/ articles for review

Reflections on the Evil at Our Doorstep

In Syria today, we have moved far beyond the conflict between dictatorship and democracy and the rights of a country to conduct its own internal affairs

When we witness instances of extreme evil, human nature often moves us to classify such individuals as crazy. Through this classification, we try to separate ourselves from them and classify the evil as the exception and the decent as the rule. In this way we are also able to maintain our myth of stability, which requires a belief that the people around us can be expected to live by a minimal moral code. Stability requires predictability and the removal of radical evil from the calculation. I have been thinking about radical evil these last few weeks as the stories of the ever-increasing barbarism of the Assad regime have been penetrating our consciousness through the news and the Internet.
While the revolution occurred in Egypt, many of us Israelis viewed the events from the perspective of what would be good for Israel. While there is very little sympathy for Syria and Syrians in Israeli society, it is interesting to note the general absence of the above question. We are encountering radical evil, a government and tribe for whom moral considerations and boundaries are simply irrelevant. For them, murder is not a crime, nor is moral decency an aspiration. In this reality there is no place to ask what is good for Israel. All that one can and ought to do is hope and do everything within one’s power to ensure the removal of this evil regime.
I don’t believe that the democracies of the world have a responsibility to police those regimes that do not share their democratic and moral standards. I am fearful of all messianic visions with a mission to and for the world. Each country and society has both the right and the responsibility either to choose or change their government and political system. I know that this is often easier said than done and that the right and responsibility of freedom are difficult to exercise. Yet the solution cannot be some international force which roams the world with its moral standards. In the end, we will more often than not replace one evil with another, and place in the hands of some a far-too-powerful mandate which will inevitably become corrupted on the altars of political self-interest.
In Syria, today, however, we have moved far beyond the conflict between dictatorship and democracy and the rights of a country to conduct its own internal affairs. We are now confronting a level of barbarism that requires of us all to act. While we live in a morally complex universe, and many of our moral commitments and certainties are conditional and relative, there are some which are not. Mass murder on this scale is not morally ambiguous.
Over the years, we have become jaded and have learned to avert our eyes and divert our attention away from many things which are inexcusable. We have become accustomed to tolerate extreme injustice when its victims are far from our shores or are members of a different ethnic origin or religious affiliation. In the name of moral and political consistency we have learned to embrace inaction, for if we get involved in one place, why not get involved in another? And since we cannot get involved everywhere let us get involved nowhere.
I am not a politician, nor do I carry the burden of having to articulate or implement a broad-ranging foreign policy. I am a teacher and a Jew. I was raised on a tradition that taught me that all people are created in the image of God, and whosoever destroys one life it is as if they had destroyed a whole universe. I make no claims of moral consistency, nor of moral perfection, neither personally nor on behalf of the society in which I live. But I do know that murder is happening on my doorstep. Innocent people are being slaughtered beyond comprehension and an evil government is being granted the room to implement its evil policies.
I would like to live in a world in which this is not possible. I would like to live in a world where more is done than the freezing of assets. I would like to live in a world which recognizes moral ambiguity and respects sovereign states, but still maintains a core moral standard which cannot be crossed. I want to live in a world where in these cases politics don’t matter.
Evil is neither crazy nor insane. It is a condition to which every one of us is susceptible, both individually and collectively. As such, a moral life, a moral society, and a moral universe is one which takes responsibility to ensure that such evil is attacked and destroyed.
People are being murdered and maimed and raped on my doorstep. I don’t know if they are pro-Israel or not. I don’t know if the alternative to Assad will be worse for Israel or not. At this moment I don’t care. At this moment we must all recognize that is not the question. Evil is walking free and it is the responsibility of human society to see it, name it, and fight it.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics