Announcement: Gil Troy, Open Zion 2.0

Open Zion 2.0

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 9-4-12

By , 9-4-12

When Open Zion launched a few months ago, it had three staffers: myself and two enormously talented recent college graduates, Elisheva Goldberg and Raphael Magarik. With their combination of intellectual curiosity, tireless energy, commitment to the Jewish people and passion for justice and human dignity, Elisheva and Raffi helped launch a blog whose traffic has grown five-fold since its creation. Sadly for me, however, I always knew that they would not stay more than a year, and both have now gone to Israel, where they are working on behalf of the same liberal democratic Zionist vision that lies at the core of this blog. Luckily, they will both continue to write for us from there.

Starting today, we inaugurate a new Open Zion team. It starts with Gil Troy. Gil is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a professor of history at McGill University. He’s also author of Why I am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and the forthcoming Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism. He has been a frequent contributor to Open Zion over the past few months, and now joins us as editor-at-large. Joining Gil is Ali Gharib, most recently national security reporter for thinkprogress.org, the website of the Center for American Progress, who will join the site as senior editor. We are also lucky to be joined by assistant editor Sigal Samuel, a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia who has worked at the Jerusalem Post and the American Jewish World Service.

Open Zion is an experiment. It is a blog with a passionate commitment to Jewish identity, Jewish culture and Jewish religion that believes just as passionately that the debate about the future of the Jewish state should be open to everyone, whether they share that background and commitment or not. It is a blog whose core belief is that justice, dignity and safety for both Israelis and Palestinians requires a division of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean into two democratic states, one Jewish and one Palestinian. Yet it welcomes opposing views, believing that the principles of liberal Zionism cannot be simply assumed, but must rather be defended in respectful discussion with critics from both left and right. In our short existence, we have tried to live those principles, publishing writers as diverse as the Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi and the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset from Likud, Danny Danon. As we said in our founding statement, we do not draw red lines; we debate them.

Gil, Ali and Sigal continue this commitment to serious, lively debate among people of varying perspectives and backgrounds. Gil is an historian of American politics, a scholar of Zionism, an observant Jew, a resident of Jerusalem and a keen observer of Israeli society and its relationship with the diaspora. Ali is a devoted secularist raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC by parents who fled the Iranian revolution. He is also among the most astute bloggers on American politics, Middle Eastern politics, and the intersection between the two writing today. Sigal was born in Montreal to a family of Mizrahi Jewish descent, studied in yeshivas in both Israel and North America, and now writes about Jewish texts, feminist theory and arts and culture.

With Americans debating whom to elect president, Israelis debating war with Iran and Palestinians debating another statehood bid at the United Nations, this promises to be a dramatic, divisive, and perhaps terrifying, fall. With Gil, Ali and Sigal’s help, our goal is to continue to create a space that surrounds these dramas with criticism, analysis and intense but civil debate. We hope that on Twitter and Facebook and through comment threads and reader submissions, you’ll join in.

Peter Beinart is editor in chief of Open Zion, a blog about Israel, Palestine, and the Jewish future at The Daily Beast. He is the author of The Crisis of Zionism (Times Books).

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Opening Open Zion: Response to Raphael Magarik

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 7-2-12

Raphael Magarik’s response to my criticism about imbalance in Open Zion’s conversation about Israel was thoughtful and thought-provoking.  Raffi caught me. I said that my “quick survey of the first 320 posts of this Website, shows nothing about regular, everyday life in Israel—or Palestine for that matter.” I should not have written “nothing.”  “Remarkably little” would have sufficed. The few pieces he mentioned barely amount to one percent of Open Zion’s output. I did not catch those few roses because they were well hidden behind a thicket of thorns.

Moreover, I did not just call for a discussion of the “poetry of the everyday”–I called for an acknowledgment of the “thoroughly normal” too. And this is where Magarik lost me. He wants to write about what he deems “urgent: the occupation, anti-democratic legislation, African refugees.” I have written about these topics too. I am not afraid of discussion or debate, criticism or condemnation. I love the fact that Israel’s President Shimon Peres perpetually praises the Jews’ “dissatisfaction gene.” I appreciate the post-Auschwitz confidence that allows Jews to speak in essentialist terms, knowing that most reasonable people won’t take it literally and characterize the Jews in racial terms, as well as the message–question, doubt, struggle, push.

 

Gaza-beach
Palestinian children play on the beach iin the Mediterranean port of Gaza, June 2012. (Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)

 

But Magarik ignored essential parts of my argument. Noting that my percentages were off still dodges the argument about proportionality. Too much whine will make this website lose balance and has destroyed the Israeli left’s credibility.

Surveys showing that most countries judge Israel harshly result from the systematic campaign of delegitimization against Israel, which is reinforced by the Is-crits’ tendency to harp so much on the negative that reality gets distorted. So while readers  may mourn the death of Israel’s democracy after reading my close friend Don Futterman’s piece, the “Old Familiar Tunes of Suppression,” it is journalistically and politically significant that, the same weekend his lament appeared, I got snared in Saturday night Tel Aviv traffic because the protests were not suppressed–just hours after spending time with Don and his lovely family on Tel Aviv’s beach.

This lack of proportionality affects coverage of the Palestinian side as well. We do not hear about the “thoroughly normal” in the West Bank or Gaza because that would undermine the perpetually hysterical narrative that Nazifies Israel and fuels Alice Walker’s ostracize-Israel gang. I confess, when I visited al Quds University this year I was struck by how familiar, how student-y, how normal the environment was. Similarly, the opening of the Gaza Mall in 2010 refuted the sick, false narrative of Gaza as the world’s “largest concentration camp.”  Unfortunately, when discussing this messy, complex conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, even academics who usually delight in complexity frequently resort to simplistic sloganeering. It is much easier to “solve” the problem, or at least pontificate about it, by reducing it to stick figures, with evil Israelis oppressing noble, virtuous Palestinians.

The conflict has been so intractable because it is so multi-dimensional, so thorny. Those of us who seek solutions should provide the nuance, the sophistication, the discernment that is often lacking from both sides of the great divide. That is my hope for Open Zion–and that was my motivation in writing my post.