Will Inhumanity Ever End?

I have been in Bangkok working with our fellows, former foreign minister Kasit Piromya and Venerable Anil Sakya, on how best to bring wider attention in our time to the teachings of the Buddha on the middle way, with humility seeking balance and equilibrium.  In an awful way, the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians exposed the need for all of us to work to put in place solid foundations for civilization, with justice for all.

The Hamas attacks bring into question the futility of an effort like that of the Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism to encourage action founded on moral principle.

As one who fought a war and afterwards delivered refuge to those under oppression, I have experienced the challenge of keeping our moral aspirations strong in the midst of degradation of the human into the sub-human.

I have just read the following letter from the president of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, which speaks to the mission of the Caux Round Table and to its importance:

The cruelty of the Hamas attacks on Israel is a shocking expression of hate and depravity, pure and simple.  We watch in horror and disbelief at this latest and most tragic example of man’s inhumanity to man.

It is vital that we stand with these victims and the people of Israel as witnesses to their pain and suffering.  And it is equally important that we condemn those who perpetrated these crimes against humanity – so intentionally, willfully and without mercy.

There can be no justification for the intentional killing of innocent civilians, hostage-taking and the imprisonment of women, children and elderly with the threat of public execution.  Any qualification – “yes but,” ‘on the other hand,” “at the same time” – is a hollow attempt at moral equivalence and an evasion of responsibility.

If the line is as clear as I suggest, then what are we to make of such a complete rout of ethical principles? 

Civilization rests on a convergence of reason and experience that yields principles such as individual accountability, the prohibition of torture and the duty to protect innocent bystanders. It is in the breach – precisely in moments such as this one – that commitment to these principles must be re-affirmed loudly, proudly and without reservation.

In 2016, Carnegie Council was visited by Gen. Moshe Yaalon, former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) chief of staff and Professor Michael Walzer, author of Just and Unjust Wars.  When asked about security threats facing Israel, Yaalon said: “Military excellence has handed us an advantage on the battlefield, but this edge can only be maintained if we preserve our ethical superiority.  And as the war on terror develops and intensifies, so must our determination to deliver an unequivocal moral response to the challenges it brings.”

Nations are communities based on values.  Hamas has revealed its values and Israel is now being tested in its response.  As Yaalon’s comments suggest, IDF leadership knows that military success alone will not be sufficient, as a moral response requires recognition of the rights of all – including Palestinians – and the pursuit of a just peace.

In his talk, Yaalon invoked the journalist Moshe Beilinson who wrote a 1936 editorial titled “Until When?” As violence flared in pre-state Israel, Beilinson asked: “Until when will we have to live by our sword?  Until when will we have to fight for our existence?”

The answer remains elusive and it lingers for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Especially in this horrific moment engulfed in the fog of war, we cannot lose sight of the fact that mutual recognition and respect should be the determined goal for all of us who believe that a better future is possible.

We get there by reaffirming the equal moral worth of every human being, the duty to protect the innocent and a commitment to empathy as a matter of both morality and enlightened self-interest.  Those who commit to these principles will have the advantage of moral clarity in a time of turmoil and tragedy.

In the dark days ahead, let us hope these ethical principles will light the way.

Joel Rosenthal 
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs