“Israel has bad public relations.”
This is the perennial cry. “Israel must improve its image to convince the world of the justness of its cause.”
As I write, a cease-fire is holding around Gaza, but let’s consider the whole story. In the past few weeks, hundreds of rockets rained down on millions of Israelis. I was there. My wife and I heard the sirens in Yerushalayim. We entered the shelter and waited for the explosions. Lives of millions in Israel became torture and a nightmare.
Israel reacted with surgical strikes against known terrorist leaders. The air force dropped thousands of leaflets and even took over Arab television, warning Gazans to keep away from military sites that, as we know, are planted intentionally in the middle of heavily populated civilian areas. Israel also mounted an expensive, brilliant defensive system called Iron Dome that knocked out hundreds of incoming missiles.
What was the result?
Granted, Israel received support from some Western governments. At the same time, the secular media lamented the pathos of the “tragic deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza.” In midtown Manhattan, a man with a yarmulke was called “dirty Jew” as he walked past an anti-Israel demonstration.
It is a very old story. Consider (Rashi on Bereishis 21:9 and Bereishis Rabbah 53:11 with ArtScroll commentary):
“Sarah saw [Yishmael], the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avraham, mocking,” on which Rashi says, “[mocking] connotes…murder…. [Yishmael is associated with murder] because he would contend with Yitzchak over the inheritance and say, ‘I am [my father’s] firstborn son, and [am entitled to] take a double share [of the inheritance].’ They would go out into the field, and [Yishmael] would take his bow and shoot arrows at [Yitzchak]…like one who tires himself shooting fireballs and says ‘Am I not merely jesting….’ ”
Yishmael is still playing the game some 3,700 years later, sending “fireballs” and “arrows” at Yitzchak, this time from Gaza, and the game is still murder. Rocks and firebombs are also thrown at drivers near other Arab areas. Deadly missiles fall like poison rain. And those who shoot these fireballs and throw these rocks are termed “innocent civilians.”
“Why,” they ask, “is Israel massing war equipment on the border of Gaza? Why is Yitzchak so upset? Are we not brothers? Yitzchak always overreacts to our little games. Why is he so sensitive?”
And the world sheds tears for the “innocent civilians” in Gaza who are being subjected to such “suffering.”
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Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, zt”l, legendary mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, stated (as quoted in the book Redemption Unfolding): “In the final war before the coming of Mashiach, all the Jews who fear Hashem will survive. Hashem will say to them: ‘All those who are removed from the secular, worldly culture, you are Mine….’ ”
It is easy to be carried along by the powerful societal currents that have enveloped us since the beginning of our Exile almost two thousand years ago. I too am a victim of this weakness. I too worry about what “world opinion” says about Israel. It is in fact difficult to imagine how Israel would survive without support from the rest of the world. We tell ourselves, “We need all the friends we can get.”
But are we correct?
No, we most certainly are not.
“Return, O Israel, to Hashem your God, for you have stumbled through your iniquity. Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him, ‘Forgive every sin and accept goodness and let our lips substitute for bulls. Assyria cannot help us; we will not ride the horse nor will we ever again call our handiwork our god. Only in You will the orphan find compassion’ ” (Hoshea 14:2-4; haftara Parshas Vayeitzei). Or hear the words of King David: “It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on man. It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on nobles…” (Tehillim 118) We lean on a broken reed when we rely on the other nations, even when billions of people are on the “other side.”
Avraham Avinu’s name comes from the word “ivri” because he stood on one “eiver,” one bank of the river, with the entire rest of the world on the other side. This has characterized his children to this day. We are a nation apart – “a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9).