"You hear a lot about human rights,” remarked my brother, “but when do you hear anyone talking about human obligations?” That got me thinking.
It was just after the devastating attacks in Brussels, and we were having our weekly phone chat during which we attempt to solve the world’s most urgent problems. I was in the surprising reverse position of finding myself, here in Jerusalem, amid an ongoing wave of terrorism, concerned about my brother and his family living in London, a declared major terrorist target.
On impulse, I typed “human rights” into the Google search engine and got 448,000,000 hits. “Human obligations,” by contrast, garnered just over 32,000.
Clearly, there are organizations working hard to improve the human condition of oppressed groups worldwide, and these deserve our praise; but clearly, at the same time, the notion of “human rights” has been twisted out of all recognition by those with a malevolent agenda and their lazy or ignorant fellow travelers.
Where Israel is concerned, the term has been corrupted by the radical Left – sitting, as one commentator put it, “in the darkness of selfimportance” – to mean “the rights of anyone who is not a Jew.” One cannot help thinking of the UN’s Human Rights Council, whose members long ago jettisoned their obligation to look out for human rights worldwide. In their relentless singling out only of Israel for chastisement, they overturn the moral balance and make a mockery of human rights for anyone.
MY BROTHER and I were discussing the self-castigatory mold so many liberal Europeans have opted to cast themselves in, according to which the West itself bears a large chunk of the blame for Islamist terrorism by its refusal to “understand” the discrimination practiced against Muslims and their consequent alienation from Western society. Also blamed is the “lack of equal opportunities” afforded young European Muslims, leading to a sense of marginalization that is exploited by jihadi recruiters.
I reflected that for many hundreds of years we Jews suffered from discrimination and lack of opportunities in our European host countries, yet never set out on sprees of mass murder. On the contrary, when permitted to do so, we contributed massively to the societies in which we lived. While maintaining our traditions and often keeping to our own communities, we felt ourselves humanly obligated to respect the law of the lands where we lived.
‘UNDERSTANDING” murderous behavior can go too far, I remarked, recalling my incredulity at learning, back in 2009, that Britain had gone to such lengths in accommodating its Muslim community as to decree that police searching a suspected terrorist’s home with a sniffer dog must fit the animal with booties since Islam deems canine saliva to be unclean. You couldn’t make this stuff up, I told my brother.
Even today, Belgian law prohibits raids on private homes between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. The concern for citizens’ human rights is laudable as far as it goes; but in today’s Europe, that loophole will only allow terrorists to go far. If ethnic profiling – which Israel has unapologetically engaged in for years – can avert the mass slaughter of innocents, Europeans need to take a deep breath and decide that human life takes precedence over human rights.
Today’s Europeans seem to have neglected their basic human obligation to themselves: to demonstrate a healthy and vigorous self-interest in which they stand up for their sovereignty and refuse to allow the democratic principles so painstakingly developed over time to be used against them in their own destruction. Once they have internalized this compelling need, they will – if it is not already too late – know what human demands and obligations to insist upon from the immigrants seeking citizenship in their countries.
The most basic human obligation is the ethic of reciprocity, attributed to Hillel the Elder, who said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” A nitpicker could point out that death is not hateful to the jihadi, who has been conditioned to welcome it and, moreover, expect the fulfillment of all kinds of desires once he reaches paradise after killing as many infidels as he can. But one might fantasize about the well-publicized jihadi embrace of death being daringly employed in defending the Hebron soldier who shot a Palestinian attacker after he was already apparently neutralized, to wit: “He only got what he wanted.”
In an ongoing case which has aroused complex emotions, the human rights of an assailant with obvious evil intent but who has likely already been disarmed clash uncomfortably with a soldier’s human anger at seeing his fellow soldier hurt and his human desire for revenge. Yet his human – indeed, humane – obligation, as a member of Israel’s moral defense forces, was clear: to obey the military’s rules of engagement with a terrorist who has been subdued.
As a law-abiding country, Israel cannot allow itself to descend into vigilantism, however much we may sympathize with that soldier’s anger. Neither hero nor murderer, as various groups would have it, as of this writing it seems probable that he will be convicted of manslaughter.
As for the dead terrorist, I have only so much empathy in my emotional bank, and none at all to spare for those who set out to cause others harm.
LAST WEEK, in first reading, our legislature reaffirmed the obligation of Knesset members to support the country – or at least not work to undermine it – by voting in favor of a controversial amendment to the Basic Law: Knesset. The amendment would allow a majority of 90 MKs to vote to suspend, for the remainder of their term, colleagues who support terrorism.
The idea for the bill came from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after Arab Israeli MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Bassel Ghattas of Balad, one of the parties making up the Joint List, met with terrorists’ families and stood for a moment of silence in honor of “Palestinian martyrs” who had killed Jews.
While the MKs concerned predictably used the debate to speechify about their loyalty to democracy and human rights and their determination “to act for social justice and equality,” they made no mention of the basic human obligation of a member of Israel’s parliament to refrain from offering comfort and support to Israel’s enemies. Many believe Israel has tolerated these MKs’ disloyalty, even treason, for too long.
LAST WEEK, I discharged a human and personal obligation together with a cousin visiting from Edinburgh: We went to Yad Vashem and filled out Pages of Testimony for several family members killed in the Holocaust. In the framework of “Unto Every Person There Is a Name,” Yad Vashem is engaging in a relentless race against time to personalize as many of the six million victims of the Shoah as possible while the generation that remembers them is still alive.
My cousin handed over pages for murdered members of her father’s family; I gave in pages for two grandfathers, three uncles and an aunt I never knew, all wiped out by the Nazi regime. The information will be preserved in the Hall of Names and recorded on the Yad Vashem website.
To those who hold that there is no such thing as evil and that every act of violence can be “understood,” I urge: Walk through the world-class memorial and museum that is Yad Vashem, take in the photos, hear the testimonies, and then reconsider.