Defending the neighbourhood bully

By Darren Cohen, November 22, 2012
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In 1983, Bob Dylan, formerly Robert Allan Zimmerman, released the album Infidels. One of its outstanding tracks was the song Neighborhood Bully which many supporters of both Dylan and Israel alike saw as a brilliant justification of Israel and her right to self-defence.

Given Dylan's genius as a lyricist, the man who was once declared the voice of a generation yet again provided meaning and struck an accord, this time with those who sympathise with Israel and her never ending predicament of maintaining a moral code while unwaveringly trying to protect her citizens.

Among many of the song's salient points, the following words stand out and are as pertinent today, if not more than ever before:

He's criticized and condemned for being alive.

We are supposed to turn a blind eye while millions of Israeli citizens are in danger.

He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin,

He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.

He's the neighborhood bully.

As a ceasefire is now in place, one we all hope and pray will bring some peace for Israel's terrorised citizens, it is worth examining Israel's self-defensive actions.

The events of the past eight days, beginning with the assassination operation by the praiseworthy IDF to expertly pinpoint Ahmed Jabri, the head of Hamas' military wing in the Gaza Strip, were the inevitable consequence of prolonged violent terrorism aimed at Israel's citizens, an incessant "kicking in of her door", if you will, in the form of rockets.

Lethal rockets, that is, not harmless fireworks, but potent missiles that can kill, and do. And, not just one or two but 1,506 since the start of the operation and for wider context, a total of over 13,000 in the last 12 years. Sadly, the abhorrent events of the past week culminated in Wednesday's odious terrorist attack on a bus in Tel Aviv - the first of its type in six years.

Israel was completely warranted in her actions. Yes, as a democratic state which is scrutinised and holds itself to high moral standards, it does have a duty to ensure civilian casualties are kept to an absolute minimum. Yet, we are expected by many to just lie down and die while our door is relentlessly kicked in. We are supposed to turn a blind eye while millions of Israeli citizens are in danger. What an inverse sense of morality. What hypocrisy.

In my view, Hamas bears responsibility for the ensuing violence and must learn it cannot fire rockets at our civilians and kidnap our soldiers and expect nothing to happen.

Indeed, focusing specifically on the event that sparked Operation Pillar of Defence, the world should note the moral logic at play here – the targeted assassination of a terrorist versus mass terrorism against innocent civilians. Those who threaten the peace and terrorise millions must be held accountable.

Make no mistake about it, Jabari was a terrorist. Let it not be forgotten that in 2006, Jabari masterminded the brutal attack that led to the murder of Israeli soldiers and the inhumane capture of Gilad Shalit.

However, it doesn't stop there. This is a man with a track record for violent terrorism. In 1995, after his release from prison, in his capacity as director of the "Noor Association", he orchestrated a widespread monetary transfer scheme, supported by Sheikh Yassin, to fund released terrorist prisoners, their families and the family members of suicide bombers. This is a man that would appear to have a very skewed sense of morality.

All people have the right to self-defence but there is a marked difference between legitimate self-defence and indiscriminate, abhorrent terrorism that threatens the daily lives of so many innocent people.

As Diaspora Jews, or at least those who identify as supporters of Israel, it is utterly crucial that we are united. It doesn't matter if you are left wing or right wing. It doesn't matter if you are a Socialist Zionist, a Religious Zionist or a Revisionist Zionist. It doesn't matter if you are willing to give up land for peace or are adamant that we must retain control of the territories for eternity.

Now is the time for unity.

That doesn't mean checking your values at the door; criticism of any military operation is entirely legitimate. However, the principle of self-determination that is so thoroughly undermined when it comes to Israel is an absolute right of any sovereign state and is one we must defend.

Sadly, too many left wing Zionists focus too much on the left wing part and not enough on the Zionism part. They forget that an inherent part of Liberal Zionism is and always has been the right to self-defence. Indeed, self-defence is intrinsic to the very notion of self-determination, a thoroughly liberal value. One thing we, left wing Zionists, (I put myself in that bracket) must recall are the famous words of the assassinated former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin:

'We will make peace as if there is no terrorism and we will fight terrorism as if we are not taking steps towards peace'.

Equally, right wing Zionists must put an end to their loyalty tests, their accusations of treason, cowardice and appeasement and their use of "leftist" as an insult. This is not a time for political division.

At times when Israel's very right to defend its citizens is undermined; we must unite together behind one flag. One flag that defiantly and unashamedly supports Israel's right to defend itself but always seeks a peaceful resolution to this bloody conflict.

We must defend the neighbourhood bully. Who else will?

Darren Cohen is a politically active Jewish student who studies at King's College London and is currently studying abroad for the year in Mexico City. Follow him on Twitter here.

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Last updated: 10:45am, November 22 2012