So what Levy wrote was a means of justifying Israel’s behavior: “But why shouldn’t what is due to some also be due to others?” This is the old question of why can’t the Jews treat our enemies the way our enemies treat us? Good question. The answer is a version of the Hasidic teaching that God’s manner of distributing reward or punishment is not necessarily the manner of men. When Jews complain: “We mourn when we accidentally kill their innocents. They celebrate when our innocents die,” that is sadly, but certainly, correct. But Arabs or Muslims dancing at our death is likewise not our concern or affair. That is between them and God. When Jews envy the lower moral standard non-Jews are held to, this is a version of the ‘evil eye’ Jesus spoke of in Matthew 20. The only comparison to be made is with the truth.
As the Bible progresses and the Jews emerge, they increasingly distinguish themselves as a people created by a social contract, setting themselves apart, not just as another tribe, but a people defined by morality. This is truly unprecedented and as has been noted by most legal scholars, forms the basis for common law as we now know it. Furthermore, this act of positing ourselves as a conscious entity, and the boundaries forged by insisting on values that have their basis in consciousness, formed the basis for civil society, as well as of the Jews as a people. To forsake these values to preserve the people defined by them is not an option. Indeed, it’s not even a logical possibility.
I know it seems unfair that we are Jews, but we are. Painful as it sounds, nothing Arabs or Muslims do is a justification for anything we do; that is God’s law. It’s a straight line to God and comparison is not an option. The proof of the good is in the result. Lévy claims that Israel is justified in what for her is a less discriminating response to violence because of the increasingly unabashed and popular calls for the end to Israel. And because Iran and its agent will soon have nuclear weapons capable of achieving this aim, he argues that we need to be willing to “go after” Hezbollah and be less precise than we might like to be in targeting our bombs, insofar as our enemy has begun to act on these lethal threats.
But speaking as a Jew I would argue: Of course we need to go after them, but in a way that works. Politicians can pridefully pontificate all day long, but at the end of the day our real goal is survival. And survival may prove difficult insofar as we are totally surrounded by Arab countries that want to annihilate us. So while I agree that we may, in some sense, have the ‘right’ to bomb their neighborhoods, since that is absolutely where the attacks come from, we do need to decide if that which we have the right to do is that which we should do for the good of the Jews. It’s not about being right. It’s not about teaching anybody a lesson. It is far more serious than that. We must ask ourselves what is the highest good, and I would argue the highest good is the survival of the Jews as Jews.
Now, it is not debatable that we have transformed the vast majority of the population of Lebanon from being against Hezbolla to being pro Hezbolla, and that with popular will goes political will and military might. With these newly energized forces now so strongly in favor of wiping out Isreal, we have greatly diminished her chances for survival. Nor can we continue to ignore that similar attempts using brute force (finally we are putting the lie to the right’s constant refrain: “all the Arabs understand is strength”) have increasingly backfired. From time to time, talking heads on the news from Israeli leadership triumphantly announce the death of this or that member of the terrorist leadership because we bombed a building and killed a number of people, a terrorist leader among them. Necessary and acceptable casualties, we say. But until we admit and come to terms with how many new leaders this morally weak and inferior approach breeds, we will remain on the losing end.
I really don’t need to debate this with anybody any more. Just look at the numbers! Please, because they are getting really bad. It’s as if there is a monster that can either be fed or not fed. And the monster is a huge number of average people now living their lives for the destruction of the Jews. (We Jews can say: “but the Jews are not Israel,” but that is a distinction the monster no longer makes.) So if the devotion is not to the negative pleasure of retribution, but to the unassailable value of surviving _as Jews_, then I say we as Jews have to be willing to do what works, and accept the cosmic challenge presented to the Jews: to continue to discriminate. I am not saying that we should not strike back. I am however saying that we must strike back very precisely, maintaining our moral core, in a way that allows us to emerge victorious.
Our only options at this stage are very risky and unattractive. What is demanded of us is man-to-man, knife-in-the-teeth, incredibly well coordinated, life-or-death, highly tactical and righteous behavior. The last phase of the battle is on pause, but given that we may have subsequent phases with similar charactaristics, let me share what I would have done regarding the most recent transgression. My solution would have been to make a very big deal about how we will not respond in kind, meanwhile marshalling all our resources and attacking every known person who is active in Hezbolla, in a manner similar to the way we went after the Munich terrorists after the ’68 Olympics. A full court press using the best of Israeli intelligence and technology, as precision-guided as a laser beam, but with a tremendous amount of information up front about what our intentions are (in this case: invade to a buffer zone and wait for the UN to send peacekeeper forces), tied to an information campaign about the moral limits we are placing on the war campaign, would have been a saner way to victory.
It would have been slow, it would have been ugly, it would have been extremely dangerous, all of that and worse. But it would have had – and next chance we get it still would have – one advantage: it would be morally unassailable and it would work. We would be able to enlist Jews worldwide with a multitude of outreach methods. Call it propaganda or even bribery, but we would be appealing to and using any and every backchannel and media outlet to let the world know we will not bomb back the way they are bombing us. But. We will neither accept this behavior. We will reject it in a manner that makes it utterly clear who we are and why we are not going away. We will do what Jews do best: we will discriminate.
We are dealing with the hopes and aspirations of the human spirit here, and to emerge victorious we must address it. Like Iraq, ultimately, we cannot militarize our way out of this situation. This is all about hearts and minds, and for better or worse, for us, there is no path to victory that cannot travel the moral high ground.
We must unite around these tenets. Just because they kill innocents does not mean we should. This logic is unassailable, and emanates from the holy of holies. It says: Our very reason for being is nothing if not that our values prohibit us from this kind of behavior. If we sacrifice our reason for being in order to be, we by definition cease to be. To fail to be ourselves is to fail ultimately, and so we will fail.
I know this path is correct because everybody is upset with me for advocating it. The left is angry that I am advocating some aspect of retaliation or at least non-pacifism. The right is angry because they fear weakness. I am not saying we should lie down and take it. But we are a traumatized people, and so are they. We face off, and both of us see ancient enemies. They see the Ottomans and oppressors throughout history, and we see the Nazis. Of course it’s terribly sad and disheartening to see 60 years later – given how triggered we are – how successful Hitler ended up being. Only the persecuted overreacts the way these two ancient enemies do. How ironic that the cause of each of our trauma is not the other. But we see our abusers in the other, and as the abused, we lash out. Each side in this conflict is unfortunately acting out of its trauma in a way which may doom both sides.
And indeed, many of my colleagues, Jewish and otherwise, believe WWIII has softly begun. There may be a temporary cease fire, but the story behind the scenes is that the Arab / Muslim street is now highly radicalized and enrolled in a way as never before in calling for Israel’s destruction. A plausable scenario, where following this phase the Arabs arm to the teeth and prepare for the end game. And the next time antagonisms will escalate more, and there will be bigger bombs, and more death and destruction, and ultimately boom goes Tel Aviv and boom goes Beirut, or we may say Megiddo (the town between Israel and Lebanon whose name forms the basis for the word Armageddon).
What is going to stop it? Nobody knows, but it will be some alternative that looks more attractive than the negative pleasure of the status quo. Our way there involves a solution that is built from a different approach, one that is willing to distinguish between what we have the right to do, and what we actually must do to win. My father has a saying: “You can be right, but do you want to be dead right?” It’s not about being right. It’s about not stoking an insane, monstrous fire that we cannot control. Unfortunately our enemies are not in control of it either.
There exists a very narrow path between sacrificing ourselves and the kind of retribution we are engaged in. It is a hair’s breadth wide and cut into a cliff, and we must divine it on a moonless night. The ability to distinguish such a thing seems almost impossible. But we’re Jews. That’s what we do.