Opinion

In defense of Ronen Shoval, Im Tirtzu and Jewish sanity

Princeton academics are demonizing a scholar who dares to stand up to Israel-hatred.

Ronen Shoval, associate research scholar and lecturer in politics at Princeton University's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Department of Politics. Courtesy.
Ronen Shoval, associate research scholar and lecturer in politics at Princeton University's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Department of Politics. Courtesy.
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at: dougaltabef@gmail.com.    

David Isaac’s recent article describing the attempt by (no surprise) Israeli academics at Princeton University to deny Ronen Shoval—currently serving a year-long fellowship focused on Western political issues—a platform is a telling exposé of the reigning cancel culture that dominates American academia.

Ronen, who I am pleased and proud to know, is a leading light in the growing movement of serious thinkers who study the Western canon through the prism of politically conservative thought and values. He is an intellectual heavyweight, leading a high-level seminar program at the Tikvah Institute in Jerusalem, and his presence at Princeton is a feather in the institute’s academic cap.

So, what was the problem? Well, the real problem is force-fed progressive intellectual orthodoxy. Even the greatly diminished presence of non-progressive thinkers is too many for progressives, who believe conservative thinkers should not be allowed to sully the intellectual stultification and conformity of Princeton or any other institution.

It seems a bit too Jacobin to put it that simply, though this is the real intent of the detractors. So, there has to be a bill of particulars drafted that merits the banishment of he who does not conform.

In the case of the two Israeli academic detractors, that smoking gun was Im Tirtzu, the organization that Ronen co-founded. Since his departure at the end of 2013, I have had the privilege of serving as Im Tirtzu’s chairman of the board.

Shoval’s detractors, Eldar Shafir and Uri Hasson, trotted out old and discredited gripes to make the incorrect but sensational point that Im Tirtzu is somehow engaged in unspeakable activities worthy of a Der Sturmer puff piece.

Actually, Im Tirtzu has grown to be the largest grassroots Zionist organization in Israel. We were founded by soldiers like Ronen who, on returning to their classrooms following the 2006 Second Lebanon War, were told that the army they had just fought in was committing war crimes and the country they had defended was a colonialist, occupying power.

The reaction was grassroots pushback, an effort that went national and grew into a group with thousands of activists who both extol and defend Zionist values.

As Ronen has pointed out, the charges made by his detractors are inaccurate, and most of them cannot even be laid on his doorstep, as they happened after he left us.

What really bothers our detractors, however, has been our willingness to confront those who would denigrate or delegitimize Israel and its core institutions. Even worse for our detractors has been our success. We have called out once highly regarded “human rights” organizations in Israel as craven water carriers for foreign governments seeking to change Israeli policies by using Israeli organizations to make their points.

Shafir and Hasson adopt the same strategy as these organizations. We’re Israelis, they say, so we must know what we’re talking about. Of course, this sounds convincing, but only shows their own bitterness.

Of course, they probably hate the fact that our widely followed website Know Your Professor identifies the anti-Zionist proclivities of hundreds of Israeli academics, serving as a kind of caveat emptor—“let the buyer beware”—a heads-up for students who contemplate studying with these academics.

What people like Shaffir and Hasson cannot stand is that we dare to push back. We dare to defend our country and call out those who would do us harm.

These are fraught times for Jews throughout the West. Anti-Zionism has become the door opener for good old-fashioned antisemitism. Jewish leaders have been paralyzed in the face of the antisemitism that has grown out of woke intersectionality.

Ronen Shoval and the organization he co-founded are proud to assert the decency and humaneness of Israel and the right of its citizens to defend its values and policies against those, Israeli or otherwise, who would demonize us.

Ronen will probably not be able to count on the Jewish establishment to come to his defense. But for thousands of young Jews on campuses, Ronen should be someone to revere and rally around.

Dare I say it, but America needs its own version of Im Tirtzu: Proud, unapologetic, fearless defenders of the truth about what Israel stands for, our willingness to defend our values and our desire to instill a love for Zionism in our citizenry.

We hope for sanity at Princeton, resolve for Ronen and clarity and courage for all of us who venerate the great cause that is called Israel.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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