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Human rights died in Gaza Geneva's decadent religion needs a Reformation

A man in Gaza City (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)

A man in Gaza City (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)


December 8, 2023   7 mins

Religions die hard. They promise something better, something truer, more powerful and lasting than our familiar cruelties, corruptions and deaths. Their traditions take shape over time; they develop rituals, build communities, give life order and meaning, and at their best bring forth genuine prophets and authentic saints. But eventually, the very things that keep religion going become their own idolatries, giving demonic cover for the very same cruelty and corruption religion sought to combat.

Any number of religions have passed through this cycle of birth, growth, decay, reformation and renewal. The latest is a religion born 75 years ago this week — the religion of human rights.

Sadly, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the manifest failures of the human rights framework as we know it today, and its grotesque contributions to the evil it is meant to fight, are not a bug of the system, but a feature. For decades in the Middle East, the UN’s countless Declarations, Covenants, Reports, Commissions and disproportionate denunciations of Israel did nothing to stem the chain of conflicts, cruelties and injustices that led to the horrific massacres of October 7, the subsequent flattening of much of Gaza, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced and innocent hostages buried alive in tunnels. Indescribable butcheries and tortures, and even documented gang rapes, were met by UN bodies, human rights NGOs and women’s organisations with thunderous silence. It took nearly two months for UN Women to even acknowledge these horrors at all.

Elsewhere, responses were more insidious. On 18 October, Human Rights Watch announced that it had verified “three incidents of deliberate killings” taking place during “the October 7, 2023 attacks by Hamas-led gunmen”. Three. In a statement issued on 8 November, it called on the US, UK, Canada and Germany to suspend military assistance and arms sales to Israel, detailing what it described as “widespread, serious abuses amounting to war crimes against Palestinian civilians”, with scarce mention of Hamas, other than one line calling on “Iran and other governments” to stop arming them. A week later, any lingering benefit of the doubt vanished after an outgoing senior editor there explained that this bloodless response to the bloodiest day for Jews since 1945 “did not happen in a vacuum”. Rather, “Human Rights Watch’s initial response was the fruition of years of politicisation of its Israel-Palestine work that has frequently violated basic editorial standards related to rigour, balance, and collegiality.”

In fairness, Human Rights Watch’s passing mention of Iran, though the kind of perfunctory ritual that gives insincerity a bad name, was still better than most anything coming from Amnesty International. But, then, Iran has long assumed a peculiar role in the world of human rights. Just last month, Hamas’s most prominent sponsor, a regime that openly imprisons and tortures dissenters, was allowed to chair a meeting of the Social Forum of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Yet few eyebrows were raised: over the decades, we have learned to shrug off such quirks with cockeyed optimism, convincing ourselves that they don’t really matter. But they do. And even by the comically degraded standards of UN human rights bodies, this was breathtaking.

More to the point, the Iranian regime is able to participate in the world of human rights institutions precisely because, like the Soviet Union before it, it does not believe in them at all. Not that the Iranians, Hamas and other Jihadists don’t have principles. They certainly do, and we discount them at our peril. In the moral universe of Jihadism, the well-being of individuals, and certainly of infidels, dissolves into nothingness in the face of the divine; and the violence of October 7 was its own kind of worship. Oscar Wilde’s quip that “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue” turns out to have been tragically optimistic. When it comes to human rights, hypocrisy is the Devil’s method of rotting goodness from within.

How did we end up here? The concept of human rights feels both extremely old and extremely new. It echoes messages of justice, ethics and respect for human personhood known throughout history, and yet it also propounds a notion of universal rights not enunciated until the end of the Second World War. The year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, was also the year of the Genocide Convention, the desegregation of the US Armed Forces, the creation of the State of Israel, and the Berlin Airlift. It saw the birth of the American-led international order that would define our lives in terms of human rights, free trade, aspirations to racial justice, and the creation of nation-states for oppressed minorities. It was that year, more than 1945, which in many ways gave birth to the world order that is now collapsing before our eyes. But the idea of human rights was also built on the past.

Notions of the sacredness of human personhood and the unique claims of human dignity have been with us for millennia. Our modern understanding of human rights, though, first emerged from ideas of “natural rights” that had fuelled Europe’s and America’s political revolutions in the 18th century. Those revolutionaries, as well as the Abolitionists and Humanitarians of the 19th century, synthesised rich religious legacies of moral reflection and the sacredness of human life with modern concerns for individual well-being and nations’ aspirations for self-determination. During the heat of the Dreyfus Affair, Émile Durkheim wrote that this concern for individual well-being was a new kind of religion, a new moral order around which society would hopefully convene.

A number of the drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration were committed to the religious traditions on which they drew, East and West, translating their ideas into the depersonalised, secular idioms of international law. It was hoped that unmooring these ideas from their theistic foundations would make them universally relevant to the making of a better world. Later, however, amid the pressures of the Cold War, the impulses of the human rights creators diverged. Some favoured strengthening decent government and rule of law at the levels of individual states, while others leaned towards creating transnational versions of individual states’ legal systems, along with the vast panoply of councils, committees, rapporteurs and subcommittees made necessary by the absence of decent government and rule of law in so many UN members states.

It was not until the Seventies, once the failures of Soviet and Chinese communism and the disappointments of decolonisation were beyond dispute, that human rights returned to the stage in what Samuel Moyn calls “the last utopia”. Alongside this rose a vast network of human rights advocacy, forced to tack between the genuinely noble idea of transnational standards of justice with the inevitable necessity of choosing sides. Though they advocated a kind of anti-politics, they inevitably ended up as political actors in the global arena.

As always, the great sticking point was the Jews. As James Loeffler has brilliantly shown, the same Jewish jurists were deeply involved in the Universal Declaration and in Zionism, seeing in both an answer to the disastrously failed minority rights treaty system of the League of Nations.

But the roles of Jewishness and antisemitism in the larger story of human rights go even deeper. For millennia, Jewish existence has been a puzzlement to others, and regularly to ourselves. From Biblical times to today, the Jewish people have proclaimed a universal God with ethical demands on the basis of a particular covenant with Him and one another. In other words, Jewish existence always puts into question the relations between the national and the universal, the powerful and the powerless, the religious and the secular. We never fit into standard categories. There have been moments when this Jewish synthesis has risen magnificently onto the world stage, such as the Soviet Jewry Movement, lasting from the Sixties to the Eighties, in which universal rights, national identities and the larger causes of democracy and freedom all came together. But those times are exceptions.

The theological-political tensions of human rights — between the sacredness of individuals and the just claims of collectives — are well illustrated by the path of Amnesty International’s founder, Peter Benenson. A British Jew who worked hard to help Holocaust refugees, he eventually converted to Catholicism. Crucially, the Catholic doctrines he espoused were not the Thomist natural law teachings that played a large role in the post-war formulations of human rights, by which personhood, if ultimately beyond the state, is nonetheless enmeshed in webs of obligation and social order, which makes democratic states qualitatively different from others. Instead, they were rooted in the Augustinian teachings of the irremediable sinfulness of this world, and the lonely purity of the individual, no matter the state or social order against whom they rise, be it democracy or dictatorship.

These seeming abstractions had powerful real-world effects. For Benenson and Amnesty International, the violation of any one individual’s human rights is unacceptable, no matter the larger political and social system in which that person lives, be it democracy or dictatorship. That is a noble judgment, and a beautiful one. It is also, sadly, an invitation to the mindless legalism that can lead to Iran chairing a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council.

The Soviet Union, for its part, freely signed any number of human rights documents because it had no intention of keeping them, and Leninist ideology said it didn’t have to. That not just dissidents, but the United States itself, would hold them to those obligations as they did in the late Seventies came as a bitter surprise.

With Western victory in the Cold War, human rights seemed poised finally to become a universal dispensation and a culmination of the best impulses of history. But this turned out to be a deeply destructive delusion. Today, the religion of human rights is as badly in need of reformation as was the priestly religion of ancient Israel, the Catholic Church in the time of Martin Luther, and, yes, Islamic thought after the frenzies of Jihadism will finally, hopefully, have exhausted themselves.

A reformation need not spell the end of human rights, but their re-birth. Human rights embody the precious notion, wrested from centuries of awful suffering, that there are certain things no state may be allowed to do ever, to anybody. Around the world, there are people standing up to dictatorships with unbelievable bravery and nothing legally to interpose between their governments and themselves but the human rights treaties and conventions that their governments have signed.

But a reformation is still necessary. Partly, this is a question of disaggregation. The term human rights has become linked to many noble and useful concepts: representative government, international humanitarian law, social and economic justice. These are all worlds away from the increasingly unhinged abstractions of human rights as preached in Geneva. And all connote a turning away from airy abstractions to face concrete realities on the ground — one small, usually compromised, step at a time.

The core idea of human rights — of ensuring respect for every single person’s fundamental dignity in processes of government and law, without exception — is not to be discarded. But we have to be brave enough to admit that the iterations of human rights as we know them have failed — and that if they are not drastically revised, conceptually and institutionally, they will do more harm than good. 


Yehudah Mirsky served in the US State Department’s human rights bureau, is a Professor at Brandeis University and lives in Jerusalem. Among his books is Rav Kook: Mystic In A Time Of Revolution (Yale University Press).

YehudahMirsky

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Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
7 months ago

The notion of applying human rights legislation to religious terrorists and their sympathisers is confounding. The response should be that when you change your stupid and revolting beliefs you may benefit from our very, very hard won human rights. While you openly commit and celebrate genocide you are not welcome and we won’t apply them to you.

Perhaps we could add an amendment pointing to responsibility and accountability for individuals thoughts and actions. Everything you say and do is either a choice to do it or the abdication of responsibility for choosing not to. Consequences attend either road. No person has a right to whatever they wish and the world owes you precisely nothing. Focus on what you can contribute, not what you think yourself entitled to.

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
7 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

Accountability and responsibility are at the heart of the Universal Declaration and the UN Convention . Unfortunately it is the bit that remains unspoken when most shout about their own human rights. Countries and governments would rather lift the carpet than hold others to account in case the spotlight lands on them.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

But who is openly committing and celebrating genocide but the Israeli state and its supporters who are unmoved by the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, including children, in the savage bombing of Gaza.

starkbreath
starkbreath
7 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

And Hamas and their ilk are therefore brave freedom fighters. Pick a side, or maybe you already have.

AC Harper
AC Harper
7 months ago

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and turns into a racket.”

― Eric Hoffer

So… Human Rights started as a movement, became a profitable business (employing many but producing little), and has now turned into a racket where compliance is demanded with menaces.
It has been said that you cannot be given ‘human rights’ you have to take them. Which seems much closer to how the Real World(tm) works.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
7 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Brilliant. Human Rights has indeed become a racket, corrupted by crazed judicial overreach and cynical Third World politics. It has never quite formed an ideology or deranged pathology though. The Progressives who are slaves to the bigger Equality Cult only see it as tactical legal weapon to be deployed, not something to actually believe in. In their twisted psychotic worldview, only Victim groups (Palestinian) merit these human rights, not patriarchal oppressor white males or terfs. The war against home grown identitarianism is the bigger more important reform battle the West must win too.

Ddwieland
Ddwieland
6 months ago
Reply to  Walter Marvell

Didn’t you mean “Equity Cult”? Equality is such an outdated notion, you know.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
7 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Thus BLM and Pride.

David Mayes
David Mayes
7 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Well said. In the first place various Human Rights movements (such as Amnesty International) have only been birthed from the womb of powerful, victorious nation states such as the US and UK.

RM Parker
RM Parker
7 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I seem to recall that Edmund Burke said he preferred the rights of an Englishman to the rights of man; the point being that the former were won by the historical accretion of hard won victories over coercive power, while the latter were conjured from thin air.

Peter B
Peter B
7 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Not sure who Eric Hoffer is, but this is a quote that might have been made by or about Jimmy Hoffa (who turned organised labour in the US into a racket).
This article is excellent. Human rights as currently implemented is doing more net damage than good. The road to hell …

Ddwieland
Ddwieland
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

I’d go a step further and say that human rights as currently implemented by the UN is a fiction — a perversion of language.

Peter Principle
Peter Principle
7 months ago

Right now, the European attitude to human rights is a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. The article says “the religion of human rights is as badly in need of reformation as … Islamic thought after the frenzies of Jihadism will finally, hopefully, have exhausted themselves.” We are nowhere near peak-jihadism yet and that is the fault of the human rights delusion, which still holds mainstream European politicians in its thrall. Unless and until Europe stops the influx and growth of potential jihadists, the “frenzies” can only get worse.
The decline of Amnesty International is particularly sad. It was originally focussed on campaigning on behalf of non-violent political prisoners, but today it is more focussed on campaigning for whatever is the latest fad (often sex-related) of the cosmopolitan elite.

Last edited 7 months ago by Peter Principle
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
7 months ago

I don’t think this will happen with the current political incumbents. Their loyalties lies to their professional networks rather than their countries. As one poster mentioned on another article, they are more scared about coming across as bigoted to their friends than they are of actually doing good for the countries they are supposed to be governing.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
7 months ago

There are innocent people suffering – illegally and without trial – in Washington, D.C. jails for holding a legal protest at the U.S. capitol. The Amnesty International of my youth would have howled for their immediate release and lawyers would be lining up to sue on their behalf.
We are now living in a post-freedom Black Mirror world and no organized bodies are willing to do what they were created for. They have gleefully joined the persecutors.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago

There was no recent or documented time in which the rioters and conspirators against a lawful election–the Jan. 6th goons and their chief enablers like Enrique Tarrio–were likely to have been howled over by Amnesty International or respectable lawyers (perhaps a contradiction in terms, but point made).
If you are being sincere, your claim reveals that you are among those who are through the looking glass of perception, or a bit captured by the distortions of the computer screen, the black mirror of internet hysteria.
Breaching the Capitol by force was not lawful, nor was the violent menace intended, in certain cases visited, by many of the rioters and their rabble-rousing organizing committees. To suggest otherwise is as far off the mark as claiming that the worst riots in Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle in 2020 were “mostly peaceful protests”.
Most of the Jan 6th crowd may very well have been “sightseeing” or nonviolent in their minds or original plans. But those who stuck to a peaceful path aren’t the ones suffering in jail or prison. If I’m wrong, please help me to see that by providing specific names of mere “protesters” who are languishing behind bars.
Once a mob gets roaring, plans often get thrown out or through the window.

Last edited 7 months ago by AJ Mac
Mrs R
Mrs R
7 months ago

Well said. When I read of the barbaric horrors perpetrated by the Sudanese, Janjaweed, by rebels in Congo, Fulani and Boko Haram in Nigeria to name just some of those harrying the lives of vulnerable and defenceless people I really feel nothing but concern for the fact that a) the MSM stays silent for the most part so that most people are kept ignorant, and b) we are currently welcoming literally thousands of undocumented young men of fighting age in this country. While I’m sure there are many innocent men amongst them how do we know how many amongst them have not taken active part in the horrors inflicted on their fellow countrymen?

John Tyler
John Tyler
7 months ago

Let’s be honest! A large amount of post-1945 international legislation is now well past its usefulness, except as a means of berating the Western democracies that mainly fund the UN and framed the ideals, and as a cash cow for lawyers, diplomats, functionaries and so-called charitable organisations.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
7 months ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Speaking of funding organizations that are intent on your destruction, check out this must read from Tablet. Our ignorance is simply criminal these days.
https://open.substack.com/pub/thedailyscroll/p/what-happened-today-3e0?r=1zl86c&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
7 months ago

The problem with human rights is not in their airy abstraction but in determining their practical application. In the real world rights conflict. The right of Muslims not to have their dignity assaulted by imputations against their beliefs conflicts with the rights to free speech. The rights of indigenous peoples conflicts with the rights of freedom of movement and settlement. The rights of the trans community conflicts with those of women etc.

In the real world these get determined by the competitive struggle of ideologies. Which ideology can capture the relevant legal and governmental apparatus determines where the human rights line will be drawn.

Arthur G
Arthur G
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Those things you cited are not human rights under any sane conception. No one has the right not to be offended and no one has the right to freely move onto someone else’s land.

james elliott
james elliott
7 months ago

Human rights died in Gaza?

Hmmm…. not on October 7th? When Hamas terrorists were r***** women and children to death, and beheading babies – and the innocent civilians of Gaza were wildly celebrating this savagery?

Hmmm……

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
7 months ago

… and yet our leaders are at one in thinking we should replace our (somewhat) democratic national institutions with these self-serving supranational bureaucracies. Why would that be, I wonder?

Kathleen Burnett
Kathleen Burnett
7 months ago

The author’s redefinition of Human Rights still retains the notion of dignity. Formulating laws with deliberate woolliness can be a useful means to cover the grey areas of human interaction, but ‘dignity’ just gives a certain type of progressive mind the opportunity to place their foot in the door; yet again.
To make it Universal, you either have closely similar cultures on the planet, or you restrict the number of Rights to an absolute minimum (fair trial, habeas corpus etc.).
Dignity is the most important requirement of the playground bully. They always demand it.

William Amos
William Amos
7 months ago

Oscar Wilde’s quip that “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue” 

Another borrowed feather for Old Oscar’s ever expanding plumage then!
The quip, in fact, belongs to François de La Rochefoucauld. It is Maxim 218 from his Reflections of 1678.
Reflections is well worth a read and is a marvellous tonic for 24hr-news-fever. It is an astonishing testament of refinement, urbanity, sophistication and philosophy from a time even more wracked by war, religious violence and great power politics than our own.
I will sit down to re-read it tonight.

Last edited 7 months ago by William Amos
Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
7 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Thank you for that tip – am off to hunt down the book.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
7 months ago

If the point of this article was to point out that ‘divers hypocrites there be in this long-suffering world of ours’, I agree.

William Amos
William Amos
7 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

The sentiment you describe so well seems to represent a good two thirds of all articles on this website and, indeed, in the entire counter-cultural press.
Pointing out the hypocrisy doesn’t seem to have had any effect. What next?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
7 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Pointing out the hypocrisy has not effect because they know they are hypocrites and it is of absolutely no moment to them.
In fact it is probably a form of validation, if I cannot be accused of hypocrisy for adopting this position then I had better change by position.
Time and again you here the right claim look we have got them now they’re obviously hypocrites to no effect at all

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Revolution.

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
7 months ago

Great article. I think ultimately we have to rely on faith in a God that will judge us if we abuse the dignity of others. Those of us who are from a Judeo-Christian heritage need to abandon the moral relativism that is the solvent for frameworks to preserve human dignity. This solvent is at work at the family, societal, and political levels.
People who read Scripture and take it seriously are more likely to be trustworthy. We should read more Scripture.

Richard Irons
Richard Irons
7 months ago

Read scripture, and live a life consistent with it – orthopraxis and orthodoxy.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago
Reply to  Richard Irons

May the Word indeed become flesh in our lives.
However, the words of Jesus of Nazareth, the Major Prophets, and Psalmists have more weight and power than the tribal triumphalism that suffuses Judges, Kings, and Chronicles, or the uneven insights of Paul the abstract thinker.
A literalist orthodoxy cannot become a Living Word. So my beloved Grandma Mary (1925- 2020)–a lifelong Catholic who became even kinder and more openhearted in her later years–would say.

William Amos
William Amos
7 months ago

Perhaps this is not the time or the place but I do sometimes struggle to understand what I am being asked to assent to when I hear talk of ‘Judeo-Christian’ values. Depending on it’s intention, Judeo-Christian must either be a tautology or a contradiction.
Among the early Acts of the Apostles The Incident at Antioch is given a heavy prominence. Are we to understand and accept that there was no substance to the dispute after all?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

It is a contradiction in terms and seems have insidiously crept in some forty odd years ago.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Just like the indistinct umbrella term Western Civilization, the term Judeo-Christian often says too much and too little at once. It is not therefore without some validity. After all, Jesus and his initial followers were all raised in the Hebrew faith, and a high percentage of the sayings of Jesus were taken from Hebrew scripture, though the Nazarene often added a twist or pointed emphasis of his own.
Hypocrisy, apostasy, sectarian strife, and secularization notwithstanding: Some of what is bound together in the dozens of books that form the Bible, from Genesis to Isaiah to the Gospels to Revelations, exerted foundational and continuing influence on what is called–in usage that is both uncontroversial and uninstructive–the West. Right?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

No, wrong but it’s too late to chat at 22.02 GMT.
Time for my Ovaltine, perhaps we can discuss later?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago

Yeah, ok. But please come at me with something fresher than mere anti-religiousness, or rah rah Greco-Romanism.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I am sorry, but you seem to be inebriated by the exuberance of your own verbosity.

Last edited 7 months ago by Charles Stanhope
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago

What hypocrisy, sir, and in the fake-polite tone you rely on a lot. I admit that I go on too much and tend to get grandiloquent, but you are quite pretentious, and drunk on self-regard much of the time. Right?
I’ll also take your reply as an indirect admission that you have no new material on this front: just Ancient nostalgia and an ongoing need to minimize (ad absurdum) the influence of Jesus and Christianity.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

No wrong, and your vulgarity makes further discourse unappealing.
Perhaps William AMOS will pick up the cudgel?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago

How feeble of you. Have another Ovaltine or thin tea and mine Cicero or whomever in preparation for your next sneering post then.
If only your classical learning had made you more humane!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

“Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery”.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago

To use another cliche: I guess you do (at least pretend to) enjoy a taste of your own medicine sometimes. Bye.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
7 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
7 months ago

I’ve noticed that some of the worst hypocrites are to be found amongst those who openly boast of their Christian credentials but fail to live by Christ’s teaching.

Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
7 months ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

Wait – I misread your comment the first time!. Now I get it – you are a Christian, Eleanor and you are disappointed that non-Christians put on fake Christian virtues without any real humility? So you are saying, if you want Christian virtues, don’t fake it, become the real deal?

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
7 months ago

Unfortunately there are, particularly in the US, any number of extreme evangelical nutters who take the bible with deadly seriousness and who completely disprove your assertion.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago
Reply to  Coralie Palmer

Very true. Two quotes, one from from Jesus of Nazareth and one from Paul the Thinker, are salient here:
“Inasmuch a ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren [that is: fed the hungry, quenched the thirsty, took in the stranger, clothed the naked, or visited those sick or imprisoned]” ye have done it unto me”.
“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”.
The faith the does not have charity–nor love the neighbor, nor help the outcast and stranger–is dead.
Literalist worship of the written word–with hearts far from the Source–is what Jesus rebuked the Sadducees for. I say all this as someone who is not an institutional Christian.

Ardath Blauvelt
Ardath Blauvelt
7 months ago

Sadly, optimists hope, if not believe, that laws or agreements will be the ultimate answer to human evil. But, not so. In time, the evil impulses in some people, after beating at the doors of civilization for however long it takes, will create fissures, doubts, outright lies, indoctrination, until the constantly besieged, tire and weaken.

Reform, rededication and revival, often through the last gasp desperate shedding of blood, becomes necessary. Evil is once again, abroad, and humanity must decide. The good must be defended, or it will lose. We cannot keep what we are unwilling to save. Equivalency, equivocation or appeasement will never, never defeat the evil of which we are capable.

Truly, the time for choosing is here; the time for arguing is past.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
7 months ago

Well said, and proper use of the word evil too, i.e. that which we are capable of rather than some abstract notion of Evil.

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
7 months ago

“ is a Professor at Brandeis University and lives in Jerusalem. ”

Of course he is. This whole justification of the carnage in Gaza is not applied elsewhere – if it were then Assad would be a hero. And if the Islamists win in Syria then there will be a genocide of Christians and Alawites in Syria, probably to little or no reporting in the west. The West is financing these rebels – directly and indirectly.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
7 months ago

More so than they are funding the state of Israel?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Don’t be ridiculous! ‘Kosher Nostra’ reigns supreme.

starkbreath
starkbreath
7 months ago

Reformation of ‘Islamic thought after the frenzies of Jihadism will finally, hopefully, have exhausted themselves’? I strongly suggest the author if this piece familiarize himself with the Koran. Wishful thinking like this will be the death of all of us, as it already has been for so many in Europe, the US and other secular cultures.

Last edited 7 months ago by starkbreath
sue vogel
sue vogel
7 months ago

I’d question whether human rights ever existed in Gaza.

Helen Hughes
Helen Hughes
7 months ago

And while we argue about human rights and who they should be accorded to and who is actually not really human at all so we don’t need to bother, those with real control just keep on dividing and ruling, raping and pillaging. But I guess us keyboard warriors are serving some useful purpose?

Josie Bowen
Josie Bowen
7 months ago
Reply to  Helen Hughes

Or are we just reading about the end of the world?

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
7 months ago

‘Human rights’ are in themselves a meaningless construct. They are, in all essentials, the outcomes of the exercise of reason and responsibility. As the Bible noted, and militaries have long recognised, you cannot mandate an outcome, only the measures and resources most likely to bring it about. Take, for example, the supposed ‘right to life’; we all die sooner or later, but unless a critical number of us, individually and collectively, exercise the responsibility not to hazard life negligently, recklessly, or deliberately without good cause, it’s likely to be sooner. ‘Rights’ play absolutely no part in the equation.

Jane Davis
Jane Davis
7 months ago

Human rights extend to all humans regardless of their morality and actions – as individuals. Thus Ian Brady is given a trial and should not be tortured by prison guards. Ditto Fred West or other serial killers. Although Eichmann was tried and executed, he was not mistreated in prison. Of course, he couldn’t be as that was always going to be on show and very much in public eye.
The legal element is crucial. Fair trials, no imprisonment without declared charges. Lawyers and equality between accused/accuser. In rape trials, the latter has rarely happened, hence their essential uselessness.
It encompasses freedom from and freedom to – such as the Universal Declaration of the rights of children to education, housing and a secure , safe life. None of which has been met anywhere in my lifetime.
Then the freedom of information, the press, and freedom from intrusive invasion into personal life – all under threat from techno capitalism.
Collectively speaking, the article raises a question whether a state like Iran, which is a violator of human rights on a large scale, should have a voice. But America has violated human rights across the globe, installing dictatorships in South America and elsewhere to appease its fear of leftist government. Russia, a massive violator of humans rights, ditto China, all have a voice.
The UK government has been violating the rights of disabled people blatantly for several years and caused deaths by the thousands. They did not need arms like Hamas – it is a kind of bureaucratic euthanasia that has been carried out in the name of benefit cuts. The UN passed judgement on this but business goes on as usual.
Hamas violate human rights: Israel violate human rights.
Human rights are not the same as enabling or supporting acts of terrorism. Arguably the US and Europe’s use of torture to identify Jihadis has been shown to be a total failure – there was no intelligence to prevent the London bombings in 2005.
Hope not Hate prevented at least one extremist killing of an MP through creating turncoat informers whose intel was accurate – which intel created through mistreatment seldom is.
It is hard to find a country with a completely clean human rights record in respect of gender, sexuality, religion, disability, class, ethnicity and so on. In fact I’d go further – I’d say it is impossible.
It is the degrees of violations that differ.
One of the most distinguishing features of humans as a species is that they are always deciding that certain ‘other’ groups are not really human at all – and then they act accordingly.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  Jane Davis

When the GOD person says “You are my chosen people” that doesn’t really help does it?
Incidentally the USA set a pretty terrible example of torturing people in Iraq and probably at Guantanamo.
We used to say “play the white man” but the US rather let us down to to their eternal shame.
Thus the whole concept of ‘human rights’ is absurd. ‘We’ are merely beasts and always shall be.

ps. Please be more concise in future!

Jane Davis
Jane Davis
7 months ago

You misunderstand chosen people as many do. the point was they were agents – Abraham chose to follow the word of this particular God – it should really be ‘choosing ‘ people to express what actually happened.
Animals are not mere beasts -nothing with a nervous system and sentience is any such thing. I include the entire planet in that – sad hippy that I am.
Not surprised to find many opponents of the basic principles of human rights on this forum.
Yet if any one of you found yourselves in an authoritarian country – or indeed disabled and on the wrong side of the system in the UK – you would be reaching for help from Human Rights legislation soon enough.
Come on guys, torture me, waterboard me, behead me, assault me – I’m a mere beast.
Which is of course how women have been seen and treated for centuries.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  Jane Davis

I shall try to get to you for reasons explained in an earlier post.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
7 months ago

I just read the first paragraph and came up with an image of The Spanish Inquisition.
Not the Spanish Inquisition!!
I stopped reading then.

Mrs R
Mrs R
7 months ago

Thank you for this article. It gives me some hope.

Matt B
Matt B
7 months ago

Authoritarians and ideologues have learnt to ride the rights freight train, right into the station to obliterate others preparing to bomb a village to save it. The question remains: do humans have rights, even as a secularized religion, and notably in a world being destroyed? Who plays God?

Last edited 7 months ago by Matt B
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago

 In the moral universe of Israel, the well-being of individuals, and certainly of Palestinians, dissolves into nothingness in the face of the divine decision of God (whoever or whatever he/she is) to give the land of Palestine to europe settlers.

A D Kent
A D Kent
7 months ago

Here we go again – another UnHerd piece based on a ‘Year Zero’ framing of the atrocities of October 7th. Another one insisting that this is a clock resetting and that things are different now.

We’re just emerging from a period of global hysteria manipulated by all sorts of people on the basis of a narrative we’ve been spun around causes of deaths that has led to billions of us put under essentially amounted to house arrest. Plenty of self-professed ‘sceptics’ have, and still are, properly questioning the bases for these claims – they’re testing causes of death, looking at excesses and asking proper questions. 

When it comes to the events of October 7th though – it’s case proven. We’ve got the likes of Giles Fraser & Laura ‘State of Fear’ Dodsworth convinced to their entire satisfaction by a 40 minute video directed by the IDF (who have plenty of previous when it comes to manipulating such evidence). We’ve the maximalist claims of pressure groups like United Hatzalah and the (grifting-nonce-founded) ZAKA taken as gospel. It’s apparently a disgrace that HRW have only so far identified 3 specific killings. 

If it is such an atrocity that we must reinterpret our notions of Human Rights shouldn’t we be expecting a little more by way of proof? Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think the angry aftermath of a desperate, tragic event – about which we still are no where near close to having a proper understanding – is the right time to make drastic changes to such notions. These notions – of Human Rights and International Law – weren’t pulled out of thin air – they were developed  over years and codified by those responsible for the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Imperial Japanese – such lilly livered Liberal types as Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

For what it’s worth my view is that the evidence seen so far is sufficient to prove that Hamas (and some of the other groups who joined in) did indeed commit war crimes on October 7th. However, these were greatly exacerbated – and maybe even over-shadowed – by a panicked and massively brutal response by the flustered, casualty-indifferent IDF who may or may not have been acting under their Hanibal Directive. Horrific, tragic, terrible yes – but epoch-changingly so? I’m not so sure.

We’ve seen war-fever stoked before on the basis of wild claims – of WMD threats, of babies torn from incubators, of Viagra fuelled sexual assaults and yes plenty of rape stories too – which turned out either to be untrue or massively exaggerated. That the narrative of horrors of October 7th will be added to this list remains to be seen.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
7 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Don’t worry, based on your post, your view is not only worthless, but offensive beyond the pale.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  A D Kent

But did not Joe Biden, ‘the most powerful man in the world’ claim he had actually seen photos of beheaded babies? How can one seriously doubt the veracity of such a story?
Then there is NBC claiming forty babies were beheaded. Again would an august icon such as NBC really fabricate this?
If so I am deeply shocked.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
7 months ago

So neither side believes in human rights? I could have told you that years ago

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
7 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

No. There is no moral equivalence in this conflict.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
7 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Yes, there is a difference. One side engaged in barbaric violence, while the other employed force to defend itself.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
7 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Which is which? Israel came into being largely thanks to a violent murderous uprising, but it’s beyond the pale for the Palestinians to do the same?
Israel gave State funerals to those terrorists who murdered British citizens in pursuit of their goals, and their current campaign has a civilian death toll most terrorist groups could only dream of. Hamas barbaric attack killed 2 civilians for every member of the security forces (and only 30 children). What’s the Israels killing ratio of civilians:Hamas fighters?

Peter Buchan
Peter Buchan
7 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Billy Bob, you and I have disagreed on many things. But reasonable people can disagree, and for longer that you’d expect, as long as respect, and an opening for agreement and conciliation remains. You have it spot on, Sir