By Eric Sandhusen
Like many other religious communities, the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County seems struck dumb by the recent violence in Israel and Gaza. The attacks by Hamas, and defensive response by Israel, seem to paralyze our ability to renounce bloodshed, and condemnations of brutality and dehumanization catch in our throats as we seek to avoid false equivalences. This is not an Israeli-Palestinian problem. Like so many others, it is a global problem, and a global failure. We can talk about crimes against humanity, but ultimately these are crimes against humans, by humans. Whether such acts are done at the direction of a religious zealot or by a politician’s calculus, these are crimes that must be addressed within a comprehensive system of justice.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights should prevail
We can agree that justice and redress are essential to human dignity. Let us further acknowledge that justice dispensed at a distance, through a gun sight, is not justice. As advocates for human dignity everywhere, our cause is to improve and empower the structures that might at long last hold people proportionately and personally accountable for violence in all its forms, such as the International Criminal Court, the World Court, the United Nations Security Council. And, as we approach its 75th anniversary this Dec. 10, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How long must we wait to give this document the same authority as our own Bill of Rights?
Sadly, we now see crimes upon crimes worldwide, and the meager systems of justice, such as they exist, are overwhelmed–because they are so fragile to begin with. When your justice system is overwhelmed, there is simply no way to unwind the strangling knot of hatred and revenge, to go back and litigate large and small harms accumulated over millennia. There is only one way to go, and that is forward, through forgiveness and reconciliation, to justice.
Let’s make justice our religion
We can advance a real system of justice that doesn’t accept cynical claims of national sovereignty, or national aspiration, to justify acts of violence, barbarity and terror. We can build a strong center, rooted in both love and law, that leaves no room for hatred and allows no space for extremists whose target is the very peace we work to sustain. We will create this real alternative to war and destruction when we make justice our religion, and freedom from fear and oppression, for ourselves and others, our highest calling.
Eric Sandhusen is president of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.