Progressive Outrage Over Gaza Rockets?

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Open Zion – The Daily Beast, 10-26-12

Being associated with Open Zion is a great privilege, but I confess, sometimes I get frustrated. I just clicked on to the site, and saw the usual assembly of thoughtful, high quality essays – but tinged, I regret to say with the progressive obsession about Israel’s alleged “apartheid” and “racism.” Nowhere did I see an article reflecting the major Israeli concern this week – dozens of rockets fired from Gaza over the Green Line aimed at peaceful Israelis, just daring to live their lives. Where is the outrage against these aggressive, hateful moves? Where is the sympathy for nearly a million Israelis forced to rush to bomb shelters, to miss school and work, to build fortified extensions in their homes, to live from red alert to red alert?

Seen at dusk from along the Israeli-Gaza Strip border, a trail of smoke is seen as a rocket is launched from the Palestinian Gaza Strip towards southern Israel on October 24, 2012. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)
Seen at dusk from along the Israeli-Gaza Strip border, a trail of smoke is seen as a rocket is launched from the Palestinian Gaza Strip towards southern Israel on October 24, 2012. (Jack Guez / AFP / Getty Images)

We need more broad-based anger against these rockets. We need to hear more progressive voices denouncing these hate-filled, peace-killing, missiles. These rockets are in no way defensive, in no way constructive, in no way justified. They have one, clear aim and message: that innocent Israelis should die because these terrorists do not believe that Israel should exist. And the collateral damage, even when the kassams fall in an empty field, is tremendous. Every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts those of us who support a two-state solution, because they symbolize to many Israelis, left, right and center, the utter failure of the Gaza withdrawal and the futility of further negotiations or withdrawals. Every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts those of us who believe that in order to have any kind of compromise, some quiet, some stability, is a necessary first step. Every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts the Israeli left, as it struggles to find some credibility, some vision, in the decade since the Oslo peace hopes degenerated into the Palestinian terrorist onslaught. Every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts those Palestinians who seek compromise, including Palestinians like the Palestinian Authority Prime minister Salem Fayyed, who prefer to build their own state rather than destroy the Jewish state. And every Islamist rocket from Gaza hurts peace-seekers worldwide who abhor terrorism, and prefer what Winston Churchill called jaw-jaw to war-war.

I know of no country in the world which endures so many missiles crossing its internationally-recognized, undisputed border with such equanimity and restraint. Why does Israel continue to allow the flow of any supplies, any electricity, into an entity which launches unprovoked lethal assaults against it? Why does Israel continue to accept Gazans into Israeli hospitals when their fellow Gazans seek to kill Israelis? A neighboring country is under no moral or legal obligation to provide any goods or services to a hostile neighbor. That Israel continues to allow even some flow is a tribute to the country’s humanitarian generosity—but morally problematic when one assess the country’s own obligation to protect its citizens.

And make no mistake about it, many citizens in the area near Gaza are suffering. My cousin Adele Raemer has started a facebook group “Life on the Border with Gaza—things people may not know (but should).” Adele lives in a left-wing kibbutz that yearns for a two-state solution and true peace with all Arabs. What they have endured over the last eight years of rocket fire is unfathomable. Most recently, she reported on CNN’s iReport, about the dilemma she and some friends faced when she received a text message advising all area residents to go into their safe houses—while in the middle of a Yoga lesson.

“We all chose to finish our yoga lesson,” she writes. “At least if something fell on us, we would be the most chilled out and limber bunch of survivors the rescue teams would ever have come across. Sometimes you have to insist on keeping things sane. That is just an example of how some of us make it through these rough days, here on the border with the Gaza Strip.”

True, Adele and her friends demonstrate a remarkable, upbeat, living-well-is-the-best-revenge kind of spirit, which is characteristically Israeli. But, reality check: no one should have to live like that. No one should have to resort to that kind of gallows humor. Anyone who cares about Middle East peace, and about a fair, equitable, solution for all the people in the area, should start protesting against those Islamist rockets from Gaza, loudly, indignantly, consistently.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Institute Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book, “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight against Zionism as Racism,” will be published by Oxford University Press this fall.

Let Gunter Grass visit Israel – and encounter democracy

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-10-12

“Let Gunter Grass visit Israel – and encounter democracy”

A popular YouTube parody at www.collegehumor.com, which my kids love, has a youngGerman named Gunter Granz working in an American office, refusing to shake his Jewish co-workers’ hands, assuming all their fathers are rich bankers, and humiliated by Germany’s World War II misdeeds – because if only Hitler had not made the country so vulnerable with the long supply lines in Russia, he would have won. Meanwhile, in the real world, the German novelist Gunter Grass talks about Israel, the Jewish state, in equally absurd ways, bordering on parody. Grass should be mocked, refuted, confronted. But Israel’s Interior Minister is wrong. Rather than banning the author, Israel should welcome him – showing Grass a real democracy in action rather the bogeyman he targeted.
Grass’s poem “What Must Be Said” throbs with the false bravado and self-righteousness of the laptop warrior against Israel. There is this conceit, among Israel’s critics, that, somehow, by joining the international pile-on against Israel they are being brave, breaking the silence, saying what must be said, when they actually are being conformist, acting in vogue, echoing clichés.Especially in Europe, and most especially in Grass’s leftist circles, attacking Israel – or the US — is as natural, and as imaginative, as grumbling about high gasoline prices or low book advances.
Among Western radicals, prejudice against Israel and the US is the last legitimate bigotry, the only hatred acceptable in polite circles. As Richard Wolin explains in The Seduction of Unreason:  The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism, America has long functioned as European thinkers’ Schreckbild, image of horror.  Israel, what those lovely Iranian mullahs call, Little Satan, is now similarly targeted, in a move reeking of anti-Semitism that also feels natural to European elites. Attacking each country’s essential character transcends anger at specific policies, often confusing cause and effect. The French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel notes that the same critics attack America as “unilateralist” and “imperialist” when it intervenes internationally but then call Uncle Sam “isolationist” when it does not.
Similarly, Grass colors within the lines, slavishly following the bash-Israel formula.  His critique is one-sided, exaggerated and hysterical. Iran can threaten to “wipe out” Israel but Grass and his ilk accuse Israel of threatening Iran, of endangering “The already fragile world peace.”  Such “wonderful illogicality” suggests not “rational analysis” to Revel but “obsession.”
I agree with Grass when he writes in his leaden, clumsy poem: “I am tired of the hypocrisy/ Of the West; in addition to which it is to be hoped/That this will free many from silence,/That they may prompt the perpetrator of the recognized danger/ To renounce violence….”  We just differ in our threat assessments and our definitions of hypocrisy.  I am more outraged by charlatans like Grass who cannot criticize Third World dictators and human rights abusers, and whose fight against nuclear proliferation mysteriously lost steam when the oil-rich Iranians decided they desperately needed what, an alternative energy source? And when it comes to trusting one country to act responsibly, I bet on Israel’s democracy over Iran’s mullocracy.
Grass sees the Middle East as a “Region occupied by mania” with Israelis and Palestinians living “cheek by jowl among enemies.” Beyond not wanting to deploy state power against an aging, irrelevant blowhard whose great achievement, The Tin Drum dates to 1959, before I was born, I believe Israel has nothing to hide. Grass should visit Israel now during Passover.
I wish he could have wandered, Seder night, like the spirit of Elijah the Prophet did, from house to house, watching a society stop, gather in groups of friends and relatives, to contemplate questions of justice and injustice, slavery and freedom. I wish he could visit the country’s parks and historic sites, seeing many of the same families now enjoying Israel’s natural beauty and historical grandeur as backdrop. I wish he could frolic in Sakhne, which attracted as many as 1500 people a day this Passover, and see Arabs and Jews “cheek by jowl” splashing in the water, enjoying the mini waterfalls. I wish he could inspect the wards of Hadassah Hospital or work out in the YMCA gym in Jerusalem and see Arabs and Jews “cheek by jowl,” living together, working together, playing together. I wish he could wander through the Old City and speak to those Palestinian-Israelis who have worked so hard to get Israeli citizenship, asking why those papers are so precious to them.
And I wish he could meet the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of refugees from his native Germany, who survived the sadism of the Waffen SS Grass joined and then lied about, to see the lives they have made for themselves. Those monuments to the human spirit are more impressive than any monuments to the dead at Yad Vashem.
And yes, let him get political and visit the territories. Let him visit the Palestinian photographic art exhibits in Jaffa and elsewhere Israelis attend, and seek parallel expressions of sympathy for Israel, artistic or otherwise, in the Palestinian territories.  Let him visit Sderot, or my cousin’s Kibbutz, Nirim, to see how Hamas in Gaza chose rocket-launching over nation-building when given the opportunity to do what it wished after Israel withdrew in 2005 –nearly seven years ago already! –and then the Islamists seized power. And let him meet victims of Palestinian terror, learn about their missing limbs – or missing family members – and unravel why Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian leadership turned from peace talks to suicide bombs.
Israel has nothing to hide – and would botch it if it tried. Democracy begins in conversation. Freedom thrives from exposure. Let Grass come visit Israel and learn. Then, let him make Tehran his next stop, if he dares.

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 Moynihan’s Moment:  The Fight against Zionism as Racism.

The Blame Israel First Game Insults Palestinians and Prolongs the Conflict

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-11-11

It remains one of the Israeli-Arab conflict’s great mysteries and irritants – with numerous occurrences this September. Israel is trapped in an asymmetrical blame game, not just an asymmetrical war.  The Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, are like the obnoxious younger sisters on those awful “tween” TV shows. They usually cause the mischief, yet somehow the Israelis shoulder the blame – like Drake and Josh when terrorized by Megan.

How is it that Egypt and Turkey, for their own respective domestic reasons, spoil relations with Israel – yet the American Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, echoing the conventional wisdom, chides Israel for becoming isolated?

How is it that, despite rejecting Ehud Olmert’s generous land swap, setting preconditions for negotiations, and negating Israel’s historic national rights, Mahmoud Abbas is considered “moderate” and, as the New York Times recently editorialized, “The main responsibility right now belongs to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who refuses to make any serious compromises for peace?” This comes after Netanyahu, the alleged obstructionist, embraced a two-state solution and temporarily froze settlement growth – with no results.

And consider the mass outrage if an Israeli threw a rock at a passing Palestinian car, triggering a crash that killed a 25-year-old father and his one-year-old son, as happened with the recent, mostly overlooked, double-murder of Asher Palmer and Yonatan Palmer.

Or imagine the outcry – and the probable breach in relations – if Israelis protested against President Barack Obama by waving disgusting racist placards depicting him as a monkey – which happened at a Palestinian protest – yet no leaders denounced it. Actually, there is no need to imagine. Many leftists still loathe Netanyahu for implicitly inciting violence by not denouncing some extremists carrying posters depicting Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Nazi uniform nearly twenty years ago.

Israel is neither perfect nor blameless, but the asymmetry is glaring – and insulting to Palestinians and Jews. Making the Palestinians the spoiled brats of the world, the perpetual victims, robs them of self-respect and what academics call “agency” – the dignity of owning their actions. This radical-left condescension, always treating Westerners or whites as responsible, good or bad, reduces Third Worlders to bystanders. Just as many of us, including Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the “Price Tag” Mosque vandals last week, Palestinians and their leaders must repudiate bloodshed, from rocks to rocket fire, consistently, sincerely — and stop inciting violence.  Holding Palestinians morally accountable for their actions and actions taken in their name reflects respect, judging them by the same behavioral standards we impose on ourselves.

This tendency to understate Israeli moderation and overstate Israeli sins while overstating Palestinian moderation and understating Palestinian sins reflects the harmful effects of the lengthy delegitimization campaign against Israel.

Delegitimization – an ugly word for an ugly phenomenon – is a form of bigotry, a hateful exercise in selective perception, harping on Israeli foibles, ignoring Israeli virtues, now escalated into an obsession treating the Palestinian-Israel conflict as unduly central in world affairs.  Even if it did not build on traditional anti-Semitism, this campaign would epitomize prejudice, actually, one of the last few politically correct prejudices in today’s world.

Delegitimization escalates the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from questions of borders and land rights conducive to negotiation and compromise to a life-and-death, zero-sum clash between good and evil. It elevates criticisms about controversial or wrongful state actions into doctrinal assaults such as “Zionism is Racism” and the Apartheid lie.  This inflammatory approach is a major obstacle to peace.

Both the Palestinian free pass and the perpetual indictment against Israel stem from the late 1960s and 1970s. At the time, Yasir Arafat and the PLO, aided by skilled propagandists such as Columbia University Professor Edward Said, framed their local narrative of woe as part of a global struggle. Exploiting the rise of a global mass media, and what Said called the twentieth century’s “generalizing tendency,” the Palestinians hijacked Third World solidarity talk while hijacking their way onto the world’s agenda. Understanding that, post-Vietnam, weakness could be a PR virtue, they portrayed themselves as victims of Western imperialism and colonialism. Coached by Soviet propagandists, perversely comparing Israel to South Africa and Nazi Germany, they injected race into Palestinian nationalist rhetoric, culminating in the UN’s infamous 1975 Zionism is racism resolution.

Radical New Left elites welcomed this farce. A new totalitarian mindset among the Third Worldist Left subordinated facts to broader black-and-white political worldviews. Seeing the world through this ideological prism romanticized but infantilized those deemed to be people of color, casting them in the role of perpetual victim, automatically guilt-free, while demonizing those deemed white and thus powerful. The Palestinians embraced the identity as the ultimate victimized people of color treating Israelis as evil Western whites.

Four decades later, this delegitimization campaign is ubiquitous, like the unseen pollution fouling our air. Many people who consciously reject Palestinian extremism, abhor terrorism, and are not explicitly anti-Israel have absorbed the ideological equivalent of second-hand smoke. They have become conditioned to blame Westerners first in viewing most conflicts, blaming Israel most of all. This is the more subtle yet toxic anti-Israel bias that clouds many media, academic, and diplomatic discussions of Israel, resulting in what has become an instinctive, unconscious, ubiquitous myopia.

This Sukkot festival, as we think about the different structures humans construct — real and imagined, good and bad, lasting and temporary — let us try dismantling these harmful, artificial constructs. Rather than being bitter, we should build a Sukkat Shalom, of genuine peace based on mutual respect and acceptance of mutual responsibility leading to real reconciliation. May this Sukkah be authentic and lasting, containing neither the politically-correct magnifying glass that exaggerates every Israeli and Western imperfection nor the Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak that hides Israeli peace gestures and Palestinian provocations.

Gil Troy 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 latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

End Price Tag Terrorism – and their Culture of Lawlessness

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-4-11

During these ten days of repentance, when Jews should reflect on past sins to avoid future ones, some extremist hooligans chose instead to sin anew.  “Price tag” terrorists burned a mosque in the northern Israeli village of Tuba Zangria, graffiting the messages “price tag” and “revenge” nearby.  I am proud that members of the special police task force recently formed to fight these extremists reportedly arrested some suspects already.  I am also proud that a furious Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and an equally indignant President Shimon Peres, condemned the attack.  We all must combat these Price Tag Terrorists, repelling them from our midst, shunning them socially, repudiating them ideologically, while insisting the government hunt down and punish these felons, to stop this madness immediately.

Price Tag Terrorists — and they fit the definition of terrorists, making political points by violently attacking civilian and symbolic targets — have struck before, targeting other mosques, vandalizing army jeeps, and harassing leftwing activists. In condemning these crooks, we must reject the culture of lawlessness festering in the West Bank. Too frequently, political crimes Israeli Jews commit there are overlooked or under-investigated.  Such crimes of intimidation and the double legal standards must end.

There is no wiggle room morally here.  These price tag assaults are an affront to humanity, democracy, Judaism, Zionism, and Jewish history. The perpetrators are not heroes.  Their actions are not legitimate, explainable, or defensible. Too many of us have fought too hard against terrorism – demanding moral clarity from the PA, the UN, the EU, and other terrorist enablers — to pussyfoot.  Just as we enumerate our sins in plural on Yom Kippur, taking responsibility communally, we are all particularly diminished, we are multiply ashamed, we are additionally demeaned because these madmen believe they are acting in our name – and enablers encourage that delusion.

Burning a mosque – or any religious institution – is a particularly inhumane act. Houses of worship traditionally have been places of refuge, neutral sites, benefiting everyone.  We need sacred spaces and shared sanctuaries, common areas of respect. I want synagogues to be specially protected.  I gladly respect mosques and churches in return.

Price tag vigilantes assail the core democratic values consecrated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. These thugs violate Israel’s commitment to equal rights and mutual respect for all religions, while ignoring the people’s voice.  Taking the law into their own hands, these outlaws bypass democracy, defy the government, insult voting citizens and civil society, acting like traitors not patriots.

These hooligans may as well eat pork on Yom Kippur while driving in their cars and blasting the radio – they have already flouted Judaism so flagrantly, why put on a show of piety? Rather than dressing in white on Yom Kippur they should dress in ash black and blood red, representing the destruction they have brought upon innocents and the shame they bring upon as all.  If they call themselves “religious,” their rabbis should renounce these heinous acts and twisted souls.

Moreover, we who cherish tradition must emphasize that ethics come before ritual, personal morality trumps public piety, to stop the masquerade of criminals hiding terrorist acts – or other crimes –behind yarmulkes and kosher food, prayer books and Bibles.  Our rabbis must remind us – and we, alas, occasionally must remind them – that you cannot be a good Jew –by any interpretation or denomination – without being a good person first. During these ten days of repentance, we must reconcile with other people before reconciling with God.

Although these crooks – along with some extremist reporters –fancy themselves “extremist Zionists” – they are deeply anti-Zionist.  While dishonoring Zionist values, confirming the world’s worst prejudices about Zionism, they also betray the movement’s essential character. There is no room in the political Zionism of Theodor Herzl, the proud Zionism of Zeev Jabotinsky, the Labor Zionism of A.D. Gordon, or the religious Zionism of Rav Abraham Isaac Kook for burning mosques – or attacking soldiers, harassing dissidents, destroying olive groves, or any other Price Tag Terrorist crimes.  Such villainy is not why a Jewish State was created. Nor does this Jewish state need such behavior to be protected.

Jewish history teaches that those in the majority must limit their power and respect minority rights, avoiding abuses like these Price Tag crimes. We should be proud that despite centuries of provocations, even under hellish circumstances, Jews usually maintained their moral compasses.  Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 movie “Inglorious Basterds” was so offensive because he missed that essential historical lesson. In depicting Jews during Hitler’s era as vengeful mass murderers themselves, he posited a moral equivalence between victimizer and victim. Historically, we resisted that temptation – and have chided Palestinians and their supporters who claim their grievances forced them to become suicide bombers.  Today, we should continue following our ancestors’ glorious example not Tarantino or Palestinian perversity.

We are all moral actors, we all have moral choice. Palestinian terrorists choose to commit mass murder – justifiably earning moral opprobrium. Vigilante Price Tag Terrorists choose to commit their crimes – also earning contempt, although their milder crimes of arson, graffiti, and harassment are not comparable to murder.  Many of us have long wanted the Palestinian masses to condemn crimes committed in their names.  We must do the same, as Israelis are doing, refusing to be blinded by false communal solidarity or shoddy self-pitying logic. Rabbis and right-wingers should take the lead, given that previous suspects emerged from their communities.

We should help rebuild that mosque – and embrace the traumatized citizens of Tuba Zangria. We should protect the political activists who were harassed.  And we should demand that the same laws against violence apply to all under Israel’s jurisdiction, ending this outrage wherein Price Tag Terrorists overlook the price we all pay for their crimes.

Gil Troy 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 most recent book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

A decade after 9/11 – and still proud

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

Despite all my lingering post-9/11 anger, I also hold on to overwhelming feelings of pride, gratitude, hope from that day and its aftermath.

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-6-11

Ten years ago this week, 19 terrorists hijacked four airplanes, murdered nearly three thousand people, destroyed the World Trade Center’s twin towers, and damaged the Pentagon. Our therapy-orientated culture encourages us to “move on,” rather than wallow in anger. We are supposed to seek “root causes” of violence, absolving belligerent individuals and nations of moral responsibility, especially if we perceive someone from the Third World assailing powerful white Westerners. But at the risk of being politically and psychologically incorrect, I remain angry after all these years. The ruins have stopped smoldering – I haven’t.

I AM still angry that so many good people lost their lives. I mourn with the parents who buried their children so prematurely – or had no remains to inter – and with the widowed spouses and the orphaned children.

Every victim has a name and a narrative; the daily ache of missing a lost friend or relative’s look, laugh and love is compounded by imagining the possibilities of lives not fully lived. For weeks after 9/11, The New York Times ran what became a Pulitzer-Prize winning series, “Portraits of Grief.” These mini-biographies painted a pointillist picture of what America, and the world, lost that day, one precious life at a time. And they confirmed what many of us knew but the media was too politically correct to say – although the victims came from dozens of countries and all classes, most were either white collar male professionals – like me – or blue collar rescue workers who went to work one day and never returned.

I am still angry at the anti-Americanism that formed the backdrop to these mass murders. Al-Qaida’s anti- Western ideology is a murderous manifestation of a broader phenomenon mixing resentment of American power, jealousy of American success, fear of American freedom and contempt for American novelty. In its mildest forms, this anti-Americanism unites haughty Old World Europeans who disdain the aggressive New World upstarts as crude cowboys. In its ugly Islamist form, this anti-Americanism strengthens Muslim fundamentalists’ dreams of a Caliphate theocracy dominating the world.

I am still angry at the foolish, foul Red-Green alliance between radical leftists and Islamists, that has too many in Europe and on campuses echoing the Islamist agenda even when it entails rationalizing sexism, homophobia, theocracy and autocracy. These laptop jihadists, these posturing Chomskyites, view Third Worlders as necessarily noble, oppressed, and thereby justified in attacking Americans, Israelis and others they deem powerful “whites” – despite the multiracial makeup of both America and Israel. These self-hating hypocrites only see Western faults, staying scandalously silent about Syria’s crackdown or Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

I am still angry at the United Nations, which has become international headquarters for this selective indignation and these double standards. Founded with democratic idealism in the 1940s, the world body has degenerated since the 1970s into the Third World Dictators’ Debating Society as autocrats deploy in New York the very democratic techniques they ban at home.

I am still angry at the bipartisan failure by both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to prevent the crime. The moral onus remains on the terrorists, but President Clinton lacked the guts to hunt down Osama Bin Laden more aggressively, while President Bush failed to focus on the threat. Informed speculation that better cooperation between the CIA and the FBI could have stopped the jihadists is emotionally devastating. The fact that reporters and politicians ignored terrorism in the 2000 presidential campaign reflects the bipartisan sloppiness that made the terrorists’ work easier.

I am still angry that despite the rhetoric claiming that terrorism never succeeds, terrorism has succeeded – most dramatically in popularizing and somehow legitimizing Palestinian demands, making the late Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization the spiritual and tactical trailblazers for Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida.

I am still angry that this summer, just weeks before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, leading media outlets again rationalized terrorism by calling the Gazan terrorists who slaughtered eight Israelis near Eilat – including two sisters vacationing together with their respective husbands – “militants.”

I am still angry about the convergence of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism, exemplified by the candy Palestinians in Gaza threw to celebrate the 9/11 murders, and the cynical way in which Bin Laden started invoking the Palestinian cause when retroactively attempting to popularize his despicable act.

I am still angry about the increased vulnerability of Jews following 9/11 – partially due to the parallel terrorist onslaught Palestinians unleashed. Even today, throughout the Diaspora, many Jewish synagogues, schools and organizations require special protections because terrorists target us and our institutions particularly.

And I am still angry that most American Jews started acknowledging the renewed Palestinian terrorism against Israel only after 9/11 – even though that wave of terrorism began in September, 2000, a year before the devastating al Qaida attacks.

FORTUNATELY, DESPITE all my lingering post-9/11 anger, I also hold on to the overwhelming feelings of pride, gratitude and hope from that day and its aftermath.

I remember the way Americans united, transcending partisan, racial and religious differences, as so many millions throughout the world expressed sympathy – and outrage. I honor the estimated 5 million Americans who have served in the military since the attacks – alongside many soldiers from allies such as Canada and Great Britain. I lament the 6,200 Americans lost in combat – along with so many other fallen soldiers and civilians from other countries in this fight for freedom. And I appreciate more than ever the liberties we in the West enjoy , the civil society we have developed, and the moral values we cherish, well aware that civilization itself, let alone functional democracies, requires careful tending – and when necessary, an aggressive, effective defense against our enemies – ideologically as well as militarily.

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 latest book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

Remember the Victims of Terror at the Seder 5771

REMEMBER THE VICTIMS OF TERROR AT THE SEDER:

LEAVE ONE EMPTY CHAIR AT THE TABLE
Note: Unfortunately, this is the tenth year in a row that I feel compelled to circulate this call (the text is updated…)

By GIL TROY

Once again, during this year’s seders, we will celebrate our joyous holiday of liberation with heavy hearts. Even as we revel in our freedom as Jews in the modern world, even as we marvel at Israel’s strength and tenacity in the wake of a terrorist onslaught, too many of our brothers and sisters in Israel are in pain. This year, in particular, as we think of Hamas’s hostage, Gilad Shalit, and his family, truly in a Mitzraim, in dire straits, and as we think of an entire region, the South of Israel, held hostage, we must rise to the challenge to reclaim our symbols, to remember our losses, to reaffirm our commitment to Israel, to the Jewish people, and to a true peace.

Since the bloody, unnecessary war begun back in 2000 when the Palestinians turned away from negotiations toward violence, too many have died, too many have been injured, on both sides. Israel has won that war by learning to be proactive in its fight. Even though the violence has lessened, too many seders now have empty chairs — missing husbands, fathers, brothers, sons; missing wives, mothers, sisters, daughters.

The power of the seder — which remains one of the most popular of Jewish ceremonies — comes from its ritualization of memory. It is a most primal, most sensual, most literal, of services. The seder plate — with its representations of the mortar used in building, the charoset, and of the tears shed by the slaves, the salt water — helps us visualize the trauma of slavery.

The physical acts of reclining, of eating special foods, of standing to greet Elijah the prophet, help us feel the joy of Yetziat Mitzrayim, of leaving Egypt. And, in an affirmation of the importance of peoplehood, we mark this special moment not as individuals but as a community.

In that spirit, we cannot proceed with business as usual during these difficult times. We must improvise a new ritual that marks our present pain, that illustrates the vital interconnectedness of the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. Let each of us, as we gather at our seders, intrude on our own celebrations by leaving one setting untouched, by having one empty chair at our table.

Let us take a moment to reflect on our losses from this deadly decade, for even as stability has returned, terror attempts continue, freshly dug graves pockmark the Holy Land, and the mourning for those lost persists.  And as we reflect, let us not just remember the dead as hundreds of nameless and faceless people, but let us personalize them. Let us take the time to find out the name of one victim of the current conflict, one Jew who cannot celebrate this year’s holiday, one family in mourning.

Let us call out the name of Gilad Shalit, a 24-year-old with a shy smile, kidnapped by Hamas on the Gaza border in July, 2006 – despite the fact that Israel had disengaged from Gaza, uprooting Jewish settlements in the hope for peace. “This year we won’t celebrate Pesach,” Gilad’s father Noam said during the family’s first year in hell.  “Pesach is about freedom, and we don’t have that in our hearts. We want Gilad to return from imprisonment to freedom. It’s been nine months, and we’re not giving up.” After more than 1750 days – more than 250 shabbatot – the Shalit family, and good people around the world still refuse to give up.

Let us call out the name of Daniel Aryeh Wildfich —  a 16-year-old hovering between life and death because Hamas terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at the schoolbus he was riding in, in the South.

Let us call out the name of Mary Jean Gardner, aged 59, killed in Jerusalem bus bombing – a non-Jewish British woman living in Jerusalem for a year to study Bible, whose murder in the recent Jerusalem bus bombing reminds us that this kind of terror targets Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Arabs, who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Let us call out the names of the Fogel family – Udi, age 36; Ruth, age 35; Yoav, age 11; Elad, age 4; Baby Hadas, age 3 months – butchered to death on a Friday night, in a mass murder that should have elicited worldwide revulsion but triggered celebrations in Gaza.

Let us call out the names of  Hani al-Mahdi, 27, of Aroar, a Beduin settlement in the Negev, Irit Sheetrit, 39, of Ashdod – a mother of four — Warrant Officer Lutfi Nasraladin, 38, of the Druze town of Daliat el-Carmel, all killed by Hamas rockets smuggled into Gaza, then launched into Israel’s pre-1967 borders in separate incidents on December 29, 2008. The different communities, religions, and yes, skin colors, of the victims, remind us that Israelis are a diverse, multicultural, multiracial lot, further disproving the ugly lies that Zionism is in any way racist.

Acknowledging the bravery of the IDF soldiers who fought reluctantly but heroically to defend their country in Gaza, let us call out the names of Major Eliraz Peretz, 31, of Eli, and Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky, 21, of Rishon Letzion, killed by Hamas terrorists on the Gazan border on March 26, 2010, four and a half years after Israel voluntarily disengaged from Gaza, inviting and challenging Palestinians to build their own civil society rather than trying to destroy Israel.

Remembering previous victims, let us call out the name of Yaniv Bar-On, the 20-year-old son of a South African father and a Canadian mother, ambushed while trying to save Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev from Hezbollah’s clutches in 2006, of Roi Klein, 31, a father of two, who jumped on a grenade crying “Shma Yisrael,” Hear O’ Israel, sacrificing his life to save his troops from certain death during the Second Lebanon War, and of Benny Avraham, age 20, one of three young Israelis murdered by Hezbollah in a failed kidnapping in October 2000, whose bodies were kept frozen as the sadistic terrorists toyed with the emotions of the three grieving families – and people of conscience throughout the world.

Let us call out the name of Koby Mandell, age 13, a young American immigrant brutally killed in May, 2001, whose father, Rabbi Seth Mandell, talks about the empty seat at his Shabbat table and shares the pain of watching other boys grow up, watching their voices deepen, their shoulders broaden, their gaits quicken, even as his son lies dead.

Let us call out the names of Ernest and Eva Weiss, aged 80 and 75, residents of Petach Tikvah who survived Nazi concentration camps only to be slaughtered while sitting down for the Pesach Seder at the Park Hotel exactly nine years ago, Pesach, 2002.

And as we condemn modern-day Pharoahs in Iran and elsewhere, as we recoil from the worldwide scourge of anti-Semitism this terrorism also unleashed, let us call out the names of Ilan Halimi, the 23-year-old French Jew cellphone salesman kidnapped, tortured and murdered in a Parisian suburb by anti-Semitic thugs, and of Daniel Pearl, the 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped, then murdered, in Pakistan almost exactly four years earlier.

As we call out these names, let us vow to do what we can to bring Gilad Shalit home. As we call out these names, let us commit to some action, to embrace the families of the victims – more than a thousand who have died and the nearly ten thousand who were injured. As we call out these names, as we also celebrate the redemption we will mark as we celebrate Israel’s 63rd anniversary, let us commit to building a  friendship with Israel and Israelis which is not just about politics, and not solely about mourning and memory.

And as we call out these names, unlike too many of our enemies, let us not call for vengeance; let us not call for more bloodshed. Instead, as we mourn, let us hope; as we remember the many lives lost during this crazy and pointless war, let us pray ever more intensely for a just and lasting peace.

Information about many of the Israelis killed in the current violence can be found at the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s website.

Ideas about how to help families of victims can be found from the Jewish Agency’s Fund for the Victims of Terror.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He splits his time between Montreal and Jerusalem.

Center Field: A detox program for haters

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-16-11

(Center Field Column: Dear President Obama: How could somebody slaughter Baby Hadas?)

Dear President Obama,

The murders of Uri and Ruth Fogel, along with Yoav, 11, Elad 4, and Baby Hadas, raise an elemental question. “How could somebody do something like that?” my children asked.  Mr. President, as a father of young daughters, and a peace-seeking statesman, you also must answer that question.

To reply properly we should ask who the victims were – or more accurately who they appeared to be. The Hamas thugs in Gaza who celebrated this slaughter see them as “Jews” and “Zionists.” According to the Hamas Charter, the Fogels deserved to die by being born Jewish, by being Israeli.  Such Hitlerite anti-Semitism pollutes mosques and the Arab media, prompting calls by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others to “wipe out” Israel. America’s boycott of Hamas reflects your understanding that interacting with these people is futile unless they repudiate this genocidal ideology – which often targets Westerners too.

In the West, too many people view the Fogels as “settlers,” meaning evil Jews and Zionists.  As such, CNN reported their murder as a “terror attack” – in quotation marks — while other media outlets called the murders “militants,” “extremists,” even “intruders” but  not terrorists. If the t-word is reserved for targeting innocents, somehow these victims were guilty. When a deranged man slaughtered 6 people and shot another 13 including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, many media outlets immediately politicized the event, blaming the Tea Party. You wisely refrained from that rush to judgment. When Palestinians murder, many of those same institutions rush away from judgment, decontextualizing the event, insulating Palestinian political culture from the crime.

Defining the Fogels only as “settlers” dehumanizes them. It comes from blaming this multi-dimensional, century-long, two-sided conflict on settlements.  Someone can advocate withdrawing from territory, including the Fogels’ village of Itamar, without believing this fable. In fact, more peace-loving Israelis should emphasize Jews’ legal rights to the disputed territories, thereby demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice land for peace. In focusing so much anger on Israel’s settlements, you have helped distort the conflict, absolving Palestinians of too much responsibility

The Fogel massacre occurred during that intellectual abomination “Israel Apartheid Week.” On campuses, which should be centers of complex, critical thought, pursuing truth, hotheads accused Israel of “genocide” – although the Palestinian population has nearly quadrupled since 1967 – and of “apartheid” and “racism” when this is a national conflict.  Exaggeration, distortion, obsession, and perversion of core values signify political fanaticism and bigotry.  When such simplistic sloganeering and dehumanizing rhetoric becomes epidemic on our comfortable campuses, it is not surprising that it metastasizes into murder in the Middle East.

These Israel-bashers affix “apartheid” and “racist” as all-purpose adjectives to any Israeli action, disconnected from true meanings. The South Africa analogy treats Israel as so reprehensible it should collapse. The Soviet Union and Arab rejectionists invented this racism and apartheid libel in the 1970s, when trying to expel Israel from the UN.

As a skilled wordsmith you know that words can heal or kill, words can elevate or desecrate. If you seek Middle East peace, shouldn’t you try harder to demand that Palestinians use words that promote peace rather than fostering baby-killing?

Having read the White House condemnation of this “heinous crime,” recalling your empathy – as a parent – when you visited Sderot, stirred by your defining Zionism as an “incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves,” and a believer in your “Yes We Can” humanism, I am sure you mourn the Fogel family as fellow humans. But mourning is not enough. If you believe that hatred is not instinctive but instilled — which is what I guess you would tell your daughters – you also must believe in stopping the hate-mongering. That the US, by subsidizing the PA, even indirectly bankrolls this incitement should disgust you – and prompt dramatic actions.

Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israelis should not have to raise this issue — the Roadmap requires “All official Palestinian institutions [to] end incitement against Israel.” The international community should combat Palestinian incitement independently, vigorously. The US, EU, and UN should start funding the two independent organizations, MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch which track Palestinian incitement, and impose sanctions when the PA glorifies murderers, the PA Culture Ministry finances events spreading the Israel-Apartheid libel, and when Palestinian media, mosques or schools preach hatred.

You have tremendous power. Your pressure has curtailed construction in the settlements, making the settlements such an issue that Israel responded to the terror attack with new settlement housing starts, to punish the Palestinians. You must put similar pressure on the Palestinians to reform their political culture as a precondition to further progress.

By using the presidential bully pulpit to fight Palestinians’ bullying culture, you can foster an atmosphere conducive to peace.  Israelis cannot compromise when families are being slaughtered or their very rights to exist are attacked. After decades of worshiping Yasir Arafat and other terrorists in their guerilla culture, Palestinians need help detoxifying their political culture. The pressure you exert can help builders like Salam Fayyad defeat the destroyers.

You can also score political points domestically by showing you understand that terror emerges from a perverted political culture and you know how to combat that.

The answer you give your daughters, the answer I gave my kids, and the answer you teach the world should be the same. Before a human being slits a baby’s throat, the hatred must be taught, a soul has to be poisoned. We must teach the opposite lesson, humanizing one another, so that everyone sees every child as a potential friend not a future enemy to murder. Those who fail to teach that lesson should feel your wrath.

Gil Troy 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, most recently, “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

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

Steve Averbach z”l: Israel’s man of spiritual steel

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 6-10-10

The recent death of  Steve Averbach, yet another victim of Palestinian terrorism, stirred memories of the bad old days of 2003, when suicide bombers regularly attacked. Averbach was paralyzed during a bus bombing in Jerusalem early Sunday morning May 18, 2003. The informal networks of love that helped him showed “We Are One” is more than a slogan. His steadfastness, grit, and humor while imprisoned in his own body inspired those of us lucky enough to know him.

In 2003, Averbach was a 37-year-old New Jersey suburbanite turned Golani “gever,” whose talents as a gun instructor earned him the nickname “Steve Guns.”  A Palestinian terrorist, masquerading as a religious Jew, boarded the bus near French Hill. Noting the tell-tale bulge, Averbach reached for his weapon. In that instant, the terrorist blew himself up.

Hamas took responsibility for the attack which murdered seven people immediately. Twenty were severely wounded, including Averbach, a father of four, who ended up paralysed below the neck after a steel ball bearing ripped into his spine.

Averbach’s alertness scared the bomber into detonating earlier than his bloodthirsty Hamas handlers planned. The Defense Ministry honored Averbac’s heroics, because the bus was about to pick up dozens of schoolkids and commuters. He regretted not stopping the bomber – an impossible expectation he imposed on himself – and wondered how to rebuild his life. “I control nothing, zero. I can’t turn over, lift a hand,” he told  a reporter. “So they tell me that I’m my kids’ father, and no one can take that away from me. But look at me, what kind of a dad can I be? I want to walk and play with my kids, what can I do now? What does anyone need me for? It’s hard to think that I’m really worth anything like this.”

But Averbach was a warrior. He fought to breathe on his own, when experts doubted he would. He fought to live at home, when experts doubted he would. He fought to get some quality of life, maintain his dignity, be a good father – despite his own doubts.

Word of Averbach’s remarkable progress reached Christopher Reeve, the one-time Superman actor paralyzed after an accident. In July, 2003, Reeve visited Israel and met Averbach, Israel’s own man of spiritual steel.

As Averbach lay in the hospital, bereft and struggling for each breath, word of his troubles reached Rabbi Emanuel Forman, an oleh himself who was temporarily at Congregation Shaar HaShomayim in Montreal. Rabbi Forman told some of us about the tragedy, and, we immediately raised over $15,000. Sean Bernstein from Dawson College Hillel undertook to raise $1000. He miscalculated. He raised $2000.

As more people embraced the mitzvah of giving, more people asked how to help. We were living out the rabbinic teaching “Mitzvah gorrer Mitzvah” – one Mitzvah tugs another. Thanking Sean and singling out the Hadassah women enveloping Steve and his family, Dr. David Averbach – Steve’s father – reported, “There are many more wonderful people in the world than I ever realized.”

In November, 2003, I visited Steve. While searching for his hospital room, I felt nervous. I am a professor not a social worker or a rabbi. I don’t do hospital visits. I wondered: What will I say? How long should I stay? Does he even want visitors? Fortunately, Sean had sent a letter along with the money I was delivering, praising Steve as a hero. I read it. We both teared up as Steve insisted, “aw, no, Gil, I’m no hero.” The friendship flowed from there.

Steve dismissed all the hero talk, insisting “I simply had no choice. It was required of me. It would be like a doctor who sees a car crash and doesn’t stop.”

Steve Averbach was a macho Zionist, a street-smart Zionist. He was tough, partied hard, and loved Israel fiercely. He did not sit around quoting the “Zionist Idea.” His Zionism was more instinctive, sensual, primal. He felt he belonged in Israel, threw his lot with Israel, and did what was necessary to defend it. His Zionism was of self-defense and self-fulfillment

In spring, 2004, Sean Bernstein went on Birthright Israel. As a non-political, identity-oriented journey for first-time visitors, Birthright usually avoided visits to terror victims. Nevertheless, we felt this was an exceptional opportunity to bring Sean and Steve together (as well as Sean’s 39 bus mates).

At the meeting, Steve disarmed everyone by joking about his best friend Jack – Jack Daniels. He spoke movingly about Zionism as a way to make a difference in this world. Deflecting all the attention on him, he asked the participants about their aspirations, their impressions. They ended by singing, hugging, and crying together.

Lorne Klemensberg of the Israeli arm of the Canada Israel Experience Centre, himself a tough oleh and combat veteran, reported that “Steve touched the heart of every single person in the room. He made us all think about the meaning of certain words we throw around every day like courage, heroism, commitment, belief, Zionism, sacrifice.”

After Steve’s death, one friend wrote Sean Bernstein: “I was deeply saddened to learn of Steve’s passing today. I am glad you pushed for us to meet him on our Birthright Trip. Hell of a guy. He made the Zionist in me fiercely proud!” Sean wanted the Averbach family to know “that 45 minutes with Steve changed 40 young students forever.”

For 2574 days, Steve Averbach lived in hell. Each day was endless, filled with anguish and indignity. He suffered. His saintly wife Julie suffered. His family suffered. Strangely, such suffering – which in Israel is multiplied exponentially considering the thousands of casualties – is invisible, even to many American Jews, who label Israeli intransigence the only obstacle to peace.

Steve’s suffering illustrated the risks of peace – and the need for peace. His heroism, carving out moments of beauty and pockets of meaning amid this nightmare, proved how deep our reserves as human beings are – and how one person can not only face tragedy but touch so many others with his strength, vision, idealism.

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, he can be reached at gtroy@videotron.ca

Center Field: Why we are here

Why we are here in Israel (despite Gaza war)

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 1-12-09

My family and I returned from England on January 2, midway through the second year of our extended Israel adventure. The seventh day of war against Hamas’s rockets added frissons of anxiety to the usual arrival chaos. After an impromptu security check as we deplaned, guards detained one passenger.

Our driver met us, saying, “The situation is rough.” I told my daughter, “We’re going to have to be extra careful wandering around for now.” With a 13-year-old’s defiant logic, she replied “Then why are we here?”

It was a fair question. We were returning from Limmud – a festival of Jewish learning with 900 sessions for 2,000 participants in five days at a bucolic (if freezing) English campus. In that British bubble, or our usual Canadian cocoon, we never worried about suspicious objects or avoided riding on buses.

I gave my daughter a 5:30 a.m. airport answer: “Because good people don’t cut and run when bad guys start bombing.”

Of course, the answer goes deeper.

We are here because the Jewish people have only one homeland, only one Jewish place running on Jewish time, where we belong as a people and are not living by anyone else’s good graces. There is nothing like Jerusalem on a Shabbat, on Sukkot, on Yom Kippur. The tranquility, spirituality, community and history enveloping us and enriching our lives here are unique.

We are here because daily life here is also special. Kids roam comfortably, under neighbors’ watchful, even prying, eyes, as adults build this small, still fledgling state, with such potential, and yes, much room for improvement.

Many of those Israeli traits that Westerners dislike, the pushiness, the incessant improvisations, are the very characteristics that will help win this war and make this experiment work.

We are here because we, like Jerusalem’s many “meaning junkies,” as one friend calls them, seeking more to life than the latest pop culture trends, hoping to root our lives in enduring values.

We are here because when we wander around Jerusalem’s Old City or delight in Tel Aviv’s modernity, when we remove ancient pots from the ground or buy modern artistic knickknacks, we do it with the heroes of Jewish history sitting proudly on our shoulders: Deborah the prophetess or David the king, Sarah Aaronsohn the Nili spy or Menachem Begin the fighter turned peacemaker, Golda Meir the prime minister who also left America’s comforts or David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister who knew when to compromise in accepting the UN partition plan and when to plunge ahead in declaring the state despite American and Jewish calls to wait.

We are here because our great-grandparents dreamed of being here but could not be, because one grandfather fought in the 1948 War of Independence, and another helped smuggle weapons from New York so Israel could be free. For generations Jews have been singing “Next Year in Jerusalem.” This is our time to be in Jerusalem, build Jerusalem and be rebuilt by Jerusalem, not sing about it as if it were some impossible dream.

We are here because the fight against terror knows no boundaries; this month it is Sderot and our cousins’ kibbutz in the Negev, last month it was Mumbai; seven years ago on 9/11 it was my hometown, New York. But here Jews control their own fate, unlike the Lubavitchers in Mumbai who had to wait for the Indian army to get organized, unlike in Montreal where we have to beg to designate firebombing a Jewish day school a hate crime, only to see the perpetrators punished lightly.

We are here because – as I said at the airport – good people cannot flee but must fight evil. Even critics condemning Israel’s supposedly “disproportionate response” implicitly concede that a state is justified in responding to 10,000 rockets terrorizing its citizens over eight years. And I for one, am proud of Israel’s response – only after years of exhausting diplomatic efforts, only after offering the Palestinians a chance to build Gaza by removing the constant struggle with the settlers and the army, only after naive but well-meaning American Jewish philanthropists raised $14 million to donate the burgeoning hothouses the Israelis developed, inviting Palestinians to make Gaza productive rather than a terror center – which Palestinians then trashed. I am proud of Israel’s attempt to minimize civilian casualties even as Hamas terrorists cower behind women and children, behind mosques, hospitals and UN schools.

We are here because if we flee, who are we; if we let others fight for us, what are we; and if none of us fight, where will we – and the world – be? What values would we stand for if we abandoned Jerusalem, as cousin Daniel continues farming on the Gaza border with rockets flying overhead, as our friend Mickey and thousands of others serve their country, the Jewish people and the civilized world so honorably and selflessly?

Israel, the Jewish people’s national project, is a rich tapestry. Every day those of us in Israel, temporarily or permanently, add golden threads to this extraordinary old-new artwork. Some threads may be as short as the ones Birthright Israel participants add in their 10-day stints here, some may only last a year or two, others are lifelong. Others, tragically, are cut short – as we have seen too frequently in this war as well.

This is our moment to spin our Israeli yarn, and add to this magical Jewish tapestry with as many golden cords as we can create for as long as we choose, on our timetable, not cowed by anyone’s threats. And yes, being here will sometimes test our fiber. But a good yarn also means a great story, and we are blessed to be here, now, weaving the tapestry of modern Israel – and helping to star in this grand narrative, one of the amazing adventures of 21st century modern democratic life.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

Barry Gelman of Houston and Gil Troy of Montreal

Mumbai “Blowback” – terrorists miscalculated again

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-10-08

Islamist terrorists are no doubt celebrating the Mumbai mayhem, convinced they triumphed somehow by turning luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish community center into killing fields. And in the media’s pathological patter – shaping too many Westerners- defensive defeatism – talk of the “militants'” “successful operation” feeds these triumphalist delusions. In fact, once again, the terrorists miscalculated. Their depraved actions triggered another “blowback.” India’s three days of terror boosted George W. Bush‘s legacy, strengthened Barack Obama‘s fortitude in combating terrorism, embarrassed  many Indian Muslims, highlighted the ugliness of Islamist anti-Semitism and triggered worldwide sympathy for the victims. Strangers united to mourn the spiritually-inclined American father and daughter shot in a hotel, the altruistic Montreal doctor and social worker slain on vacation, the lovely Lubavitch Jewish couple murdered in their outreach center, and the dozens of good citizens of India who suffered the most from these thugs.

Suddenly, following these attacks, the terrorists’ least favorite president, George W. Bush is seeing the first uptick in his standing in months. Many people are noting one of the great anomalies of Bush’s administration. Perhaps his greatest achievement is a non-event. After September 11, most Americans assumed they would endure a wave of terrorist attacks. Even those Americans who hate Bush must acknowledge albeit grudgingly that he deserves credit for the fact that not one major attack has occurred again on American soil.  Subsequent atrocities in London , Madrid , Bali, Jerusalem , and now Mumbai – among many others – suggest that the terrorists kept trying.

In assessing a president’s legacy, it is hard to celebrate something that did not happen. It is hard to build a monument or even to write clearly regarding a threat that while palpable and potentially lethal, never materialized. The Bush Administration cannot of course divulge details of most operations it thwarted. Still, the fact that as of this writing all of North America has avoided another 9/11 demonstrates that at least some of the Bush Administration’s anti-terror strategies worked.

President-elect Barack Obama‘s decisions to keep Bush’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and to appoint Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State reflect Obama’s own realization that the terrorist threat is serious. So far, the apologetic appeasers who occasionally advised him during the campaign have not joined his official family. As one of the two Senators from New York State when the Twin Towers fell, as a mother who first did not know exactly where in Manhattan her daughter was on September 11, Senator Clinton has a deep, heartfelt, sophisticated disgust for Islamist terrorism. Moreover, the videotape al Qaida recently released, wherein one of their leaders used an ugly racial epithet to characterize Barack Obama as servile, may have been ignored by much of the media, but clearly caught Obama’s attention. The combination, during a presidential transition, of a revolting display of Islamist racism and a horrific explosion of Islamist terrorism, illustrated that this nasty problem is not disappearing – and that an underlying, obnoxious ideology unites these murderers who strike at Westerners, Jews, and democrats wherever possible.

The fact that in a sea of tragic stories, the siege of Mumbai’s Chabad Lubavitch house stood out also helped thwart the Islamist terrorists’ goals. These terrorists seek to isolate Jews, to make others recoil from Jews in fear. But the slaughter of simple, defenseless, idealistic, giving people targeted because they were Jewish triggered a massive outpouring of sympathy and support for Israel , Chabad, and Jews. That Islamist ideology is equally intolerant of a black president, of Jewish do-gooders, of Western tourists, makes the lines in the sand very clear. Those of us appalled by these acts – and, make no mistake about it, in the terrorists’ sights — must rally together. We should not only be united when we are being hunted by maniacs who have caught us by surprise; we must unite to eradicate this evil, putting minor differences aside to meet this great moral challenge.

As the civilized world rises up and repudiates these acts, Muslims must share the outrage. These Islamist terrorists claim they are performing their racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Western, anti-democratic acts in the name of Islam. By contrast, Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan , wrote a poignant article in Tuesday’s New York Times denouncing the terrorists and noting that he is a victim too – terrorists murdered his wife last year. In India , Muslims have asserted their Indian nationalism – and their humanity – by refusing to bury the terrorists in Muslim ceremonies and condemning the killers’ brutality. If hundreds of millions more Muslims stood up in outrage, embraced Moshe the two-year-old son of Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the murdered Chabad couple, repudiated  the terrorists for trying to hijack their religion – and whenever possible spit these people out from their communities, the Islamist terrorist problem would disappear.

We have, as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan mourned in a different context, defined deviancy down. We have grown too accustomed to the racist rantings of al Qaida brigands, to the murderous rampages of Islamist terrorists, and to the silent and thus implied consent of too many of their co-religionists. The eloquence of President Zardari, the outrage of the Mumbai Muslims, are balanced out by the cant of so many others who scream “Islamophobia” anytime someone condemns Islamist terrorism or notes Muslim complicity in anti-semitism, racism or sectarian violence. These Mumbai massacres pose another moral challenge to all of us, those who are targeted and those who are standing idly by. Now is the opportunity to rise up, to mourn those martyred, repudiate the murderers, then take individual and collective responsibility to ensure that this will be the long-awaited, long-overdue turning point in the war against terror.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel , Jewish Identity, and the Challenges of Today.” His latest book is “Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.”

Gil Troy: From the Center: Keeping it civil

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-7-08

Last month, a de-magnetized identity card prevented me from entering the building housing my office on the McGill University campus at 10:30 one night. I asked a woman passerby who looked like a faculty member for help. “My ID card isn’t working,” I said. “I teach here.”

“I know who you are,” the woman spit out contemptuously. “You’re that awful right-wing conservative professor.”

Startled, I was about to launch into my standard defense when I face that accusation, saying how I consider myself a centrist, just wrote a book championing moderation and besides, if all she knows about me is that I’m pro-Israel and anti-terror and that makes me conservative, liberalism is in worse shape than I thought. Instead, I wisely stayed silent. I just looked at her quizzically. Backpedaling from this ugly descent into politics when a simple, civil exchange was required, my colleague said she lacked the correct card and left.

This admittedly minor but nevertheless outrageous incident highlights why those of us in the broader Zionist community should be particularly horrified by the pipe bomb attack against Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell ostensibly in the name of Zionism. Those of us who have defended Israel on campus know what it is like to take unpopular stands. We understand that independence of thought is the lifeblood of freedom, that democratic communities and especially intellectual communities wither in environments that smother dissent.

The attacks and ostracism pro-Israel professors experience worldwide reveal that the intolerance underlying the assault against Sternhell is not unique to Israel. But it is rare, and particularly horrible, to see this increasingly common small-mindedness degenerate into violence. The violence reflects the acute shortage of two key ingredients democracy demands: mutuality and civility.

IT IS the most compelling lesson from George W. Bush’s simplistic approach to democracy: Democracy entails much more than choosing your leader. The chaos of Iraq, the brutality of Gaza’s Hamas-Fatah civil war, teach that without mutual respect votes are worthless tools and rights are shams. Citizenship in a democracy requires a commitment to sharing rights, to granting the same liberties to others that we demand and enjoy.

People frequently swing rights as clubs, claiming their right to free speech without extending that freedom to others who disagree with them. Without that grace, people are not enjoying free speech but demanding personal prerogative. Mutuality requires thinking about others, accepting differences within the same community, and limiting some of our excesses for the common good. Mutuality tempers the individualism so essential to freedom, avoiding the descent into selfishness. Civility is the logical and necessary result.

Alas, modern Israel often lacks both mutuality and civility. The litter strewn about too many sidewalks, the aggressiveness harming so many on the roads, the harshness of so many public interactions and the corruption tainting so many leaders, all reflect the elevating of individual whims over communal norms. The palpable, toxic, mutual contempt between left and right, secular and religious, reveals an arrogant presumption of personal infallibility that demeans the freedom of others to draw opposite conclusions reasonably.

And the particular pathology of the settler community, characterized by illegal outposts, bursts of rioting and a growing disrespect for the police and the army is a ticking time bomb that must be defused. Last month, when 40 thuggish settlers attacked an IDF post near Horesh Iron every parent of an IDF recruit or reservist should have denounced this outrage. These soldiers are our sons, brothers and fathers. Anyone who targets them should be jailed; those who facilitate such attacks should be shunned.

After the Sternhell bombing, in the dying days of his administration, while giving interviews sounding more left wing than he ever did so he could guarantee adulation and steady speech income when he travels abroad, Ehud Olmert lectured his fellow citizens about avoiding “lawlessness.” Olmert’s unsuitability to teach anyone about respect for the law underlined his utter inadequacy as the country’s leader.

BOTH VIOLENCE and democracy define Israel’s history, interwoven like the two DNA strands. There is an element of the Wild West in the country, which despite its flaws remains the Middle East’s only real democracy. At its best, this unruliness is part of its appeal, making it compelling as a country-still-in-formation, as a place that can be more open, more malleable, more creative than the more staid West. At its worst, this rowdiness reveals itself in the ugly violence coursing through the society; in the rough way parents handle children, then children handle each other; in the growing crime rate; in occasional outbursts against Palestinians. Like all functional democracies, Israel must forge a community that indulges individuals enough so they flourish without spoiling them so much they harm others.

The balance is delicate, the stakes are high. The Sternhell pipe bombing reflects not only twisted individuals whose moral system has imploded but an ugly strain within society. If America the celebrity-obsessed produces glory hounds like the men who shot Ronald Reagan and killed John Lennon, a politically charged Israel produces ideological fanatics like the criminals who targeted Sternhell.

Fortunately, Israeli society is healthy enough to be united in disgust by this hooliganism. The attack was as evil as it was self-defeating. Instinctively – and blessedly as a disincentive to copycats – reporters echoed Sternhell’s most provocative pronouncements, broadcasting them more loudly than ever in response to this horrific attempt to silence him. All of us who love Israel, who cherish democracy, must embrace Sternhell as he recovers. And in that group hug we should utter the mantra of a healthy democracy rooted in mutuality, fostering civility: Whether or not I agree with you, I will defend to the death your right to express your ideas (knowing that it protects my rights too).

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

 

Center Field: The two state solution as the only unhappy alternative

By Gil Troy, JPost, 10-2-08

Some readers objected to the end of my last column on the lessons of Oslo. Most of the column argued that Arab and particularly Palestinian rejectionism destroyed Oslo yet most Westerners could not fathom Palestinian political culture’s destructive and self-destructive addiction to violence. Nevertheless, I concluded, the only solution remains a two-state solution. Critics deemed this claim contradictory.

The two-state solution remains the most logical solution for Israelis and Palestinians because, like the infirmities of old age, it beats the alternative, or in this case, the alternatives. Extremist Palestinians advocate the one-state solution, trusting that masses of Palestinian voters in a secular democratic state would overwhelm Israelis. Across the spectrum, since 1967, many right-wing Israelis have endorsed the status quo, ignoring the psychic, moral, diplomatic, military, political, and economic costs to Israel of controlling millions of hostile non-citizens. A two-state solution can take many forms, including federations with Egypt and Jordan that would mean a three-state or a one and two half-state solution. Somehow, Israel must stop governing millions of Palestinians.

A post-Oslo acceptance of the two-state solution requires launching a new Palestinian entity with low expectations and no illusions, informed by the violence the Oslo process unleashed. In fact, a sophisticated, realistic approach to a Palestinian state should build on two additional failures beyond the Oslo debacle: Ehud Barak’s hasty withdrawal from southern Lebanon and Ariel Sharon’s undemocratic disengagement from Gaza. 

Ironically, of these three recent failures that promised peace but resulted in some form of prolonged war, only the Oslo peace process increased the Israeli death rate in the area under discussion. Israel suffered casualties steadily during its presence in Lebanon, sometimes as many as 20 to 25 soldiers annually. Since then, even including the Second Lebanon war, many fewer have died. Similarly from the start of Yasir Arafat’s renewed war against the Jewish people in 2000, more Israeli soldiers and civilians died in Gaza than the handful who died since the disengagement.

So, yes, the withdrawal from Lebanon emboldened Hizbullah and probably encouraged the Palestinians to believe they could accomplish more with terrorism than with diplomacy. And, yes, the disengagement from Gaza destroyed beautiful communities, disheartened thousands of individual patriots, launched Hamas to power, and subjected Sderot along with other communities in the Western Negev to traumatic, reprehensible bombardments. But the comparative death toll suggests that the alternative to leaving – staying – would have been more costly. The challenge, then, is to do what needs to be done more intelligently, more effectively, and less naively.

Now, many will argue that the West Bank is different, that Judea and Samaria are more integrally connected to the Jewish people than either Southern Lebanon or Gaza, and that, at this point, the rate of anti-Israeli violence is minimal. Moreover, whereas a Hamas-run Gaza can rain Kassams on a small, peripheral community like Sderot, a Hamas-run West Bank could rain more destructive missiles on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Ben-Gurion Airport.

Ultimately, a sober, security-minded approach responds to these valid arguments and others by starting with the assumption that clear borders shrewdly and patiently negotiated offer more security than the current mess. Those who dream of Israel’s Biblical boundaries have to acknowledge that millions more Palestinians than Jews streamed to those areas in the twentieth century and that Israel’s security barrier has formalized the demographic realities as of 2000. Given the separation, it is better for Palestinians to control their own destiny than to have Israelis trying to control them. And, especially in today’s climate, the rules of engagement between hostile neighbors are much clearer than the protocols for one nation dominating another.

Had the Gaza disengagement been handled more intelligently, Israel would have had a good example of how to proceed. Ariel Sharon claimed there would be zero-tolerance for violence, that any attacks by air, sea, or land from Gaza would be dealt with severely. After the first post-engagement Kassam flew, Israel needed to respond militarily, close the border, cut off electricity in Gaza, and retake one evacuated settlement. Had Israel responded so aggressively once, maximum twice, the situation probably would not have deteriorated.

Unlike during the Oslo years, Israel should not rush into anything. Israel should approach the two-state solution gradually, with benchmarks of progress toward peace Palestinians could follow. If that sounds uneven, condescending, and high-handed, it also acknowledges the tragic fact that following the events of 2000 to 2004, Israel is the victim and the victor. The Palestinians unleashed the violence – and lost. In the equivalent of suing for peace, they have to demonstrate their readiness to make peace – with Israel free to retreat whenever security threats or violations occur.

A two-state solution could provide moral, diplomatic, and military clarity. Borders are easier to defend when they are clear, not ambiguous. Actions are easier to justify when the moral onus is on one aggressor not a people who play the victim card as an occupied people.

Ronald Reagan, the arch enemy of Communism, negotiated with the Soviets when he saw it was in his country’s best interests to do so. His mantra throughout the negotiations, “Trust but verify” reflected the need to progress with no illusions. Oslo buried many Israelis’ illusions about the short-term prospects of a true peace with the Palestinians, or most of the Arab world. But the Olso-triggered terrorism could not kill the need for progress or the chance, eventually, for some stability. The Oslo peace process assumed good will would develop quickly among the two peoples. A new approach should assume lingering bad faith among Palestinians unless hard evidence suggests otherwise. But bad faith does not preclude enduring stability or serious progress toward a more workable solution. Israel should not withdraw for the sake of the Palestinians, but for the sake of Israel.