A Zionist advocacy timetable for the next five weeks

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

We can turn the UN’s “Palestine Season” into another empty victory for the Palestinians. We should stop dreading this fall

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-23-11

The writer 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 will be The Big Red Lie: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Zionism is Racism, and the Fall of the UN.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations Photo by: REUTERS/Chip East

As Palestinians prepare to try bypassing negotiations and dodging compromise by unilaterally declaring independence this September, Zionist activists and educators are prepping too. If the General Assembly votes, Israel will lose, as the UN’s anti-Israel bias will continue feeding Palestinian extremism. But just as the UN’s 1975 declaration that Zionism is Racism backfired, harming the world body more than it hurt the Jewish state, we who support Israel’s survival and seek a genuine peace can win this September. By using the calendar wisely, and remembering what we are for not just what we are against, we can turn the UN’s Palestine Season into another empty victory for the Palestinians, trumping the votes of dictators and their dupes with the outrage of freedom-loving people, along with renewed appreciation for Israel among Jews and non-Jews.

We should stop dreading this fall. The calendar is our friend.  For each of the five weeks starting with Sunday August 28, Zionist activists and educators should pick a theme or two – conceptualizing the conversation about Israel as a double helix linking education and advocacy, the purely positive and the necessarily defensive, the aspirational with the historical.  We should affirm Zionism’s continuing relevance and power for Jews today, along with Israel’s continuing search for peace.  The advocacy piece should link Palestinians’ destructive – and self-destructive – hatred of Israel with the Durban debacle, 9/11-style terrorism, al Qaeda anti-Americanism, and the UN’s corruption– all on full display this coming September.

I would love just to celebrate Israel, welcoming college freshmen and others to the Zionist conversation solely with affirmations about Jewish nationhood’s idealistic potential and payoffs. Unfortunately, the real world demands a more muscular and political approach. If we do not advocate for Israel passionately, our enemies – and they are enemies – will fill that void with subtle distortions and new big lies. Of course, if we only advocate for Israel without delighting in it too, we accept the Palestinian paradigm, which makes everything about Israel be about them, framing Israel as the central headache of the Jewish people, and humanity.

The first week, August 28th to September 3, we should Affirm Zionism – and Fight the Racism Lie. For too long, too many pro-Israel activists have avoided calling themselves “Zionist,” unconsciously internalizing the systematic, Arab-fueled campaign to delegitimize Jewish nationalism and the Jewish homeland. On campus, in synagogues, on Facebook, and beyond, we should reintroduce the term, championing Identity Zionism by understanding Zionism as modern Jewry’s great peoplehood project.   Zionism acknowledges that Judaism is not just a religion, but has a national peoplehood component now expressed through our traditional homeland Israel. Simultaneously, with August 31 through September 8 marking ten years since the Durban fiasco, when an anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa in 2001 degenerated into an anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic hatefest, we should explain that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is national not racial. Calling Zionism racism or comparing Israel to the discredited South African apartheid regime is the Big Red Lie, a falsehood the Soviet Union peddled. Now, it has become the Big Red-Green Lie, uniting too many on the left blindly, inconsistently, with Islamists.

September 4 through 10, we should build up to 9/11’s tenth anniversary by emphasizing Shared Values and Common Pain in an Age of Terrorism.  We should remember the victims, telling the stories of the many Israelis and Westerners murdered ruthlessly for political reasons in the last decade. We also should think about what unites Israel and the United States as sister democracies, focusing on the values that Islamists and dictators abhor, as well as the resulting security vulnerabilities evildoers exploit.

The next week should begin by concentrating on the United States. September 11 is sacred to Americans. That day we should commemorate that tragedy. The rest of the week can explore the ugly nexus between Anti-Zionism and Anti-Americanism, which became so clear on September 12. The world was shocked by the footage showing Palestinians in Gaza distributing candies to celebrate the Twin Towers’ fall, one of the few places where 9/11 triggered open celebrations.  Osama bin Laden, sensing that his mass murders were broadly unpopular, tried popularizing his anti-Americanism by converting suddenly to anti-Zionism. Before 9/11, al Qaeda rarely mentioned Israel. Subsequently Osama, like his dictator friends in Iran and elsewhere, integrated his hatred for America and Israel, implicitly recognizing Israel as a thriving liberal democracy.

September 18 through 24, the focus should be on the United Nations, with the General Assembly opening on September 13, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas planning to speak on the twentieth and the Durban III review of the original anti-racism conference beginning September 21. Hosting a Durban review conference in New York City, ten days after 9/11, when the ugliness at Durban also helped bridge anti-Zionism with anti-Americanism, juxtaposes the UN’s call for Palestinian independence with the UN’s anti-Semitic and anti-peace bias.  The pro-peace Zionist left should be heard here, challenging the Palestinians to negotiate rather than posture while criticizing the UN and the Palestinians for undermining the search for peace by trying to delegitimize Israel rather than seeking a two-state solution. Since 1975, it has been impossible to write a history of the movement to delegitimize Israel without discussing the UN but all too easy to write about attempts at Middle East peacemaking without mentioning the UN.”

Finally, we should end September by making September 29 and September 30 a Zionist Rosh Hashanah. Nations, like people, make mistakes – and can seek redemption. Just as true love of family involves accepting imperfections, we have to take Israel off probation, pushing it to improve where necessary while celebrating this exciting experiment in national redemption and Western democracy called Israel, which embodies noble democratic and Jewish values, enriching our lives as Jews and as lovers of freedom.

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What the vandals could learn from their targets

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 1-27-11

On a cold Montreal night in mid-January, criminals vandalized five synagogues and a school.  Canadian leaders from left to right denounced the crime, proving that North American antisemitism today is unlike the antisemitism of Europe then or too many Arab countries now.
Antisemitism in Canada – and the rest of the civilized world – is a crime committed by marginal misfits, not an extension of state policy or local politics. As of this writing, the criminals remain at large, but we can nevertheless learn some important lessons from these outrages.

Jews should learn once again the essential lesson of Jewish unity. The criminals struck Ashkenazi and Sephardi institutions, four Orthodox synagogues, one Conservative and one Reconstructionist shul. These hoodlums target Jews, regardless of ethnic or denominational difference. We should reaffirm our mutual respect for one another. We may pray differently or believe a bit differently. We may look or sound a little different. But we are one.

That unity, of course, shouldn’t simply be because we all look the same in the antisemite’s crosshairs, but because we share a rich tradition, many similar values and a common fate. Traumas such as these are never welcome. But we should exploit them as opportunities to reaffirm our common sense of peoplehood, maintaining the Jewish tradition of making poetry out of our enemies’ perversity.

If these hoodlums are caught, I hope that – after they (or their parents) pay not just for the damage but to improve each institution somehow – they are forced to learn about their six targets. Simply learning about the six names alone would expose them to the richness of Jewish tradition and history.

Let them start with Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem to learn about King David and the Holy City of Jerusalem. Let them learn David’s psalms, which show how glorifying God elevates humanity. And let them learn how even King David was not above the law, enduring God’s punishment when he sinned by pursuing the married Batsheva. Let them learn about the Temple’s grandeur in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, a time when few humans had seen such a large structure, let alone built one.

Moving on to Yavne Academy, I would teach about Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, who in 68 CE established Yavne as a centre of Jewish learning outside Jerusalem so Jewish scholarship and civilization could continue – and keep us thriving – after Jerusalem’s destruction two years later. I would teach why we use the term “CE” (common era) rather than AD (anno domini) to organize the western calendar. We acknowledge Jesus as an epoch-making historical character without characterizing him as our lord – or the lord of many others who don’t believe in him.

Congrégation Sépharade Beth Rambam would provide an opportunity to introduce Rabbi Moses ben-Maimon, Maimonides, the extraordinary rabbi, doctor and philosopher who lived from 1135 to 1204. Maimonides’ life symbolizes the rich mix of western, Muslim, and Jewish cultures that flourished in medieval Spain, and flourishes now. Learning about Maimonides reveals the creative tensions between rationalism and faith, between secular learning and religious studies, with the message that we don’t have to make false choices between two good things. Life involves balancing, synthesizing and learning from difference.

I would continue the history lesson – with its life lessons – with Beth Zion Congregation, teaching how Zion, the mountain in Jerusalem, became a focus of longing and unity through nearly 2,000 years of exile. Learning of Zion flows naturally into learning about Zionism, about the remarkable return to the Jewish homeland and the unfortunate hatred this extraordinary Jewish and human enterprise endures.

Finally, I would end with Congregation Dorshei Emet, the Truth Seekers, and Shaarei Zedek Congregation, the Gates of Justice, teaching about the eternal Jewish – and human – quest for understanding and righteousness. Note that Judaism judges people by their good acts, their mitzvot, not their beliefs – by what they do not what they think.

I would end with another creative clash defining Judaism today, between modernity and tradition – and how that yielded Conservatism and Reconstructionism, as well as Orthodoxy, because Orthodoxy itself is a modern concept forged in rebellion against the Reformers of the 1800s.

Wouldn’t it be great if all antisemites learned about the richness of Jewish civilization from these synagogues and other sources? Then again, wouldn’t it be great if every modern Jew could not only take this kind of course, but teach it?

Center Field: Why do they hate us?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 11-2-10 

Amid media frenzy surrounding Yemen letter bombs most ignored the terrorists’ intended victims. Alas, Jews being targeted is not news.

The news that Islamist terrorists sent letter bombs to two Chicago-area synagogues should have stirred worldwide outrage, not just hysteria. Amid the ensuing media frenzy, as video seminars detailed how cargo is shipped and who the suspected Yemeni terrorists are, most journalists ignored the terrorists’ intended victims. Alas, Jews being targeted is not news. Once again we have to wonder, why do they hate us – and why does the hatred often invite indifference? Yes, I know, “they” hating “us,” is the language of paranoids, xenophobes, the illiberal, the intolerant. We are supposed to be more polite, more sanitized and more self-critical, wondering what we did to bring this plague upon ourselves.

I confess, I hate writing these kinds of columns. I detest this topic. I was raised with the post-Auschwitz covenant; anti-Semitism was supposed to be buried in the ashes of Auschwitz by the world’s retroactive remorse when there was nothing left to do but say “sorry” and feebly promise “Never Again.”

But “Never Again” has become “I am not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist,” as history reshuffles the deck once again.

There is a “they” and an “us,” actually, two “theys” and two “us-es.”

The first, obvious “they” is the Islamists fueling an anti- Semitic, anti-American, anti-Western nihilist movement addicted to terrorism.

In a recent Newsweek column Hayri Abaza and Soner Cagaptay clarified the issues which are often purposely obscured. “The Left is wrongly defending Islamism – an extremist and at times violent ideology – which it confuses with the common person’s Islam,” they write, “while the Right is often wrongly attacking the Muslim faith, which it confuses with Islamism.”

Islamists are not reacting to the Ground Zero mosque controversy or settlement expansion. They are fighting a global, millennialist jihad rooted in their perverted understanding of their religion, and counting time in centuries.

They still mourn Spain’s fall to the Christians, and the Crusaders’ rise; they use the Palestinian issue and fleeting controversies as modern fig leafs to seduce today’s useful idiots.

SURPRISINGLY, IT works. Herein emerges the second “they.” Many opinion leaders in the West somehow justify terrorists targeting Jews and Israelis. Alleged “crimes” against the Palestinians offer excuses for multiple abuses; when Jews and Israelis are involved, terrorism is graded on a curve and the world’s outrage dulls.

The crimes of 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in England generated more horror than the bus and café bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Al-Qaida is considered beyond the diplomatic pale, yet more and more Westerners are making nice with Hizbullah in Lebanon while pressuring Israel to negotiate with Hamas. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Columbia University, his desire to wipe out the Jewish state triggered minimal outrage, but his claim that Iran had no homosexuals alienated his audience.

Too many of the “chattering classes” and cultural elites in the West today soft-pedal the Islamist problem. A surprisingly seductive combination of post-colonial, post-imperial white guilt mixed with liberal condescension has dulled the moral senses. A racist cult of white American terrorists would trigger much more outrage. The logical rage against Islamist anti-Semitism is further diluted, festering in Apologia Alley, at the fog-inducing intersection where Western self-hatred and traditional Jew hatred meet.

Again, I hate writing this but the second “they” are the Islamists’ fellow travelers, the carriers of the West’s anti- Semitism gene.

They are the ones who single out Israel, making it “the Jew” among nations while excusing the far worse crimes of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. They are the ones at UNESCO who can decide the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are not shared properties reflecting Jews’ and Muslims’ common cultural heritage, but should be exclusively Palestinian. And they are the ones who will downplay the anti-Semitic intent when a synagogue in Chicago is targeted or an El Al waiting area in Los Angeles is attacked.

This blind spot regarding Jewish oppression offers an odd echo of the reporting during the 1940s. Then, reporters described Hitler’s victims as civilians not Jews, while ghettoizing the coverage of the few anti-Hitler protests by labeling them Jewish protests, which were more easily ignored.

If the double “they” is the Islamists and their fellow travelers – the two “us-es” are Westerners and Jews. Yes, Westerners have been targeted. But Jews are doubly targeted, as Westerners and Jews. In yet another bizarre twist, while many anti-Semites have long rejected Jews for not being Western enough, part of the Islamist revulsion rejects Jews as the ultimate Westerners.

It is easy, in such a world, to turn bitter. In the classic documentary Shoah, a kibbutznik who survived the Warsaw Ghetto and seems perfectly normal stops, stares at the camera and barks: “If you could lick my heart, you would be poisoned.”

Our challenge is to let only the haters be poisoned by their own hatred. If living well is the best revenge for people who grew up in dysfunctional families, the same advice applies to an embattled people living in a dysfunctional world. We must defend ourselves, our people, our homeland, our values, our Western civilization, as intensely as possible. But we cannot forget our capacity to love, enjoy, hope and dream.

Let our enemies marinate in their own poison. We need to move on, without ignoring them but without being defined by them either. With apologies to Rabbi Hillel: If I do not defend myself, who am I? But if I only defend myself, what am I? And if not now, when?

The writer is professor of history at McGill University in Montreal 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 Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

giltroy@gmail.com