A lesson from Lebanon

A lesson from Lebanon

It is no longer fashionable, living as we do in the land of the free and the home of the brave, for us Jews to talk about how "they" are perpetually out to get us. The world is a much different place than it was just 50 years ago. If ever it was true that "they are out to get us," that was then and this is now. Get over the paranoia.

Alas, what was then still is now, it seems, and there is nothing delusional about the feeling. There is no other explanation for how the world — its politicians, religious leaders and media — is spinning Israel’s war against Hezbollah.

Among the most vicious tactics is the imposition of symmetry on asymmetrical events. Hezbollah bombs Israel; Israel bombs Lebanon. Tit for tat; quid pro quo; an eye for an eye; both are guilty of terrible things, but Israel is more guilty because it should know better. Besides, say "they," Israel is punishing innocent Lebanese for something beyond their control.

To equate Israel’s response to what Hezbollah does to evoke that response is outrageous. Hezbollah deliberately targets Israeli civilians even as it turns its own civilians into targets by using population centers as launch sites. Israel, on the other hand, targets only Hezbollah and its launch sites. Of course, civilians will be killed, but only because Hezbollah put them in harm’s way.

As for how innocent the poor Lebanese are, Israel waited for six years for Lebanon’s government to take control of the south. Lebanon never even tried. Instead, it allowed Hezbollah to have free rein in the south, to arm itself heavily, and to build up a bankroll with which to buy the loyalties of the locals. Is Lebanon truly "innocent" if it left Hezbollah unchecked in the first place?

Regarding the targets it goes after, where should Israel attack? Where the enemy is — or where it is not?

If Basque separatists, for some insane reason, used Pasajes to launch rockets at Biarritz, President Jacques Chirac would not respond by firing on the beaches of Normandy; he would go after the launch sites in the Spanish port city. Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, likely would cheer him on. So would the Spanish government itself, very likely.

Only the state of the Jews is expected to respond to an attack by firing into the void.

To end the war, the world dissembles. It will set up a buffer of its own troops in the south of Lebanon, it promises, and will disarm Hezbollah. It will set rules of engagement that give its troops a clear mandate to confront Hezbollah militarily, if necessary. And those same troops will assist Lebanon in taking back control of its southern frontier.

That, in fact, is what the world promised, but it obviously did not mean any of it. The troops will be insufficient to the task; the rules of engagement will actually be rules of non-engagement; the empowerment of the Lebanese government is an internal Lebanese concern and, in any case, will not be at the expense of Hezbollah’s influence in the south.

This is not a case of global myopia. This is the world saying to the Jews, "Know your place. When someone attacks you, you take it and you shut up about it."

That being said, this column is not about Lebanon, or Israel’s response. Suffice it to say that the world’s attitude toward us has not really changed and is not likely to change anytime soon.

What this column is about is what we can do about it.

We cannot change how the world views us. We must change, however, how we view ourselves.

"Divide and conquer" has always been the ploy of choice in any battle. "United we stand" has always been the most effective counter to that tactic. We, however, are as disunited a people as ever existed.

Two thousand years ago, we were divided among Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and assorted smaller groupings. So divided were we that we could not even agree on the simple things, such as when Yom Kippur fell. Of course, it always falls out on the 10th of Tishrei, but if you started Tishrei a day before I started mine, you would be feasting while I was fasting. In the world of two millennia ago, that had profound ritual implications.

In no small measure because of such divisions, the Romans were able to walk all over us.

The divisions still remained, but we did learn a lesson. Less than a generation after the fall of the Temple in 70 C.E., the schools of Hillel and Shammai, essentially representing the Pharisees and Sadducees (and Zealots) respectively, reached a historic decision: "elu v’elu divrei Elohim chayim — this one and this one are both the words of the living God."

In other words, we do not all have to agree on everything. Because there need to be some generally accepted norms, we will settle the issue, say, of when Chanukah begins. However, if you want to light eight candles on the first night and one on the last, I will not call you a heretic, turn my back on you, or mumble "stupid Shammai-ite" under my breath. "Elu v’elu divrei Elohim chayim."

We need to be one people again. Let us agree to disagree on our approaches to Jewish law and ritual, but let us declare "elu v’elu divrei Elohim chayim" and get beyond our differences so that we can sit and discuss issues of mutual concern.

Global anti-Semitism is one such concern, but there are myriad others closer to home. The high cost of Jewish living — and particularly Jewish education — is on that list. The growing disconnect many children feel toward Israel is there, too. So is the out-of-control intermarriage rate.

Standing — and talking — together allows us to better deal with all of these issues.

Insisting on maintaining the sectarian divide, however, and…

There is no and. There is only an end. Ours. Divided, we fall.