A Zionist advocacy timetable for the next five weeks

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

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

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

The writer is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem.

The author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his next book will be The Big Red Lie: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Zionism is Racism, and the Fall of the UN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Shabbat + Humus = A New Zionist Vision

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-1-11

On Sunday night, February 27, more than 200 people, mostly “gap year” students who will attend North American colleges next fall, jammed into the Yad Ben Zvi Institute’s headquarters in Jerusalem. In the simple hut, once the Israeli president’s official greeting hall, over a dozen speakers honored Avi Schaefer’s memory by Re-imagining Israel on the North American Campus (livestreamed here). Schaefer was a Brown University student from Southern California who survived three years of volunteering in an Israeli combat unit only to be killed by a drunk driver last year.  He championed Israel at Brown – while befriending Palestinians – insisting that advocacy and empathy are not contradictions. When he died, the Brown campus was festooned with Israeli flags in his memory. For four hours Sunday evening this extraordinary 21-year-old’s spirit permeated that historic hut – challenging a new generation to find personal and Jewish fulfillment by becoming Zionist thinkers and doers, speaking about Israel from their hearts, in their language, through their networks.

In truth, the conversation often was sobering. MK Einat Wilf’s intelligent overview put this “new mutation” of anti-Zionism into historical perspective. The Arab effort to destroy Israel evolved from trusting military force between 1948 and 1973, to economic boycotts and “international terrorism,” which all failed. Today’s “intellectual assault” is “no less” threatening than “physical danger,” Wilf warned, because “Israel was an idea before it was a country…. If this idea of the Jewish people’s right to a homeland is undermined, the fundamental vision of Israel” as a Jewish state “is undermined.” 

The noted author Yossi Klein Halevi, from the Shalom Hartman Institute, analyzed how “anti-Zionism” has “restored respectability to anti-Semitism.” Defining anti-Semitism as “the tendency of a given civilization to identify the Jew with precisely what that civilization considers its most loathsome qualities,” he showed that making Israel, the collective Jew, the “arch violator of human rights … corrected the aberration of Nazism.” Classical anti-Semitism masqueraded as a benign force fighting bad Jews until Nazism’s evil destroyed that illusion. Modern anti-Zionism, blessed by Jewish shills, rehabilitates this historic hatred, going beyond legitimate debate over the outcomes of 1967, meaning Israel’s boundaries, to rejecting the results of 1948, treating Israel’s existence as criminal.

Speakers proposed solutions too. The Reut Institute’s Daphna Kaufman recommended the Restoring Sanity petition which distinguishes between legitimate criticism and delegitimization (Full disclosure: I helped write it and we used the name before Jon Stewart did). For those seeking to repudiate the upcoming anti-Israel week falsely peddling the Apartheid libel, encouraging debate about the petition – and collecting signatures – are easy first steps. Aviva Raz-Shechter from the Foreign Ministry described how students successfully “delegitimized the delegitimizers” at Durban II. Ilan Wagner of the Jewish Agency moderated an important panel emphasizing individual students’ power to change campus dynamics through thoughtful, constructive, sincere activism, as part of a broader quest to build positive Jewish identity.

This “Power of One” idea is the theme of Stand With Us, which co-sponsored the event with the Avi Schaefer Foundation through the effective organization of the educational consultant Dr. Elan Ezrachi.  And Mark Regev, representing the Prime Minister, spoke movingly, endorsing Avi’s message of empathy in advocacy and true love in patriotism – a mature love acknowledging that “Israel isn’t perfect” while working to make it “better.”

Summarizing the event, as the only professor there, I reassured the students that most North American campuses are not aflame. In fact, this is a Golden Age for Jews on campus – there have never been so many Jewish professors and students, so many Jewish Studies programs and strong Hillels. That it is also a Golden Age for campus Israel-bashing requires subtlety. If students come ready to fight they risk forgetting to learn and misreading their campus’s political culture.  So, yes, the Campus Jihad inflames some campuses. And the Academic Jihad turns most Middle Eaststudies courses into anti-Israel propaganda exercises, helping make Zionism politically incorrect on campus. But most students succumb to the careerist snoozefest, ignoring politics. Hysterics won’t cure these leaders of tomorrow of the anti-Israel poison; appropriate, tempered, democracy-loving, proactive strategies will.

Ultimately, the evening’s message was best articulated by Avi Schaefer in an opening video, echoed by his twin brother, Yoav Schaefer, who also volunteered in the IDF.  Yoav Schaefer described his brother’s “deep idealism,” noting how Avi used his credibility as a soldier and his personal humility to inject humanity into a conflict that too frequently polarizes.  By “listening deeply to others,” Avi helped change the tone at Brown. One Palestinian friend in the video thanked Avi for “helping me unclench my fist” – an impressive achievement in today’s atmosphere.

Avi’s secret lay in respecting Palestinians but not forgetting to respect himself, his people, our story. He understood that Judaism is not just a religion. The Jewish people constitute a nation – and like other nations deserve to express our national rights in our homeland. Avi spoke passionately about Shabbat and about humus. He loved wandering Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s home base, wishing people “Shabbat shalom” and feeling normal, understood, accepted. And he loved the little things, including Israel’s national foods.

Young Jews should follow Avi’s example, creating their own Zionist vision rooted in some of our most profound religious traditions and national expressions – like Shabbat – while delighting in the fun details that make a place feel like home. And they should build this Zionist identity not to score points, not to defeat anti-Semites, but to forge the kind of rich, fulfilling human identity, Avi’s parents Rabbi Arthur and Laurie Gross-Schaefer clearly gave him. In so doing, as a bonus, today’s students – tomorrow’s Zionist thinkers — will rise to Yoav Schaefer’s challenge and “build for Avi the world he would have built for us.”

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

How Zionism can get a passing grade on campus today

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-11-10

There is something wrong with this picture: This is a golden age for Jews on North American campuses. Never before have there been so many Jewish college presidents and Jewish professors, Jewish students and Jewish Studies majors. Yet, this is also a golden age for anti-Zionism on campus. Never before has Israel-bashing appeared to be such a popular intramural sport. An unholy alliance of anti-Israel activists and jaundiced professors demonizes Israel and damns Zionism on many – not all – North American campuses. These false but potent poisons injected into the intellectual bloodstream of so many leaders of tomorrow will haunt us for decades.

In preparing for another school year, we do not need another woe-is-me round of laments about the asinine activists, perverted professors and useful idiots who mask Palestinian rejectionism and Arab anti-Semitism behind a veneer of liberal pieties. The pro-Israel community on campus cannot just be anti the anti-Israel-crackpots on campus. We should start thinking about what we have been doing wrong – and what we need to do right – in this fight for Israel’s legitimacy, Jewish dignity and democratic decency. We must improve our defenses, strengthen our alliances, and, most important of all, advance a new vision, engaging Israel in a fresh, exciting way by singing a new song of Zion.

When I visit North American campuses, I frequently am amazed by how lonely and embattled pro-Israel students feel. Although the Jewish community is considered well-organized, even smothering and monolithic, many students standing for Israel feel isolated and exposed. Even more surprising, despite the systematic campaign against Israel on campus, both pro-Israel students and local Jewish communities frequently seem unprepared when targeted. We need more information-sharing, more “cookbooks” providing recipes for how to react, more exchanges via conferences and websites about best practices. At the same time, we cannot forget that the university has its own unique political culture and each campus has its own particular anthropology and sociology. Cookbooks are helpful; cookie-cutter approaches or what seems like outside interference are not.

Students would also feel less isolated if they solidified alliances. Pro-Israel forces should develop a language attacking Islamism on liberal grounds and joining with other campus groups offended by the illiberal, sexist, authoritarian, homophobic, anti-democratic, anti-universalistic impulses menacing the world today, which emanate from Israel’s enemies – not Israel. How come we don’t see stronger alliances between Iranian students and pro-Israel students against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s sexist, homophobic, repressive, nuclear-hungry Iran? How come we don’t see stronger alliances between Indian students, Christian students, pro-Obama students, college Democrats and college Republicans – all of whom should favor Israel as a democratic Western-oriented state in the Middle East over its dictatorial, Islamist enemies?

Internally, the Zionist world should clarify what unites us not just what divides us. We must foster a broad big-tent Zionism that carves out space for vigorous debate about the territories and the settlements, conversion and religion, Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, while emphasizing the core values that make Zionists Zionist. We should define the red lines we impose on ourselves which we shall not cross in debate, knowing that we operate in a toxic atmosphere, agreeing, for example, not to invoke the historically inaccurate, morally mischievous apartheid analogy, because we know it is used to delegitimize Israel and repudiate Zionism.

At the same time we should affirm the blue-and-white lines which we share, the way all of us, from left-wing secular Zionists to right-wing religious Zionists, believe in Zionism as the movement of Jewish national liberation, affirm Israel’s centrality in Jewish life, and appreciate how lucky we are to enjoy a democratic Jewish state in our traditional homeland.

In reaffirming our blue-and-white lines and ties, we will remember that the Zionist revolution is incomplete: Israel remains an unfinished product inviting more input while Zionism’s mission to solve the Jewish problem remains relevant today. We grant our enemies a propaganda victory they do not deserve when we make Israel the central headache of the Jewish world today, when we reduce Zionism only to the Israel Defense Force, when we forget Zionism’s redemptive power. Zionism, like Americanism, like all forms of constructive liberal nationalism, roots individual members in a collective enterprise greater than themselves. Starting with the grounding history provides, Zionism – like all liberal nationalisms – injects meaning into the present by dreaming about and building toward a better future.

It is fitting that Theodor Herzl’s slogan was Eem Tirzu Ein Zo Aggadah, “if you – collectively! – will it, is no dream.” While acknowledging the universalists’ critique that terrible crimes were committed in the name of nationalism, many of the greatest achievements of the modern world resulted from nationalism too. On one side of the Atlantic, consider the American achievement – the world’s most successful mass, middle-class civilization, mass-producing freedom and prosperity for hundreds of millions. On the other side of the Atlantic, consider the Israeli achievement – returning Jews to history’s stage, reviving the Hebrew language, saving millions after the Holocaust and from the Arab expulsion, forging an Altneuland, an old-new land, a modern Western democracy with a Jewish flavor in the Middle East.

In that spirit, we should jumpstart a Zionist conversation that is dynamic not defensive, empowering not pedestrian. We should be Jewishly-ambitious – not just setting career goals, financial benchmarks, and personal growth targets, but Jewish aspirations, individually and collectively. In asking “how can I grow Jewishly,” we can also ask “how can I help Israel thrive.” And in so doing, we will find the ultimate Zionist secret: by seeking redemption for Israel we will also help redeem ourselves. In a modern world that often feels aimless, alienating, and disempowering we will find purpose, focus, roots, as we sing a new, renewed, relevant song of Zion.

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