Was it Right to Display the Lebanese flag on Tel Aviv City Hall?
There are two serious questions that arise regarding Israel’s response to the August 4th explosion tragedy in Beirut, Lebanon. The first concerns the offer of humanitarian aid to the country, one that is officially at war with Israel, and the second concerns the wisdom of displaying the Lebanese flag in lights on Tel Aviv City Hall.These are both important issues because they involve Israel’s most basic values and self-regard and they have generated lively disagreements on the parts of Israelis and Lebanese alike.
Before I reflect on either of these topics specifically, I would like to set down my basic approach — what Israel should do in general, in my opinion, and what Israel should not do. First of all, I believe Israel needs to behave from a position of self-respect and assertiveness. This means that we stand up for our own needs without deliberately trampling the needs of others. I do not believe we should be doing anything either in order to “make” people like us or out of fear that they will hate us. We must do what is right because it is the right thing to do regardless of what others think. Hillel said this perfectly:
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
Lighting the Lebanese Flag on Tel Aviv City Hall
I want to discuss this first because it is not a life-and-death issue. It was a “nice” thing to do. Some say we should not have done it because it became a source of ridicule and scorn. It opened up accusations on the parts of some that we are hypocrites. They argue that we express solidarity with the Lebanese people with an empty gesture while we have, according to Orly Noy of +972 Magazine, for example:
…been one of the central agents of the bloody chaos that has plagued its northern neighbor, and has helped to crush the delicate political and social fabric that has existed there for decades.
And her sentiment was reverberated across the social media.
Lebanese aren’t taking it well that Tel Aviv displayed the Lebanese flag in municipal building lights, threatening to light it up for real with missiles. But hey, Mayor Ron Huldai can feel extra special that he cares!
— PreOccupied Territory (@POTerritory) August 6, 2020
I don’t care if others think it is hypocritical or not, nice or not. I care where it was coming from on our part. What was our motivation in putting up the Lebanese flag in the heart of Tel Aviv?
Israelis were divided. Some, like me, saw this as a gesture of weakness — as if we are saying: “See! We really are nice people, so please just like us.” I do not want anything we do to come from that place.
Some of the Israeli posts against the flag gesture were too vile for me care to share here, but it should be mentioned that we have our share of hateful people. And their reasons for opposing the gesture are also not a position I would want us to function from.
Other Israelis expressed pride that we can set aside the fact that we are two countries at war and feel empthy for the innocent Lebanese who were killed or maimed in the blast.
Tel Aviv municipality lights it building with Lebanese flag as an act of solidarity with Lebanon and its people following the deadly explosion in Beirut that took the lives of at least a 100 civilians and injuried thousands. Solidarity is powerful. ??❤️?? pic.twitter.com/rtKpZnDTd9
— Muhammad Zoabi (@ilzoabi48) August 5, 2020
I did not agree with Zoabi and others who wrote like that. What kind of solidarity is he talking about? Knowing that Hizbullah would like nothing more than to have seen such a blast in Haifa, and that many Lebanese would have celebrated our deaths and injuries, makes this feel less like an act of solidarity and more like a one-sided statement of: “We will care about your lives even if you don’t care about ours. So there!”. And something funny just happened to me right now. Before I actually wrote this out, when I was just feeling indignant at our display in Tel Aviv, feeling it was an act of appeasement, of weakness, I was not happy we did it. But now, when I put it into words like this, it actually feels like exactly the thing I do want from us — to act from a position of our own moral values regardless of what the other thinks, feels or does.
Perhaps the person who most influenced my thinking on this subject is Al-Jabari Ahmed, a man from Gaza now living in Sweden. I think he softened me up a bit and made it possible for me to accept that we can care about Lebanese lives even if there is no indication that they care about ours. As I said – what we do should not depend on what others think or feel or do. Still, I am not sure I agree that we had to go so far as lighting up Tel Aviv City Hall with the Lebanese flag; offering them medical assistance should have been enough.
Ahmed wrote about the ‘silent majority’ of Lebanese who are opposed to Hizbullah and just want to live decent lives.
He writes that the loud Hizbullah supporters are not impressed with our gesture of solidarity with the victims of the tragedy:
But I know that the silent minority does care. They have seen this picture, regardless of how the government tried to block the news. And they were happy seeing this support.
Why I’m so convinced? ‘cuz once I was a young boy, seeing pictures like that too.
If putting the Lebanese flag up in lights on Tel Aviv City Hall gave solace to the Lebanese silent majority (and I have to trust Ahmed that there is a silent majority), then that pleases me. Because, after all, offering humanitarian aid includes offering psychosocial support.
And with all the protests against their government breaking out, perhaps there truly is a silent majority as Ahmed says.
Fury rages in Lebanon as violent protests follow disastrous explosion https://t.co/AdbL1FxKph
— Efogator Media (@efogatormedia) August 9, 2020
Most important, the protesters are out accusing Hizbullah of being a terrorist organization that has only brought tragedy to their country.
Hizbullah faces a resounding defeat in Lebanon … the demonstrators insist on eliminating the terrorist organization’s presence.#BaghdadPost #BeirutBlast #PrayForLebanon #LebanonExplosion #terrorist #Hassan #Nasrollah, #Hezbollah pic.twitter.com/f3YtnaAzcy
— The Baghdad Post (@BaghdadPostPlus) August 8, 2020
Therefore, in conclusion, here is my position now on us having put the Lebanese flag up in lights on Tel Aviv City Hall: if only one person in Lebanon felt seen, felt respected, and felt a little bit stronger because we Israelis/Jews saw their pain and acknowledged it, dayeinu (it is enough to justify it). But I would have been just as happy for us not to have done it. In other words, I am not so against it now as I was at first. I am opposed to the goody-goody position I think it came from on the part of Huldai, Tel Aviv’s mayor.
Feature Image Credit: screenshot from a Twitter post used in this article.