By Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
The ongoing conflict that is Operation Protective Shield continues to function on two fronts. The first is in Gaza proper, with IDF forces seeking to subdue its Jihadist adversary and destroy Hamas’ infrastructure and destructive capacity. The second is being waged in the court of public opinion, with politicians, media outlets, bloggers, demonstrators, so-called human rights activists, and others sharing their opinions about the situation and each side’s respective actions. Sadly, the choral response to date has been decidedly anti the Jewish state.
Undoubtedly, this PR struggle is more about preexisting agendas than facts on the ground. Israel’s enemies and critics are far less focused on Hamas’ intent (widespread terror and murder of Jews, cv”s) or approach (incessant rocket fire, use of human shields, planting munitions in communal structures, terror tunnels, etc.) Nor are they particularly impressed with Israel’s cautious, calculated response (countless warnings, targeted, guarded missile strikes, and agreement to multiple ceasefire attempts), or its fundamental right to defend its citizens from wanton attacks and incessant fear. Whether the underlying motive is a gross misunderstanding of Israeli-Palestinian relations, fierce anti-Semitism , or a blind political double standard (or a combination thereof), it is clear that perspective is driving this battle far more than intent or even facts.
We are sadly familiar with the preoccupation that the world places on Israel and Israeli policy. Tens of thousands have been murdered, tortured, violated, kidnapped and maimed the world over in such countries as Syria, Iraq and Nigeria, but the victims are largely ignored and quickly forgotten. How many recent UN resolutions targeted such terror states as Syria and Iran? Yet, Israel, the most democratic, conscientious, considerate and responsible nation in the Middle East and perhaps in the world gets blasted again and again.
The obvious question is why is this so? Sure, we get the fact that anti-Semitism is on the rise, including amongst the non-Arab populations. We recognize that the social taboo that was anti-Semitism in the decades following the Holocaust is beginning to become less of an inhibitor throughout Europe and the rest of the “civilized world.” And amongst the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, there was never such a deterrent to begin with.
But what about those that claim to not be anti-Semites? Are we simply outmanned and outmaneuvered in the PR race, with Muslims continually tapping into the abundant images (real or contrived) of Arab suffering from throughout the Middle East while Israel only gets to counter with pictures of scared citizens fleeing to bomb shelters? Are the military videos that show Israeli care or Gazans running to rooftops to shield their buildings dismissed from the court of public opinion because the Israelis hold all tactical advantages? Will the day never come – absent the arrival of Mashiach – when the world will “get it,” and begin to properly distinguish right from wrong, good from evil?
The simple answer is that we are held to a higher standard, even when we already maintain one. It is no secret that Jews and Israel make headlines, regardless of how many others in the world are engaged in similar conduct or worse. Despite the rightful disgust by which we react to UN double talk and moral blindness, as well as that found throughout the media, we must take the outcry as a continued to reminder to be a light unto nations and set an example that is consistent with the lofty mission with which we have been entrusted. And we are doing that each day, with powerful demonstrations of unity and support for each other.
But we must also realize that Jewish favor in the eyes of the gentile population does not rest in the conventional talking points favored by western thinkers and ideologues. For us, it’s never been about which country is more careful, tolerant or democratic. Our sages teach us that the way that we are perceived by other nations is the direct outgrowth of divine favor.
According to the midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:13), the Jews of Persia were threatened with extermination during the days of Mordechai and Esther “because they partook of the feast of Achashveirosh.” This statement is quite puzzling. After all, it would appear that the Jews of Shushan did the right thing by attending the feast. Not only were there no concerns about the acceptability of the food and drink that was served (see Esther 1:8), but the Jews logically reasoned that their absence from the event would invoke the ire of their Persian ruler. Nevertheless, by participating the Jews ignored Mordechai’s warnings to stay away, based on his concerns over lewdness and the unhealthy sociability that their involvement would engender.
The Jewish people at that time learned the hard way that securing gentile favor has little to do with our willingness to adopt their societal and behavioral norms. On the contrary, goodwill is engendered circuitously by following Hashem’s will and allowing our Maker to intervene on our behalf. “When a man’s ways please the L-rd, he makes even his enemies be at peace with him.” (Mishlei 16:7) Yet, when Hashem deems it to be unhealthy for us to enjoy such favor, all of the efforts in the world to the contrary will be of little consequence. “He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.” (Tehillim 105:25)
Hundreds of years earlier, at the beginning of the Jews’ exile in Egypt, they made the same mistake in their attempt to curry Egyptian favor.
“And a new king arose who did not know Yosef” (Shemos 1:8) – When Yosef died, the Jews abolished the covenant of circumcision… As soon as they had done so, Hashem converted the love with which the Egyptians loved them into hatred. (Shemos Rabbah, 1:8)
According to Bais HaLevi, this midrash is not to be understood literally. Our sages are telling us that following Yosef’s death, the Jews feared for their futures in Egypt and attempted to undo their marked uniqueness. Much to their surprise, this attempt at conciliation backfired and ultimately resulted in vicious hatred and slavery.
Two hundred years later, the Jewish slaves in Egypt experienced a similar paradox, this time in a positive sense. Following the conclusion of the plague of choshech, at a time when one would logically expect for the Jews and their leader to be thoroughly despised for the destruction which their G-d had wrought on their country, the Torah tells us that the exact opposite occurred. “The L-rd gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians… Moshe was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the eyes of the people.” (Shemos 11:3)
This trend has repeated itself far too often in our long history, most notably in recent centuries. Time and again Jews have viewed appeasement and social blending as the best path towards acceptance, discarding key aspects of their faith in favor of the current whims of their host country.
And each time Hashem has had to remind us, sometimes in the harshest of terms, that true acceptance will never emerge from such falsely placed hopes. Only through a longstanding commitment to Hashem and His Torah will we merit to witness the final “period of redemption,” in which we will fully appreciate the unique destiny which Hashem has planned for us.