September Backgrounder: Zionism, Racism and Durban

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By Prof. Gil Troy (updated version of an article published March 29, 2009)

Among the many casualties of the continuing Mideast violence is the term “Zionism.” Whereas it once epitomized idealism, romanticism, and the best of nationalism to millions of Jews and non-Jews, Zionism today is politically incorrect. In a depressing retreat to the harshest days of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Zionism is again being demonized. Critics regularly twin the term with a grab-bag of reprehensible “isms”: expansionism, colonialism, imperialism, racism, and, most perversely, Nazism.

The renewed attack on Zionism overshadowed the United Nations conference held in Durban, South Africa which began on August 31, 2001 and ended on September 7.  The “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance,” wanted to condemn “the racist practices of Zionism,” call Zionism a movement based on racial superiority, and condemn Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “a new kind of apartheid.” Some delegates distributed a booklet of vile and ancient anti-Semitic caricatures showing Jews with hook noses and fangs dripping blood. It was hard to take such overt racism at a supposed anti-racism conference seriously — but also hard to ignore it. The United States — and even the (at the time) compulsively “evenhanded” Canadian government — mobilized against it. The U.S. Secretary of State at the time, Colin Powell, the first African-American Secretary of State, desperately wanted to attend the conference, seeing it as a critical moment in South Africa’s transition from enduring a racist Apartheid regime to being purged of such ugliness. Yet, ultimately, frustrated, Powell boycotted the event, sending a mid-level U,S, representative instead, because he realized that focusing on Zionism at an anti-racism conference hurt the cause of racism – and allowed truly racist regimes to dodge responsibility as the world piled on Israel, and Zionism.

To attack Zionism, rather than Israeli policies or the Israeli government, is to repudiate the State of Israel and the idea of a Jewish state. For Zionism at its simplest is Jewish nationalism, the understanding that Jews are a people, that Judaism is not just a religion, and that Israel is the Jewish homeland. Singling out Jewish nationalism as racist, in a forum of the 192-member United Nations, is itself bigoted anti-Semitic behavior.

In targeting Jewish nationalism in its broadest, murkiest, and most abstract incarnation, critics betray their true colors. Anti-Zionism goes way beyond the question of the settlements or Ariel Sharon or Avigdor Lieberman or any particular Israeli actions. Anti-Zionism attacks the very rights of the Jews to their homeland. This sweeping assault then naturally metastasizes into the anti-Semitic caricatures in so many Arab newspapers and into the epidemic of violence against Jews throughout the world that so many supposed humanists rationalize.

This anti-Zionist vitriol ratchets the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians from the realm of the negotiable up to an arena of mutually exclusive absolutes. Those who negate Zionism are declaring war on Israel and the Jewish people. This broad-based assault, combined with the wider-ranging campaign of terror launched in 2000 against all Israelis, explains why the Israeli left has all but collapsed, and the region is so polarized.

Trying to turn the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into a racial conflict, caricatures Israelis as colonialist, imperialist, racist whites, and Palestinians as noble, victimized, oppressed, people of color. But the facts collide with this simplistic propagandistic scenario. The conflict is a national conflict, with some religious overtones. But there are dark-skinned Israelis and light-skinned Palestinians. Moreover, there are no racial or racist laws on Israeli books – unlike the despicable South African apartheid regime with all its racial classifications among blacks, whites and coloreds. Whereas Israel has made heroic efforts to rescue tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews from Africa, all too often, too many Arabs are behind some of the worst racist conflicts in the world, notably Darfur today.

Proof that Zionism is most definitely not racism comes from America’s first African-America president, Barack Obama. During his campaign, Obama explained that when he was in sixth grade he attended a summer camp and learned about Zionism, Israel and the Holocaust from a Jewish counselor. Obama recalled how the counselor “shared with me the idea of retuning to a homeland and what that meant for a people who had suffered from the Holocaust, and he talked about the idea of preserving a culture when a people had been uprooted with the view of eventually returning home. For a young man like Obama, searching for his roots, for his identity, this message resonated. And so, he proclaimed, “my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best tradition and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

President Obama understands that not only is Zionism not racism, not only can the Zionist story inspire African-Americans and displaced people everywhere, but that we all should strive to do what he understand Zionism has done: excavate our best traditions and our best selves.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. giltroy@gmail.com
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Stop rockets by seizing Palestinian territory

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Targeted actions depriving Gaza of territory in response to attacks will put a specific price tag on each rocket and terror attack.

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-30-11

My cousin Adele Raemer lives on Kibbutz Nirim in the Western Negev. It is an idealistic community in an idyllic setting. Over the years, the kibbutzniks have created a lush, intimate oasis that is as warm communally as it is hot meteorologically. Unfortunately, their beautiful lives are interrupted far too often by sirens and explosions as rockets bombard them from neighboring Gaza.

To let people in Israel and throughout the world know what it’s like to live from warning to warning, from safe house sprint to safe house sprint, Adele recently started the Facebook group “Life on the border with Gaza – things people may not know (but should).” This apolitical on-line diary paints a picture of the courage involved in living an ordinary life under extraordinary circumstances, when “everyone” is suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress, when kids go back to wetting their beds, dogs are “frightened to death” by strange noises, and adults are living on edge. This diary portrays the Israeli refusal to be defeated. It puts a human face on the callous decision of Gaza’s Hamas rulers to turn their fiefdom into a launching pad for Islamist terror. And it details, warning by warning, missile by missile, stress by stress, a massive failure on the part of the Israeli government – handcuffed as it is by the international community.

A government’s primary mission is to protect its citizens. When tens of thousands of those citizens endure barrages from hostile neighbors, the government must act. Fearing international condemnation for the simple act of defending its citizens, Israel’s government has decided to build shelters in most schools and many homes within rocket range. This limits physical casualties but ignores the psychological toll. It is the reaction of the “galut Jew” – the oppressed accommodator, not the proud, independent Israeli fighter.

I hate war. I don’t wish to see unnecessary bloodshed. But residents of the Western Negev, including Sderot, have suffered too much. Barack Obama himself said, in Sderot on July 23, 2008: “I don’t think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of their citizens. The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens…. If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Israel’s leaders should quote Obama’s rationale to Obama, the UN and the Palestinians, restating the implicit deal Israel made when it withdrew from Gaza in August 2006. If, five years ago, Israel returned territorial control to the Palestinians in the hope for peace or at least quiet, it now needs to deprive Palestinians of some of that territory every time Palestinians break the peace. Every rocket launched from Gaza should bring two reactions. First, Israel should close the border completely for 24 hours, with no supplies or services, including electricity, emanating from Israel. And second, the IDF should push the border fence back into Gaza, seizing a pre-determined amount of territory each time. If the rocket fire intensifies, Israel should take back the evacuated settlements, one by one.

To the inevitable charges of “collective punishment,” and the absurd claim that “militants” beyond Hamas’s control are responsible, Israel’s leaders – after quoting Barack Obama – should reply, “Hamas is claiming to be responsible for Gaza, so it must take responsibility for Gaza. These are the rules of war: when aggressors from one territory attack their neighbor, the neighbor has the right to respond in self-defense. Traditionally, the currency in these matters has been land. Israel is returning to that traditional calculus. If the people of Gaza are unhappy about it, they should pressure their rulers.

And if there is quiet for six months, Israel will begin withdrawing again, proving that it has no territorial designs on Gaza, only a desire for peace.”

Given its failure to respond clearly for years, Israel should not employ this strategy immediately. The renewed rocket attacks and terrorist crimes of the past two weeks are attempts to provoke an Israeli reaction that will trigger world condemnation, thus easing the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of independence. The international community has made it clear, especially in the corrupted UN, that Israel is the only country in the world that lacks the right of self-defense. Preferring Jews who are defenseless or dead to Jews who defend themselves, the world will probably reject this new Israeli doctrine. So Israel should devote time this month to preparing the legal rationale, finalizing military plans, and quietly conveying to the Palestinians, the Americans and the international community that the new response will go into effect in October.

Too many Palestinian radicals have made it clear over the years that they are willing to sacrifice Palestinians lives to terrorize Israelis. But the Palestinian outrage when Israel built the security fence proves how precious every inch of land is to Palestinians. Targeted actions depriving Gaza of territory in response to Palestinians targeting of the Western Negev will put a specific price tag on each rocket and terror attack, making Palestinians responsible for their actions. The heroic inhabitants of the Western Negev know the cost of each Palestinian rocket attack. It is time for Palestinians to pay a steep price too for these aggressions – or better yet, end them.

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 Zionist advocacy timetable for the next five weeks

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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.

Palestine Season at the UN will test Palestinians: Do they seek peace or Israel’s destruction?

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https://giltroyzionism.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/opeds_reviews.jpg

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-9-11

This fall is going to be Palestine Season at the UN. The Palestinians seem set on winning a unilateral declaration of independence from the General Assembly, despite the Obama Administration’s efforts. No less ominous for Israel is the convergence of that process with Durban Three, celebrating the moment ten years ago – as it turned out, just days before September 11 — when a UN conference in South Africa against racism turned into an anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic hate fest.

In turning to the UN, the Palestinians will once again get words that please them, as the world’s totalitarian majority continues to dominate UN discourse. Yet this is the diplomatic equivalent of crack cocaine, providing a quick temporary high that masks the harm it actually causes. Since the mid-1970s, the UN’s anti-democratic and anti-Israel bias has made the world body an obstacle to Middle East peace, encouraging extremism, discouraging moderation, and making a two-state solution harder and harder to achieve.

Anyone who considers himself or herself “pro-peace” should advise the Palestinians to turn away from the UN – and beg for the UN to stay out of the conversation. Since November 10, 1975, when the UN passed General Assembly 3379, declaring Zionism to be racism, the UN has been the world center for anti-Israel and anti-peace radicals. Resolution 3379 in 1975 was the resolution that signified the UN’s surrender to Third World sensibilities and turned human rights talk against democracies. This was the resolution that soured Americans on their high hopes for the UN. And this was the resolution that made the UN a destructive, inflammatory force in the Middle East, rationalizing Palestinian terrorism, encouraging Palestinian rejectionism, and shifting the conversation from the post-1967 question of what boundaries Israel should have to the pre-1947 question of should Israel exist – a shift which has consistently weakened the pro-peace camp.

The delegitimizing, and ultimately exterminationist rhetoric of “Zionism is racism” repeatedly has trumped UN Security Council Resolution 242, the post-1967 diplomatic template seeking a compromise based on mutual recognition, compromise, and mutual respect. This “Big Red Lie,” as the former US Ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan called the Zionism is racism resolution, proved more potent than its Soviet creator. Despite the Soviet collapse in 1989, despite the UN formally repealing the resolution nearly twenty years ago in December 1991, the Zionism is racism resolution nevertheless has shaped the United Nations for a generation, especially after the Durban conference resurrected its message in 2001.

The Zionism is Racism resolution marked a turning point, the moment when many realized that during the 1960s and 1970s, an alliance of Third World and Communist countries had established an anti-Western majority in the UN. The institutional language shifted from championing individual rights to indulging national grievances, from aspirational to confrontational, from universal to categorical, from echoing America’s Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to sounding like a Soviet tract or a guerilla communiqué.

Branding Zionism as racism made Israel into what the Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis called a “fashionable enemy.” The Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and his allies understood that beyond terror attacks and diplomatic moves, this was an ideological war. They needed to shape world public opinion. Exploiting the rise of a global mass media, and what the Palestinian academic Edward Said called the twentieth century’s “generalizing tendency,” the Palestinians transcended their local narrative of woe, framing it as part of a global struggle, no matter what the facts were. They invested heavily in research centers, think tanks, publishing houses to tell their story – and link it to broader trends. As a result, Said noted in 1979, “the Palestinians since 1967 have tended to view their struggle in the same framework that includes Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, and black Africa.” Their new language of worldwide anti-colonial rebellion, of Third World solidarity, artificially shifted race to a more central part of the Palestinians’ story and rhetoric. Thanks to Said and others, “The Zionist settler in Palestine was transformed retrospectively and actually from an implacably silent master into an analogue of white settlers in Africa.”

In making this shift, calling Zionism “Racism,” Palestinian propagandists were resurrecting parts of Nazi ideology reinforced by Soviet anti-Semitism, while negating Jewish nationalism and people hood: To deny Jews’ claim to Palestine – and paint the Jewish state as a theocracy — propagandists denied Jewish people hood and Jewish ties to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. In 1969, Arafat’s chief deputy Abu Iyad accused Zionism of “distorting and faking religious books to lead the Jews in all parts of the world into believing that their place is in the land of Palestine.” Beneath the intellectual veneer ran a pulsing vein of Jew hatred. Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf was required reading in some Fatah training camps, where former Nazis trained Palestinian guerillas.

“All this has nothing whatever to do with the rights and wrongs of the Arab-Israel conflict which, despite its bitterness and complexity, is basically not a racial one,” Bernard Lewis would explain. “It is no service to the cause of peace or of either protagonist to inject the poison of race into the conflict now.”

The history of this Big Red Lie exposes the hypocrisy of Palestinian diplomacy and UN posturing. If they want to continue their assault on Israel, Palestinians should return to the poisoned well of the General Assembly. If they seek peace, they should return to negotiations with an Israeli government which has already acknowledged the principle of two states for the two nations in love with the same land. This September, therefore, is not a test of Israel or Israeli diplomacy. It is a test of Palestinians and Palestinian intentions – do they seek more empty rhetorical wins or genuine progress? Do they seek compromise or Israel’s destruction?

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,” and six books on the American presidency, he is currently writing “The Big Red Lie: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Zionism is Racism, the fall of the UN and the Rise of Reagan.” giltroy@gmail.com

Fighting Zionism: Racism’s big lie

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

Thirty five years ago, on November 10, 1975, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, America’s Ambassador to the UN proclaimed: “The United States … does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” The “infamous act” was Resolution 3379, calling Zionism racism, slandering one form of nationalism, Jewish nationalism.

That same day, Israel’s Ambassador Chaim Herzog, carrying the dignity of four thousand years of Jewish history, declared: “I stand here not as a supplicant…. For the issue is neither Israel nor Zionism. The issue is the continued existence of this organization, which has been dragged to its lowest point of discredit by a coalition of despots and racists…. You yourselves bear the responsibility for your stand before history… We, the Jewish people, will not forget.” Herzog then ripped the resolution to shreds.

The 1975 UN resolution set a template for attacking Israel and Zionism using liberalism and human rights rhetoric. Arabs learned, that before a lazy, complacent world, they could mask sexism and homophobia, terrorism and dictatorship, their continuing rejection of Israel’s right to exist, behind a smokescreen of rhetoric treating the national struggle between Israelis and Palestinians as an expression of Jewish racism, colonialism, and imperialism. This New Big Lie was so potent it would outlast its Soviet creators, derail the UN, hurt the cause of human rights – and make Israel what the Canadian MP and human rights activist Professor Irwin Cotler calls the Jew among nations.”

Fortunately, Moynihan and Herzog also set a template for defending Israel and Zionism. They labeled this propaganda ploy an assault on democracy and decency. They predicted, accurately, that by targeting Israel and the Jewish people the UN would sacrifice its credibility and demean its most important currency, the language of universal rights developed after World War II.

Still, being right can feel lonely. On the day of their heroism, Moynihan and Herzog felt indignant but abandoned. Moynihan felt pressure from his fellow diplomats and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to be more “diplomatic,” meaning appeasing. Herzog felt pressure from Israel’s Foreign Ministry not to take the UN too seriously. Even the American Jewish community was slow to react, initially.

This week at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, it was also easy to feel lonely. The first day of the conference, two back-to-back sessions examined the modern campaign to delegitimize Israel. Despite the excitement of 5000 Jewish do-gooders gathering together, despite the appearance of The Rev. Dr. Katherine R. Henderson, President of Auburn Theological Seminary, who has heroically challenged her fellow Presbyterians to stop delegitimizing the Jewish state, despite the new $6 million Israel Action Network being launched to be proactive not just reactive, the panel discussion I participated in with Dr. Henderson gave me battle fatigue. I resent that 62 years after Israel’s founding, Israel is the only country in the world on probation. I bristle at the self-righteousness of the Apartheid-libelers, gleefully quoting Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, each of whom has sloppily echoed the Apartheid lie – albeit only once – stupidly echoing this word which does not apply to Israel because whatever “apartness” Israel imposes is not based on racial distinctions but national conflict.

I felt even more fatigue as I left New Orleans hours after arriving, flew to Atlanta, arrived shortly before midnight, took a 6:30 AM plane to Toronto, then connected to Ottawa.

Fortunately, there I found the Parliament building glowing with the spirit of Chaim Herzog as 140 latter-day Pat Moynihans convened the Ottawa Conference on Combating Antisemitism. These legislators, representing 53 countries from six continents, are leading lights helping redeem a world constantly flirting with a terrible darkness. “There has been a globalization of the problem of Antisemitism,” Professor Cotler observed, “but there is also a globalization of parliamentary concern.”

I had the honor of presenting to an interparliamentary working group exploring campus Antisemitism. The legislators were sophisticated, sensitive to university sensibilities, appreciating the importance of free speech, academic freedom, and the legitimacy of criticizing Israel. They also agreed that all students must feel safe and not scorned. They wanted to embed the fight against Antisemitism in the broader quest for mutual respect, open intellectual inquiry, and academic integrity. “Discrimination is discrimination,” said one MP. We all shared the indignation – also expressed at the GA – that the unholy alliance of Islamists and misguided leftists tried making Israel so toxic as to justify blatant cases of hatred on supposedly hyper-tolerant campuses as long as they targeted pro-Israel Jews.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was particularly Moynihanesque. Harper said that “when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand.” He admitted that “at the United Nations or any other international forum, the easiest thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just about being even-handed and to excuse oneself with the label of ‘honest broker.’ But as long as I am prime minister,” he vowed, “Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us.”

Harper and his guests recognize Antisemitism as a gateway hatred, opening up portals of perversity that threaten Jews first, then others. They refuse to let this evil fester. We should join their fight, and catapult from the interparliamentary coalition against Antisemitism to the intraplanetary coalition against Antisemitism and for thriving democratic values.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His next book will look at Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Zionism is Racism Resolution, the fall of the UN and the Rise of Reagan. giltroy@gmail.com

Gil Troy: Canadians uphold a proud human rights legacy

Canadians uphold a proud human rights legacy

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 5-21-09

Canada stood tall – dare we say, glorious and free? – during the recent Durban Review debacle in Geneva, thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pre-emptive strike in boycotting the so-called UN anti-racism conference long before anyone else did.
Canada is now spearheading the push to reform the United Nations, while challenging liberal and autocratic hypocrisy worldwide. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigotry at an anti-racism conference defined Durban II as yet another festival of despots bashing the West and Israel. But more significant was the alliance forged beyond the conference halls between pro-Israel and human rights activists frustrated that the UN’s Israel obsession hurts human rights.

Canadians such as MP and former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler and the executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, were essential marriage brokers in building this friendship, demanding the UN live up to its ideals and condemn the world’s true human rights abusers.

During the first World Conference Against Racism, held in 2001 in Durban, South Africa, the streets filled with anti-Zionists shouting vitriolic anti-Semitic slogans that Adolf Hitler didn’t finish the job. Some human rights groups and pro-Israel groups began working to reform the UN human rights mechanisms.

Not surprisingly, Canadians such as Cotler and Neuer were crucial in launching this initiative. Many Canadians maintain great faith in the UN’s founding ideals and are proud that John Peters Humphrey, a longtime McGill University law professor, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cotler, on leave as a law professor from McGill, is a world-renowned human rights crusader who has spent decades cris-crossing the globe defending the oppressed, including Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky. Neuer was Cotler’s student at McGill, continuing this McGill – and Canadian – tradition.

When the UN started preparations to host a review conference in Durban, Neuer was particularly well-placed to head off another hatefest. Based in Geneva as the executive director of UN Watch, he has frequently highlighted the UN’s anti-Israel obsession and its hypocrisy in letting dictatorships dominate the Human Rights Council. Working with various organizations in shifting coalitions – including its parent organization the American Jewish Committee, as well as NGO Monitor and B’nai Brith International, Freedom House and Freedom Now – UN Watch helped redirect the process.

Effective lobbying of the Ford Foundation and others cut off funds that NGOs would have used to replicate the Durban I sideshow. The UN, embarrassed by Durban I, agreed to shift the venue of this year’s conference to Geneva, where the UN and Swiss police could better control events. Western diplomats worked to moderate the Durban Review declaration. In this environment, Canada’s bold decision to boycott galvanized the forces trying to right Durban’s wrongs.

As a result, in Geneva, there were no angry mass rallies against Israel. UN Watch and dozens of other groups hosted conferences and side meetings, giving dissidents and victims from Iran, Egypt, Cuba, Burma, Rwanda and Darfur opportunities to tell their tales. The participants denounced the United Nations for allowing oppressors such as Libya to chair the Human Rights Council, and for ignoring real abuses in their zeal to demonize Israel.

The largest demonstration appears to have been a festive gathering of 2,000 to 3,000 Israel supporters on the conference’s third day. Joining one American, one Italian, one Israeli, and one French politician on the podium were two of us from McGill, Cotler and I, as well as Harper’s parliamentary secretary – and personal representative to the side conferences – MP Pierre Poilievre. The MC, David Harris, of the American Jewish committee, joked that at these events, Canadians rarely outnumber Americans. May we always compete to lead the way on these issues.

“Please use your liberty to promote ours,” Soe Aung, a Burmese dissident, begged at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy, which celebrated 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention. While the first Durban sideshow embodied the UN at its worst, the second Durban side conferences tried to meet Aung’s challenge.

If the UN starts to reform, history will honour the Conservative Harper – with his Liberal colleague Cotler – for not only saving the United Nations, but also for helping to save many liberal activists from their own moral myopia.

Gil Troy Quoted in ‘Pro-Israel activists protest in Geneva’

Pro-Israel activists protest in Geneva

Jerusalem Post, 4-22-09

Standing on a makeshift podium, in the concrete square just outside the UN building where Ahmadinejad had stated that Zionism was “the paragon of racism,” historian Gil Troy of McGill University told the crowd he was proud that Israel was a country where Pessah Seders were held with Darfur refugees who had found a home there…… Read Full Article

Center Field: Remembering the Holocaust after Ahmadinejad denied it

Center Field: Remembering the Holocaust after Ahmadinejad denied it

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-21-09

DURBAN DIARY

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 is attending the Durban Review conference as an observer.

Thanks to tremendous prep work by the Jewish community along with human rights organizations and democracies ashamed by Durban I, Durban II has been mild. Despite the undercurrent of hostility – and the occasional security threat — the UN’s move from Durban to Geneva worked. The NGO delegates’ lounge has the festive schmoozy air of any conference. The streets have been relatively quiet.

In fact, pro-Israel forces have dominated the street. On Monday, members of the European Union of Jewish Students taped their mouths shut – and were joined spontaneously by two Darfur refugees – to protest the UN’s silence on Sudan’s crimes and other human rights violations. Last night, a moving Yom HaShoah commemoration in front of the United Nations featured Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Canadian parliamentarian Irwin Cotler, Father Patrick Desbois and the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

Cotler recalled his parents’ lesson that some events “in Jewish history, in world history, are too terrible to imagine, but not too terrible to have happened.” Cotler’s words and his denunciation of Ahmadinejad’s genocidal designs on Israel linked the traumas of the past that Elie Wiesel described so eloquently with the threats of the present. Mourning the Holocaust in Europe, with six elderly survivors lighting candles in front of the UN, hours  after Ahmadinejad’s Durban Review conference appearance, also linked the world’s failures yesterday with the world’s failures today.

Still, with so many eloquent supporters of Israel assembled, this conference often feels like a Jewish fringe festival – and a gathering of my mentors and heroes – but with a profound message.

Today (Tuesday), after hearing predictably anti-Israel speeches from the Palestinian and Syrian conference delegates, I attended a side NGO session on modern anti-Semitism. The capacity crowd heard Professor Wiesel, visibly anguished by Ahmadinejad’s appearance, denounce the Iranian’s speech as “an insult to our intelligence, an insult to our sensitivity, an insult to our memory.”

Wiesel received a standing ovation by demanding the UN apologize for inviting Ahmadinejad at all. The actor Jon Voight followed with a heartfelt tribute to Israel and the Jews, mystified by the hatred such a “sacred” people endure. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz then drew “the unbroken line” linking Hitler, his Palestinian ally Haj Amin el Husseini, Yasser Arafat who called Husseini a hero, Ahmadinejad and his terrorist proxies Hizbullah and Hamas.

“Woe unto any of you out there who support Hamas,” Dershowitz thundered. “You are supporting Hitler’s heirs – you are complicit in the great evil of the twentieth century.” Natan Sharansky linked the Soviet Union’s “Orwellian world” with the modern UN’s Orwellianism. Sharansky offered a simple test for “a real conference against racism.” Countries that grant free speech should be given free speech; countries that fight against racism should be allowed to join the conference combating racism. Father Desbois, who uncovers mass graves of Jews in Eastern Europe by speaking to elderly parishioners, demonstrated the importance of challenging people to do the right thing. When he approaches, many ask “Father, why are you coming so late.”

While each of these speakers testified eloquently against the Durban distortions, the fifth speaker, Professor Shelby Steele, tried explaining the continuing appeal of modern anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. Steele, a leading black American intellectual, analyzed the wave of revolutions after World War II which eliminated white supremacy. Unfortunately, for many Africans, Arabs, and African-Americans, ending racism, achieving freedom, did not improve their lives as much as they expected. The result was an obsession with racism, and a scapegoating of Israel and Jews, as an act of “bad faith.” It is easier, Steele said, to denounce someone else than to take responsibility for your own misery – or to work hard to improve. Anti-Semitism, is a way of “changing the subject.”

On this Yom HaShoah, in the unlikeliest of places, some of Israel’s most thoughtful defenders helped change the subject in Geneva constructively, away from the Durban obsession with “changing the subject” destructively. Professor Cotler’s warnings that the unimaginable can become the historical haunt me, even as the words of Father Desbois comfort me. We cannot be complacent. And we cannot wait for others to recognize the justice of our cause. We must challenge our friends, our neighbors, seeking out allies. We must make sure that in the future, no one looks back on a preventable historical tragedy and wonders “why are you coming so late” to ask for help.

Gil Troy: Ahmadinejad’s antics, the UN’s perversity

Center Field: Ahmadinejad’s antics, the UN’s perversity

“The UN really is a beautiful thing,” I thought as I waited to pass through security at UN headquarters in Geneva. I was standing in a living, breathing poster for multiculturalism, amid delegates of different colors, from different cultures, representing different countries. My reverie was interrupted when the security guards pulled aside one delegate just ahead of me from an Arab country. Emblazoned on the folder he used to carry his papers was the slogan ZIONISM IS RACISM, with a swastika added for good measure.

This, alas, is the reality of the modern UN. The great betrayal comes from hijacking noble ideals as a masquerade to obscure harsh hatred.

Casually walking around with a ‘Zionism is Racism’ folder reflects an identity of negation, built around hate, rather than around something positive. This is modern Palestinian nationalism’s great tragedy – and crime.

Indulging the desire for destruction rather than seeking something constructive curdles the national soul – and prevents compromise. The result is the movement’s pornographic commitment to violence – for effect – and an ugliness so toxic and, surprisingly, so epidemic, it poisons noble gatherings including this Durban Conference. The admirable desire to fight racism, xenophobia, and discrimination becomes derailed. Underlying the perversion is a refusal to understand that rights begin with mutual recognition of rights for ourselves and for others, for those we like and those we don’t.

While the UN is world headquarters for producing this one-sided farce, many of Israel’s enemies are too honest to stick to the script. Just as Hamas failed to learn Yasser Arafat’s lessons about lying to the world and keeps its anti-Semitic charter calling for Israel’s destruction, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance on the first day of the Durban Review conference shows the modern UN’s perversity. Yesterday, at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy we learned that Iran’s commitment to fighting discrimination includes the death penalty for homosexuals and torture for dissidents, let alone the fact that Ahmadinejad has endorsed the destruction of two member states of the United Nations, Israel and the United States. Today, we had a chance to see Ahmadinejad in action.

Like all good demagogues, Ahmadinejad is clever. He knows how to work his audience. He guaranteed himself top coverage and a first spot in the speakers’ rostrum, ahead of a clump of deputy ministers and foreign ministers. No other head of state spoke today. He brought star power – and excitement – into otherwise tedious proceedings. Moreover, he fed the crowd red meat. He started by invoking the prophets, including Abraham, Jesus – and the final one – Mohammed. He earned applause from the General Assembly delegates by denouncing the Security Council as an imperialist carryover from World War II. More broadly, he blamed America, capitalism, and (if you listened carefully) liberal values for today’s economic crisis.

Of course, his speech centered on calling Zionism the personification of racism. Ahmadinejad’s speech can be studied as a classic anti-Semitic specimen, attributing to Jews (although he uses the word Zionism) disproportionate power and importance, adding a dash of Holocaust denial. Ahmadinejad blamed “the Zionist regime” for the Iraq war, among other crimes. He clearly believed that the conference against racism would fail unless it assailed the Jewish state – and broader Western ideals of liberalism, secularism, and capitalism.

Although the conference president thanked Ahmadinejad for his sentiments, the next speaker, Norway’s foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store repudiated the Iranian’s remarks. Store said Ahmadinejad expressed himself “in a way that threatens the very purpose of this conference…. Freedom of speech yes,” Store said, “but incitement of hatred, no.” Ahmadinejad’s speech, Store said, “runs counter to the very spirit and dignity of this conference.” Even more important than Store’s words were his – and his European Union colleagues’ — actions. As soon as Ahmadinejad claimed the European powers used “the pretext” of Jewish suffering to establish a Jewish state, dozens of EU delegates walked out. I remained disappointed that their countries did not boycott the conference. But the delegates did something tremendous. I never thought a parade of (mostly) men in (mostly) dark, pin-striped suits could be so moving. If only they were willing to demand the UN stick to its ideals regularly…

Gil Troy: The Anti-Racism Conference As It Should Have Been

Center Field: The Anti-Racism Conference As It Should Have Been

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-19-09

DURBAN DIARY

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 is attending the Durban Review conference as an observer.

Geneva is awash in the light green of early spring, nestled amid snowcapped mountains. Arriving from Israel, I found the city’s tranquility surprising, until I remembered this was Sunday morning, not Monday. Still, the quiet set the tone for this first day, on the eve of what promises to be a tumultuous United Nations Review Conference on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and

Intolerance beginning Monday (the UN shifted from Durban to Geneva hoping to avoid the riotous anti-Semitic atmosphere of Durban, 2001).

Entering the city, I passed the Intercontinental Hotel, where Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is staying before addressing the conference Monday. Many Swiss citizens are urging their president not to shake Ahmadinejad’s hand. “But,” my taxi driver shrugged, “protocols must be followed.”

What a perfect welcome to Europe – and to the UN’s moral myopia. By cherishing protocols more than human rights, the world enables dictators. Despite advocating Israel’s and America’s destruction, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be welcomed like a head of state, rather than the genocide-seeking rogue he is.

Fortunately, twenty human rights NGOs hosted a “Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy,” or what I call the “Anti-Racism Conference as It Should Have Been.”

Offering a mirror image of the Durban Review conference leadership, many of the speakers suffered repression thanks to the leaders of today’s UN Human Rights Council. The 22 speakers from Iran, Cuba, Libya, Iran, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, along with the hundreds of attendees, rejected the toxic combination of European politesse and dictatorial manipulation perpetuating what one speaker called the “coalition of autocrats around the world.”

That speaker, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, imprisoned in Egypt for three years, said that having Libya lead the human rights council made a mockery of human rights. He also denounced “the indifference of the democrats,” regretting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s vow that human rights issues would not sour American relations with the Chinese. “When people no longer denounce injustice … we are giving an oxygen boost to dictators so they can continue to trample on people’s rights,” Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo, a Cuban activist warned.

In the emotional opening session, victims of the Darfur and Rwanda genocides moved delegates to tears, by describing the evil they endured. Dominique Sopo, the President of SOS Racisme, condemned the Durban Review conference’s “negationism,” ignoring real the human rights crimes. “It is unbelievable that Darfur is not on the agenda,” Sopo insisted. “What is the point of having a conference against racism if this is ignored?” Contrasting the UN’s passivity with the opening panelists’ activist idealism, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler thanked the dissidents for “inspiring us to act and do that which needs to be done.”

Celebrating sixty years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention, sessions examined the declaration’s various articles. This afternoon’s session examined Article 5, the “right to be free from torture and cruel or inhuman treatment.” Parvez Sharma described “Jihad for Love,” his film describing the discrimination endured by Islamic homosexuals. Ahmed Batebi, a dissident imprisoned in Iran for nine years, recounted how he was thrown in solitary confinement on flimsy legal grounds. He recalled: threats, mock executions, brutalization of friends, and how “they tied my hands to a chair and kept me awake until I lost consciousness, then cut me and poured salt in my wounds to wake me up.” This cruelty, he explained, “is an attempt to crush the spirits” of anyone who criticizes Iran’s regime.

Finally, Dr. Ashraf El Hagog, a Palestinian doctor, and Kristina Valcheva, a Bulgarian nurse, described how Libya falsely accused them of spreading HIV, then tortured them with beatings, electrical currents, and sexual sadism. “It’s disgusting” that Libya is chairing the UN human rights council, Dr. El Hahog shouted, “SHAME ON YOU LIBYA.” Noting that a Jew was one of the first people to help him get out of prison, Dr. El Hagog admitted that he had been imprisoned in his own ideology, and now regretted his bigotry.

“Please use your liberty to promote ours,” Soe Aung, a Burmese dissident begged. Once, that slogan was the UN’s watchword. Today, the sentiment challenges UN protocols.

We owe it to these democratic heroes to do what we can to use our liberty to promote theirs – while pushing the UN to fulfill its historic mission. Meanwhile, we buckle our seatbelts for the farce that Ahmadinejad and his fellow dictators will launch tomorrow.

Playing the partisan

By  Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-23-08

A JPost.com exclusive blog

Clinton addresses the...

Senator Hillary Clinton’s refusal to attend the major rally called for Monday September 22 in New York against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN appearance is outrageous – as is the organizers’ subsequent decision to disinvite Sarah Palin.

Back in August, Senator Clinton had agreed to attend. She abruptly pulled out this week because the Republican nominee Sarah Palin also agreed to appear. This move suggests that Senator Clinton hates Governor Palin and the Republicans more than she hates Iran’s Ahmadinejad, despite his sexism, homophobia and advocacy of genocide.

The explanation Senator Clinton’s office gave for the shift was petulant and ignorant. Apparently, Clinton felt blindsided by news of Palin’s appearance. Palin’s “attendance was news to us, and this was never billed to us as a partisan political event,” Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines, told the New York Times. “Senator Clinton will therefore not be attending.” Upset by the controversy, a day later the organizers declared that no elected officials would attend, to keep the event “nonpartisan.”

But as Senators John McCain and Barack Obama showed in their joint appearance on September 11, sometimes political rivals have to stop opposing each other, even during election season. Imagine how powerful a message the American people would have sent to Iran had their two leading women politicians stood together during the presidential campaign against Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear-hungry mullahocracy.

Of course, Palin’s planned appearance was not simply altruistic and of course it had partisan aims. Politicians never stop prospecting for votes, especially during tough elections. And Palin’s willingness to protest against Ahmadinejad was part of her quest for legitimacy in foreign policy as well as a play for Jewish votes.

Hillary Clinton’s initial decision to attend the rally also was partisan as was her decision to boycott this important round in the popular fight against Iran. It is not surprising that Clinton recoiled at the thought of helping Palin’s quest in any way, but it is disappointing that Clinton succumbed to those feelings, given the seriousness of the Iranian threat.

The organizers did not need the rally to be nonpartisan but bipartisan. A nonpartisan rally limits the guest list to apolitical people such as the writer Elie Wiesel, who is planning to lend his powerful moral voice to the effort. But the organizers initially understood that in the United States, power resides with partisan politicians.

The rally would have been most effective had it been bipartisan – with influential representatives from both sides of the aisle. It is surprising that Senator Clinton and then the organizers failed to understand that distinction between bipartisan and nonpartisan. It is also unrealistic for Senator Clinton to walk around pretending that Sarah Palin has not become America’s newest political superstar.

The comic sensation of the week is a skit from NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler imitating Palin and Clinton, respectively. The skit imagines the two of them uniting to battle sexism. On Monday, life could have outdone art.

In fact, in addition to denouncing Ahmadinejad, Senator Hillary Clinton could have helped remind Americans of the many things that unite them, even during this campaign. Instead, Hillary Clinton played the partisan – and diminished her own moral standing in the process.