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.
As Palestinians prepare to try dodging compromise by unilaterally declaring independence, Zionist activists are prepping too. If the UN General Assembly votes, Israel will lose, and the UN’s anti-Israel bias will continue feeding Palestinian extremism.
But just as the UN’s 1975 declaration that Zionism=Racism backfired, harming the world body more than it hurt the Jewish state, we who support Israel’s survival 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.
We should stop dreading this fall.
The calendar is our friend. For each of the next five weeks, starting 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. We should affirm Zionism’s continuing relevance for Jews today, along with Israel’s continuing search for peace. The advocacy should link Palestinians’ destructive (and self-destructive) hatred of Israel with the Durban debacle, 9/11-style terrorism, al Qaida anti-Americanism, and the UN’s corruption.
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. Unfortunately, the real world
demands a more muscular 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 turns everything about Israel into a conversation about
them, framing the Jewish state as the central headache of humanity.
In the first week, August 28 to September 3, we should affirm Zionism and fight the racism lie.
For too long, too many pro-Israel activists have avoided calling
themselves “Zionists,” unconsciously internalizing the Arab-fueled
campaign to delegitimize the Jewish homeland. On campus, in synagogues,
on Facebook and beyond, we should reintroduce the term, championing
Zionism acknowledges that Judaism is not just a religion, but has a
national peoplehood component expressed through our traditional
homeland. Simultaneously, with August 31 through September 8 marking 10
years since the Durban fiasco, when an anti-racism conference in Durban,
South Africa degenerated into an 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
Now, it has become the Big Red- Green Lie, uniting too many on the left blindly with Islamists.
In the week spanning September 4 through 10, we should build up to
9/11’s tenth anniversary by emphasizing common pain in an age of
terrorism. We should remember the victims, telling the stories of the
many Israelis and Westerners murdered for political reasons in the past
decade. We should also think about what unites Israel and the US as
sister democracies, focusing on the values that Islamists and dictators
The next week should begin by concentrating on the US. September 11 is
sacred to Americans. On 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 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 Qaida rarely mentioned Israel.
Subsequently Bin Laden, like his dictator friends in Iran and elsewhere,
conflated his hatred for America and Israel, implicitly recognizing
Israel as a liberal democracy.
September 18 through 24, the focus should be on the UN, with the General
Assembly opening on September 13, PA 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 in New York City, 10 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 bias. The Zionist Left should be heard here,
challenging the Palestinians to negotiate rather than posture, while
criticizing the UN 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 peacemaking without mentioning the UN.
Finally, we should end September by marking September 29 and 30 as
Zionist Rosh Hashanah (New Year). Nations, like people, make mistakes
and can seek redemption. Just as the true love of family involves
accepting imperfections, we have to take Israel off probation, instead
pushing it to improve where necessary while celebrating this exciting
experiment in national redemption which enriches our lives as Jews and
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