Speaking to members of the American Jewish Committee in North Brunswick, historian Gil Troy defended Israel against those who challenge its right to exist.
“There’s lots of room for criticism of Israel and lots of room to disagree, but we’re talking about a space where we all can agree: one country in the 20th century singled out for special opprobrium and put on probation, whose actions are not just criticized but demonized,” said Troy, professor of history at McGill University. “We criticize Pakistan but don’t question its right to exist. But Israel’s right to exist has been questioned.”
Troy was the keynote speaker at AJC’s Central NJ region annual dinner, held May 29 at Congregation B’nai Tikvah.
During the event, eight area rabbis received its Phillip Forman Human Relations Award for outstanding service to the Jewish community and to the AJC.
“AJC does something that no other organization can — it advocates for Jews, Jewish communities, and Israel and for human rights around the world,” said region president Michael Feldstein in an interview with NJJN. “Lots of organizations do those individually, but AJC does it on a global level through diplomacy.”
In his talk, Troy described strategies by Israel’s enemies to undermine Jewish nationalism, including the “big lie” that Judaism is just a religion.
“Judaism unites religion and nation,” he said. “That’s why we can have a Jewish democratic state that is not a theocracy, because we are a people, not just a religion.”
Tracing the development of anti-Zionism, Troy started with the 1960s when, he quipped, “Israel made a huge mistake; it won in a war for its very existence at a time when victors were becoming unpopular, especially among the far left.”
Troy also described the strategy championed by the late Palestinian-American activist Edward Said, who connected the fight for Palestinian rights with other popular left-wing causes, including the fight against colonialism, racism, imperialism, and the war in Vietnam.
And at the same time that Christianity was healing from traditional anti-Semitism, “the old hateful doctrine of anti-Semitism was applied to Israel as the collective Jew.” In 1975, the United Nations passed the “Zionism is racism” resolution, decried by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the U.S. ambassador, about whom Troy has written a biography. The resolution was repealed in 1991.
In response to a question from an audience member, Troy warned against ascribing to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement more power than it warrants, given its limited effects.
He asserted, however, that BDS is more than just a protest against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, but a movement to question Israel’s right to exist. He quoted a manifesto by Palestinian Civil Society, a key BDS group, that begins, “Fifty-seven years after the state of Israel was built mainly on land ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian owners….”
After Troy’s talk, Feldstein described to the audience AJC’s efforts to counter anti-Semitism. They include seven meetings between its international director of interreligious affairs, Rabbi David Rosen, and Pope Francis; Rosen’s role as the only Jewish representative to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Center of Inter-Religious Affairs; and coalition-building with moderate Muslims.
On the local level, he said, AJC supports Rutgers Hillel’s Israel advocacy efforts, cofounded a Hindu-Jewish coalition, and takes students from the Princeton Theological Seminary to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“We don’t just deal with the crisis of the day,” Feldstein said. “AJC is very farsighted. Anti-Semitism is very real on campuses and especially in other countries, and AJC gets involved to combat that and to build understanding.”