Three weeks into Israel’s latest Lebanon War, Israelis and their friends and allies around the world remain united in the certainty that this is a just war. They know that Israel had a right to respond as it did to Hezbollah’s provocations, and they believe that Israel’s future safety requires a clear victory over the terrorists who would destroy it.
Entering week four, however, painful questions have begun to surface. Few doubt that Israel deserves to win, but many are wondering whether it can. And if the war can’t be won, is it right to go on?
What of the victims who found themselves caught on this war’s unexpected front lines — in northern Israel, in southern Lebanon and, yes, in Seattle?
And where is the next front line? Tel Aviv? Damascus? Houston?
What does victory even mean in the shifting fog of this war? Crushing Hezbollah? Disarming it? Shoving it a few miles north? Or merely humbling it, so that it can’t emerge looking like a winner? What will the regional landscape look like after a bloody battle that ends in a standoff? Will things turn out worse than they were before? What will be left of Israel’s standing in the global community, which seemed so secure just weeks ago?
For Israelis, the questions are terribly concrete. After 21 days of fighting, Israel had lost 54 citizens, including 36 of her bravest fighters, each one a world of loss. This, tragically, is the expected cost of war. Less expected, Israel’s north, which had blossomed in the six years since the last withdrawal from Lebanon, was reduced to rubble. The military operation was supposed to remove the potential threat of Hezbollah’s rockets. Instead it unleashed them in a hail of fire that, at press time, showed no sign of abating.
For Israel’s Arab neighbors, the questions have an even more deadly urgency. Much of Lebanon and most nearby Arab states initially welcomed the prospect of Israel coming in and breaking Hezbollah. But Hezbollah remains unbroken, while ordinary Lebanese pay a dreadful price — more than 600 dead, most of them civilians, and its infrastructure pounded to bits. Seeking a knockout, Israel continues and escalates its pounding, and still Hezbollah is standing, and anger at Hezbollah has turned to rage at Israel and its allies. On the streets of Arab capitals, passions swirl, sweeping away centuries-old hatreds between Sunnis and Shi’ites as public opinion rallies behind Hezbollah. The big winner, terrifyingly, is Iran.
For Israel’s friends around the world, the deadliest challenge lies in questions yet unasked. For years, American Jews have rallied wholeheartedly to Israel’s cause, secure in the protection of our American citizenship. We watched from afar as Israel battled its enemies, an ocean away; we petitioned our government, as is our right, to stand up for what we thought to be just in the Middle East.
We proclaimed to the world that we and Israel are one. Now Israel’s enemies are taking us at our word. They who did not hesitate to blow up toddlers in Jerusalem and Seder celebrants in Netanya have brought the war to Jewish fund-raisers in Seattle. Now Pamela Waechter, director of annual giving of the Seattle Jewish federation, is the latest victim of Israel’s war for survival. May her memory be blessed.
The initial response to the Seattle shooting has been to treat it as something akin to an overheated domestic quarrel. The alleged shooter, Naveed Haq, is discussed as a mere misguided soul suffering from a toxic mix of ethnic prejudice and mental illness. That’s how we responded to the deadly shooting attacks on at the El Al desk at Los Angeles International Airport in 2002, on the observation deck of the Empire State Building in 1997, on Lubavitch students on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994. Each was seen as an isolated act by a deranged individual. To think otherwise, to suspect that the shootings were part of a broad pattern of Muslim rage against Israel — a criminally violent response, that is, to actual Israeli actions — would be, in our minds, to legitimize the violence and blame the victim. We don’t want to go there.
That logic may have worked once, in an America of picket fences and Brotherhood Week. It does not make sense in a nation where colleges host “death to Israel” rallies, where movie stars and university deans publicly blame Israel and the Jews for America’s troubles. In today’s incendiary atmosphere, it does not take an organized conspiracy to create a concrete threat to American Jews. The nature of the threats has changed. It is time for a change in the response.
Two years ago, a think tank affiliated with Israel’s quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, called in its first annual report for the Israeli government to begin consulting with representatives of Diaspora Jewry on Israeli policies that could affect the Diaspora. The report, formally accepted by Ariel Sharon’s Cabinet, urged the adoption of “innovative measures” that would “involve the Jewish people as a whole” in the shaping of Israeli policies with a possible spillover effect.
Ironically, the report was accepted by Ariel Sharon’s Cabinet in the fall of 2004, but was rejected out of hand by the Diaspora representatives with whom Israel hoped to consult. Most major American Jewish groups continue to view Israel’s security decisions as none of their business, while American Jewish security problems are seen as local issues unrelated to the politics of the Middle East.
That answer won’t do anymore. It may once have been true that Israel’s policies were only Israel’s business, but no longer. In this new, interconnected world, American Jews now share the costs of Israel’s actions. We are entitled to have our interests represented at the table where decisions are made. If the organizations that purport to represent American Jews will not speak for us, then someone else must be found who will do the job.