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How the Pro-Palestine Movement Hijacked the Civil Rights Movement

An interview with historian Gil Troy.

· 31 min read
Gil Troy, a middle aged man with round glasses, in a suit, holding a microphone while giving a speech at a lectern.
Courtesy of Gil Troy.

This interview conducted by Pamela Paresky explores the distortion of the civil rights movement by the pro-Palestinian movement and the negative impact it has had on Zionism and the American Jewish community.

Historian Gil Troy delves into the destructive nature of the Palestinian movement and its hijacking of symbols and language from the civil rights movement. His conversation with Paresky also highlights the regressive progressivism and illiberal liberalism that has infiltrated campuses and the education system, leading to the propagation of antisemitism and the erosion of core values. It emphasises the need to rebuild a language rooted in genuine liberalism and conservatism to counteract this distortion.

Their conversation covers various topics related to the challenges faced by universities, the distortion of narratives around Israel and the United States, and the difference between Islam and Islamism.

Gil Troy emphasises the need for critical thinking and understanding the complexity of these issues. He also highlights the dangers of ignoring the threat posed by Islamist ideologies and the importance of holding them accountable.

Gil Troy: How could it be that the civil rights movement, which was nonviolent, constructive and deeply American, has allowed the Palestinian movement, which is so addicted to terror and so anti-American, to steal and hijack the symbols of the civil rights movement?

African Americans, both from the far left and from the far right, have always been very careful not to let people come in and steal their symbols. When Black Lives Matter came out and a university president said, “All lives matter,” she was almost forced to resign because they said, “No, no, no, you’re not understanding the uniqueness of our cause.” That protectiveness somehow, when it comes to the Palestinian movement, falls apart.

We saw this around George Floyd. The Palestinian movement literally went in and used all the symbols of the chokehold, the knee, saying that we are one. It’s actually been very destructive to Zionism on campus and to the American Jewish community. The American Jewish community worships progressives and worships the civil rights movement and is so proud of the American Jewish role in the civil rights movement. Then these people come in and literally distort history and steal the symbolic power of one of the most sacred and effective movements in American history.

Pamela Paresky: That sort of paradigm is not about civil rights. Can you say more about what that’s like now?

GT: I have a problem. I’m an American historian. So I read Martin Luther King and I try to understand what was his power. Now people like to say, “Oh, the United States is systemically racist and there’s so much racism today,” and I don’t diminish the suffering that many individuals endure but we cannot compare the racism of today, as awful as it is, with the racism of the 1950s and the 1960s. I go back to the 1950s and the 1960s, and I understand how did it work. Martin Luther King was very careful. The civil rights movement was very very careful to be non-violent but also to be deeply American. Martin Luther King invokes the Constitution, he invokes the Declaration of Independence, he invokes an Americanism and is basically saying to America “Live up to your ideals.”

What we’ve seen is a nihilism in the African-American movement, not all over. And for example, the middle-class blacks in South Carolina who elected Joe Biden in the South Carolina primary showed that the heart of black America is still very much in sync with Martin Luther King’s values. But there’s a radical antiracism which brooks no dissent, which says if you don’t agree with our agenda completely, you are not just an antiracist, but you are racist.

Part and parcel of this indoctrination and this new orthodoxy is that Palestinianism is central to their cause. I think it’s a distortion of the civil rights movement. I think it’s a distraction from the important work that still needs to be done in the civil rights movement. It also hurts America because we’ve seen again and again in the attacks on the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Democratic National Committee, LAX, and JFK airport during Christmas time, that the pro-Palestinian movement today is deeply anti-American and why would the civil rights movement want to be a part of that?

PP: It seems like the pro-Palestinian movement has moved away from being actually pro-Palestinians and has become really just a front for being anti-Israel or even pro-Hamas. Is that how you see this?

GT: This is the great tragedy of the Palestinian movement.

Before we get to today, let’s go back 30, 40, 50 years ago. Again and again, rather than seeking compromise, again and again, rather than seeking a constructive approach, the Palestinian nationalists have used the Palestinian people to push an aggressive agenda, which is against compromise, against peace, against living with Israel. That’s why Oslo blew up. That’s why Ehud Olmert’s very generous series of offers to Mahmoud Abbas in 2007 and 2008 blew up because again and again the leaders of the Palestinian movement don’t want a solution that includes Israel. They don’t want a two-state solution. I saw a recent poll that shows that 89 percent of the Arab world rejects Israel’s existence.

Now we look at today and we see it’s gotten even worse. Now, we have two problems.

One is we have what’s going on in the Palestinian movement, which is all about Hamas and its destructive sadism and its antisemitism and its anti-Zionism, which we saw in full display in its ugliness on October 7th. And it’s intertwined with a progressivism, which I call regressive progressivism. I call it an illiberal form of liberalism, which takes very important ideas about equality, about dignity, about fighting racism and goes all accelerator, no brakes, and takes them to an extreme position, clumps them all together (thank you, intersectionality) and says there’s only one way of thinking about this. If you deviate from that one way in any way,
you are evil and if you try to bring in any facts that are counter, you’re also evil.

The test case of that is on October 7th, hundreds of thousands of Jewish students woke up on campus, read the reports and said, “Oh my goodness, I wasn’t thinking that much about being Jewish on October 6th, but this was a deep attack on me and on us. This was an attack that echoes through centuries of oppression and centuries of hatred and centuries of bigotry.”

A similar group on the laboratory called the American campus was the feminists who woke up that same day. On October 6th, we would guess that their identity as feminists, their intolerance for any form of gendered violence, their sense of MeToo and “silence is violence” and all that, was so much deeper than your typical Jewish student. But instead, because the progressive position was to say that the violence against Israel was exhilarating, the violence against Israel is what decolonialism looks like, the violence against Israel is justified, they couldn’t even respond to the core challenge of the threat to their own identity as feminists. And so we see there a really dangerous form of corruption. If I can’t deal with the facts,
and I can’t deal with the truth, and I can’t deal with justice, when we see the largest, most self-promoting act of gendered violence in history, and I’m struck silent.

So yes, I call this the triple-double-cross. They threw the Jews under the bus. Unfortunately, we’re kind of used to that. They threw liberal ideals under the bus. We’ve been seeing that happening on the campus for 20, 30, 40 years. They betrayed themselves. They betrayed their core ideals. Four to five months later, we
still haven’t heard enough from the mainstream feminist movement. We’ve heard
some feminist voices speak up, but we’ve actually heard more of those feminist
voices going to the National Organisation of Women, going to other places,
going to the 120 departments of gender studies who condemned Israel in May
2021, saying, “Where are you?” The silence is deafening.

PP: You’re making me think of the silence of feminists about Iran and
how women are treated there and in other Muslim countries. There’s some kind of
blindness or an inability to reconcile two different sacred values.

GT: You’re bringing out an excellent test of two parts of the illiberal
liberals’ fanaticism.

One is: Islam is holy you can never criticise anything about Islam or anything about Islamists. I’ve been very careful in my career. I’ve never attacked Islam, but I’ve repeatedly attacked Islamism. I’ve attacked jihadism. And I’ve actually rarely been called on that. I’ve been very pro-Israel and very pro-America for many years. And no one’s ever accused me of being Islamophobic because I’m not. I respect Islamic religion, but I actually think it’s a form of respect of Islam to show that
there’s this distortion which is hijacking the core ideals.

Islamism is perfect and cannot be attacked. So you see that blind spot. And they don’t talk about honour killings among Palestinians or in Iran.

The second piece is there’s a blind spot about Iran, which goes back to the Obama administration. The core part of Obama’s political identity, not just his foreign policy, was reaching out to Iran and showing that we could deal with them. We heard his silence so powerfully when the Green Revolution happened and he didn’t speak up. We heard his silence so powerfully when we were in negotiations over the Iranian nuclear treaty. I kept on saying, if John Kerry just throws one temper tantrum, let him knock over the table right away. They’ll come back to us and we’ll get a better deal and he and Obama will be way more popular. But there was this blind spot, and unfortunately, the blind spot continues.

How could it be that the United States of America has absorbed over 180 attacks by Iranian proxies? And we’ve lost at least three service members and dozens of others have endured traumatic brain injury. Yet we’ve attacked the proxies, but we haven’t gone to the head of the snake. We have to take on Iran. I don’t want us to bomb Tehran. I don’t want us to kill many, many people. But we have to push back. Iran has shown a very low tolerance for absorbing losses when it’s on their territories. They love to play the chessboard and love to use the pawns of the Houthis and Hamas and the Israelis, but when you take it to them, they tend to get much more cautious.

So we see these two blind spots about Iran and about Islam intersecting in a stunning silence about anti-gay violence in Iran, anti-women violence in Iran, and illiberal violence against critics. I actually believe that if the world put more pressure on the regime, the regime would collapse, but the world hasn’t put the pressure it should on Iran.

Then of course you add the antisemitic blindness. I grew up as somebody who didn’t experience a lot of antisemitism growing up in New York. I don’t want to build a modern Jewish identity or even a modern Zionist identity as an anti-antisemite or an anti-anti-Zionist. I think it’s so important that we celebrate the good and that we come together on positive values.

If on October 7th our pro-Palestinian brothers and sisters on campus and elsewhere had stopped for a second and both Palestinians and progressives sat with their Jewish friends and sat with their Israeli friends just for five minutes and said that this is really ugly, this is really horrible, no human beings should ever be killed en masse, and no little children should ever be beheaded, then on October 10th, 12th, or whenever, started protesting about Israeli tactics in fighting, then we’d have a debate about what Israel does.

But their hatred showed that it’s about what Israel is and who Jews are and that is toxic and we have to have zero tolerance for that. When I say we, I say as Americans, not only as Jews.

PP: That actually brings up a question that I hadn’t thought to talk to you about, but that it is something that I think about a lot, which is the tension between freedom of speech and these slogans, chants, etc. On the one hand, I think there is a point at which those things cross a boundary and create a hostile climate for Jewish students, but it’s not day one. However, if you say that we have no tolerance for antisemitism, that is a type of censorship.

GT: It goes to what I said that we’re in a world of all accelerator and no brakes. Everything’s extreme. Let’s go back to the reprehensible performance of the three college presidents. There were two problems with what they were saying. One was they were pretending that they lived in this free speech utopia. They were pretending that there hadn’t been 10–15 years of people being called out for looking at people the wrong way, for silly things called microaggressions, that there wasn’t this sense that Harvard and University of Pennsylvania in particular ranked lowest on standards of free speech.

That was one disconnect. The second disconnect was the degree to which you really sense that there was a hierarchy of what speech was intolerant. Somehow it just so happens that when you get to genocide for Jews, that’s tolerated. Then all of a sudden you become a free speech absolutist.

So in an ideal campus, I would use different words, but I would say the same thing, which is that I still want to have zero tolerance for antisemitism and racism and sexism and all kinds of bigotry, meaning that we all have to work really hard to fight against those forms of bigotry.

At the same time, I do have to have tolerance for speech and distinguish between speech and action. So when on the Harvard campus, a Israeli student who was walking around who was videoing with his iPhone a protest and when they laid hands on him, the moment they laid hands on him, they crossed a line. When they started bullying him physically and menacing him, they were approaching that line. But when they were simply yelling and screaming from afar, we have to learn how to yell and scream.  

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PP: I don’t want to leave the opportunity unexplored to talk about the ethnic studies movement and its impact on this relationship between the Palestinian cause as much as it isn’t about Palestinians and you know, I wouldn’t say the civil rights movement, but maybe the Black Panthers and the other kinds of groups in the US.

GT: It’s interesting because for the last 10–15 years, some of us have been involved in a conversation about what’s happening on campus. Many of us have our stories of when we had our moment.

My moment goes back 22–23 years ago during what the Palestinians call the Second Intifada. I called it the War against Peace in Oslo. I saw that academics who could make anything complicated, they could walk into Starbucks and write 30 papers about the history of coffee, but when it comes to this very complicated conflict Zionism is racism and Israel apartheid. Really? That was my break.

So there’s been a conversation about what’s going on on campus. Many of our most idealistic students go to teach. They go into elementary schools, they go into high schools, and they come with that social justice agenda, the anti-racist agenda. Now what we’ve seen is that this has been an insidious movement for a long time. The California Ethnic Studies Curriculum is just the most dramatic example of all kinds of subtle things that are happening. In Hillcrest High School, we saw the inevitable result when a mob went after a Jewish teacher who dared to be pro-Israel. We’re starting to see, at the elementary school and the high school level, a real propagandism. Everything these days is about Palestine and everything these days is about fighting racism, and if you’re not systemically fighting the systemic evil you’re part of the evil.

What we have to do is acknowledge three things.

One is it’s a distortion of the Palestinian cause. It’s just looking at the Palestinians as victims. It’s not respecting decisions they and their leadership have made to not compromise over the years. It treats them as children without agency. I say this actually out of respect for the Palestinian movement, if it was a grown-up movement and took responsibility for its decisions.

Second, it distorts, as we said, the civil rights movement and the story of nonviolence and heroism and Americanism that was intertwined in the civil rights movement.

Third, it’s turning into something that’s against Jews. This whole notion that Jews have white privilege tries to rob Jews of the amazing story that we can tell in America of the people oppressed, depressed, miserable, poor, unfree for so many years, for so many decades, for so many millennia who come to America with very little but with their smarts and their sweat start building.

When my grandfather walked down the street, people didn’t say, “Oh, there’s a man with white privilege.” No. “There’s a Polish Jew.” He’s obviously an immigrant from the way he dresses and his big ears and his heavy Polish accent. But he was able to make it in America. They were the generation making it. That hope is being robbed from us and it’s being robbed from our kids. Our kids are growing up in America where they’re propagandised and they’re told it’s systemically broken.

A few years ago, I was running and I fell and I broke my wrist. A doctor friend of mine said, “Well, you know, at our age, when it’s mechanical and not systemic, you’re doing okay.” It was a great line, but actually I think it’s a real important line when it comes to true liberalism and true progressivism. We have to look at every problem in the world, especially in our wonderful country called America, as mechanical. We fix them. If it’s systemic, then you start saying, “I’m throwing up my hands.” One of the things that makes me so confused these days is I don’t understand how to navigate a world where progressives don’t believe in progress and conservatives don’t conserve institutions.

We have to call out the extremists on both sides. I actually believe that there’s a silenced majority out there. I call them the silenced majority who really just want to send their kids to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. Who just want to get back to the basics at university. Who were scrimping and saving to pay $20,000 or $40,000 or $75,000 a year for their kids to get the best credentials they can get and the best, sharpest, critical thought. To see them turn into propaganda factories, first of all, I call it academic malpractice. Secondly, it’s a form of
corruption because you’re selling one product—credentials, American capitalism, success, and critical thought—but you’re imposing a very different agenda, which is against every one of those values and every one of those skills.

PP: So it’s like a bait and switch.

GT: Yep.

We used to complain about the corruption in American higher education, where we all came to universities thinking we were getting the best teachers, and we discovered that they’re hired based on their research. That’s the old form of corruption.

Now it’s even worse. When we come in, we think we’re getting the best teachers and researchers, and they’re hired ... Look at the way the hiring practices go in the American Sociological Association and the American Historical Association. It’s a kind of internal elite. And if you don’t sign on the bottom line, and if you don’t buy into the whole package, then you’re not going to get ahead. You’re not going to get promoted. You’re not going to get hired. You’re not going to get a book prize. You’re not going to get a letter of recommendation. You’re going to be shut out. So people end up mimicking the ideology, even if they don’t believe it, because they want to get ahead in that system.

PP: You’re sort of pointing to this split between think tanks and universities. What you call the silenced majority is also at the university, both professors and students, in addition to the parents, whereas at think tanks, I don’t think people feel silenced but then the work that comes out of these think tanks gets pointed to as illegitimate because it didn’t come out of the university.

GT: It’s an interesting thing. Particularly in the 1980s, Republicans started going to think tanks in Washington because they felt that they didn’t have a home in the university. They weren’t getting hired so I understand why they went elsewhere, but by completely giving up, it only got worse and worse.

I’m an old-fashioned professor. There’s nothing as exciting as the magic of the classroom. There’s nothing as exciting as sitting down with a group of young learners. It’s so exciting. You go on a journey.

I spoke to a group of students at Tufts Hillel and they asked really thoughtful, substantive questions. Some of them were critical of my position, but they were with respect and with thought and they came to learn. They came to disagree but they came to disagree agreeably not disagreeably. This is what university is all about.

One time I was talking about Israel, and I said, “Well, of course, there’s always room for you to disagree, and I hope that during the course of our hour together, you’ll ask me difficult questions, because if we don’t ask the hard questions when we’re together, then we can’t learn together.” “Professor Troy, are you serious?” one of them said, “I’ve never been invited to ask a difficult question in my life.” And I said, “No, you’re kidding.” These students told me something really
terrible. They said, “We walk into a room and we know who the most extreme
people are and we know that if we don’t say what they want us to say, or if we
disagree with them, they will Twitter shame us and it’s just not worth it.”

These small group of campus commissars bully everyone else because the silent majority here today just wants to go to the movies and learn. It leads to what Natan Sharansky, channelling George Orwell, calls doublethink. Sharansky says that he always saw antisemitism as the tool of the dictator and to see antisemitism in democracies and flourishing on college campuses didn’t make sense. The second shock for him was to see the best and the brightest, young, smart students, parroting the line and doublethinking. Doublethink means that you think one thing, but you say a different thing in order to get ahead, in order to fit in. To see that happening at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, at Rutgers, at Chicago, at state universities—he was in shock.

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We should be in shock. We should say, “This is completely unacceptable. It goes against the core mission of the university, the core values of the university, and the core mission and values of the United States of America.” It really is a fight to regain Americanism. Not Donald Trumpian Americanism, not Bidenism, but simple, good old-fashioned Americanism, which was the great secret to success that made this country the world’s first mass middle-class civilisation that kept on growing more and more freedoms, more and more opportunities, more and more tolerance. Have we reached capacity? Absolutely not. Is there always more to do? Absolutely. But the formulas worked: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Trying to achieve those ideals has now been denigrated.

PP: The common language actually is something that is becoming more and more challenging. All of these theories rely on an inability to disagree or an unwillingness to accept disagreement, but they also require a new set of words that we use in the vernacular, but they don’t mean the same things in these theories, like “whiteness.” Then when you try to have a conversation with somebody you’re not talking about the same thing.

GT: What they’ve created is an insider’s language. Once they start talking, you know it. Each one of them, there’s a kernel of a good idea, but they’ve been distorted and turned into an orthodoxy, and they’ve also been turned into a weapon. And that’s when they become toxic.

But it’s more than that. So they have this way of speaking about themselves. They also add that psychobabble language. Somebody says, “I’m wounded by what you said.” Like Idan Amedi, the great Israeli singer, who could have spent the war just singing, which is holy enough, but he went and fought, and he absorbed an explosion, and he had pieces of shrapnel in his neck, he had pieces of shrapnel in his body that they’d pick out. That’s wounded, right? To use this language to show that you’re spiritual, and to show that you’re part of this cult, is, especially during wartime, and especially, I’m sorry to say, within the Jewish community, quite offensive and so self-involved and so self-absorbed that it’s almost a form of insanity.

When we hear DEI-to-DEI person talking, when we hear that internal language, when you go to academic conferences, you go, “What language are they speaking?” They’re speaking their language.

It’s so important that we call them out and say, “This language is a distortion, it’s language that obscures.” And it goes back to one of the things we kind of side bar-ed, which is that when you don’t specify that the gendered violence on October 7th was by Hamas against Jews, when all these university presidents on October 8th, 9th, 10th said, “We understand there’s distress in the Middle East,” as if it was a weather system, you’ve obscured the actor. Historians also teach never obscure the actor because then you’re just stuck in the soup. You have to say who’s done what.

So we have to call out that language. But more important to me is we have to rebuild our language. We have to rebuild the language of genuine liberalism, of genuine conservatism, a language of respect, a language of patriotism, a language that is rooted in the Founding Fathers and Mothers, that’s rooted in Martin Luther King, that’s rooted in John F. Kennedy, that’s rooted in Betty Friedan, that’s rooted in all these amazing people who helped us get to where we are. I just can’t think of a better treasure chest of ideals and values than what we inherited in America and to watch at the elementary school level, at the high school level, at the college level, in media, in book publishing, that treasure chest be purposely dismantled,
purposely demeaned, purposely devalued, it’s terrifying.

I’m not an optimist because I’m a historian that I also know in the 1970s, people lost faith in America and we go through our ups and downs, but this kind of assault on core values by the most influential people in society using social media and mainstream media and the universities is quite unnerving and in 1980s, Ronald Reagan pushed back against some of the nihilism of the 1960s and 1970s politically, but it didn’t succeed culturally. The late Todd Gitlin wrote a book and he was lamenting how the Left lost the White House, but took over the English Department. He was saying that was a failure of the Left. I once quoted it showing that actually it worked. In a culture war, the White House comes and goes. But if you take over the English Department, and then they become the elementary school teachers, they become the high school teachers, they become the gatekeepers in publishing, they become the gatekeepers on television, they become the media stars, you actually have much more influence.

PP: A lot of higher education has now been set up to prevent thought instead of to encourage thinking. How do we best impact on the different education levels?

GT: I’m hoping, not predicting, but hoping that this might be a bit of a moment. We’ve seen the donors revolt. But I’m a little bit wary of the donors’ revolt on campuses. As an academic, I instinctively don’t want outsiders coming and bullying us, especially based on their money. But as educators, we never give up. So you hope one by one. You hope class by class that there’ll be enough to change.

On the university level, I think the first thing that has to happen, I would tell the gazillionaires, is build centres. In each university, there should be a centre of critical thought focused on how to think, not what to think; how to learn, not what to learn. I think this would take decades because we’re seeing that the young people, the 20 and 30 and 40 year olds, they’ve already been propagandised. So they’re going to be social justice warriors for decades.

So within the university though, you can create a centre and then you have an opportunity for students as consumers to say, “Hey, wait a minute, I’m being pushed to think. I’m being pushed to write. I’m being pushed to sharpen my analytic skills in this class. How come it’s not happening there?” And then perhaps those centres will grow.

But that’s the way I would do it on the university level. I think on the elementary school and high school level, this is really an issue of politics. And I think this is starting to happen. I think people are starting to understand that there has to be more scrutiny. As an educator, I want as much autonomy as possible. But if I see that educators are miseducating, if educators are hijacking the classroom, if educators are turning what should have been the neutral professorial podium into a political platform, then I need my state legislatures and city counsellors to stand up and say no and we have to start having political battles over these curricula,
which are raising our kids to be anti-American.

PP: It seems like the understanding of the history of the founding of the United States is fairly broken and the history of Israel and they’re sort of broken in the same ways. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence.

GT: No, I agree. I think it’s systematic. It’s purposeful. It’s an assault on the core stories, the core narratives, that we tell about ourselves.

America was founded in 1776, but the New York Times ran this very biased thing in 2019 saying that we have to mark the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship that brought slaves to America as a terrible moment in American history. I’m with them. We have to see how racism has been a far too central part of the American story, but 1619 wasn’t the founding of the country, 1776 was.The ideals of 1776 were very, very different to the ideals or lack of ideals of the slave traders of 1619. The New York Times pushed a notion of original sin that this wonderful country has this original sin of slavery. It is systemic and you can never get out of it.

And lo and behold, when those same people tell the narrative of Israel, they talk about the original sin being Israel against the Palestinians. As I said earlier, making the Palestinians completely blameless and robbing them of any agency.

So Israel will never get over its sins against the Palestinians and America will never get over its sins against blacks. When in fact, we’ve seen that Israel isn’t deeply hostile to Arabs because we’ve had the Abraham Accords and we’ve had peace with Egypt, and similarly, America has evolved away from much of its evil, much of its
ugliness, and into a far better place.

This inability to be grateful for the amazing opportunities we all have from America, the constant addiction to grievance, curdles your own soul. Don’t think about anybody else for a second. If you’re constantly feeling hurt, if I’m constantly competing with you in the victimology Olympics, not only does it distort the society, but it distorts my soul.

PP: You’re making me realise how much both the problem with the 1619 view of the founding of the United States and the settler-colonialist view of the founding of Israel are false narratives about foundings, but I would say that the settler-colonialist narrative is even more incorrect.

GT: You’re absolutely right.

What’s happening in 1619 is you’re taking the ugliest fact of American history and you’re using it to define every fact in American history and and overshadowing it. In the original 1619 New York Times magazine article they said there’s heavy traffic in Atlanta because of segregation patterns. There’s traffic in every city.

What happens with Israel is different. How could it be that the original, aboriginal people, all of a sudden are guilty of settler colonialism, imperialism, racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and now white supremacy and Jewish supremacy.

PP: And genocide.

GT: And now genocide. How could it be? That’s just creating false narratives.

PP: What is settler colonialism and how is Israel not a settler-colonialist state?

GT: Settler colonialism is an interesting idea that there are certain societies which came out of an extractive approach to their neighbours or to elsewhere. The classic settler colonialism narrative would be the British from far away came to the United States of America and created this settler colonial society where they imported all kinds of people and killed the Native Americans.

There’s some truth to that. It’s a useful way of understanding some of the things that happened between the people who came and the people who had been here before. But when it becomes an orthodoxy and you only tell the story through that, you miss all the subtlety. You miss the size of America, you miss the emptiness of America, you miss, again, the ideology of America.

Similarly with Israel. When you say settler colonialist, you’re actually robbing Jews of their story. You’re robbing Jews of their roots in this land. You’re robbing Jews of any complexity.

PP: What’s important, what’s the most important thing to know about the history of Israel for people who just hear the settler colonial narrative?

GT: When we talk about Gaza, we have to be willing to deal with the facts and be politically incorrect. Let’s talk about three specific data points.

One, in the 1920s, two very important things happen. The British come in after the Ottoman Empire collapses and they have a mandate. It’s a mandate that comes from the League of Nations and the mandate includes allowing Jews to settle in the area. The Jews have the right to create communities in that area between river and the sea.

One of the areas where they settled was in Gaza in 1929 but there always were four holy cities, Hebron, Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberias, that were holy cities and always had a Jewish presence. So fundamentally that means that the Jews have a right to settle anywhere in that area.

When the Arabs rioted in 1929 and the Hebron community was destroyed, the British, to save the Jews, had them leave by railroad and they were evacuated.

In 1948, when Israel declared itself a state, they attacked seven Arab armies, depending on how you count. In the process of that fight, Jordan took over what it started calling the West Bank, what Jews traditionally called Judea and Samaria, carving it out with no international legitimacy and Egypt carves out an area, the Gaza Strip. And all of a sudden, Egypt, with no international legitimacy, takes over the Gaza Strip. From 1948, Egypt controls the Gaza Strip with no international

In 1967, Israel being threatened with destruction by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria attacks with a preemptive strike and wins territory from Syria, Jordan and Egypt, including Gaza.

So in both cases, Israel’s returning to land it legitimately had from the League of Nations mandate.

PP: So you’re saying that the only legitimate title holder for that land is Israel?

GT: I would say the most acknowledged because the Arabs could make a case that in 1947 the UN partition gave them rights to that area—but they were the ones who rejected it, right? Historically they have a certain connection there but all the Jewish connection has never been negated, from the 20th century, not from the Biblical times.

PP: And before the 20th century, my understanding is that Jews were in the Gaza region from about the second century BC?

GT: Yes, and if we go all the way back to the Bible, the famous story of Samson and Delilah takes place in Gaza.

Then in 2005, as an attempt to not be called an occupier, Ariel Sharon disengages from Gaza and there’s a big fight. Should we stay at least in the Philadelphi Corridor? His generals say: we can’t withdraw from it because you know what’s going to happen. They’re going to smuggle all these weapons. They’re already building tunnels. Ariel Sharon says: “I don’t want to be called an occupier.” I don’t think most people in the world realise how deeply betrayed Israelis feel by the fact that almost immediately the accusations were flying that we were occupying even though we withdrew and that it culminated 18 years later in the most horrific of massacres.

When the world then says, “Oh, two-state solution, or withdraw from war territory,” have they not learned anything? We had the possibility of a Palestinian state and the result was 1,000 people killed in the most personal kind of terrorism in the Second Intifada of bombing cafes and buses.

PP: In the Oslo Accords, where did Israel withdraw from?

GT: The genius of Oslo was, you know what? Let’s just lessen the Israeli military footprint on the most number of Palestinians possible. So the biggest cities in the Palestinian area, Jenin, Hebron, and Ramallah, became autonomous and were controlled by this thing that was created called the Palestinian Authority. The idea was to give as many Palestinians as possible as much autonomy as possible.

The result was that in the summer of 2000, there was an attempt to make a big final deal under Bill Clinton’s auspices. Arafat didn’t even give a counter offer to a very sweeping, quite generous offer and turned back toward terrorism, which had been growing anyway. Bill Clinton himself said to Arafat, “I failed because of you.” But of course we forget all that. It’s more fun to blame Israelis.

So until the international community is willing to explain to Israelis why this is different, why the two-state solution this time has a shot at working, I think few Israelis are willing to take another risk. I won’t risk my kids. I don’t want my neighbours risking their kids. I don’t want to be thrown under the bus by anybody who will feel better sipping coffee in Washington or the Upper West Side because we’ve let them worship at this delusional shrine called the two-state solution.

PP: One of the things I think people don’t grasp in that conversation is what allows Israel to prevent Palestinians from having a state. I think what you’re pointing to is both in Gaza and in the West Bank, Palestinians had statelets. They had autonomous control in Gaza much more even than in the West Bank. And had they not used that to launch terrorist attacks, there would have been a state. Is that about right?

GT: Right. The easiest, cleanest situation was Gaza because they had a contiguous piece of land that they controlled, right? And even the New York Times in a recent article wrote about the tunnels that were built in areas under which they controlled. They literally used that phrase. And I said, who’s the “they”? It’s Hamas. So if Hamas controlled that area under which they built the tunnels, then that means that were unoccupied. Words count.

People sit in Manhattan and call Gaza the densest place in the world. They’re sitting on the 50th floor of one of the densest places in the world and talking about Gaza, where the tallest building is 12 stories, and there are vast areas of Gaza which are just empty, and they’re calling it the densest place in the world. It just isn’t.

PP: They also call it a concentration camp.

GT: They also call it the world’s largest open-air concentration camp or prison when there’s a beautiful sea coast. So these phrases that you read in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and that you hear coming out of policymakers are divorced from reality and are delegitimising and demonising of Israel and feed the Palestinian delusion that the world is with them. But we know at the end of the day, the world’s going to turn its attention to somewhere else. We know at the end of the day, Hamas is much more interested in its apocalyptic dreams than in improving Palestinian lives. And we know at the end of the day that it’s the Palestinians who are going to suffer.

So, who’s more Islamophobic? Somebody who reads the Hamas charter and says, “They don’t really mean it. They’re just being Arabs.” Or someone like me who reads it and says, “Oh my goodness, they want to destroy us.” My response actually comes out of respect for who they are, the story they tell themselves, and the aspirations they articulate. Out of respect for them, I have to take them seriously. But also out of respect for them, I have to hold them responsible. That’s the great failure going on right now. No one’s holding them responsible. They’re always innocent. People throw out the number that there are 27,000 dead innocent Palestinians. Well, that means that either you’ve absolved every one of the Hamas murderers and rapists and marauders of guilt, or that the IDF is not the most moral army in the world, it’s actually the most immoral and most incompetent army in the world because in 120 days of fighting, they haven’t killed one terrorist. So pick your delusion.

PP: I’ll come back to what you were saying earlier about the difference between Islam and Islamism. I just wanted you to just finish by unpacking that a little more, because I don’t think that people really understand that there is a difference and they don’t understand what Islamism is. Can you just say ... we know Islam is a religion. What is Islamism?

GT: Let’s take one step back.

One of the problems with the Western mind is we’re transactional. At the end of the day, we’re all playing let’s make a deal and we want to find some deal that works. There are other minds that are apocalyptic, that look at things in messianic terms, that look at things in religious terms.

The Islamist movement is an apocalyptic movement within Islam that takes the idea of jihad and uses it to say that “we are the only legitimate religion,” that “the world is divided into those who submit to us and submit to our god Allah and those who don’t. Those who don’t submit need to be killed.”

We saw this with ISIS. We saw this with Al-Qaeda. We saw this most recently with Hamas. One of the things that scared many people around the world was they understood that this wasn’t just an attack on Jews, as deeply antisemitic as it was and as focused on Israel as it was, but it was an expression of this apocalyptic Islamist worldview that looks at jihad not as an opportunity to do good, not as an opportunity to improve yourself, as certain other branches of Islam would suggest, but a form of extremist fundamentalism, which is very apocalyptic. It doesn’t just target the Jews. It targets Christians. It targets those who believe different forms of
Islam. To not acknowledge that, to simply throw out clichés about Islam being a
religion of peace, is intellectually reprehensible. It’s as reprehensible as ignoring the history.

You have to sit with the hatred. You have to sit with the hatred of the Other that was not just there on October 7th but we saw with ISIS reducing women to sex slaves simply because they disagree with you theologically. You’ve got to really sit with that evil. If you don’t, you’re being purposely naive or you’re not even respecting who they are and the message they’ve been sending out for 20–30 years at least.

PP: And Islamism’s goal is global?

GT: Global domination. Don’t trust me. Read the books. Read what they say, read their internal conversation about themselves. You can simply go online these days, read what they say to one another, read what they preach, read what goes on in far too many mosques, and then say: “Okay, I’m either gonna ignore those facts because I want to live in a world where those facts are inconvenient to me or I’m gonna deal with those facts.”

I think October 7th should have been like 9/11. It should have been a wake up call to the world, not to hate, but to be wary of people who themselves call themselves your enemy. If you can’t acknowledge that somebody’s threatening to kill you, then what kind of self-worth do you have?

That is really a core attack on the West. There’s a self-destructive, suicidal strain in the West that is filled with self-loathing and self-hatred. We’re seeing that in the elementary schools and the high schools, and the universities, and also ignores central threats. What do you think they’re going to do to women? What do you think they’re going to do to gays? What do you think they’re going to do to liberals? What do you think they’re going to do to intellectuals when they take over? They’ve shown it. On October 7th, they took particular glee in killing some of these peaceniks who lived on the border who drove them back and forth to hospitals.
They took particular glee in shooting Muslims who quoted the Quran to them and
said, “I’m a Muslim.” Some of them were maimed, some of them were shot, some of them were left for dead.

They showed us their behaviour, their values, and now we’re going ignore it or excuse it? I’m not ready to ignore it, excuse it, and I’m certainly not ready to forgive or apologise.

Pamela Paresky

Pamela Paresky, PhD, is a Senior Fellow at the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) and Director of the Aspen Center for Human Development (ACHD). She writes for

Gil Troy

A New York native, a Distinguished Scholar at McGill University, and a Jerusalem Post columnist, Professor Gil Troy has written nine books on American presidential history and three books on Zionism.

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