Debating hate with Mehmet Oz and Natan Sharansky

Debating hate with Mehmet Oz and Natan Sharansky

There were many highlights of my recent trip to Israel with my friend Dr. Mehmet Oz from TV. Foremost among them was the long conversation we had with Prime Minister Netanyahu about the relationship between Israel and Turkey, where Mehmet’s parents live. Then there was the dancing at Hebron, outside the tomb of the patriarchs, with our families and Israeli soldiers, and dancing at the Kotel on Friday night.

Truth regardless of consequencesBut for me the real highlight was the public conversation that Mehmet, Natan Sharansky, and I had at the Jerusalem Press club, moderated by Jerusalem Post editor Steve Linde.

What began as a discussion extolling the universality of Jewish values quickly became a debate on the subject of hate between me and Sharansky on the one hand, and Dr. Oz on the other.

In discussing what made Jewish values unique I said that Judaism, unlike all other world religions, believed in an obligation to hate evil. Israel was surrounded by murderous enemies like Hamas and Hezbollah, who blew up children. To love people like that was to violate the victims a second time.

Christian theology requires the death of Jesus in order to bring atonement. Ever since then Christian saints have argued for the ennobling quality of suffering, enjoining us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek to support a theology that would extend affection even to those practicing barbaric cruelty.

The biblical truth, however, is precisely the opposite. Exhortations to hate all manner of evil abound in the Bible, and God declares His detestation of those who visit cruelty on His children. The book of Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil,” and King David affirms of the wicked, “I have hated them with a deep loathing. They are as enemies to me.” Hatred is a valid emotion, the appropriate moral response, in the human encounter with evil.

Mehmet sharply disagreed. Hatred harms the person who harbors it, he said. It becomes obsessive, corroding us from the inside. We had to learn to love people because all human beings, even the wicked, were once childlike and innocent, and they retain a portion of that quality even now.

Sharansky took issue. He related how, when he was held in the gulag by the KGB, once they failed to break him with violence they attempted to do so with love. “We all care about you,” they said. “We don’t want you do die. Sign the confession that you were a spy. This way you can see your family again.” He had to remind himself, amid those efforts to touch his heart, that these people were evil. That they were monsters. That they had no heart. Their sole intention was to rob him of his soul. And it was because he taught himself to loathe them internally that they were never able to crack him. The KGB disappeared, and today Sharansky is a grandfather in Israel.

Mehmet still held his ground. Maybe we can change people by loving them. Maybe we can touch them by showing affection. But if we hate them, we ourselves would be lost.

I countered that not very far from where we were holding this discussion sits a man in Damascus who already slaughtered 100,000 people, including 30,000 children. There is nothing good in him. He is pure evil, having erased utterly the image of God from his countenance. The Iranian mullahs, with their daily threats to wipe out the Jews, are not far behind. We Jews are kind of tired of having genocides perpetrated against us, including the threats of future ones.

True, Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies. But your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. God’s enemies are those who rape women and cluster-bomb children. Likewise, in advocating turning the other cheek Jesus never meant that if someone rapes your wife give him your daughter, but rather to forgive petty slights rather than grotesque evil. If we don’t hate people like Assad we won’t fight them. Right now the United States is doing nothing in Syria. And while it’s understandable why a country exhausted from wars in the Middle East is reluctant to put boots on the ground or enforce a no-fly zone, what possible excuse can there be for President Obama not to publicly brand Assad a war criminal and seek an indictment for war crimes at the International Court of Justice at the Hague?

But Mehmet still made a good point. OK, hatred might be justified if it’s a spur to action. You hate the evil being done and you’re determined to stop it. But if you just sit around and stew in your hatred while taking no action whatsoever to protect the innocent, then you’re just indulging a toxic emotion that will leave you shriveled and bitter.

Natan and I agreed with him. It was a point well made by a wise man who is a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people. And we ended a spirited evening with the world’s most famous doctor and one of its best-known Muslim personalities on the high note of harmony and agreement.