In Jewish tradition, we are always advised to look for the good within the bad, to find something redeeming from a terrible situation. One sees it with the families of terror victims who take their nightmare and turn it into the blessing of helping others or otherwise creating goodness in the world.
Perhaps Oct. 7, Israel’s Black Shabbat, is the exception that proves the rule. Perhaps there is no redemptive quality to be found amidst the evil. However, the very magnitude of the despicable horror could lead to something better.
Perhaps it required an act so severe, so extreme, so manifestly inhuman, to jar us, to get our attention, to be the slap in the existential face that will cause us to stop and ask: What has happened to us, to all of us?
The questioning starts here in Israel, though we are well advised to put it aside while we are in the midst of war. But rest assured that there will be massive questioning of political assumptions and security assumptions. There will be a reassessment of the reality of the neighborhood we live in and the true goals and aspirations of our enemies.
But the wakeup call must have a far broader impact. The international reaction to the massacres, the whitewashing, excusing and, even worse, endorsement of Hamas must be seen as crystal clear evidence of a world unhinged.
In particular, elite universities in the United States have become a moral cesspool. A recent poll showed that a majority of 18–24-year-olds in the U.S. side with Hamas. What can we look forward to as this generation ages and assumes control of the world?
It is hard to know where to start in reappraising the state of our civilization. Wokeism, the insistence that there are the oppressors and the oppressed, and to the former no mercy is due and from the latter no accountability is required, must bear a great deal of the blame for the current state of things.
We have taught a new generation that criteria none of us select but which are bestowed upon us at birth—our race, sex, ethnicity and so on—determine how we go through life.
We are happily replicating segregation, caste systems and the worst attitudes towards one another in the name of—what? Anti-racism? Intersectionality?
For many of us, the most painful thing has been to see the complete debasement—nay, the treason—of young Jews who give aid, comfort and cover to antisemites by enlisting in their cause of denigrating, delegitimizing and, ultimately, destroying the State of Israel.
If you have ever wondered what motivated our rabbis of old to add the prayer against heretics to the Eighteen Blessings that serve as the core of our thrice-daily prayers, look no further than groups such as If Not Now, Jewish Voice for Peace and the individual “as a Jew” abettors of Jew-hatred.
Shockingly, there seems to be a profound generation gap in Western society. Older people are imbued with classic liberal values of tolerance and mutual respect. They are clear on what is despicably unacceptable, no matter who perpetrates it. But they stand in direct opposition to a younger generation imbued with determinism and a willingness to condemn based on self-accorded criteria of good and evil.
Can we change the reigning nightmare? Can we arrest a mindset that will tolerate, even endorse genocide if it is the genocide of the “right people”?
What we are seeing is the pervasiveness of warped and terrifying values and policies that will be extremely hard to counter, let alone uproot.
But if evil ultimately cannot be seen for what it is; if it cannot be rejected, scorned and hated simply because it is evil; then our moral compass is not just broken, it is non-existent.
Hamas has forced us to recognize that, for many, the worst of humanity can be excused. There are no longer any moral red lines. This has the potential to replicate the worst of totalitarian societies—the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, the Maoists—in which the unacceptable could change by the hour and, ultimately, life was just a brutal exercise of power.
Israel’s reckoning will be a strategic one, not a moral one. The reaction of Israeli society to the horrors of Oct. 7 showed clearly that our moral compass is intact. We put aside all differences to unite in revulsion and resolve.
The same cannot be said for important sectors of the West. Now is the time for those who care about the future of their own societies to recognize that they have received their own wakeup call. Now is the time to stand up and call out not just hatred, but the value system that promotes it.
Time is not on the side of those who reject warped hatred. The hour is late. Thanks to Hamas, however, we now know that the need for a moral reckoning is at hand. Let’s hope the challenge is met.