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Historian: ‘We need a new Pat Moynihan’
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Historian: ‘We need a new Pat Moynihan’

Questions for… Gil Troy

Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, has combined his field of American history with his strong support of Israel in a new book, Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was United States ambassador to the United Nations from June 1975 until February 1976, later served three terms as a Democratic senator from New York. During his tenure at the UN, Moynihan battled the resolution that declared Zionism to be a form of racism.

Troy will discuss the book and address the topic “The War That Israel Cannot Lose” on Wednesday, Dec. 19, at the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange. His appearance is sponsored jointly by the Anti-Defamation League, Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and JCC MetroWest.

He spoke with NJ Jewish News in a Nov. 29 telephone interview.

NJJN: What is “The War That Israel Cannot Lose”?

Gil Troy: First and foremost, it cannot lose the war to exist. It is unbelievable, untenable to me that 65 years after its creation, its very existence is still on the table. Sometimes the Jewish community has a tendency to fall into this thing where there is one critical editorial in The New York Times saying, “Israel is going to fall” but it is just not that fragile. Israel is too big to be thrown under a bus. We ourselves are masters of hysteria.

The other war is an ideological war that I don’t want to lose. I think the Zionist idea is far too precious for American Jews and Diaspora Jews to give up on.

NJJN: Given a Palestinian state has just been voted nonmember status at the UN, how does that affect Israel and the peace process?

Troy: I am a disappointed peace processor. For years we wanted the Palestinians to turn toward negotiations and away from violence. I would much rather have a Palestinian state that turns to the UN than a Hamas which turns to rockets. Yet, when I look at the political culture of the Palestinian Authority I have my own fear that they will go to the International Criminal Court to bring charges against Israel, and when I look to the United Nations, it has been corrupted by its embrace of the Palestinians. As much as I wish I could applaud this move as peace-oriented, I see it as a cynical move that is circumventing negotiations.

NJJN: Your book is about Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his role as the U.S. ambassador to the UN. How do you think he would act if he were at the UN now?

Troy: It is almost unnerving. When I read through his letters and speeches, they are so relevant to today. He nailed it. He anticipated the United Nations would become a kangaroo court, and he warned that “human rights” would become a political battering ram for countries we don’t like or the Third World majorities don’t like. We need a new Pat Moynihan.

NJJN: What do you see in the future for Israel and the Middle East?

Troy: There has to be a de-legitimization of the Palestinian political culture. In the past few weeks I truly felt bad for the suffering that Palestinians in Gaza were enduring; this is not B.S. But as much as I felt bad for the people enduring the shriek of rockets and explosions and the destructive effect, I was also furious at the Palestinian political culture. They are willing to sacrifice anything — civilians on their side, civilians on our side — anything in pursuit of their goals, and their goals are not constructive goals. Their goals are about the destruction of Israel. Even those who pass for moderates in the Palestinian political culture are much more into destroying Israel than creating their own state.

NJJN: One of your other books is called Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents. In that vein, how would you characterize George W. Bush and Barack Obama?

Troy: Bush started talking about being a “compassionate conservative” and sounded moderate, but ultimately he didn’t understand the need to play that way, and he had a guru, Karl Rove, who was the anti-moderate…. Obama is a failed moderate. I truly believe in his heart he wants to be a moderate, but in some ways he was too much the rookie. He lacked the Washington savvy and the political experience to corral the Republicans and find the center; my fear is in the second term he seems to have given up.

NJJN: You also wrote a book called Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady. Do you still view her that way?

Troy: She has had different incarnations. One [lesson] she learned was that in order to be First Lady she could not be the ardent left-wing feminist she had been when she first came on the national scene, and she moderated. She found the center as New York senator. She has had an extraordinary performance as a cabinet member — the only Obama cabinet member people have heard of, and she is in many ways the most popular member of the Obama administration, and I include the president.

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