies to be the best they could be.

Last month, 150 years later, the New York Times columnist David Brooks, explaining New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen’s continuing success worldwide, wrote:  It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition … you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all.” Echoing Hess, Brooks pleaded:  “Don’t try to be everyman…. Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible.”

In that spirit, nationalist scientists tapped into their individual and collective power in discovering the “God particle.” Israeli newspapers emphasized Israel’s role; Italian newspapers proclaimed “Italians help.” Canadians and Indians were equally boosterish – deservedly so.  Like religion, nationalism can build or destroy. National pride need not descend into chauvinism; it can be harness to achieve universal goods.

Zionism offers Jews the opportunity to mine the geography of our own past and enjoy our own national pride. The Zionist draws intimate strength from Jerusalem and respectful inspiration from Rome, appreciating Rome’s deep roots and broad vision, while understanding that the same collective power that so long ago built a majestic Colosseum to last, can be tapped today to help individuals find meaning and countries solve their most pressing problems.

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

Jerusalem’s magical mix of old and new, East and West

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-12-11

I am tired of Israelis complaining that Jerusalem turned “black” – the dismissive shorthand for ultra-Orthodox. And I am tired of visitors on missions visiting Jerusalem on the “seam” – only viewing the real city through the prism of conflicts – between Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardi – then waxing poetic about its spirituality, reducing it to a Jewish theme park. The real Jerusalem magically mixes old and new, East and West. This modern metropolis is also a living repository of history and holiness. It struggles with challenges but is also uniquely positioned as the Jewish people’s capital, and a world class city where modern, entrepreneurial, democratic values meet traditional, communitarian sensibilities.

Jerusalem does what cities should do, centralize and synthesize as well as symbolize. The sociologist Richard Sennett in The Fall of Public Man says a city is “a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet.” The words “city” and “citizen” share common roots. Linking these two ideas, cities work when they unite different people through a shared sense of responsibility. Cities become great when a critical mass of creativity and community feeling develops, so these newly-bonded citizens can express their accomplishments individually, institutionally, monumentally.

In this reading, Jerusalem’s diversity enhances the city. Visitors should watch Jerusalemites cooperate, rather than assuming differences always cause conflict. We could define Jerusalem by the few ultra-Orthodox fanatics who desecrated the Sabbath last week by stoning drivers just outside their neighborhoods. Or, we could define Jerusalem by the vast majority who prayed peacefully in one of the most exciting living laboratories in Jewish history, South-Central Jerusalem. There, every Shabbat, thousands of learned, pious Jews live tradition amid modernity, balancing continuity and change. This quest is best exemplified by the many creative experiments involving women in prayer, but goes much further. And it flourishes in a spirit of acceptance, with open dialogues and even, believe it or not, socializing between women who cover their hair and those who bare their shoulders, between men who always wear kippot and those who keep a kippah conveniently rolled in their pockets – folding leaves creases.

This Sunday, my wife and I again experienced Jerusalem’s breathtaking range. Our evening began on the Israel Museum’s magnificent terrace, viewing vistas of modern monumental Jerusalem, especially the Knesset, symbolizing Israeli democracy. We attended the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy’s (CIJA) reception celebrating Canada Day and Canada-Israel relations. In true Jerusalem style, the Director of CIJA’s Israel office, David Weinberg, toasted Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, with the perfect Biblical allusion, comparing Harper’s warmth toward Israel with “the magnificent, unique friendship” King David and King Solomon both enjoyed with Chiram, the Phoenician king of Tyre in Lebanon – who helped build the Temple.

The Canadian Ambassador Paul Hunt, the Minister for Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein and MK Yochanan Plesner celebrated the common values of innovation and democracy, freedom and multicultural tolerance, uniting the two nations. Illustrating Jerusalem’s role as Israel’s capital, Ambassador Hunt and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman then signed the latest bilateral agreement encouraging Canadian-Israeli research and development.

We then dashed across town to the Talpiot industrial zone, a gritty corner of the real-life city, to a fabulous Henna ceremony celebrating the marriage of my friend Moshe’s daughter, Shelly. Moshe is one of those storied cab driver-philosophers brought to life – memorialized in the line from Tel Aviv Taxi, the 1956 Israeli film classic by Larry Frisch featured this week at Jerusalem’s Film Festival that Israeli cabbies are like all cabbies, except they are better story tellers.

Moshe immigrated to Israel from Algeria in 1948 when he was a toddler and has grown up with the state. His delightfully peppery mother Miriam told us that when he served in a legendary Golani combat unit during the 1967 Six Day War – which was B.C., before cell phones — she wandered the Golan Heights looking for him, shouting his name, until she found him.

Henna is a gloopy, chocolatey plant extract pressed into guests’ palms, dying the skin orange temporarily – for lasting good luck. This ancient Middle Eastern custom provides a great excuse for a pre-wedding party. Minutes after leaving our subdued, sophisticated Canadian-Israeli cocktail, we were bobbing on the Club Kazablanka’s dance floor, rhythmically pumping beautifully wrapped and beribboned trays over our heads filled with Sephardic delicacies. I had doffed my sports jacket and, at Moshe’s insistence, donned a fez and a djellaba, the flowing, Arabic robe – mine, poetically, was blue and white.

While dancing with the joyous Mediterranean abandon for which Israelis are so famous, we were moved by the reverence for their elders and their heritage the young revelers displayed. The throbbing crowd parted to let the parents and grandparents advance to the front and bestow gifts on the couple. The parents and children all wore Moroccan dress and headdresses. Unlike me, they pulled off the feat without looking ridiculous, feeling thoroughly at home – even as their traditional costumes covered cell phones and our usual digital gadgetry.

The two contrasting parties were actually in concert with each other. City Councilor Rachel Azaria insists that Jerusalem must feature affordable housing, flowing traffic, and great schools, as well as accessible monuments, a splendid story and an alluring aura. Jerusalem’s salvation will come from what has emerged as this characteristic Zionist mix.

Great accomplishments will result from the kind of tomorrow-oriented innovative spirit and democratic values the Canada-Israel evening celebrated. But deep meaning still derives from the poetry of everyday life, preserving traditions and imbuing them with the youthful passion we experienced at the Henna. Jerusalem itself should become the ultimate model of urban renewal, demonstrating the old and new magic stored in any great city but particularly defining this ancient yet still evolving metropolis.

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

Mulcair the mensch

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 5-19-11

As Liberals reel from their stunning electoral defeat and Conservatives rejoice, Israel’s supporters in Canada can find reassurance in two important outcomes from the recent federal election.

First, the re-election of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is sweet vindication. Harper has been a steadfast friend of Israel, defending and embodying the democratic values uniting Israel and Canada. Claims that Harper and his party would suffer at the polls for befriending the Jewish state proved as empty as the charge that Canada was not elected to the UN Security Council as punishment for voting for Israel.

The second piece of good news is that, as the NDP gets used to becoming the loyal opposition, the NDP deputy leader and designated coach for its unseasoned rookie MPs is Thomas Mulcair, a thoughtful, reasonable progressive who refuses to join the pile-on against Israel.

I had the privilege of hearing Mulcair address the Ottawa Conference on Combating Antisemitism last fall. Amid a tsunami of speeches, Mulcair’s stood out. It was short, elegant, eloquent and effective. Although I will only quote from a CBC blog description because the conference was under Chatham House Rule, Mulcair impressed me in three ways.

First, he struck me as someone who believes in democracy and the rule of law, refusing to sacrifice core ideals to follow one trend or another. Second, he was embarrassed, as a member of the McGill community, having graduated from McGill Law School, that McGill hosts Israeli Apartheid Week. His indignation reflected an awareness that those who claim to be “only” anti-Zionist are usually antisemitic, too, as well as a deep commitment to preserving universities as safe, open, tolerant places for thinking students.

Third, he described an ugly moment in an anti-Israel demonstration when protesters wanted to attack a Jewish-owned business. This move reflected what he called the “any Jew will do” mob mentality of picking on all Jews because of a disagreement with some Israeli policy – demonstrating the underlying antisemitism perverting so much of the anti-Israel movement.

A year earlier, when a local synagogue was defaced with swastikas in his riding, Mulcair again stood tall. He declared the act of hatred “particularly disgusting in the case of a congregation that includes several Holocaust survivors.” He quoted Martin Luther King’s teaching that “he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really co-operating with it.”

And in that spirit, when his NDP colleague and fellow deputy leader Libby Davies supported the anti-Israel boycott movement, Mulcair confronted her swiftly and directly. Davies is a long-time critic of Israel who mocks Canada’s “so-called friendship with Israel.” She has no problem speaking at a rally whose chants call for another intifadah or being photographed at that rally in front of a poster making the false comparison between Israel and South African apartheid.

“No member of our caucus, whatever other title they have, is allowed to invent their own policy,” Mulcair proclaimed when Davies endorsed boycotts. “We take decisions together, parties formulate policies together, and to say that you’re personally in favour of boycott, divestment and sanctions for the only democracy in the Middle East is, as far as I’m concerned, grossly unacceptable.”

I have no idea where Mulcair stands regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Israel’s ultimate borders, and I don’t care. We need a broad pro-Israel coalition that fights blatant antisemitism and the antisemitism masquerading as “only” anti-Zionism.

We need a broad pro-Israel coalition uniting people from left to right who defend Israel’s right to exist and fight the demonization of Israel and Zionism. We need a broad pro-Israel coalition standing for core democratic rights and the understanding that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the only stable country following rule of law, the only steady source of civil liberties for Arabs and Jews, and the Mideast’s only true friend to Canada.

And we need to honour steadfast friends such as Mulcair, hoping that as he coaches his young, newly elected NDP MPs, he points out some of the hypocritical trends that some fellow progressives succumb to, while reminding them of the enduring liberal rights and democratic ideals that make Canada and Israel among the few functioning democracies in the world – whatever mistakes they may make, whatever imperfections they may have.

Pushing back for its own sake

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 11-25-10

In late October, amid much self-promotional hype, leaders of the Canadian BDS movement met in Montreal to celebrate their campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
By all reports, the BDS movement once again proved to be more virtual than real, puffing itself up on the Internet while failing to stir much excitement. The movement’s broad call to mobilize “civil society” was met with awkward silence. Apparently, barely 100 people attended the conference’s final session. It’s clear that this fall will be remembered for the glowing depictions of Israel as a profitable, thriving “startup nation,” in La Presse and other French media outlets rather than for the glowering denunciations of Israel by angry misanthropes.

With the BDS momentum proving to be more bark than bite, much of the organized Jewish community ignored the conference. Believing that you should never disturb your enemy if he or she is in the process of self-destructing, there were no major counter-demonstrations, few clarion calls to mobilize. The strategy seemed to be that shining a spotlight on the BDS movement’s flaws would give the boycotters attention they don’t deserve.

While I understand that logic, the strategy ignored the great distress that the simple fact of the conference convening in Montreal caused among many pro-Israel Montrealers. Even if the conference failed to live up to its own hype, we in the pro-Israel community needed to push back for our own sake. In fact, the conference, even if minor, provided an opportunity for a classic ju jitsu move:  taking an opponent’s energy and redirecting it for your own purpose.

Just before the conference, dismayed by the Jewish communal silence, I met with one student who was willing to stand up for Israel publicly and proudly. Following the successful “buycott” strategy in Toronto, when BDS calls backfired and a call to boycott Israeli wine led to a run on Israeli wine, and calls to boycott a Dead Sea Scroll exhibit and the Toronto film festival’s celebration of Tel Aviv’s centennial led to waves of sold-out shows, a few students sent out a call to buy Israeli products that weekend. I forwarded the call around, and echoed it in a Montreal Gazette opinion piece that ran during the conference, while blasting the boycott movement for endangering the peace process.

We didn’t have the time or resources to trigger a mass movement. That was never our intention. But the feedback we received was extraordinary. As people e-mailed to detail their purchases of Elite chocolate here or 10 israeli bottles of wine there, they also thanked us. Most moving were the thanks – from Jews and non-Jews – that celebrated the opportunity to do something personal, positive, and constructive for Israel. “What a wonderful idea,” one woman wrote. “Finally a logical way to respond to all the madness around us.”

Group responsibility and individual empowerment are essential to effective grassroots action. It’s the logic of the firing squad put to good use. Firing squads demand full participation from all assigned, while one of the shooters unknowingly fires blanks. This allows everyone to take responsibility as a group while indulging the calming and exculpating hope that their gun was the one firing blanks.

In the Torah, every Jewish citizen took responsibility for the community by paying a half-shekel. Today, the federation campaign tries to enlist as many participants as possible, even if many make token donations and most funds are raised from big givers – often in one big splashy event.

If we understand the importance of spreading communal responsibility and maximizing individual feelings of involvement when it comes to fundraising, shouldn’t we apply that same principle to supporting Israel? I’m proud of what we did to push back against the BDSers, yet I feel we missed an opportunity. The weekend could have been a chance for even more Montrealers to embrace the plucky democracy in the Middle East by acting out the Zionist and Jewish imperative to act constructively – not just believe abstractly, or even hide delightedly when your adversaries stumble.

Gil Troy Quoted in “Maple Leaf Madness – Chabad Confronts Anti-Israel Activism on Canada’s College Campuses”

Lubavitch.com, 11-15-2010

Dr. Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University in Montreal and author of Why I am a Zionist told Lubavitch.com that a lot is riding on the countersteps to the toxic propgaganda. “At university campuses in Canada and in the U.S., many future leaders are being educated in poisoned environments, where Israel is portrayed as the bad guy.”

Chabad’s response is less about shouting down and in-your-face protests than about teaching students to connect with their own heritage, and understand the Jewish claim to the land….

Prof. Troy promotes advocacy in his literature, but he also values Chabad’s approach. “Studies show that if you have a strong connection to Judaism, you will have a strong connection to Israel.” Chabad, he explains, “creates a spiritual conversation and a cultural conversation, getting the issue away from politics,” which helps achieve the ultimate goal: supporting the Jewish homeland.

“You can’t do Jewish without embracing Israel.”

Fighting Zionism: Racism’s big lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was Canada punished for supporting Israel at UN?

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 10-27-10

Canada’s failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council has triggered a predictable debate – with a surprising twist. Predictably, most have seen the move as a rejection of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s muscular, pro-western, pro-Israel, anti-terrorism foreign policy.
But the columnist David Frum has injected a fascinating perspective. After actually doing some research, Frum suggested that the vote had more to do with European power dynamics, western rivalries, and the peculiarities of the UN regional voting bloc system. Outsiders will have a hard time figuring out who is correct. Hopefully, historians in the future will be able to sort it out. Still, the debate about the failure illustrates some enduring anomalies regarding how we discuss foreign policy, Israel and the United Nations itself.

For starters, the central assumption guiding the partisans in the debate is depressing. The most passionate talk has focused on whether Canada was being punished for supporting Israel. We are at a dangerous moment here. We are starting to take Israel’s toxicity for granted. Why should support for Israel bear such a price? Israel’s enemies have been so successful in maligning Israel and elevating Israel into such a powerful symbol that where a country stands on Israel risks defining its entire foreign policy.

As we approach the 35th anniversary of the General Assembly’s despicable “Zionism is racism” resolution, Israel’s adversaries are poised to enjoy a double victory. The anti-Israel package they sell involves both demonizing Israeli actions and exaggerating Israel’s centrality in the Middle East, and world politics. The Palestinians’ ultimate conceit traditionally has been to make everything about Israel be about them, pushing a perspective suggesting that no conversation about the Jewish state should be about anything but the Palestinian issue. Now, the Palestinian conceit – fed by the UN – is even more grandiose, suggesting that the Palestinians’ problems are not just the most significant in the world today but the key to world peace. It is extraordinary how many foolish diplomats, politicians, academics, students and activists.

Amid all the hysteria, Frum’s alternative perspective noting that Canada was boxed out because the European bloc secured seats for Germany and Portugal was doubly welcome. First, both pro-Israel and anti-Israel partisans need to remember that not everything is about the Palestinians and the Jews. At the end of the day, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a minor regional conflict. Even if some peace agreement could be signed, Iran would still be trying to go nuclear, North Korea would remain a bad citizen of the world, Islamist terrorists would still target westerners – and their own people – the economy would waver, the environment would be at risk, etc. Pro-Israel forces also have to be careful not to see everything through the Palestinian-Israel prism. We should remember that it is not helpful to jump at every attack on Israel.

Frum’s perspective also reminds us how complex, political, and bureaucratic the UN has become. The high hopes of the 1940s continue to mislead most of us when we talk about the UN. Even after decades of watching it degenerate into the Third World dictators’ debating society, we still want to see it as the biggest do-good organization in world history. Even when the UN is not being corrupt, or not being obsessive about Israel, politics rules. Regional rivalries are only one of the many distracting side shows that stop the UN from fulfilling its main mission to advance the causes of peace and justice throughout the world.

Getting a seat on the Security Council is not an award for doing good – or much of anything else. It is one of many privileges and responsibilities constantly doled out, periodically in play, in the world organization. Of course, it was delusional to expect that the UN would be politics-free. But rather than having Canada’s loss trigger yet another round of pro-Israel versus pro-Palestinian fireworks, perhaps it is time for all of us to start learning about how the UN functions, what is does right, where it goes wrong, and how it can improve.

giltroy@gmail.com

How Zionism can get a passing grade on campus today

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-11-10

There is something wrong with this picture: This is a golden age for Jews on North American campuses. Never before have there been so many Jewish college presidents and Jewish professors, Jewish students and Jewish Studies majors. Yet, this is also a golden age for anti-Zionism on campus. Never before has Israel-bashing appeared to be such a popular intramural sport. An unholy alliance of anti-Israel activists and jaundiced professors demonizes Israel and damns Zionism on many – not all – North American campuses. These false but potent poisons injected into the intellectual bloodstream of so many leaders of tomorrow will haunt us for decades.

In preparing for another school year, we do not need another woe-is-me round of laments about the asinine activists, perverted professors and useful idiots who mask Palestinian rejectionism and Arab anti-Semitism behind a veneer of liberal pieties. The pro-Israel community on campus cannot just be anti the anti-Israel-crackpots on campus. We should start thinking about what we have been doing wrong – and what we need to do right – in this fight for Israel’s legitimacy, Jewish dignity and democratic decency. We must improve our defenses, strengthen our alliances, and, most important of all, advance a new vision, engaging Israel in a fresh, exciting way by singing a new song of Zion.

When I visit North American campuses, I frequently am amazed by how lonely and embattled pro-Israel students feel. Although the Jewish community is considered well-organized, even smothering and monolithic, many students standing for Israel feel isolated and exposed. Even more surprising, despite the systematic campaign against Israel on campus, both pro-Israel students and local Jewish communities frequently seem unprepared when targeted. We need more information-sharing, more “cookbooks” providing recipes for how to react, more exchanges via conferences and websites about best practices. At the same time, we cannot forget that the university has its own unique political culture and each campus has its own particular anthropology and sociology. Cookbooks are helpful; cookie-cutter approaches or what seems like outside interference are not.

Students would also feel less isolated if they solidified alliances. Pro-Israel forces should develop a language attacking Islamism on liberal grounds and joining with other campus groups offended by the illiberal, sexist, authoritarian, homophobic, anti-democratic, anti-universalistic impulses menacing the world today, which emanate from Israel’s enemies – not Israel. How come we don’t see stronger alliances between Iranian students and pro-Israel students against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s sexist, homophobic, repressive, nuclear-hungry Iran? How come we don’t see stronger alliances between Indian students, Christian students, pro-Obama students, college Democrats and college Republicans – all of whom should favor Israel as a democratic Western-oriented state in the Middle East over its dictatorial, Islamist enemies?

Internally, the Zionist world should clarify what unites us not just what divides us. We must foster a broad big-tent Zionism that carves out space for vigorous debate about the territories and the settlements, conversion and religion, Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, while emphasizing the core values that make Zionists Zionist. We should define the red lines we impose on ourselves which we shall not cross in debate, knowing that we operate in a toxic atmosphere, agreeing, for example, not to invoke the historically inaccurate, morally mischievous apartheid analogy, because we know it is used to delegitimize Israel and repudiate Zionism.

At the same time we should affirm the blue-and-white lines which we share, the way all of us, from left-wing secular Zionists to right-wing religious Zionists, believe in Zionism as the movement of Jewish national liberation, affirm Israel’s centrality in Jewish life, and appreciate how lucky we are to enjoy a democratic Jewish state in our traditional homeland.

In reaffirming our blue-and-white lines and ties, we will remember that the Zionist revolution is incomplete: Israel remains an unfinished product inviting more input while Zionism’s mission to solve the Jewish problem remains relevant today. We grant our enemies a propaganda victory they do not deserve when we make Israel the central headache of the Jewish world today, when we reduce Zionism only to the Israel Defense Force, when we forget Zionism’s redemptive power. Zionism, like Americanism, like all forms of constructive liberal nationalism, roots individual members in a collective enterprise greater than themselves. Starting with the grounding history provides, Zionism – like all liberal nationalisms – injects meaning into the present by dreaming about and building toward a better future.

It is fitting that Theodor Herzl’s slogan was Eem Tirzu Ein Zo Aggadah, “if you – collectively! – will it, is no dream.” While acknowledging the universalists’ critique that terrible crimes were committed in the name of nationalism, many of the greatest achievements of the modern world resulted from nationalism too. On one side of the Atlantic, consider the American achievement – the world’s most successful mass, middle-class civilization, mass-producing freedom and prosperity for hundreds of millions. On the other side of the Atlantic, consider the Israeli achievement – returning Jews to history’s stage, reviving the Hebrew language, saving millions after the Holocaust and from the Arab expulsion, forging an Altneuland, an old-new land, a modern Western democracy with a Jewish flavor in the Middle East.

In that spirit, we should jumpstart a Zionist conversation that is dynamic not defensive, empowering not pedestrian. We should be Jewishly-ambitious – not just setting career goals, financial benchmarks, and personal growth targets, but Jewish aspirations, individually and collectively. In asking “how can I grow Jewishly,” we can also ask “how can I help Israel thrive.” And in so doing, we will find the ultimate Zionist secret: by seeking redemption for Israel we will also help redeem ourselves. In a modern world that often feels aimless, alienating, and disempowering we will find purpose, focus, roots, as we sing a new, renewed, relevant song of Zion.

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

Oh, Canada Why anti-Zionism festers in a country otherwise known for its friendliness

By Gil Troy, Tablet Magazine, 4-13-10

Protesters and counterprotesters before Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech at Montreal’s Concordia University in 2002.

CREDIT: Marcos Townsend/AFP/Getty Images

Although the two-week period in March designated as Israeli Apartheid Week sputtered this year, attracting few participants, it highlighted a great Canadian anomaly. Twelve of the 40 communities the IAW website identified as host cities were in Canada. IAW was hatched in Toronto. Some of the worst anti-Israel violence in North America has occurred in the land of endless winters and polite pacifists. Last year, at York University in Toronto, hooligans chanting, “Die, Jew, get the hell off campus” menaced Jewish students, who barricaded themselves in the Hillel offices, terrified. This year, at the University of Western Ontario, three students who started a Facebook group called “UWO Students Against Israeli Apartheid Week” reported receiving death threats. Why are such virulent anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism festering in Canada despite its national niceness?

The violence contradicts the Canadian government’s dramatically pro-Israel turn in the last several years. Compared to America’s “love-fest,” Canada has always been more “reservedly respectful” of “both Israel and Jews,” says Ted Sokolsky, president of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government from 1993 to 2003 treated Israel coldly. But since 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been enthusiastically pro-Israel. Last spring, Canada led in boycotting the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, fearing a rehash of the 2001 anti-Zionist hate-fest.

Thanks especially to Irwin Cotler, a Liberal MP and former justice minister, support for Israel is what Canadians call “all party.” This year, the Liberal leader and human-rights activist Michael Ignatieff repudiated the false analogy that has become a central anti-Zionist tenet: that of equating the Israeli-Palestinian national conflict with the systematic racism of South Africa’s Afrikaner regime. “International law defines ‘apartheid’ as a crime against humanity,” Ignatieff has said. “Labeling Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state is a deliberate attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state itself. Criticism of Israel is legitimate. Attempting to describe its very existence as a crime against humanity is not.”
Nevertheless, despite all this goodwill off-campus, and even considering Canadians’ cultural aversion to conflict, many Jewish college students in Canada report feeling “uncomfortable, unsafe, and targeted” on campuses, says Zach Newburgh, the Hillel Montreal president. Newburgh transferred from the University of Toronto to McGill partially because of Toronto’s aggressive anti-Israel environment, which peaks during anti-Israel week. Many Jewish students felt besieged, “no matter what stripe they were,” Newburgh recalls, “whether they were Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, or just Jewish, had been to Jewish summer camp or not, had been to Israel or not—it did not matter.” Newburgh received death threats, he says, because he criticized the IAW’s activities in online forums….. READ FULL ARTICLE

Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal and a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, is the author of six books on American history and Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.

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.

The double double standard against Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creeping of Anti-Semitism

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

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

Gil Troy on how to keep criticism of Israel kosher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gil Troy: Canadians uphold a proud human rights legacy

Canadians uphold a proud human rights legacy

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 5-21-09

Canada stood tall – dare we say, glorious and free? – during the recent Durban Review debacle in Geneva, thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pre-emptive strike in boycotting the so-called UN anti-racism conference long before anyone else did.
Canada is now spearheading the push to reform the United Nations, while challenging liberal and autocratic hypocrisy worldwide. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigotry at an anti-racism conference defined Durban II as yet another festival of despots bashing the West and Israel. But more significant was the alliance forged beyond the conference halls between pro-Israel and human rights activists frustrated that the UN’s Israel obsession hurts human rights.

Canadians such as MP and former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler and the executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, were essential marriage brokers in building this friendship, demanding the UN live up to its ideals and condemn the world’s true human rights abusers.

During the first World Conference Against Racism, held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, the streets filled with anti-Zionists shouting vitriolic anti-Semitic slogans that Adolf Hitler didn’t finish the job. Some human rights groups and pro-Israel groups began working to reform the UN human rights mechanisms.

Not surprisingly, Canadians such as Cotler and Neuer were crucial in launching this initiative. Many Canadians maintain great faith in the UN’s founding ideals and are proud that John Peters Humphrey, a longtime McGill University law professor, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cotler, on leave as a law professor from McGill, is a world-renowned human rights crusader who has spent decades cris-crossing the globe defending the oppressed, including Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky. Neuer was Cotler’s student at McGill, continuing this McGill – and Canadian – tradition.

When the UN started preparations to host a review conference in Durban, Neuer was particularly well-placed to head off another hatefest. Based in Geneva as the executive director of UN Watch, he has frequently highlighted the UN’s anti-Israel obsession and its hypocrisy in letting dictatorships dominate the Human Rights Council. Working with various organizations in shifting coalitions – including its parent organization the American Jewish Committee, as well as NGO Monitor and B’nai Brith International, Freedom House and Freedom Now – UN Watch helped redirect the process.

Effective lobbying of the Ford Foundation and others cut off funds that NGOs would have used to replicate the Durban I sideshow. The UN, embarrassed by Durban I, agreed to shift the venue of this year’s conference to Geneva, where the UN and Swiss police could better control events. Western diplomats worked to moderate the Durban Review declaration. In this environment, Canada’s bold decision to boycott galvanized the forces trying to right Durban’s wrongs.

As a result, in Geneva, there were no angry mass rallies against Israel. UN Watch and dozens of other groups hosted conferences and side meetings, giving dissidents and victims from Iran, Egypt, Cuba, Burma, Rwanda and Darfur opportunities to tell their tales. The participants denounced the United Nations for allowing oppressors such as Libya to chair the Human Rights Council, and for ignoring real abuses in their zeal to demonize Israel.

The largest demonstration appears to have been a festive gathering of 2,000 to 3,000 Israel supporters on the conference’s third day. Joining one American, one Italian, one Israeli, and one French politician on the podium were two of us from McGill, Cotler and I, as well as Harper’s parliamentary secretary – and personal representative to the side conferences – MP Pierre Poilievre. The MC, David Harris, of the American Jewish committee, joked that at these events, Canadians rarely outnumber Americans. May we always compete to lead the way on these issues.

“Please use your liberty to promote ours,” Soe Aung, a Burmese dissident, begged at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, which celebrated 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention. While the first Durban sideshow embodied the UN at its worst, the second Durban side conferences tried to meet Aung’s challenge.

If the UN starts to reform, history will honour the Conservative Harper – with his Liberal colleague Cotler – for not only saving the United Nations, but also for helping to save many liberal activists from their own moral myopia.

Gil Troy: Durban II, Let’s turn a negative into a positive

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 4-29-09

An internet petition titled “Jewish Canadians Concerned about Suppression of Criticism of Israel,” would be laughable if it was not so tragic and typical.

Of all the modern ills to worry about, as Jews and as Canadians, this problem seems trivial. Especially following the Gaza operation, claiming that criticism of Israel is being suppressed is like claiming that Canadians don’t talk enough about the weather.

These are boom times for Israel critics. Anti-Israel week has become a fixture on many campuses, perpetuating the libel that Israel’s actions in defending itself in its nationalist conflict with Palestinians are comparable to South African racism. Year-round, Israel has become the left’s favourite whipping boy, demonized in the sloppiest and most distorted of ways.

Self-righteous protesters, however, love feeling oppressed. No self-respecting Israel-bashers in North America want to admit that their position allies them with the world’s dictators and anti-Semites, with evil Arab oil monarchs and genocidal Hamas terrorists, with nuclear-proliferating Iranian mullahs and racist, sexist, homophobes hostile to democracy, with right-wing neo-Nazis and left-wing purveyors of the “Zionism is racism” libel. So what better way to earn some radical street cred than to claim that evil forces are suppressing speech, resurrecting the anti-Communist excesses of the 1950s?

The petition is just one more example of these attacks’ intensity and inaccuracy. “We do not believe that Israel acts in self-defence,” these self-righteous scolds proclaim. This claim ignores more than 1,179 innocents (and counting) that Palestinian terrorists have murdered since Israel compromised during the Oslo peace process, the 10,000 Qassam rockets fired under the lovely auspices of Hamas, and the relentless attacks on bar mitzvahs and seders, cafes university cafeterias, kindergartens and bars. This lie ignores the culture of peace Israel has created despite it all, and the pornographic culture of political violence that pollutes the Palestinian national movement. This distortion overlooks Israel’s treaties with Egypt and Jordan, its concessions to Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement in the 1990s, and Israel’s voluntary withdrawal from Gaza less than four years ago.

To “back up” the claim, the petitioners assert that “Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $3 million a day.” This lie, which some students parroted back to me recently, too, ignores the fact that since 2003, American foreign aid to Iraq has often dwarfed American foreign aid to all countries combined.

But why let facts get in the way of a popular talking point?

I don’t fear these Israel-bashers and their treasured libel-Israel week. As a strong believer in free speech, I wouldn’t do anything to prevent peaceful political activities on campus, no matter how absurd or intellectually dishonest. Petitions such as this only prove how jaundiced so many Israel critics are, whether they’re Jewish or not. I trust the court of public opinion to reject these half-truths. I’m proud to see how Canadian public opinion has soured on the Palestinian case, appalled by the terrorism and frequently seeing through the victimization routine that avoids compromising to achieve pragmatic solutions.

My fear is that not enough of “us” – Jews and non-Jews who care about the truth, who resent the libels – are willing and able to refute these lies, to punch through the postures. With the world set to witness the followup to the 2001 UN anti-racism conference (held in Durban, South Africa), where pro-Palestinian forces will shift the focus from the serious challenge of fighting racism to trendy demonization of the Jewish state, let’s learn from Jewish tradition to turn a negative into a positive. Every day that Durban II meets, let us have teach-ins about Israel and celebrations of Zionism. For each lie cast, let’s try to plant some seeds of truth, ensuring that in the end, good will triumph.

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.

Obama gets Zionism – why don’t our youth?

Canadian Jewish News, Thursday, 03 July 2008 

True, at the annual meeting of AIPAC, the legendary American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in Washington, D.C., the most powerful American politicians tell some of the most powerful American Jews exactly what they want to hear.

True, at the meeting in June, Barack Obama overstated his commitment to a united Jerusalem, and then backtracked, causing great controversy. True, during the heat of a presidential campaign, anything one says that is positive about one candidate is perceived to be an endorsement of him, regardless of the writer’s intent. Still, it’s worth focusing on Obama’s remarkable riff about Zionism – and challenging Jews in the United States and Canada to learn at least this from America’s Democratic presidential nominee.

Early on in his address, Obama recalled the influence of a Jewish counsellor of his at a summer camp the young Barack attended in the early 1970s. Obama said:  “I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was 11 years old. I learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve their identity through faith, family and culture. Year after year, century after century, Jews carried on their traditions, and their dream of a homeland, in the face of impossible odds.”

Obama explained that as a young man cut off from his roots, not knowing his father, this quest to return and this deep sense of rootedness moved him. “So I was drawn to the belief that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional and cultural identity,” Obama proclaimed. “And I deeply understood the Zionist idea – that there is always a homeland at the centre of our story.”

There are three powerful ideas embedded in this short paragraph. Obama offers a compelling “holy trinity” if you will, explaining some of the ways Jews have maintained our identity for thousands of years, despite adversity. Obama talks about “faith, family and culture.” He speaks about one’s “spiritual, emotional, and cultural identity.” I could add history, the land, and tradition as well. I talk about national and historical identity, too. But what’s important is that Obama recognizes Judaism’s multi-dimensionality. Judaism is not “just” a religion. Jews are a people sharing a common past, certain cultural traits, enduring family values, a binding faith, an interconnected fate in the present, and, we hope, an inspiring and glorious future.

Second, in this speech and elsewhere, Obama talks about the common modern quest for roots, for an identity. He understands that there’s more to life than making money and spending money. True success, true fulfilment, comes from knowing who you are – having a deep, enduring, historical identity.

Both the United States and Canada are remarkable countries, welcoming immigrants throughout the world. But both countries, particularly with today’s modern consumerist popular culture, encourage a kind of historical amnesia, a disconnect from our Old World past. True, Canada is officially multicultural and more sensitive to those concerns than the United States, but the lure of the “I,” of the here-and-now of modern culture, overrides those rhetorical and ideological differences, enticing all of us to jettison our historical identities.

Finally, Obama appreciates the value of having a homeland as an anchor, as a repository of our past, our values, our story – and our future. We need to imagine sometimes what it must have been like for our grandparents and great-grandparents who were cut off from that homeland. We need to imagine sometimes what it must be like for kids like the young Obama, who, while welcomed into the American heartland, know that they are different, know that they have another identity and wish to reconcile it all.

We need to ask, “Do we always remember to keep our homeland – the homeland of Israel – ‘at the centre of our story’ as modern Jews?” Have too many of us, in the comforts of North America, forgotten how lucky we are to have Israel as an identity anchor? How many of our well-educated, sophisticated 40-year-olds speak as eloquently as Obama did about the power of the Zionist idea historically – and to us personally? And if Obama is willing to say “Yes we can” to our Zionism, how come so many of our youth are not?