Talented film director Roman Polanski was accused and convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl some thirty years ago. There was some sympathy for him at the time. His wife Sharon Tate had been brutally murdered by the Manson “family” and he was in a state of emotional shock. But he fled the United States and lived in France and travelled pretty freely, avoiding the United States for obvious reasons, and cemented his reputation as a man of many talents.
Last week he was arrested in Switzerland and awaits possible extradition to the United States of America which has a treaty with Switzerland and has for many years reiterated its international warrant for his arrest. The world of the glitterati is up in arms. What is the rape of the 13-year-old, they mutter, when compared to the great contribution of artistic endeavor? Rather like those who argued the Nazis could not possibly be so bad, brought up as they were on Beethoven and Heine. If even the victim has called for clemency why hound the poor man? After all, he is not a war criminal or a mass murderer, whose heinous crimes merit hounding till the end of his days. He is an artist.
Nevertheless, any philosopher of ethics or of law will agree that someone found guilty by a legitimate and open court of law is guilty unless and until that verdict is overturned. And I am prepared to wager that a way will be found to let him go. Nowadays it seems morality is not the issue so much as public sentiment.
Nearly two thousand years ago, in the third century, a great Jew called Samuel, living the Persian Empire, declared, “The Law of the Land is the Law”, which ever since has bound Jews in civil matters to accept the government and laws of whichever country they may live in. But about seven hundred years later another great Jew, living in Spain, Solomon Ben Aderet (1235-1310) known as the Rashba, declared that this only applies where the law of the land is applied fairly and equally to everyone. Otherwise there is no rule of law and under such circumstances self-interest trumps the random and unjust demands of the ruling authority that tended to victimize Jews (and indeed Muslims).
Now let us turn to Israel. If Israel or its soldiers have committed crimes they must be prosecuted, as indeed Israeli law does prosecute its criminals, whether civil or military. One can argue about whether they do it fairly or not, and there is a Supreme Court to which all citizens may apply equally regardless of race or religion, that is not as enslaved to the political authorities as many claim. If Israel were to be found to have transgressed any international laws then she should and must be prosecuted too. No one should be above the law.
But where the law is not being applied fairly or evenly then one is clearly not under any moral obligation to accept it, although one is still under a moral obligation to examine one’s own actions to determine their morality or lack thereof. Those of us who are religious will hold ourselves bound by a higher authority, regardless of others; although I fear there are religious leaders who will interpret that authority to suit themselves.
Now I ask you, members of the jury, isn’t it true that judges are supposed to be objective? Is it not the case that if a judge is known to be biased he is unfit to be a judge? The United Nations, or to be more precise the UN Human Rights Council, has just issued a report entitled Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories: Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, now commonly known as the Goldstone Report after its head. One of its members was Christine Chinkin–read this to see if you think she might be objective.
Even former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, hardly biased in favor of Israel, described the Human Rights Council as having a practice of “adopting resolutions guided not by human rights, but by politics”. She had declined to head the fact-finding mission that produced the report, herself, specifically citing its exclusive focus on Israel.
The United Nations is a disgrace and a farce and unfit to pass judgment on anything. If its halls can reverberate with applause for an Iranian anti-Semite, then it is not fit to be a sewage plant. If the Human Rights Council which called for this report can have dictators as its chairs, it is already a disgrace to its name. But if it can appoint a person to pass moral judgment who has already and previously publicly stated that Israel is guilty of war crimes in Gaza, then how is that different than a judge declaring the plaintiff guilty before a word of the trial has been spoken? In all fairness, how can an organization that has not prosecuted equal and graver crimes by other egregious regimes and conflicts sit in judgment of one it has already previously condemned year after year with no hint of reciprocity or balance? If Israel is condemned for blockading Gaza why is not Egypt?
As much as it is our moral obligation as Jews to prosecute war crimes, it is our moral obligation to repudiate judgments until they are seen to be fair. The United Nations and its agencies are an absolute disgrace to humanity and justice and we must ignore them. As the Midrash says, “Let din velet dayan”, there is neither law nor judge.