Gil Troy: LETTERS; The New Israel Lobby

New York Times Letters to the Editor, September 27, 2009

There has always been a peace consensus in the pro-Israel community ready to compromise. Until Israel’s critics figure out how to acknowledge the pain and suffering resulting from Palestinian terrorism and exterminationist rhetoric, by pointing the Palestinians and the Arabs toward real change, they will fail to sway those Israelis and Jews that are ready to take a shot at reconciliation.


Professor of History

McGill University


‘J Street’ to the Left of me, jokers to the Right…

Center Field: ‘J Street’ to the Left of me, jokers to the Right…

by Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-13-09

When one is attacked from both sides, it’s easy to feel virtuous. Having opponents from the far left and the far right does not guarantee you’re a moderate. It simply situates you in what farmers who trusted butter over its artificial modern substitute would have called the “margarine middle.”

Last week I was hit from both extremes. There seems to be a missing “nuance gene” when it comes to Israel. The most reasonable people, the most skilled professionals, somehow find themselves behaving irrationally, talking wildly and acting sloppily when the topic is raised.

My previous blog, “Israel’s self-hating Jews,” which condemned Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman for blaming the Obama settlement freeze idea on the president’s “Jew boy” advisers, triggered numerous attacks against me for daring to question the mayor’s horrific choice of words. You would have thought Mayor Nachman was the holy Reb Nachman of Breslav, given his devotees’ intensity. My critics refused to acknowledge that using such language – when trying to convince a State Department delegation, no less – was crude, rude and self-defeating.

Nachman’s followers took an attack on him as an attack on them, on Israel, on the Jewish people and on truth itself, while perceiving it as a deluded defense of Obama’s foreign policy, despite my criticisms of the administration’s Israel strategy.

Most disturbingly, they felt completely justified using offensive, racist language to describe fellow Jews with whom they disagree, thus undercutting those of us who have been forced to spend far too much time fighting anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, racism, and ethnic stereotyping of all kinds.

These rhetorical bomb-throwers confirmed every liberal caricature of the aggressive, self-righteous, my-way-or-the-highway settlers – but characteristically blamed me for helping to perpetuate that stereotype.

Let me say regarding the “Jew boy” issue what I say when anti-Semites masquerading as “mere” anti-Zionists compare Israelis to Nazis. Intelligent people can find a rich choice of words to convey disdain without resorting to cheap, ugly, inflammatory anti-Semitic language that reveals the critics’ own prejudices. It is particularly obnoxious and foolish to call Obama advisers who happen to be Jewish “Jew boys” and accuse them of dictating his policy. It absolves non-Jews like George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama himself of any responsibility. It perpetuates the myth of undue Jewish influence on American administrations, be they right or left. It only alienates potential allies.

At the same time, looking to the Left, I read The New York Times Magazine’s portrayal of J-Street, “The New Israel Lobby,” which defines itself as “pro-peace,” as if other Jewish political organizations were not.

This love letter masquerading as serious journalism read more like this new organization’s PR release than a piece written by the usually thoughtful, critical journalist James Traub, whose work I have long respected. As Shmuel Rosner noted in his blog, Traub failed to interview even one person “on the record” criticizing the new lobby.

Most disturbing, however, was the crude caricature of the pro-Israel community underlying Traub’s analysis. Traub pitted his heroes, the progressive, modern, post-Woodstock, charmingly American, Bohemian, Obamanian J-Street lobbyists against the villains of his piece, the old-fashioned and hopelessly anachronistic, Holocaust-obsessed paranoids running the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), who play to Jews’ “ancestral impulses.”

“This is the world that shaped the mainstream American Jewish groups,” Traub writes, describing the ADL’s Abraham Foxman’s birth in Poland, the ZOA’s Morton Klein’s birth in a displaced persons camp, and the enduring post-Holocaust obsession with “eternal vigilance” and “marketing” a sense of “besetting peril.”

There was nowhere in this dualistic universe for someone like Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who campaigned for Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 2000, and who, being in her mid-forties, is younger than Foxman or Klein, yet founded “The Israel Project.”

Or the elegant, diplomatic, non-Holocaust obsessed head of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, who was twenty in 1969, Woodstock summer, and eloquently defends Israel as a liberal democracy.

Or, for that matter, the hundreds of thousands of even younger, hipper Jews in their 20s or 30s who have visited Israel through Birthright Israel and neither bashed Israel during the Gaza War as J Street did, nor reek of herring and the Holocaust the way Traub implied most Israel supporters do.

J-Street, President Obama, and, apparently certain New York Times reporters must understand that supporting Israel is not a psychosis, and not necessarily expansionist. Imposing “settlement freezes” and caricaturing Zionism as only being about the Holocaust ignores the central problem for many of us in the genuine middle.

Millions of peace-loving Israelis and American Jews supported Oslo but saw it feed Palestinian terror that killed over a thousand innocents. Millions even supported the Gaza disengagement, but then saw Hamas launch thousands of rockets into the Negev. Those of us in this genuine middle take seriously the vicious, exterminationist anti-Semitic rhetoric among the Palestinians, in the Hamas Charter and in the Arab media because we have seen what happens when you don’t.

Until those who fancy themselves “pro-peace” figure out how to acknowledge that pain and point the Palestinians and the Arabs toward real change, they will fail to sway that peace consensus among Israelis and Jews that has always opted for compromise and a shot at reconciliation. Call us the “twice-burned” in the middle – refusing to indulge in “Jew boy” rhetoric and not obsessed with the Holocaust.

Our historical memories are much shorter. We are justifiably worried about Palestinian terrorism, Hamas extremism, the Islamist culture of martyrdom, and the continuing calls for Israel’s destruction. We desperately await reassurance – from the Palestinians, their Arab allies and their Western enablers.