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A Sad Conflict — Democracies Are As Culpable as Dictatorships


A provocative headline, no? But deep within Jewish wisdom there is a principle of responsibility that is simple and profound. The more knowledge you possess the more responsible you are. The more you know the law, the more culpable you are if it is disobeyed. By implication, a democratic state such as Israel has even more obligation to abide by rules of fairness and humanity than an authoritarian regime which may be inured to a lesser standard.

I have perhaps overstated it, but this world is now built on the premise that the United States — a beautiful notion of democracy, complete with checks and balances — is ever at risk of losing whatever reputation it has for being humane.

There is just too much baggage, from the Dulles brothers to now, to enable a typical Islamic individual, for example, not to be moved when contradictions are pointed out. We are held to the high standard we have set. So too, I say, is Israel. We should be flattered.

This is why it is a sad conflict when the founder of Human Rights Watch trashes hos own organization in the New York Times and has to be called out by members of the HRW board in the same paper. Read the relevant op-ed and letters at The New York Times.

The most salient comment on Mr. Bernstein’s remarkable suggestion that open societies be exempt from the searching eye of HRW is the following:

As long as open societies commit human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch has a vital role to play in documenting those violations and advocating to bring them to an end.

To hold any other view would be to deny the prevalence of sin in the world, and its generous bestowal of culpability on the US for demeaning and inhumane acts around the world and, yes, on Israel for actions in Gaza that have been assiduously documented by HRW as being beneath the standard for what would qualify as decent and humane.

The subtext of this is that Israel (the present government) is engaged in a bitter and protracted effort to influence public opinion in the direction of its own unreasonable and deleterious policies. Israel has every right to promulgate foolish policies. But their legitimate right ends when they seek to deny, when caught in the act, their own violation of the principles they hold others to.

My best sense of a solution to all of this is a wave of activity in the Middle East that makes it more and more impossible for the current government of Israel to defy the better angels of the nation’s nature. The alternative could be karmic disaster. For when great sins have been done the temptation to commit great sins is more than strong.

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