Lebanon has many problems, including sectarian divisions, Iranian influence, spillover from the Syrian civil war, the weakness of its army, the ineffectiveness of its politicians, and the very existence of Hizballah, but Israel's existence next door is not one of them.
The animosity of Lebanon towards Israel continues today only because it provides a convenient excuse for Hizballah to maintain a formidable arsenal that it uses to control Lebanon and to help its allies in Syria.
Lebanon has a law forbidding its citizens from interacting with Israeli citizens. As Michael J. Totten wrote:
"Lebanese citizens aren't allowed to have any communication of any kind with Israelis anywhere in the world. If citizens of the two countries meet, say, on a beach in Cyprus or in a bar in New York, the Lebanese risks prison just for saying hello."
The Lebanese online news source NOW explains that law in detail. Even a dual citizen (of Lebanon and Canada for example) could be jailed for interacting in the most innocuous way with an Israeli.
The Lebanese delegation, for example, recently refused to share a bus with the Israeli delegation at this year's Olympic Games in Rio, prompting the Israeli minister of culture and sports to describe the incident as, "anti-Semitism, pure and simple, and the worst kind of racism." The incident was, however, hardly surprising, considering the history of Lebanese animosity towards Israel.
Only one of many incidents of pettiness and bigotry
The Olympics incident is unfortunately not unique.
Incidents in the entertainment industry have been just as visible. In Lebanon's only attempt to enter the Eurovision song contest, its contestant Aline Lahoud was forced to withdraw in 2005 after Lebanon would not allow the program to be broadcast because it included a performance by an Israeli. Despite his huge popularity in Lebanon, the Jewish Moroccan-French comedian, Gad Elmaleh, was forced to cancel his performances at a 2009 Lebanese festival due to what Reina Sarkis, a Lebanese psychoanalyst living in France, described as Hizballah's "intellectual terrorism". In June 2010, a boycott targeted the British Rock band Placebo, performing in Lebanon, resulting in a lawsuit by the Lebanese concert promoter against the groups that organized the boycott. Popular Belgian-Italian singer Lara Fabian cancelled a concert in Lebanon in 2012, after she was the target of threats for supporting Israel.
Such incidents have occurred in academia as well. In March 2010, Palestinian scholar Sari Hanafi, a professor at the American University of Beirut, was verbally assaulted at the university by a crowd of nearly 300 for having worked with two Israeli scholars on a book, even though the book was critical of Israel.
Even Miss Lebanon 2014, Saly Greige, was implicated in this type of incident in 2015, when a photo of her was taken with Miss Israel, Miss Japan, and Miss Slovenia. Lebanese Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon launched a probe into what was considered an incident of national significance. Greige was allowed to keep her crown only after she made the implausible claim that the picture was taken against her will.
Lebanon has a law forbidding its citizens from interacting with Israeli citizens. When Miss Lebanon 2014, Saly Greige (second from left), was photographed together with Miss Israel, Doron Matalon (left), at the 2015 Miss Universe contest in Miami, the Lebanese government launched a probe into what was considered an incident of national significance.
Religious officials are not immune either. In May 2014, Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi of the Maronite Church faced heavy criticism from politicians, and threats from Hizballah media mouthpieces, for his decision to accompany the Pope to Jerusalem. This was despite the fact that Maronite clergy are legally permitted to travel to Israel for ministry duties.
An unjustified hatred
Lebanon has no valid justification for its hatred towards Israel. The tiny "Shabaa Farms," on the border with Israel, which is only 22 square kilometers in size, is often cited as a reason, but Syria also claims that same piece of land. Moreover, Israel is reported to be willing to evacuate it if it were to come under the control of UN peacekeepers. The "Shabaa Farms" is an excuse, not a reason.
Lebanon has suffered significant human and material losses as a result of its two wars with Israel after 1949; that would certainly be reason for animosity towards Israel, if it were not that Lebanon was mainly responsibility for both wars.
The first Israel-Lebanon war in 1982-1985 was an attempt by Israel to stop attacks against its citizens by Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). If Lebanon had better controlled the actions of the PLO on its own territory, that war would never have occurred.
The second Israel-Lebanon war in 2006 was an attempt by Israel to stop attacks against its citizens by the Lebanese Shi'ite militia, Hizballah. If Lebanon had disarmed Hizballah when it disarmed other militias after the 1975-1990 civil war, the second Israel-Lebanon war would never have occurred, either.
Lebanon, which has a weak army, might be considered a victim of circumstances beyond its control, but that is not the case. Lebanon has contributed immensely to its circumstances.
Lebanon chose to be part of the Arab coalition that rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan and attacked Israel in 1948, thus creating the Palestinian refugee problem. Lebanon still chooses to keep Palestinians in camps with limited rights rather than to integrate them into Lebanese society, thus fostering Palestinian grievances and a desire for "revenge". Lebanon also chose to allow the Palestinians in the country to form their own armed militias, which were a catalyst in the Lebanese civil war and resulted in PLO attacks on Israel.
Lebanon has yet to try reaching a permanent peace with Israel. Israel had hoped to sign a peace treaty with Bashir Gemayel, who was elected president of Lebanon in 1982, but who never became president because he was assassinated soon after his election. His older brother, Amin Gemayel, who was elected in his place, reached a limited agreement with Israel in May 1983 that fell far short of a full peace agreement, and obviously did not stop Hizballah attacks against Israel.
In addition to failing to stop attacks, successive Lebanese governments have even encouraged hatred and violence against Israel.
In May 2008, Lebanon's newly elected president, Michel Suleiman, praised Hizballah's fight against Israel. In July of that same year, the Lebanese government gave a hero's welcome to Samir Kuntar, the cold-blooded murderer of an Israeli father and his three young children. Kuntar was welcomed in person by the three most important officials in the Lebanese government: President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri. Kuntar became a Hizballah commander and was later killed in Syria by an IDF operation.
Lebanese governments have even made anti-Israel aggression their policy. In 2009, the cabinet issued a policy statement recognizing Hizballah's "right to use arms against Israel," despite the objections of some ministers who insisted that Hizballah's "substantial arsenal ... undermines the authority of the state".
Again, in 2014, Lebanon's government issued a policy statement claiming that "Lebanese citizens have the right to resist Israeli occupation and repel any Israeli attack".
Anti-Israel rhetoric also permeates the unelected civil service. In 2013, while discussing the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, caused by the murderous Syrian regime and ISIS terrorists, Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of Lebanon's General Security Department, insisted that, "Lebanon's one and only enemy is Israel".
Even some Christian politicians engage in such hateful speech. In 2015, Emile Lahoud, a former president of Lebanon, appeared on Iran's Press TV, where he declared, "All our troubles come from Israel through the US." The previous day, Michel Aoun, a former Lebanese Army Commander, declared on the same show his support for Hezbollah, calling Israel the "enemy".
A divided Lebanon with no real autonomy
Despite Lebanon's official encouragement of Hizballah, many Lebanese politicians would like Hizballah disarmed, and they have been saying so for a long time. They usually however also reaffirm Hizballah's right to fight Israel, therefore undermining their own message.
Before he became Lebanon's prime minister in 2009, following the assassination of his father, Saad Hariri expressed concerns about Hizballah's arsenal. It was suspected at the time that his father, Rafik Hariri, had been assassinated by Hizballah, a suspicion later confirmed by a UN-backed tribunal. The young Hariri's term ended in January 2011, due to pressure by Hizballah. In March 2011, tens of thousands of Lebanese demonstrators demanded that Hizballah be disarmed, chanting, "The people want the fall of arms", but in June a new Hizballah-dominated government was announced.
Lebanese politicians discussed Hizballah's arsenal again in 2012, because some felt that "many Lebanese have grown increasingly suspicious of Hezbollah's weapons".
In March 2013 and again in June 2013, Ziad Al-Kadri, a young parliamentarian in Hariri's Sunni party, criticized Hizballah, accusing it of "seeking to make of Lebanon a liquidation field to settle regional scores".
In August 2013, Lebanese Christian leader Samir Geagea, chairman of the Lebanese Forces (the organization once led by Bashir Gemayel), reacted to an anti-Israel speech by Hizballah's leader, accusing him of "dragging the country into war against the wishes of its leaders".
Lebanon has had a national unity government since February 2014 that includes members of Hizballah and members of Hariri's party, but in January 2016, then Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, a member of Hariri's party, resigned. This followed Saudi Arabia's cancellation of a deal worth $4 billion in support of the Lebanese army. The Saudi move resulted from Lebanon's failure to support Saudi Arabia against Iran, the sponsor of Hizballah. Rifi said that Hizballah "is an armed party that is dominating the government's decisions".
In February 2016, Saad Hariri, who no longer resides in Lebanon, accused Hizballah of wanting to transform Lebanon into an "Iranian province". The status of Lebanon as Iran's cannon fodder was confirmed in July, when Hossein Salami, the second-in-command of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said, "In Lebanon, more than 100,000 Qasem missiles are ready for launch ... ready to wipe out one malevolent and black spot from the political geography forever".
Lebanon's lack of autonomy was also confirmed by Marwan Hamade, a former Lebanese cabinet minister, and an ally of Rafik Hariri, who said that Lebanon had wanted to negotiate peace with Israel, but that all dialogue was blocked by Syria. Hamade said that, "While Hariri and his block wished to normalize and demilitarize Lebanon after Israel's 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah and Syria wanted the opposite".
Lebanon's real problems
The rift between pro-Hizballah factions and anti-Hizballah factions is growing and is tearing Lebanon apart. Lebanon's parliament has been unable to compromise on a new president after Michel Suleiman's term expired in May 2014. Since the three most senior positions in Lebanese politics are constitutionally divided between a Christian president, a Sunni prime minister, and a Shiite parliamentary speaker, the stalemate means that for over two years, Christians have had no representative at that level.
However, Lebanon's political dysfunction goes far beyond a constitutional crisis, and it affects the daily lives of Lebanese people. The New York Times reported
"With a new government dominated by allies of Hezbollah... censorship has been on the rise... Lebanon's Sunni Muslims — traditionally moderate — have been increasingly challenged by extremists, including Salafi mullahs in Sidon and Al Qaeda in the northern city of Tripoli ... Christian groups have also been joining the call for censorship".
This has led "a parade of artists to leave the country." The dysfunction even affects public health; garbage was not collected in Lebanon for almost a year, from July 2015 until March 2016, when a temporary solution was finally implemented.
In May 2016, popular Lebanese journalist Nadim Koteich revealed his support for Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, by tweeting that the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo would have been better off under Israeli occupation. Koteich's daring tweet (later deleted) demonstrates that despite Hizballah's stranglehold on Lebanese politics, the irrational anti-Israel position of Lebanon is opposed by many of its people.
It is very likely that some of the nine athletes in the Lebanese Olympic delegation are not anti-Semites and would even welcome interaction with Israeli athletes. However, they also know the power of Hizballah and the consequences of challenging its authority.
The difficulties of Lebanon are much larger than the question of whether or not its athletes should avoid Israelis. The occupation by Israel of a disputed piece of land, the "Shabaa Farms" that is 0.2% of the size of Lebanon, hardly warrants the existence of an independent militia that is more powerful than the Lebanese army and that has undue and disproportional influence over the country.
If the Arab states, among them Lebanon, had not attacked the newly-independent Jewish state in 1948, and if Lebanon had prevented terrorist attacks from its territory against Israel, not one bullet would have been exchanged between the two countries. Today, Lebanon would be enjoying diplomatic relations with Israel, and the benefits of successful trade.
Fred Maroun, a left-leaning Arab based in Canada, has authored op-eds for New Canadian Media, among other outlets. From 1961-1984, he lived in Lebanon.