As I see them from the mountain tops, gaze on them from the heights,
There is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations,
Who can count the dust of Jacob, number the dust cloud of Israel?
May I die the death of the upright, may my fate be like theirs!
-Balaams attempt to curse Israel, Numbers 23:9-10
It has been heartwarming over the past several weeks to experience the great outpouring of support from world Jewry for Israel in its struggle against Hezballah. A flood of personal emails and phone calls, to me and my northern neighbors; countless forwards of essays expounding upon the justice of Israels cause and exposing the bias and anti-Semitism and hypocrisy of the media; offers of help; solidarity campaigns and rallies; emergency fund drives: the Jewish world knows how to mobilize in an emergency, and there is nothing like an old fashioned war, with good guys and bad guys, to get us to put aside our divisions and differences and mobilize to save Jews in distress. This war has had the same effect inside Israel, calling forth massive efforts to send snacks and socks to the soldiers at the front, invitations to northerners to come stay in the south, and volunteer heroes to help deliver food to shut-ins and entertain children in bomb shelters. If American synagogues are putting up banners of support, here large companies are sponsoring patriotic billboards along the highways (We will win!).
The fact that this war came upon us so suddenly, or so it seemed, without a buildup, based on a sudden provocation out of the blue and a lightning Israeli response, helped create this impressive unity of support. No one had time to think about it, to deliberate on what we should do, to prepare. It was just, boom!, and there we were, willy-nilly, dragged into a war by an incomprehensibly cruel enemy against whom the natural and automatic reaction is to strike hard and fast, since it doesnt understand reason, only force. What was there to debate?
Just like 9/11.
Of course, it turns out, just like with any war and even in the responses to 9/11 - that there are things to debate, and the questioning voices are already being heard beyond the left-wing fringe. Were we properly prepared for the obvious? Should we have acted sooner? Was the massive bombing of Lebanon a wise course of action? How was the decision made to respond so massively this time? Was the army prepared? Were there agreed-upon goals to the war? Would one of our leaders be willing to reveal to us citizens in our bomb shelters just what the goal of the war is? Are we being exploited by the United States? Could we have prevented this by a different policy toward Syria? Toward Iran? Toward Lebanon?
Israels motto for at least 60 years has been ein breira, we have no choice. It is a powerful slogan, as it implies that we bear no responsibility for our actions, and are forced to act by circumstances or by others actions. We are powerless to act differently. As Golda famously said, we can forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but not for making our sons into killers. This slogan implies that whatever we do is morally justified: they made us do it what else could we do?
For American Jews, this view of history means that they can identify unreservedly with Israel and support it with no holds barred, and even use the emergency to galvanize and unite and revitalize their own community. For Israel is, once again, the victim of the eternal effort to wipe out the Jews.
Alas, for us it means that when the dust settles, there will most likely be bitter recriminations, political upheaval, and commissions of inquiry. For the fact is that the Jewish emergence from powerlessness that is a Jewish state means that we do indeed always have a choice, and we have to live with the consequences of the choices we make (and in a democracy, the process of making choices is messy). We have given up victimhood, but its a hard addiction to kick.