Gil Troy: iEngage Panel for Community Leaders (CLP)

VIDEOS

Gil Troy, Shalom Hartman Institute, 7-18-12

iEngage Panel for Community Leaders (CLP)

iEngage Evening Panel at Shalom Hartman Institute Summer 2012 Community Leadership Program in Jerusalem, June 28, 2012, featuring Tal Becker, Yossi Klein Halevi, Suzanne Last Stone, Gil Troy

Building A Broad, Civil Jewish Tent On Israel

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy NY Jewish Week, 5-29-12

As the American Jewish community mimics the rest of America with ugly, polarizing political fights, calls for a “big tent” are becoming common. Partisans are pushing back, caricaturing calls for a big tent as lacking in principle or shilling for the status quo. But constructing a big tent that is open enough to welcome disparate voices, yet not so undefined that it has no mooring, takes great skill and vision.

The finesse required was on display earlier this month. AJC Access, the American Jewish Committee’s youth wing, convened a second annual conference with the Reut Institute, an Israeli action-based think tank, to try creating a big, broad, respectful conversation about Israel, left, right and center. Young Jews, mostly aged 25 to 45, from more than 30 countries, participated.

During an intense, four-hour marathon session on “Legitimizing Israel,” I suggested four poles necessary for building a civil Jewish tent when talking about Israel. Like Abraham’s tent, it should be open on all four sides, while nevertheless offering protection.

Start by acknowledging complexity. Despite being a messy muddle, the Middle East seems to invite the most simplistic sloganeering. Yossi Klein Halevi, my colleague at Engaging Israel, a project of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, says that the Israeli right fails by ignoring the first intifada’s lessons — that the Palestinians are a people with rights to self-determination, which must be respected. The Israeli left fails by ignoring the second intifada’s lessons, that Palestinian political culture is possessed by annihilationist impulses. Until Palestinian leaders become more committed to building their own state rather than destroying Israel, peace will remain elusive.

Secondly, we should build identity, mounting what Donniel Hartman of Engaging Israel calls a “Jewish values conversation about Israel.” Last summer, after I wrote two articles critical of J Street in the Jerusalem Post, I nevertheless was invited to address J Street U’s student mission to Israel. Using the Engaging Israel methodology, which entails drilling down to core issues while carving out open, respectful space for dialogue, I hosted the students in my home, and began the conversation by exploring the question of why we need a Jewish state. Having studied fundamentals together, and having forged a broad consensus about Jewish identity that requires expression in state form, we could then start debating borders and tactics with no acrimony.

More broadly, we have to stop only experiencing Israel as a country that needs our support. We have not fully recognized how Israel’s existence enhances Jewish identity worldwide — or how Israel helps solve our existential dilemmas as human beings and as Jews in a stressful, confusing modern world. This kind of Zionism highlights consensus and spotlights values, while ending the constant obsession with Israel’s headaches.

Thirdly, we also must not be afraid to define our community. We should develop “red lines” and “blue and white lines,” meaning ideas we repudiate and principles we champion. Two years ago, a group that I was a part of, ranging from left to right, worked together to define common parameters. The document we produced came easily. We all affirmed our beliefs in Jewish nationalism, Jewish statehood, and mutual respect. And we agreed on red lines, such as not accusing Israel of racism or apartheid, and, more generally, not trying to refight the 1948 war about Israel’s right to exist, rather than the 1967 war about Israel’s borders.

Connected to this is the fourth and final pole, recognition of the toxicity that emerges from the systematic Arab attempt to delegitimize Israel. We are all scarred by living in the age of delegitimization. The Zionist left, in particular, should start getting angry at the delegitmizers, recognizing just how much delegitimizing Israel harms the peace process.

In building this tent, my advice is: acknowledge complexity, because nuance matters; engage Jewish identity issues, because values matter; define our community, because boundaries matter; and condemn the delegitimizers’ toxicity, because words matter.

In concluding the conference, the AJC’s executive director, David Harris, eloquently explained why AJC convenes a big tent and cultivates a strong center. “We are more effective, we are more intelligent, we are more credible, when we listen hard to reasoned sides of the complex Israel issue before speaking up,” he said. Harris said the stakes couldn’t be higher, and, simplistic, doctrinal thinking doesn’t help advance the discussion; the argumentative Jewish tent should not an echo chamber, but must embrace civility and mutual respect.

This big tent approach appreciates that, as Harris noted, Israel is both a modern-day miracle and a work in progress. And it recognizes that over the millennia, Jews have created what he calls “the consummate guilt culture,” which is now applied obsessively to Israel. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have developed “the consummate blame culture,” which then preys on us so perfectly. The big tent approach notes the growing shrillness and polarization in American political culture but says, “We can do better.”

Gil Troy is an iEngage Fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and professor of History at McGill University in Montreal.

iEngage: Hartman Summer Internship: Continuing the Jewish Mentorship Tradition

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, iEngage — Shalom Hartman Institute, 3-22-12

The new bestselling tell-all memoir by Mimi Alford, the 19-year-old Monica Lewinsky of the John Kennedy White House, who detailed her 18-month-long affair with JFK, has once again made the phrase “White House intern” a mark of shame rather than a badge of honor. More broadly, the internship, a lovely, often life-changing rite of passage, is the latest sacred cow under attack.
 
Reductionist radicals who only view society through the prism of power as exploitative, have assailed internships as providing organizations with free labor, giving rich kids a form of affirmative action, because only they can afford internships, and muscling out workers who need the paying jobs. These attempts to pathologize what for many young people and organizations is a constructive win-win, mentorship growth opportunity, overlooks an essential Jewish value which internships epitomize, the beauty of learning by doing.
 
This summer, we at the Shalom Hartman Institute hope to have a tikkun, repairing the breach by creating the right kind of internship.
 
Despite being the People of the Book, Jews have a profound, historical, even theological appreciation for the educational osmosis that occurs when a talented young person shadows a worthy role model. Two of the greatest Biblical leaders were first nurtured as interns. Joshua was, we learn in Numbers 11:28, “the attendant of Moses from his youth.” In his role as Moses’ assistant, protege and shadow, Joshua received the ultimate opportunity, the most intimate look at the greatest moment for Moses and the Jewish people – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Exodus 23:13 says, “Moses rose up and Joshua, his attendant.” In both cases the Hebrew root of the word shin-resh-taf speaks of service, of ministering, of intense devotion.
 
Similarly, the great prophet Samuel was an intern to Eli at Shiloh. Although that career choice seemed to have been made for him by his Jewish mother ­- an action that became so common it became a staple of American popular culture – Samuel 1, 3:1 says “the boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli.”
 
Although statistics are unreliable, the world capital of internships may be Washington, DC. Every summer, America’s hot, muggy capital attracts swarms of young, fresh-faced college and post-college students, eager to work for senators, representatives, government agencies, NGO’s, thinktanks, authors, and, most coveted of all, the president, at least symbolically, in the White House. These earnest, dressed-for-success young men and women have their own hangouts, their own rental patterns, their own group rituals. Some can afford not to work for money, but others will hustle as waiters or in other capacities at night to finance their daytime dream-job. Each one ends up with an individualized experience that can range from frustrating grunt work to what feels like profound, holy work, as it did to Samuel and Joshua.
 
The Zionist movement has long treasured the ideal of peer leadership, not for cheap labor but for ideological purity. The combination of role-modeling and on-the-job training has empowered generations of Jewish leaders in Israel and abroad. Peer leadership reinforces the traditional Jewish value of learning by doing with the Zionist commitment to self-reliance, authenticity, and returning to history.
 
A successful internship depends on the intern – but it also depends on the mentor. A successful internship flourishes as what the philosopher Martin Buber called an “I-Thou” relationship, not as an “I-it.” An “I-it” internship throws at the young person a pile of unappealing work that no one else wants to do. An “I-Thou” internship requires investment from the mentor, who models an approach to work and to the mission behind the work, so that even filing and answering correspondence can feel important. Not everyone who has an uncompleted to-do list can handle an intern. The “I-Thou” mentor takes the time to pass on a suitable project that stretches the intern, that teaches the intern, that builds a relationship – many of which last for decades.
 
This year, at the Shalom Hartman Institute, we are launching an iEngage Shalom Hartman Summer Internship that we hope will model how to train young people, in the same way we hope our iEngage project will model a new way to talk about and appreciate Israel. The three critical elements in building what we hope will be lasting relationships with a cadre of talented young people every year are: study in the morning, learning about the foundations of Judaism together, with each other as hevruta, as learning partners, with top Hartman scholars, work in the afternoon on the Engaging Israel project, either working closely with one of the EI scholars on a particular research project or working in small groups on some of the projects the EI team has identified as essential next steps in our educational mission, and finally, a commitment in the following school year to host one EI Hartman program on campus, to put the learning to work.
 
Beyond that, we expect our interns to breathe in the atmosphere of the city of Jerusalem and this think tank over the summer – enjoying many free lunches – as rabbis, scholars, ministers, teachers, philosophers, and activists gather on the Hartman campus in Jerusalem and do what we hope the interns will do – work together, think together, laugh together, bond together, and learn together. Click here for more information on the iEngage internship program.

The Palestinian Gandhi?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post Magazine, February 11, 2011, p. 41

While reading this book I showed the table of contents to two colleagues at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel project, a “Jewish Values Project” reconceptualizing modern Zionism.  Chapters asking “What are States For?” “Can Values Bring Us Together?” and “How Can We Move the World?” startled them.  “Who wrote this?” they asked, worried that someone had “our” take. When I showed them the title page, they broke into broad, relieved, smiles.

Sari Nusseibeh’s book What is a Palestinian State Worth? should be received with great joy – and relief. People seeking Middle East peace have long asked “where is the Palestinian Gandhi,” straining to hear a voice calling for civil disobedience, then peaceful reconciliation, amid the thuggish chorus championing violence and Israel’s destruction.

The spirit of Mahatma Gandhi permeates this book.

Invoking India’s prophet of peace, Nusseibeh teaches that “acts of goodwill infinitely outnumber those dictated by selfish greed and hate, which pit individuals and nations against one another.” He compares the parallel partition attempts as Britain’s Empire crumbled after World War II in the Indian subcontinent and Palestine.  Most important, Nusseibeh tries applying the “Gandhian imagination” to today’s Middle East, urging combatants to affirm their common humanity, choosing, as he puts it, life over rocks.

This thoughtful philosopher, the president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, seeks “a moral order based on human values” appreciating that “peace matter[s] more.”  Without finger-pointing, he challenges Palestinians and Israelis to envision a peaceful future freed from their parallel prisons of anger, fear, and mistrust.  He asks: “How much killing can a group suffer or commit before the suffering and the loss of life begin to outweigh the values on whose behalf the killing is being committed? “

Nusseibeh counters the cycle of violence with “the human imperative,” insisting that “respect for and preservation of human life, rather than violation of life in the name of any cause, should be what guides both Israelis and Palestinians in their pursuit of a just peace.” By emphasizing “core human values,” Nusseibeh sees just how confusing both Israeli and Palestinian identities are.

In one of many bold deviations from standard, simplistic Palestinian propaganda, Nusseibeh dissects Ahmad Tibi’s dueling identities.   A harsh critic of Israeli rule over Palestinian Israelis, Tibi nevertheless serves in Israel’s Knesset and bristled when an al-Jazeera reporter asked him if his village Taybeh should join the new Palestinian state he so ardently champions. “As a Palestinian, Tibi argued in favor of the creation of an independent Palestinian state,” Nusseibeh explains. “But as a Palestinian Israeli” he resents any attempts to sever his political connection to Israel.

In highlighting the Palestinian’s “jigsaw identity,” Tibi’s “Byzantine polemic” raises the book’s central question of what is a Palestinian state” for?  Taking a “utilitarian” view of states, transcending the nation-state’s conventional contours, Nusseibeh questions whether Palestinians need an army, clear boundaries, even their own currency. Nusseibeh would accept a demilitarized Palestinian entity with islands of control creating an “archipelago” intertwined with a more conventional Israeli state.  This arrangement would address the Palestinians’ need for basic civil rights guaranteeing “peace and stability without oppression.”

“Ours is primarily a down-to-earth affair of longing to live normal lives in our homeland,” he writes, explaining that the suicide bombings of the early 2000s, made him wonder “what the state we were fighting for is worth.”   Valuing quality of life above all, Nusseibeh invites Palestinians – and implicitly Israelis too — to stop “looking upon their own patriotism as a religious or national cul-de-sac, and begin viewing it instead as an overarching affinity with the land and its multifaceted racial as well as religious history.”

These out-of-the-box arrangements require creativity, flexibility, and trust.

In that spirit, although I disagree with some of his interpretations, Nusseibeh’s brief history of the conflict is far more balanced than the accounts most undergraduates get today in Western universities.  Without citing them, he acknowledges points made by experts Palestinian propagandists target – or ignore.

Acknowledging the fluidity of the “nomad[ic]” Palestinian population and Arab identity before 1948 confirms the work of Joan Peters. Palestinian apologists have blasted her 1984 book From Time Immemorial for debunking the myth that every Palestinian in 1948 lived in the same village for centuries. And in blaming “the Nakba” on Palestinian “leaders’ mismanagement and bad planning,” Nusseibeh echoes Efraim Karsch’s important but overlooked book from 2010, Palestine Betrayed, showing how violent demagogues like Haj Amin El Husseini undermined their own people’s dreams.

One great book does not a Gandhi make. When leaks about any Palestinian concessions trigger indignation, when popular uprisings against Arab dictators risk breeding Islamic radicalism not democratic reason, when Nusseibeh is marginalized politically, his vision seems far-fetched. He is realistic enough to ask, in one chapter, “Who Runs the World, ‘Us,’ or Thugs?” Nevertheless, he updates Theodor Herzl’s Zionist cry “if you will it is no dream,” by channeling a Gandhian teaching, emphasizing “faith in human being as makers of their own destinies.” These days, simply dreaming, taking these first steps toward rethinking, is revolutionary, inspiring, and brave.

Clearly, Nusseibeh has the words and concepts – in English for Harvard University Press. Can they be translated into Arabic and sold to the Palestinian street, then translated successfully into Hebrew?

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University 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.”

Oases of Israel excellence at IASA and elsewhere

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-19-11

Tragically, an Israeli epidemic of mediocre teachers, undisciplined students, unsupportive parents, unyielding bureaucrats and unchallenging curricula is spawning many dysfunctional classrooms and failing schools. Although we also see fabulous teachers, stimulating classrooms and well-run schools, the educational mediocrity my children have experienced has been our greatest disappointment in Israel. Shrieking teachers, wild classrooms and pointless tests demoralize students. 

When I complain about Israeli education, most Israelis say, yiheyeh beseder, it will be OK. They insist good families nevertheless raise good children; besides, the army straightens every one out. This characteristic insouciance, while admirable, also yields a sloppy improvisational ethos celebrating the cut corner over the job well done.

Traditional Mapai socialism confused individual ambition with indulgent elitism, high standards with bourgeois values. Today, while Israel could use more Ben-Gurionesque collectivist idealism, Israel needs centers of excellence to stretch our minds, our souls, our selves, individually and collectively.

In Jerusalem, poetically located between the Malcha mall symbolizing modern Israel and the Biblical Zoo, lies one oasis of excellence, the Schusterman Campus of the Israel Center for Excellence through Education. The campus honors the Oklahoma-based miracle-workers Lynn and the late Charles Schusterman. This marvelous initiative unites American philanthropic do-gooders like the Schustermans and IASA’s founder Robert Asher with visionary Israelis to change the world. 

Visitors most notice the 200 or so students attending the Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA, “Madaim ve’omanuyot” in Hebrew). This high school is a magical mix of Zionist summer camp and Harvard. Students hail from 100 different communities, including Christians and Muslims, religious Jews and secular Jews. Tuition assistance guarantees that anyone admitted can attend, harmonizing excellence with egalitarianism. Even with high standards, frequent tests, and crushing workloads, the school is a surprisingly happy place, featuring class talent nights, silly bonding games, and a warm family feeling uniting students and staffers. 

“This school is much more intense than other schools I attended,” says one satisfied student. “The teachers have high expectations. There are consequences if you don’t do your work.” But students feel motivated, she explains, because these teachers are so creative and dedicated: “they don’t just teach to the bagrut,” the matriculation exams that undermine so much high school learning, “they are teaching for the sake of learning.” Science entails intensive lab work supplementing classwork. Literature class often involves following authors’ footsteps. Recently, Meir Shalev guided students through the battle sites in A Pigeon and a Boy. Describing the volunteer work in distressed communities, and the dormitory life with its group-building and values-clarifying activities at night, she sums up the school’s mission: “To be excellent in every way.”

Recently, when the Army’s Chief of Staff Gabi Ashekanzi visited, the students followed through on their school’s culture of voluntarism by protesting cutbacks in pre-army volunteer opportunities. 

“This commitment to excellence in all dimensions is an expression of our Zionism.” Hezki Arieli, the chairman of the board explains. “When we founded the school twenty years ago, excellence was a dirty word in Israel, considered elitist. Today, Israelis – and people around the world – look to us, and to Israel in general, as a center of excellence.” 

Arieli spearheads the Center’s other initiatives, which include running educational summer camps; organizing in-school enrichment programs, Excellence 2K, in 250 Israeli schools; developing curricula; and teaching teachers. The Center now exports excellence to India, Singapore and North America, where 150 schools, half Jewish, half not, use the Center’s math and science curricula. “Once educators from Singapore asked me ‘how do you do it?’” Arieli recalls. “’We don’t just want to teach our children to pass tests, we want them to be creative like you, to be considered for Nobel Prizes like you.’” Arieli explained the Zionist ethos of “ein breira.” “We have no choice but to use our wits. If we lived in a rainforest we would not need this,” he said, stopping at one of the ubiquitous drip irrigation systems that make this desert bloom, “But without water, you devise a solution. Lacking natural resources, our only major exportable resource is brainpower.” 

Seeking a new image, early Zionists considered the People of the Book too passive, vulnerable, victimized. Today, as the Israel miracle matures, we understand that the secret of Israel’s success has been remaining People of the Book, surviving and thriving with our collective smarts. But what kind of book will our foundational text be? We fear our children are becoming the people of Facebook, addicted to false friends, fleeting experiences, virtual values. We need a new Torah for today, rooted in the best of our tradition, responding to contemporary realities, and facing the future boldly, creatively, humanely, Jewishly, virtuously. 

Fortunately, the Israel Center for Excellence through Education is one of many brilliant flowers blooming in Israel today. We see the zeal for aesthetic excellence in the renewed Israel Museum, which its director James Snyder explains, “not only brings together the best of the East and the West, but has become a model for other museums. Even before the economic downturn we decided to make our recent ‘campus renewal’ project a $100 million refurbishing initiative rather than a half-billion dollar or billion-dollar tear-down-and-rebuild project. Now, colleagues worldwide are studying our alternative model.” We see the zeal for spiritual excellence in cutting-edge synagogues like Jerusalem’s Shira Hadasha, which, while pioneering an Orthodoxy empowering women, has top quality volunteer cantors and sermon-givers. We see the zeal for intellectual excellence at the Shalom Hartman institute, which runs its own superb schools while pushing Israel, the world’s start-up nation, to become the world’s values nation too. 

I have firsthand knowledge of each of these oases of excellence, representing this growing trend. For, I am not only a happy Zionist but a proud (and relieved) parent. The satisfied IASA student is my oldest daughter.


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