Understanding when weakness is not a virtue

Strength is not a vice when accompanied by morality.

The victory of the Maccabees which took place 22 centuries ago was a triumph of the "few against the many" and the weak against the strong. Similarly, in the dramas of Moses facing Pharaoh, David against Goliath, and - in 1948 and 1967 - tiny Israel versus the onslaught of the combined Arab armies, the success of the underdog is a frequent theme in Jewish history. After so many generations of struggle against powerful persecutors, it is not surprising that we generally view ourselves as the perennial targets of neighborhood and regional bullies. But weakness is not inherently a virtue, underdogs do not always behave morally, and not every revolution is righteous. (The Maccabees and the Hasmonean dynasty had their own moral issues, particularly later in their history). Being identified as "the few" does not guarantee ethical behavior; by the same token, being more powerful than an opponent is not equivalent to immorality. Jewish tradition views the early monarchy under King David and Solomon as a Golden Age, in spite of the military strength that they possessed. And on Hanukka, we highlight the righteous behavior that is the key to military victory, and not the other way around. This fundamental distinction between ethical behavior and victimhood has been lost on many of the world's pundits and intellectuals, who have made a virtual religion of automatically associating power with malevolence, and weakness with morality. A simple weighing of power provides an easy way to avoid dealing with moral complexities - it is much easier to elevate victims and refugees, regardless of the responsibility they may have for their plight. In this twisted world, America and Israel are automatically labeled as "immoral" because they are viewed as strong, while terrorists of various stripes are venerated for challenging this power. Although both the US and Israel make mistakes in defending their citizens against attack, the disproportionate condemnations they get reflect an obsession that goes far beyond rational criticism. And by the same token, the adoration in which violent leaders such as Che Guevara, Yasser Arafat, and Osama bin-Laden are held is a reflection of a simple-minded distortion of moral principles. THE HIGH priests of this "religion" include academics in Europe and North America, such as Noam Chomsky (a linguist by training), as well as his followers in Israel. The same malady afflicts many pundits, masquerading as journalists, who write in The Guardian, Independent and Haaretz, or preach on the BBC. In the age of mass media, they have access to powerful platforms to promote an ideology that condemns power. The replacement of morality with victimization (as is often seen in the campaigns that support the Palestinian cause) is also highlighted in international frameworks. During a recent visit, a prominent British MP repeated this clich , almost word for word. When Israel was young, he declared, and Jews had their backs to the wall, he was filled with admiration. But now that Israel is powerful, and it is the Palestinians who are suffering, we have lost his sympathy. And the UN Human Rights Commission has long since stopped caring about morality, and focuses most of its resources on attacks against the powerful democracies. Similarly, non-governmental organizations that justify their campaigns on the basis of moral claims have adopted this false morality. Amnesty International, which was founded during the Cold War to press tyrannical regimes to release political prisoners, has lost its way entirely. This political organization now devotes a major portion of its annual budget of over $43 million to attacks against the anti-terror policies of the US and Israel. Amnesty's agenda is not based on relative assessments of immoral and unethical behavior, but on an emotional opposition to military means without regard to whether it is used for aggression or defense. Human Rights Watch (Amnesty's New York-based sibling) seems to worship Palestinian victimization and obsessively condemns Israeli responses to terror. Both HRW and Amnesty have devoted far fewer resources to the human rights violations in Sudan than to Israel-bashing, in part because the perpetrators as well as victims in Darfur are both defined as global "victims," and no major power is involved. In contrast, as generations of rabbis have taught, the victory of the "few against the many" was the necessary basis for the triumph of morality and righteousness over evil. The Maccabees squandered their success on the battlefield, and we must continue to learn from their mistakes. In contrast, Israel's military power is not an end in itself, but rather the foundation for a "light unto the nations." The writer is the director of the Program on Conflict Management at Bar-Ilan University and the editor of NGO Monitor.