I’ve always loved watching the Olympics, and I’ve attended a few, including Barcelona, Lillehammer, Los Angeles, London and Sydney.
It’s hard to believe that in 1936 a monster like Hitler was allowed to host the Olympics. Hitler gained international legitimacy through the global sporting event, and it allowed him to intensify his persecution of the Jews that would ultimately end in the Holocaust.
Last week the Biden administration took the decision not to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing or admit the genocide of the Uyghurs, but rather to enforce a “diplomatic” boycott, whatever the heck that means. No one’s going to care that Kamala Harris doesn’t attend the Olympics, and for that reason, the Biden administration is guilty of a cynical protest that is laughably ineffectual.
That doesn’t mean that I’m convinced we ought to boycott the Olympics, hesitant as I am to punish innocent athletes who have trained for the games for years, even decades.
It does mean that I would prefer that President Joe Biden just be honest enough to call a press conference and admit that we Americans in general, and he as our leader in particular, do not give a damn about the Uyghurs or the genocide against them. Nah, we Americans are way too addicted to cheap consumer goods from China to really give a damn about that regime’s abhorrent human rights abuses that continue unabated.
FOR THE past few weeks I’ve been on a book tour for my newest work, Kosher Hate. It argues simply that the world will never be rid of racism, bigotry and antisemitism until we rehabilitate hatred and direct it toward evil.
If you don’t hate the Klan, you have a broken moral compass. If you’re prepared to make peace with neo-Nazis, you’ve abandoned your ethical thinking. And if you’re not repulsed by China’s genocide against the Uyghurs, you’re a morally lost soul.
Hatred, when directed at the truly evil, is not only necessary but moral. What else will impel us to truly resist and fight evil, if not hatred of it? And if China’s internment camps, forced sterilization and forced labor directed against the Muslim Uyghurs is not evil, then the word has no meaning.
Some may say that by promoting hatred of evil, I am trampling on the ideas of atonement and forgiveness. I disagree. Repentance is based on recognizing the infinite value of human life. Because God loves humanity, God provides a point of return so that the individual might find their way back to the light. Repentance, however, is not available to those who inhumanly debase life. Genocidaires have no path to repentance and must simply be stopped by the forces of light.
Certain offenses are unforgivable. And mass murder is foremost among them.
Katie and Emily Benton were victims of the horrific 7/7 bombing in London in 2005. A terrorist’s bomb blew apart the subway car they were riding in and killed 56 people. The siblings from Tennessee were on a sightseeing trip when the attack occurred and left Emily with broken bones in her left foot and right hand and Katie with shrapnel wounds in her right foot. Both suffered hearing loss.
I cannot imagine how frightening that experience must have been or how difficult it was to recover from their wounds and try to live a normal life.
I also can’t understand their response. They told a reporter they considered their wounds “souvenirs” and said the experience strengthened their Christian faith.
“There’s no better way to fight terrorism than to turn what they meant for evil into good, and the Lord is certainly capable of that,” Katie said.
Good, of course, can be the by-product of evil. But it never stems directly from evil. Rather, if we choose to do good or embrace life after an evil occurrence, it is not because of the evil we experienced but despite it.
Many progressives want to understand the motives of the killers. Personally, I don’t care. Let them rot in hell. They must be hated. They must be resisted. And they must be stopped. But too many people are influenced by a secularized ideal of Christian love and want to show compassion. Books and theses have been written about the minds of killers. This may help us prevent future killings, which is what criminal profiling is all about. But it should never be used to excuse their actions.
Years ago when I was on the BBC discussing the horrific bombing of a gay pub by homophobic murderers that left three people dead, I referred to the bomber as an abomination, to which Pastor Tony Campolo, at the time president Clinton’s spiritual adviser, replied that we had to love the bomber in the spirit of compassion and forgiveness. Similarly, in my years in Britain, I was accustomed to hearing victims of IRA terrorist attacks, after having lost fathers, brothers or sons, immediately announce to the world their forgiveness of the killers.
Such misguided nonsense, however nobly motivated, allows murderers to flourish.
One of the most interesting explorations of the bounds of hate and forgiveness can be found in Simon Wiesenthal’s book The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. The world’s most famous Nazi hunter describes his own conundrum of whether a Nazi should be forgiven for his crimes and then offers the responses of 53 other people to the same question.
Wiesenthal was in the Lemberg concentration camp in 1943. He was sent to an army hospital for a work detail and was ordered to attend to Karl Seidl, a dying Nazi soldier who said he wanted a Jew’s forgiveness for what he had done as a member of the SS.
In his bedside confession, Seidl tells Wiesenthal his life story and admits that he participated in an attack on a house that had been set ablaze with 300 Jews inside. He and other soldiers shot Jews who tried to escape the burning building.
Seidl then asks Wiesenthal to forgive him. Wiesenthal gives no answer and leaves. The next day he learned that Seidl has died and has left his belongings to Wiesenthal, but he refuses to accept them.
“Today the world demands that we forgive and forget the heinous crimes committed against us,” Wiesenthal wrote. “It urges that we draw a line, and close the account as if nothing had ever happened.”
Wiesenthal refused to do that, but he also didn’t explain his decision and challenged his readers to answer the question of whether he did the right thing.
I believe forgiveness is a fundamental act of separation between the sinner and the sin. And you forgive the sins. So, if someone repents, you forgive them, or if the sin they commit is not fundamentally part of their makeup, you can forgive them.
But let’s say the sin is recurring or that the perpetrator has no remorse. Then it is ingested and becomes part of their character. It is the Aristotelian-Maimonidean idea that repetitive action becomes second nature.
The Nazis represent the extreme example. The Holocaust was planned genocide. They sat in the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, eating caviar and smoking cigars while they planned the extermination of six million Jews. Because of the heinous nature of the crime as well as its premeditation, the Nazis can never be forgiven.
THIS COMING January 20, our organization, the World Values Network, will stage a commemoration of the Wannsee Conference at Carnegie Hall on its exact 80th anniversary. Readers of this column should watch the outstanding HBO film Conspiracy, starring Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich and Stanley Tucci as Adolph Eichmann, to understand the true banality of evil as captured in the stenographically recorded dialogue of the Wannsee Conference.
Adolf Eichmann, one of the principal architects of the Holocaust, never expressed remorse after his capture by Israeli agents on May 11, 1960, but asked for clemency. It would have been ridiculous to give it to him because he was not a German who engaged in murder. He was a German mass murderer. There was no way to purge him of what he had done because it had become an inextricable part of his character. That is true of all genocides. They are planned. They are premeditated. And they can happen only when the world is silent.
Still, one of his fellow Nazis, Albert Speer, remarkably, was rehabilitated. As Hitler’s armaments minister, Speer’s decisions contributed to the length of the war in which so many civilians and allied soldiers were killed along with more than six million Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other “undesirables” who were shot, burned alive and gassed. Yet, in three best-selling books, Speer managed to win over the Western media by contrasting himself as the “good Nazi” who was unlike the psychopaths and murderers who were “bad Nazis.”
While he accepted responsibility for the Nazi regime’s actions, he claimed to have no direct knowledge of the Holocaust and the other unspeakable Nazi horrors. In fact, he approved the allocation of materials for the expansion of Auschwitz and visited the Mauthausen death camp and the Gusen subcamp. After being released from 20 years in Germany’s Spandau Prison, Speer became an international celebrity and made a fortune, a sickening development that proves just how much we have lost the capacity for kosher hate.
The writer, whom The Washington Post describes as “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published Kosher Hate: How to Fight Antisemitism, Racism, and Bigotry. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.