Gil Troy. Credit: Courtesy.
Gil Troy. Credit: Courtesy.
featureSchools & Higher Education

Gil Troy to fellow Zionists: ‘Grow a spine’

“It’s time for some righteous anger,” the prominent American-Israeli historian and author told JNS.

Gil Troy, a distinguished scholar in North American history at McGill University, has a message for supporters of the Jewish state: The status quo is not enough.

“It’s a little crass, but I keep on saying ‘Grow a spine,’” the American-Israeli scholar told JNS. “Even after Oct. 7, many Jews, especially on campus, were much more comfortable having vigils. Look at the other side—their anger. We’re afraid of anger.”

“It’s time for some righteous anger,” Troy added. “Elie Wiesel said, ‘Anger sometimes is the rational response.’”

A native of Queens, N.Y., Troy, 63, who lives in Jerusalem and has penned more than a dozen books on U.S. political history and culture and about Zionism, made clear that he does not encourage tactics that many anti-Israel protesters embrace. 

“Never indulge in violence, but a little bit of righteous anger—a little bit of creative mischief, within the bounds of free speech, within the bounds of the law—is the justified response,” Troy told JNS.

Pro-Hamas activists play on fear when they protest in Jewish neighborhoods, at Jewish-funded hospitals and at Jewish community centers. Theirs is “a very calculated strategy to try to make every Jew think twice,” Troy said. “Do I put out my Magen David? Or do I not? Do I show some kind of outward symbol and support Israel and the hostages, or do I not?”

Those who support Israel ought to protest outside the homes of U.S. President Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, Troy suggested.

Gil Troy
Gil Troy. Credit: Courtesy.

Zionism has succeeded

Troy, who was a commentator on the CNN documentary series “The Eighties” (2016), “The Nineties” (2017) and “The 2000s” (2018), and who has written for The New York Times and Israeli media, spoke with JNS after completing a new book.

The tentatively titled Why I Am a Zionist: The Oct. 7 Edition follows the title of his 2001 book, Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. The scholar told JNS that the new volume is “a series of open letters to the Jewish people, explaining our mission.”

The thrust is to “challenge our peers to start telling their story, sharing their values, giving their vision to the next generation,” Troy said.

The historian believes that the Israel Defense Forces “may have failed” initially in responding to Hamas’s terror attack on Oct. 7, and the Israeli government failed on Oct. 7. But Troy maintains that “Zionism succeeded because it had raised a whole generation of commandos.” The latter “saved the country” and invites “us all not to despair and find inspiration in this difficult moment.”

Troy’s latest project as a fellow of the Jerusalem-based “think and do tank” Jewish People Policy Institute involves creating educational brochures for synagogues and community centers explaining Zionism, anti-Zionism and the Oct. 7 attacks.

“When it came to pogroms, we had no power. When it came to the Holocaust, we were overwhelmed by an evil power,” he said at a recent conference. “Oct. 7 was an initial attack of Hamas, but within a half hour, our citizens army, our plainclothes commandos, our kibbutzim Rambos and our army were scrambling, and they saved Israel from the fate Hamas had planned for it.”

“In an extraordinary act of bravery, they saved Israel,” he told attendees of a conference on Jew-hatred in mid-October in Ottawa. “That’s what you should think of as Oct. 7.2.”

The “win-win” situation is when Jews invite their non-Jewish friends to stand with them, Troy told JNS. “You find out who your friends are,” he said. “You find out who’s willing to stand with you.”

After earning undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees at Harvard in the 1980s, Troy lectured as part of the university’s Committee on History and Literature for two years, before becoming an assistant professor at McGill in fall 1990. Five years later, he received tenure and became an associate professor and then a full professor (1999).

Troy taught regularly until 2013, when he moved to Israel and became a distinguished scholar at McGill—a non-teaching position.

In 2016, he sought to get 10% of the McGill faculty to sign a petition against the BDS movement to boycott Israel. An Italian Catholic colleague emailed him in appreciation. “Thank you,” the colleague wrote. “I didn’t know how to help, and you showed me how to help.” 

The colleague subsequently encouraged others to sign and the number eventually exceeded the 10% goal, with more than 150 professors reportedly signing. 

“To get 10% of McGill’s famously-independent faculty to do anything in concert, including submitting grades on time, was nothing short of miraculous,” Troy told JNS.

Troy then understood more clearly how Jews could lead by example for their gentile friends and allies.

“I knew who my friends were when they stood up with me,” he said. “I know who my friends were when they wouldn’t stand with me. We just have to be a lot more aggressive in asserting our position.”

Gil Troy
Gil Troy on the beach north of Tel Aviv on March 4, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

Communist re-education

From 2010, when Troy moved to Israel, until 2013, he flew back and forth between the Jewish state and Montreal to teach at McGill. In his decades in higher education in the United States and Canada, he has seen universities change from a place where “we were safe, where critical thought and open-mindedness were values” to places of “anti-liberalism.”

“We know how campuses have turned into these Communist re-education camps, and we know that too many campuses have zero tolerance for microaggressions,” he told JNS. “So we know that there is zero tolerance for any deviation from the woke ideology, and there really isn’t free speech.”

“The only time they discover free speech is when it comes to contemplating genocide against the Jewish people,” he added. “Wow, we really are in the land of the hypocrites, I’m sorry to say, because I hate to go there. We’re also in the land of the antisemites.”

Troy advises Jewish students to “strengthen our core,” as in yoga or Pilates.

Parents should instill as much Jewish identity, values and history in their children as possible with an understanding “that an attack on Israel is an attack on them,” Troy said.

“We’re going to raise a generation of Zionist Jews with fluency and identity,” he said. “New Jews with the willingness to defend themselves when necessary but building, rebuilding and dreaming always, which is what Zionism has always been about.”

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