Photo: Erez Ehrlichman
Isaac Ben-Israel
Photo: Erez Ehrlichman

Case of moral blindness

Goldstone Report merely a symptom of disease maligning Western world

Western civilization went a long way from morality and justice doctrines premised on result to theories premised on intention. Immanuel Kant taught us that a moral act is an act undertaken with good intentions, even if its (unexpected) results are different. Justice no longer depended on the result – eye for an eye – but rather, became premised on intentions.


This moral principle along with the “don’t do unto others what you don’t want done to you” decree is the foundation of the perception of justice in modern Western civilization, which aims to be open, liberal, and fair.


In simple terms, it does not only matter who attacked and who sustained the blows (that is, the result,) but also who started the fight (that is, the intention.)


For example, during our War of Independence, our enemies sought to exterminate us. We fought for our lives and sustained blows (we lost about 1% of our population,) but we also hit our enemies hard and prompted what they refer to as their “Nakba.” At the end of the day, the blow they sustained was graver than the one we did, yet in our view it was a just war because our enemies launched it with the intention of exterminating us.


The open society premised on the pillars of enlightenment introduced by Kant and his colleagues became increasingly liberal over the years. This created an acute need to determine and declare the limits of what is permissible and what is not. This is one of the reasons for the increasing legalization of Western societies. Because of the vital need to mark the limits of what is permissible, in order to allow for maximal liberalism, the legal establishment increasingly determines the way we live.


However, here came a problem: We find it difficult to examine intentions. Indeed, God had been blessed with the ability to do so, yet we humans find it easier to judge acts by their results rather than their intentions. After all, the results are easily visible, while judging intentions requires great empathy for the guilty party as well, and that’s a difficult mission.


For that reason, in the last decades we have seen a slow shift in the West from the morality of enlightenment, premised on intentions, back to a morality based on results.


We’re also at fault

The Goldstone Report judges the results. In the view of its drafters, any war, even if it is an act of self-defense and even if it is just, constitutes a crime – because its results are terrible (always and anywhere.) Had the writers of the report shown empathy to the Israeli side and attempted to understand our intentions, as well as Palestinian intentions, I assume they would reach more balanced results.


However, the very fact that we are dealing with an operation by a massive army deployed by a developed state fighting small forces of a people under occupation in fact eliminates any possibility of such empathy. Hence, the report almost automatically addressed the easier possibility – only looking into the results.


The report therefore constitutes the symptom of a grave disease, which has afflicted the roots of Western civilization in recent decades: Moral blindness that does not distinguish between aggressors and victims.

However, we too are party to this blindness. Many in the enlightened world hate us (or are at least not empathic towards us) not because they are anti-Semitic (and there are those people too) and not because they are economically and politically motivated by Arab oil (and there are those people as well.) Rather, they feel that way because we rule over another people.


It is possible that we understand the complex reasons that prompted the occupation, yet we would do well to also try to understand the intentions of our enlightened global peers. Then we may be able to truly understand how we are perceived by the world, and why so. However, we, just like them, refuse to see and understand. 


פרסום ראשון: 09.22.09, 18:55
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