Time to refute the Israel-Apartheid & Zionism-Racism big lies with subtlety on campus

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-21-12

I had a disorienting experience in New York two weeks ago. I attended a discussion about Israel on campus that lacked hysteria, acknowledged complexity, and advocated nuance. The David Project launched its white paper “A Burning Campus? Rethinking Israel Advocacy at America’s Universities and Colleges.” The question mark after “Burning Campus” reflected a growing sophistication in American Jews’ conversation about Israel on campus.
The writers of the David Project’s analysis – with whom I consulted and for whom I wrote the foreword – dared announce that “Campus is largely not a hostile environment for Jewish students.” Actually, Jews are enjoying a golden age in American universities. There have never been so many Jewish students and professors, Jewish studies programs and identity-building experiences.  “Relatively few” of the more than 4000 post-secondary American institutions “have an anti-Israel problem.” Yet, this also is a golden age for Israel-bashing on campus. The study correctly warns that “pervasive negativity toward Israel on key leading American university and college campuses is likely to erode long-term bipartisan support for the Jewish state.”
We cannot be complacent. American university culture welcomes hard left views that trend against Israel. Too many professors commit academic malpractice, preaching not teaching, frequently propagandizing to demonize Israel. Outside class, an aggressive, self-righteous anti-Israel movement intimidates many pro-Israel students and has discouraged pro-Israel forces from using the Z-word – Zionist. This anti-Israel movement will soon launch anti-Israel hate weeks in a dozen or two campuses across North America, perpetuating the New Big Lie that Zionism is racism and comparing Israel to South Africa’s racist apartheid.
In A State Beyond The Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel, the British journalist Robin Shepherd accurately diagnoses the problem afflicting Israel on campus: All these attacks’ cumulative effect on Israel’s “reputation” is “devastating….  “Consider the words and images with which Israel has in recent years been associated: ‘shitty,’ ‘Nazi,’ ‘racist,’ ‘apartheid,’ ‘ethnic cleanser,’ ‘occupier,’ ‘war criminal,’ ‘violator of international law,’ ‘user of disproportionate force,’ ‘liability.’ …. No other state in the world is talked about in such terms.” Shepherd’s insight resonates with one of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s fears after the UN General Assembly passed the “Zionism is Racism” resolution when he was America’s UN ambassador in 1975. Moynihan worried that, increasingly, “Whether Israel was responsible,” for particular world problems, “Israel surely would be blamed: openly by some, privately by most. Israel would be regretted.”
While recognizing these dangers, pro-Israel circles – they should call themselves Zionist! – are debating the dangers of overreaction. When Zionists spotlight some anti-Israel conference or hate week, do we highlight activities that otherwise would be ignored? We must choose our battles carefully – although our campus problem partially stems from too many decades of being too passive.
We need jujitsu moves, turning negative forces into positive energies – while telling our story, and offering our affirmative vision. If, as is occurring in nearly fifty campuses this spring, anti-Israel hate week triggers rounds of “Israel Peace Week,” then Israel’s adversaries will be the ones seeing their strategy backfire. Whoever calls themselves pro-peace must learn to be anti-delegitimization. In relationships between countries — as with people — you cannot go into a defensive crouch and an expansive hug simultaneously. Fighting against delegitimization is fighting for the conditions that facilitate peacemaking.
Similarly, let the week perpetuating the Apartheid libel trigger weeks of learning about what Zionism is – a movement of Jewish national liberation – and what it isn’t – racist. Let’s learn what the American civil rights leader Vernon Jordan said in 1975 after the UN’s Zionism is Racism Resolution:“Smearing the ‘racist’ label on Zionism is an insult to intelligence,” Jordan wrote. “Black people, who recognize code words since we’ve been victimized by code words … can easily smell out the fact that ‘Zionism’ in this context is a code word for anti-Semitism.” Jordan blasted the General Assembly for “saying that national self-determination is for everyone except Jews.” And he detailed Arab discrimination, against Christian Copts, Kurds, Sudanese Blacks and Jews – especially dark-skinned Sephardic Jews.
Back then, thirty years after the Holocaust, most Americans, left and right, black and white, would never link the word “racism” to anything connected to Zionism or Judaism.  The former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver was “[s]hocked because of all people in the world, the Jews have not only have suffered particularly from racist persecution, they have done more than any other people in history to expose and condemn racism…. To condemn the Jewish survival doctrine of Zionism as racism is a travesty upon the truth.”
Further left politically, the anti-poverty activist and Democratic Socialist Michael Harrington joined the chorus of outrage. “If one preposterously charges that Zionism is racist, then so are all nationalisms which joined to condemn it at the U.N.,” Harrington said. “And that is to drain the concept of racism of any serious meaning.” Harrington warned that “By inventing a non-existent racism in Israel, the UN has undermined the effectiveness of mobilizing serious action against the real racism of Southern Africa.” Jean Daniel, a French radical and frequent critic of Israel called this “diabolic idiocy,” which discredited “the Arab cause” and the Third World, “counter-revolutionary and anti-Socialist.”
Since then, the New Big Lie has become a broadly accepted truism despite remaining untrue. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is national not racial. The Soviet-Arab decision to call Zionism racism and compare Israel to South Africa was a clever propaganda move to demonize and ostracize Israel – and Jews.  That the Soviet Union fell, the UN repealed the Resolution in 1991, and Israel made peace with some Arab neighbors shows that history can get better. That this libel outlived its Soviet concocters should spur our fight against this New Big Lie, and for Zionism, with strategy, with nuance, with effective education not just indignation, no matter how justified.

The writer 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 The History of American Presidential Elections.

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Beware ‘HIsraesteria’: Friends’ and foes’ hysteria over Israel

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-14-12

The unfortunate drift to theocracy continues. Recently, religious leaders in the army wanted to read a letter at prayers denouncing a policy shift that so infuriated them, they wrote: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.” Initially, high ranking officials did not want the letter read to religious troops because it “could be misinterpreted as a call to civil disobedience within our nation’s military ranks.” Cooler heads prevailed. Even as the army brass conceded that the letter’s “dissemination … as part of a religious service was not a matter for Army review,” the fundamentalists eliminated that one line and distributed it from their military pulpits.
Had this brouhaha occurred in Israel, with rabbis as the “religious leaders” and settlers as the “religious troops,” renewed warnings of Israel becoming like Iran – as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charged recently – would have trumped the happy news of compromise. But this news came from the Catholic News Service. It refers to Catholic opposition to the Obama administration’s plan to force Catholic institutions with non-Catholic workers to pay for abortions and contraception under Obamacare. President Obama ultimately relented, and will allow outside insurance providers to cover those services. Before that, as part of a nationwide campaign of rage, Catholic military chaplains distributed the harsh letter from the Archbishop for the Military Services – minus the offending line.
While the issue aroused passions in the US, this military power struggle raised no worries about America turning theocratic. Although some bloggers shrieked that Obama was destroying religious freedom, few Americans feared the republic was imperiled. For Israel, the incident is doubly instructive. First, it reminds us that Israel is not the only democracy navigating complicated religion and state issues, it is not the only democracy with a religious infrastructure embedded within its armed forces, and it is not the only democracy still working out core identity issues through values’ clashes.  Democracies are disputatious; important rights frequently collide. Such tensions, even painful dilemmas, are signs of life not forebodings of death.
A second lesson is that there is a particular hysteria — call it “hIsraesteria” — surrounding discussion of many issues in Israel. “HIsraesteria” afflicts friends and foes of the Jewish state. For Israel’s supporters, it manifests itself in constant anxiety, reducing Zionist hopes into perpetual fears, viewing Israel as the central headache of the Jewish people. In fairness, the hysteria is sometimes justified. Israel has real enemies, with deep enmity, who seek to exploit any weaknesses. And Israel is a young country with an immature democracy, a democracy frequently tested by war, terror and espionage, populated by millions raised in undemocratic political cultures, especially Russia and the Arab world.
Israel’s enemies use “hIsraesteria” to try furthering their goal of delegitimizing the Jewish State. With Israel the one country in the world on probation – the one country whose legitimacy seems contingent on “good,” meaning compliant, behavior, critics quickly jump from criticizing Israel to repudiating it. Critics love pathologizing Israel’s day-to-day problems, magnifying the common conflicts any democracy might experience into some epoch-making, dream-tarnishing, weakness-inducing immoral mess. And “hIsraesteria” often leads Israel’s critics to caricature Israel’s friends, treating Zionists as heavy-handed bigots.
Two weeks ago, I endured such caricaturing, when I was attacked in the Harvard Crimson, based on a lecture I gave three months earlier and a Jerusalem Post article I wrote about it the next day. The irony is that I reported good news – that I had been warmly, respectfully received at Harvard. Emphasizing that, to show how we can have productive, open-minded campus conversations about Zionism, Israel, and Jewish identity, I mentioned that “on too many campuses” – emphasizing some not all—pro-Israel or Zionist speakers have been “harassed.”
Caricaturing my argument, trying to set me up as a straw man – or a Zionist bogeyman – a student radical on campus pole-vaulted past my words claiming, Troy “relies on the assumption (which he has put forth in other articles) that ‘pro-Palestinian’ means ‘anti-Semitic.’” In the article, I never used the term “anti-Semitic”—I mentioned “anti-Zionist forces.” Moreover, I have acknowledged repeatedly in writing that many people are pro-Palestinian or critical of Israel without being anti-Semitic. The student distorted my “assumptions” and my “writing” with no evidence but with a clear purpose:  to set herself up as open-minded and enlightened while caricaturing me – and by implication all Zionists – as petty and prejudiced. The title of the article “What Anti-Semitism?” treated modern Anti-Semitism as an exaggeration, the pathetic fantasy of extremist minds, as she supposedly proved it didn’t exist by falsely claiming I said it existed where I didn’t say it existed — then not finding it there.
I rebutted the charge quickly but was left wondering about this Jewish student’s motivation, and the broader phenomenon. This spring, on too many campuses – again, some not all – pro-Palestinian forces will mount an anti-Israel week. Central to the charge will be the erroneous, offensive comparison between Israeli security policies and the systematic racism of the old Apartheid state in South Africa. This modern libel is another form of “hIsraesteria,” making an exaggerated claim – insulting to Jews because it libels the Jewish state and insulting blacks because it hijacks the experience of those who genuinely suffered in South Africa.  Just as false analogies diminish the Holocaust, they diminish Apartheid, which legally typed people by skin color.

Students and professors should make their rebuttal – without succumbing to the hysteria.  It is much better to invest, as so many are, in building an Israel Peace Week, than to get too mired in shadowboxing against false charges, made by hysterics. Let us not forget. Overall, Israel is thriving – that should be our headline and inoculate us against “hIsraesteria.”

The writer 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 The History of American Presidential Elections.

Fighting anti-Israel week with historical facts

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 2-9-12

As some universities brace for the annual spring round of anti-Israel weeks, which falsely accuse Israel of the great crimes committed by South African apartheid racists, we must put this absurdity in historical perspective. For starters, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a national one, not a racial one. The false comparison between what happens in the Middle East today with what non-whites experienced under South Africa’s apartheid regime, dishonours the suffering blacks in South Africa endured. Anyone who perpetuates the big lie accusing Israel of practising apartheid or claiming that Zionism is racism is simply passing on Soviet propaganda that has outlived its maker. In that spirit, let’s contemplate the African-American community’s response in 1975 to the United Nations General Assembly resolution claiming that Zionism is racism.

The day after the resolution passed, on Nov. 11, 1975, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the umbrella group of 32 leading American Jewish organizations, organized a noontime “rally against racism and antisemitism” in Manhattan. Many blacks attended the rally, and three important African-American leaders spoke: Percy Sutton, a famous lawyer and politician; Clarence Mitchell, a veteran NAACP official, and the activist Bayard Rustin. Many in the black civil rights community resented the Arabs hijacking their language and sloppily misapplying it to the Middle East.

“Smearing the ‘racist’ label on Zionism is an insult to intelligence,” wrote Vernon Jordan, the then-40-year-old president of the National Urban League. “Black people, who recognize code words since we’ve been victimized by code words like ‘forced busing,’ ‘law and order,’ and others, can easily smell out the fact that ‘Zionism’ in this context is a code word for antisemitism.” Jordan, a Southern-born lawyer, based his case against the General Assembly for “saying that national self-determination is for everyone except Jews.” And he detailed Arab discrimination against Christian Copts, Kurds, Sudanese blacks and Jews – especially dark-skinned Sephardi Jews.

One African-American speaker in particular, Bayard Rustin, stole the show. Born in 1912, a Communist during the Great Depression, a pacifist and draft resister during World War II, a gay activist long before it was safe to be one, and a labour union organizer, Rustin coached his friend, Martin Luther King, Jr., in Mahatma Gandhi’s ethos of non-violence. Rustin believed in “social dislocation and creative trouble.” Nicknamed “Mr. March,” Rustin helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, meeting Daniel Patrick Moynihan shortly thereafter on the civil rights circuit. Rustin worked closely with Jews, championing Israel as a democratic sentry surrounded by Middle East dictatorships. Rustin knew how much Jews wanted black support for Zionism in refuting the UN’s racism charge, and he happily provided it.

Rustin considered the resolution “an insult to the generations of blacks who have struggled against real racism.” In his newspaper column, he described the “incalculable damage” done to the fight against racism when the word becomes a “political weapon” rather than a moral standard. Rooting anti-Zionism in the ugly intersection between traditional antisemitism and the Arab desire to eradicate Israel, Rustin quoted Rev. King, a strong supporter of Israel, who said:  “when people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking antisemitism.”

Rustin and others also feared distraction from the anti-apartheid fight. Before the vote, 28 African-American intellectuals appealed to the General Assembly to bury this “extraneous issue.” The scholars warned that a taint of antisemitism around the broader mission “will heavily compromise African hopes of expunging apartheid from the world.”

Given his roots in the labour movement, Rustin resented the Arabs’ hypocrisy, considering their traditional contempt for black labourers. At the rally, Rustin noted Arabs’ historic involvement in the African slave trade. “Shame on them!” he shouted.  “[They] are the same people who enslaved my people.”

Tall and handsome, with his Afro sticking up and looming over his high forehead, Rustin ended his speech by bursting into song, singing Go Down Moses. As thousands of New Yorkers, black and white, Jewish and non-Jewish, joined in shouting “Let my people go,” the black and Jewish experiences reached a harmonic convergence.

We need to learn our history. We need to learn the facts. We need to fight the apartheid libel with the truth.

And we need to challenge Palestinians to devote a week to celebrating their own nationalism rather than focusing on destroying Israel and denigrating Zionism.