At Davos, where I attended and spoke last week, there was endless talk of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. According to Martin Indyk, the American special envoy whose panel I attended on Friday, the deal would look like this: Israel gives up the West Bank and returns to the ‘67 lines, with land swaps. Israel gives up about half of Jerusalem for the capital of a Palestinian state (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is demanding the entire old city). Israel offers some sort of unspecified redress on the refugee issue. In return, the Palestinians will guarantee not to make the West Bank into Gaza and will recognize Israel’s right to exist, albeit not necessarily as a Jewish state.
Gosh. Why hasn’t Israel said yes before time runs out? But the most painful part of an otherwise illuminating and extraordinary forum, without question, was Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s speech, with which he demonstrated an astonishing capacity to lie to one of the world’s most educated and sophisticated audiences, with few in attendance calling him out on his fabrications.
The New York Times ran a story Sunday which showed that nearly everything Rouhani said at Davos was said 10 years earlier by Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, and that Rouhani’s speech was nothing but a regurgitation. The same promises of peace. The same commitment not to pursue nukes or violence.
And just as, within a year of his Khatami’s speech, Iran was spinning centrifuges, similarly, Rouhani told Fareed Zakaria just three days after his Davos speech that even amid the nuclear deal with the West, Iran will not shut down a single centrifuge.
None of this stopped Rouhani from being treated as a rock star at Davos. I saw him walking through the halls with his entourage a few times. He was trailed by fawning media. Scores of participants went to say hello. He was easily the biggest draw of the entire Forum, even though, over the past three weeks, Iran has brutally hanged about 40 people in public.
Then there was the panel on Syria, which featured key players such as UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, UN Under-Secretary-General Baroness Valerie Amos, and former UN Under-Secretary- General Mark Malloch-Brown. I sat in disbelief.
Not one of the speakers was prepared to apportion blame for the slaughter. Not one condemned Bashar Assad for gassing children. Not one made mention of the New York Times front page story that same day which showed graphic pictures of some of the thousands of prisoners that Assad had tortured and starved to death in the most ghoulish fashion imaginable.
The panelists spoke of the “procedural difficulties” of passing a UN Security Council Resolution against Syria without once saying that Vladimir Putin and Russia, arch-protectors of the butcher in Damascus, were responsible for blocking every resolution introduced by the United States against Assad.
In her last comment of the panel, Baroness Amos actually praised Russia as having been the first to try and pass a resolution that called attention to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. I was live-tweeting the panel (WEF published social media statistics that ranked my Twitter feed first that day at the conference) and I wrote, “Gd Almighty! Did I just hear baroness Amos of the UN defend Russia on Syria at the #WEF in Davos? U got to be kidding.”
All of which leads to a conclusion I came to years ago. There is no way to make the world a better place without first hating evil. You can’t love the victims of oppression without loathing, resisting, and sometimes even fighting the bad guys who oppress them.
If you’re indifferent to the brutality of Iran – a country that stones women to death and hangs homosexuals from public cranes – then you have a broken moral compass. And if you’re seriously thinking of leaving Assad in power as part of a “peace” deal then you have utter contempt for his victims.
In wanting to be open-minded enough to embrace everybody we have forgotten how to hate anybody – and make no mistake, hatred has its place. There can be no moral neutrality when it comes to things like children being gassed. How can you not feel revulsion, detestation and disgust toward Assad when seeing rows of dead children? I am writing this column on a plane, en route to Auschwitz from Davos, where I will God willing participate in the historic visit of the Israeli Knesset to the death camp for the very first time, on Monday.
Beyond remembering the victims and paying homage to their sacred memory, are we not meant to be repulsed by the Nazi beast that created this hell on earth? And if we don’t despise them, what will stop this from happening again? At Davos I spent time discussing the upcoming twentieth anniversary, this April, of the Rwandan Genocide, with President Paul Kagame, the hero who stopped the genocide in 1994. I told him that at the panel that I moderated between him and Elie Wiesel this past September, he had moved me deeply with his response to my question of whether he trusted the UN and the world to protect his people.
He shook his head, lowered his eyes, and said, “No, I learned after the genocide that I, and no-one else, is responsible for protecting my people.”
Kagame has been criticized by the UN for continuing to fight the genocidaires who fled to Congo. He has resisted great pressure to give up the fight. But as someone who witnessed his people hacked to death in the fastest genocide in human history, he is not out to win popularity contests, but to serve as guardian of his nation.
The same is true of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who drew perhaps a quarter of Rouhani’s audience at Davos and could not compete with his popularity. If Netanyahu would just let up about the genocidal threat of a nuclear Iran and say all the right things about peace, friendship and a new beginning he could increase his European popularity by orders of magnitude.
But he too, as the head of a nation that 70 years ago watched a third of its number gassed, learned that while it’s nice to be popular, it’s even nicer to be alive.
The author, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is founder of This World: The Values Network, which promotes universal Jewish values in media, religion and culture. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.