Following last week’s death of 21-year old Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, many observers felt an immediate rise in tension. As the first IDF fatality on the Gaza border since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, some questioned whether this attack would lead to the next incursion. After months of “minor” violence emanating from Gaza, Levi’s death has grabbed the attention of many in the Diaspora who had been previously dismissive of the intent of the rioters. The question is, why does it take an extreme threat of war and loss of Jewish life for so many to view Israel with a sympathetic eye?
While Hamas continues to test the patience and determination of Israel with rockets, fire kites, border riots, shootings, and cease-fire violations, these events simultaneously test the mentality in the Diaspora as well. At what point is the violence enough? We should not need to see Jewish blood shed in order for us to take a stand. Attacks against Israel should not override the malicious intent behind them. We should not forget that Israel’s defense has evolved as a specific reaction to the deaths of her children in the past. Jewish mourning should not be a prerequisite for Jewish outrage.
We as a people have always been slow to recognize the inevitable. A century ago, Max Nordau explained this phenomenon to Ze’ev Jabotinsky saying, “This my young friend is logic, but logic is a Greek art and Jews can’t tolerate it. The Jew learns not by way of reason but from catastrophes. He won’t buy an umbrella merely because he sees clouds in the sky. He waits until he is drenched and catches pneumonia.”
Despite a century of lessons taught from experiences in Poland, Germany, and Russia or our modern day situation in European countries like France and England, it appears that Diaspora Jewry remains reactive in nature. This needs to be overcome in order to support our brothers and sisters before situations are allowed to escalate. Just as we should not have required the tragic kidnapping and murder of Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali to arouse emotion preceding Protective Edge, we should not require a similar tragedy to shake off the apathy today.
At the same time, many are too enthusiastic in welcoming a potential war. This comes from the faith in the IDF and the belief that an incursion into Gaza can stop the aggression, at least temporarily. While this may be valid, it is yet another example of how distance from Israel in both space and trauma has created a lack of connection with the Diaspora. While Israel is more than capable of responding to attacks emanating from Gaza and Syria, extended conflict takes its toll on Israeli citizens. Even successful and necessary incursions cost Israel lives that it can never replace.
The calls for war not only give in to the games that Hamas chooses to play, but it also obscures the fact that Israel seeks to avoid confrontation at all costs. Feelings of invincibility after the Six Day War turned to feelings of vulnerability after massive losses in the Yom Kippur War. In a short period or time, experience taught Israel that while she was more than capable of defending herself even in the face of horrible odds, war must be a last resort. Israel developed incredible defensive capabilities as a result.
The 73 lives lost during Protective Edge, though tremendously painful to all, were relatively small compared to the 1,100 lives lost when attacks went largely unanswered during the second intifada, but each tragedy hurts just the same.
In response to to an insinuation by Hillary Clinton that Israelis were too prosperous and secure to make concessions towards peace, ambassador Michael Oren said, “As a Jew and as a father I’m offended by the suggestion I care more about my salary than my children’s safety.” Each generation has fought to protect its citizens with the hope that their battles would prevent their children from having to do the same. We should be aware that our loud confidence in the superiority of the IDF can give the world a misguided view of the emotions that influence Israel’s actions.
The time to speak up about the challenges facing Israel is now. There is no room for us to watch terrorist attacks followed by Israeli responses, guessing as to which tragedy will push her past the breaking point. Golda Meir once said. “There is one ideal I have in mind, one thing I want to see before I die – that my people should not need expressions of sympathy any more.” The general public needs to more vocal in demanding that Hamas cease its terror activities rather than criticizing Israel for exercising her right to self-defense. We need to use this voice before things are allowed to escalate. Belated condolences and expressions of grief and horror are not enough.