Monday, October 04, 2004

Gil Troy on Zionism

Five years ago, Israel seemed to be slowly heading towards peace, a free trip to Israel was in the planning stages, and our generation's challenge seemed to be simply remaining Jewish. That's all changed.
Since Rosh Hashana 2000, terrorism has claimed hundreds of new victims in Israel. Anti-Semitism is springing up all around the world. And five years after its launch, birthright Israel has given a free trip to Israel to 70,000 young Jewish adults, many from Canada.
The key to understanding all of this, says McGill history professor Gil Troy, is changing the way we define Zionism.
"We have to look at Israel as a source of inspiration for us, not just a headache," Troy writes from Jerusalem, where he is spending his summer. His name is becoming a household name in the Canadian Jewish community since he wrote an article in the Montreal Gazette on Yom Ha'aztmaut 2001 entitled "Why I am A Zionist." Amid accolades and hate mail, Troy expanded the essay into a book, which argues that we need to revive a form of Zionism called "identity Zionism" which changes what it means to be a Zionist.
Gil Troy isn't a very Jewish name, he reminds me. An American history professor who specializes in US presidents, first ladies and presidential candidates, he says that he has always personally had a strong Zionist identity, though he never advertised it.
"I decided to 'Come out', as it were, as a Zionist in spring 2001," Troy writes, "because I felt that the entire Jewish community was too defensive about Israel and Zionism, and needed to embrace the positive, not just react to the negative - and I'm very glad I did."
Troy has been visiting campuses, writing columns and speaking at conferences in the past few years, encouraging Jews of all ages to think about more parts of Israel than the bad news.
"It's very important that Israel advocacy not simply be defensive -- or offensive -- we have to celebrate Israel and delight in our Jewish identity," he says. When he travels to visit college campuses and speak to students, he brings with him his background as a history professor at McGill.
"This is a conflict steeped in history, distorted by those who don't know the history or willfully ignore it -- my training as a historian, makes me sensitive to the context," he writes, explaining that usually when discussing the conflict, a broader context is needed.
When he speaks on campus, he combines in his discussions the history as well as motivation to continue creative Israel programming on campus.
"Thou shalt not be obsessed with Israel's grave image problems" is just one of the Ten Commandments for Zionist activism he passes on to students involved in Israel advocacy. He encourages them not to lose hope or be discouraged by the continued terrorism.
"It may not be getting easier on campus, but it's certainly getting easier in the world -- even the EU has begun to sour on Yassir Arafat," he says, encouraging those who care about Israel not to despair. It is his belief that the current Hasbara (pro-Israel) effort is creating the right conditions for recognition of Israel's right to exist.
"We are creating the right mood, the right line, the right explanation, so that when people have their 'ahaha' moment and start seeing the evils of terrorism, and the mendacity of the Palestinian authority more clearly, our interpretation will be already out there and familiar," he explains.
Troy writes to Afterword from his current trip to Israel, which he calls "the most healing thing I do on a regular basis." He suggests that it is trips to Israel which are the best medicine for those tired or jaded by Israel-Palestinian discord on campus.
"When I'm in Israel, when I see the vitality of the society, the warmth of the spirit, and the way Israelis are sticking to their routines -- and continuing to have fun, it balances out all the ugliness and justifies it all."
- Published in Afterword's Fall 2004 issue.


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