When Saly Greige, Miss Lebanon, was forced to defend herself against criticism of what she alleged was a “photobomb” by Doron Matalon, Miss Israel, during the Miss Universe contest a few weeks ago (those Israelis and their bombs), Israelis viewed it as a glaring example of the unprovoked hatred levied at their country. It was just a selfie, after all. If our neighbors cannot stand even for our beauty queens to be photographed together, surely we can’t be blamed for the violence in the region.
When the subject came up during an episode of The Debate on France24 in which I recently participated, I thought I had been handed a slam-dunk with which I could defend Israel.
Does the photo bother you? the host asked.
Of course the photo did not bother me, I answered. The incident is just another example of how Israel sticks out its hand in peace but is rejected.
Yet somehow, the Lebanese political consultant-activist on the program, Carol Malouf, could explain it otherwise: Israel and Lebanon are in a state of war, the enmity Lebanese feel toward us is a “strict government national feeling towards Israelis,” which apparently makes those feelings legitimate.
She explained, even with a smile, that only when “Israel recognizes the rights of the Palestinians to exist [and] the right of the Lebanese to live in peace at its border, then the Lebanese will be, probably might be, happy to see two beautiful [Israeli and Lebanese] girls in one picture.”
The argument popped up again in the pages of The Jerusalem Post last week, in an op-ed entitled “There’s more to the Miss Israel selfie than meets the eye,” by Beirut.com editor Angie Nassar. Nassar similarly explained that “Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war and, as such, any dealing with the Jewish state is considered a criminal act under Lebanese law.” Nassar, however, went further, deconstructing the selfie into its “aesthetic, cultural and political” layers, each of which, she argued, cannot be separated.
“Each [layer] refers back to the other in a complex configuration which leads the viewer back to these tensions inherent in the social imaginary of contemporary political society.”
All that jargon, and more I won’t repeat, “comes down to this: should you differentiate between a person’s nation-state and what that person as an individual promotes and stands for?” For Western liberals the answer has always been in the affirmative. That is why we condemn hatred toward national, religious, ethnic or other groups as such, or toward individuals simply because they are members of those groups. It is why we condemn terrorism, which targets individuals allegedly in response to the actions of their governments.
But we are told that Lebanese cannot make that distinction. For them, accepting an individual Israeli or being photographed with one is verboten, since that would mean accepting the State of Israel, which is of course unthinkable.
Leaving aside this apology for the rejection of the values which are the foundation of democracy and protections for human rights, Nassar left unanswered the question of why acceptance of the State of Israel (or Israelis or Jews as a group) is unthinkable, or of why our two countries are officially in such a bitter state of war.
Malouf, the Lebanese activist I debated, began to answer this question, claiming that Israel must recognize the Palestinians and recognize the right of Lebanese to have peaceful borders. What that argument boils down to, and what Nassar seems to take for granted, is that Israel wrongfully violates Lebanon’s borders and bombs its population. (And of course the Palestinians, the eternal evidence of Israeli aggression, must not be left out).
She, and the Lebanese who would strip Griege of her crown if she had intentionally appeared in a photograph with Miss Israel, conveniently forget the background to the violence between our two countries.
They forget that Israel’s invasions of Lebanon and in 1978 and 1982 were precipitated by armed raids and artillery attacks on Israeli civilians and even an attempt on the life of Israel’s ambassador in London by the Palestine Liberation Organization, a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction which was based in and ruled swaths of their country.
They forget that prior to the war in 2006, Hezbollah, the successor to the PLO and equally dedicated to Israel’s destruction and even more rooted in Lebanon, illegally and without provocation violated Israel’s borders, killed a number of its soldiers and took two dying or dead soldiers hostage.
They do not acknowledge that in Israel there is no parallel organization dedicated to the destruction of Lebanon, there are no Israeli non-governmental military organizations, and that the IDF does not kidnap soldiers of the Lebanese army.
Without any of that background information, it is quite understandable that being photographed with an Israeli might lead to the Lebanese beauty queen losing her title. But it is fantasy.
As long as the Lebanese continue to live in that fantasy, and to ignore their own role and the role of the terrorist organizations they host in initiating wars between our two countries, it is hard to imagine a time when Lebanese “probably might be happy to see two beautiful [Israeli and Lebanese] girls in one picture.”
The author is an attorney, a Likud Central Committee member and director of Likud Anglos.