A J-Street convention fantasy: What they needed to hear

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-28-12

The J-Street convention just ended with limited media coverage. This reflects the growing realization that despite its self-promotion, this political organization is marginal, dwarfed by the 13,000 liberals, moderates, and conservatives at AIPAC’s policy conference. Not having heard much about what was said or not said, applauded or booed, here is what I wish the J-Streeters heard – and how I hope the participants reacted.
I write as someone who believes in Big Tent Zionism, welcoming a vigorous Zionist Left and Right, and who endorses a two-state solution. But I also write as someone who heard the rumor that at last year’s J-Street convention, the Israel bashers consistently received the most enthusiastic applause.  Although I hope the rumor is false, it is believable; I have seen such politically correct, enthusiastic self-loathing in too many corners of the Jewish Left too frequently over the last decade.
Were the names of Rav Yonatan Sandler, age 30, his sons Aryeh, 6, and Gavriel Yissacher, 4, on everybody’s lips, three of the Tolouse terrorist’s victims? Was the image of the Islamist terrorist pulling eight-year-old Miriam Monsonego by the hair, then executing her at point blank range, burned into attendees’ consciousnesses, as it is into mine? Did they struggle with the problem of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist hatred that transcends the rational, that spawns such barbarism, that won’t be solved by border swaps or apologies, and is not our fault?
Did they mourn the three French paratroopers, two of Arab descent, noting that Arabs frequently suffer from the brutality of fanatic Islamist terrorists?
I wonder if Yasir Arafat and his war against Oslo were discussed honestly, fully. So many of us wanted the Oslo peace process to work, and felt betrayed when Arafat led his people away from negotiations back to terror. A frank conversation would not just list Israel’s mistakes. It would acknowledge Palestinian responsibility for the current stalemate too, starting with Palestinians’ bloody repudiation of Oslo.  True liberals should respect Palestinians as real people, who can affect their fates, rather than reducing them to stick-figure victims, always bystanders never actors, condescendingly freed from any moral obligations or historical responsibility by a self-involved narrative that only sees Western and Israeli sins.
I hope there was some discussion of the Boycott Boomerang. Historically, calls to boycott Israel, and the broader delegitimization campaign, jinx peace efforts. The 1975 Zionism is Racism resolution emboldened Palestinian terrorists, encouraged more settlements, and hurt the United Nations – which continues sacrificing its credibility with its biased anti-Israel obsession, expressed this week through the UN Human Rights Council’s  “fact-finding” farce scrutinizing the settlements. Sweeping categorical attacks demonize, polarize, alienate.  They encourage extremists not compromisers, haters not reconcilers. Fighting delegitimization, like fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, is fighting for peace, for the mutual dignity of all parties.
Was there a mature conversation about Iran? Did anyone ask why the Iranians want nuclear weapons, why do Ahmadinejad and the mullahs threaten the United States – Big Satan – and Israel – little Satan? Did anyone wonder why fighting nuclear proliferation, long a core value on the left, somehow has not stirred passion when it comes to fighting Iran’s rush to go nuclear?
Was any good news about Israel allowed into the convention hall?  Did J-Streeters hear about the miracle of Hadassah Hospital that has Arabs and Jews healing together and working together so naturally?  Were J-Streeters aware of the 90th birthday celebrations last week of the pioneering Zionist entrepreneur David Azrieli, who proudly proclaims himself a Zionist and expresses his Zionism by helping Israel thrive economically and culturally, on par with the best of the West, while donating much of his fortune to the Jewish people and humanity via his foundation? Was there room on the program to discuss Identity Zionism or Israel as Values Nation – how the existence of the State of Israel can root modern Jews in an idealistic project that is a counter to the selfish, self-involved, I-ness of our iPad, iPod, iPhone era?
These issues are not frivolous sidesteps from the only “real” issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As with any country, some balance, some context, is essential. And, as with any real mess, acknowledging complexity rather than simply sloganeering is important.   Just as we do not define the United States solely by racism, and we have to understand that an unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin can be gunned down unjustly in the same country which elected a black man president, so too, we do not define Israel solely by its troubles with the Palestinians.  Moreover, we see the multiple dimensions there, too. If the solution is so clear, why do so many Palestinian Jerusalemites want Israeli identity cards? And why are the radical Islamic Israeli Arab citizens of Umm al-Fahm offended whenever someone suggests they should join the Palestinian state they demand so aggressively?
Finally, I hope the J Street convention emphasized what unites us as Israel lovers not just what divides us. My conversations both formally and informally with J-Streeters have affirmed our common belief in the Jewish right to a state and in Israel’s need to survive.  As J-Streeters evaluate what they heard as they return home, and think about what stirred the crowd, they should think about the messaging that occurred during the convention. Was the right tone, the right balance, struck? Did the group dynamic pull out the shared love of Israel or a harsher, distorted view of the Jewish state?
All conventions encourage groupthink and mass messaging. I hope the J-Street convention showed a maturing organization, not afraid of complexity, willing to embrace the positive as well as the negative, understanding nuance.  That is what the Jewish world and the Middle East need, not self-righteous posturing or supercritical Blame Israel Firsters.

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

Advertisements

NYT Discussion: Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace: Anxiety and Skepticism

Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace

What does the crisis in Egypt mean for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Mubarak’s Role and Mideast Peace

Introduction

Netanyahu and MubarakReuters Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, left, and President Hosni Mubarak at a meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on Jan. 6.

The uprising in Egypt has created turmoil for Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who have their own complicated relationships with the Mubarak regime.

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Hosni Mubarak has been his strongest ally in the region. At the same time, Mr. Mubarak has been a firm ally of the Palestinian Authority and a staunch supporter of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Egypt has also tried to broker reconciliation talks (so far, unsuccessfully) between Fatah, the party governing the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

What does the crisis in Egypt mean for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? How crucial is Mr. Mubarak to dialogue between Israel and its neighbors? Will change in the Egyptian regime make progress in Mideast peace talks even less likely?

Read the Discussion »

Anxiety and Skepticism

By Gil Troy, New York Times, 2-1-11

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem.

Egypt’s uprising has already undermined most Israelis’ sense of security and their willingness to take risks for peace with the Palestinians. Israelis now worry about the biggest risk they ever took for peace: the withdrawal from Sinai in 1982.

Many Israelis wish they could support this popular move against Mubarak, but bitter experience has taught them to be skeptical.

A radical Egypt downgrading or abrogating its peace treaty with Israel would top the litany of failed peace-making attempts and reinforce the argument of right-wing skeptics against trading land for peace with the Palestinians. Moreover, a hostile Egypt would reinforce the sense of betrayal so many Israelis have felt since 2000, as the failure of the Oslo peace process triggered a wave of Palestinian terror, the withdrawal from Lebanon boosted Hezbollah, and disengagement from Gaza brought Hamas to power.

Israelis have longed for greater intimacy with the Egyptian people, always speaking of “peace with Egypt” not with Mubarak. Yet this “cold peace” has been government to government not people to people. Israelis have accepted the limits, given their alternatives.

Mubarak’s Egypt has served as an important counterweight to Ahmadinejad’s Iran. The recent Wikileaks documents suggested some of the benefits Israel enjoyed from its alliance with Mubarak, including diplomatic support, intelligence sharing and military cooperation. Most important have been decades of non-belligerency. With the loss of that sense of security on its southern border, Israelis will be much more reluctant to cede control of their eastern border to an independent Palestine.

This week’s hysterical headlines in the Israeli press about the potential loss of Egypt, the dip in Tel Aviv stocks, the debate about whether President Obama can be trusted to support American allies, all suggest that Israel’s strategic doctrine is being hastily rewritten.

The prospects of peace become even more unlikely if Egypt turns Islamist. Israel’s safest border will suddenly look menacing. Hamas will look stronger in Gaza with an Islamist Egyptian regime not even pretending to try to stop the flow of arms. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will look like a less viable peace partner with fundamentalism ascendant, and any pro-peace or pro-Western Palestinians demonized as collaborators. Moreover, Israeli policymakers will feel caught, doubting Mahmoud Abbas as another unelected autocrat while fearing the popular Palestinian street more than ever.

Israelis find themselves once again in dissonance with the international community. Many Israelis wish they could wholeheartedly support this popular move against an aging dictator. But the bitter experience of the last ten years suggests that skepticism is in order.