Moral consistency vs. moral clarity, after October 7, 2023

I to my side call the meek and the mild

You to your side call the Word

By virtue of suffering I claim to have won

You claim to have never been heard

— “Different Sides” Leonard Cohen.

The deadliest terrorist act in the history of Israel took place a week ago. It has surprisingly prompted conflicting responses from all sides of the (Western) world’s political spectrum. It would seem that such an obvious act of terrorism against innocent civilians: women and children, the elderly, whole families, is beyond consensus. It would seem that such an atrocity, which is not just against Israelis, but against humanity, would unite all mankind in its condemnation of it, regardless of politics. It would seem that in the face of pure evil no heart can remain untouched. It would seem so, wouldn’t it? Yet there are many, who express their support for Hamas, veiled as support for the Palestinian cause, choosing to minimize the massacre, blame it on somebody else, or outright disregard it.

In his article, Paul Waldman argues that many of us rush to judge others’ opinions on the premises of moral clarity. In other words, when someone backs Israel and condemns Hamas, they should automatically be against the innocent Palestinian civilians, inadvertently targeted by the IDF in their pursuit of terrorists.

Reversely, if someone expresses concern for Palestinians, they, by default, have no sympathy for the biggest tragedy in Israel for the last fifty years. Paradoxically, on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one isn’t allowed to be both: heartbroken for Israel, as well as feel the predicament of the civilian Gazans. Waldman maintains that such arguments have moral clarity rather than moral consistency. For each side it is apparent that the other is wrong. Waldman holds that moral clarity is the domain of far extremist parties, as well as fanatics, such as Hamas.

That is absolutely correct that moral clarity is impossible for complex questions and situations like Israeli-Palestinian conflict or similar issues. There usually is myriad of arguments for and against, and those are not situations that can be painted black and white. Indeed, only fanatics have clarity, meaning black and white understanding of such issues. For the rest of us, they are painted in many shades of gray. Nevertheless, there are situations that can and should be judged as black and white. Intentional killing of civilians, for example, is a well-defined act of terrorism or a war crime. There are no shades here. What Hamas did in Israeli kibbutzim and villages, and in the music festival, cannot be interpreted in any other way but as a pure act of terror. It can only be painted one colour – black.

Therefore, it’s not only possible, but necessary to have moral clarity in order to judge those events accordingly. There are no nuances here. It is immoral to celebrate the death of innocent people caught in the carnage. When innocent civilians are being intentionally targeted, this is unequivocally a terrorist act by definition. Thus, moral clarity is our human obligation when confronted with an act of sheer evil, as President Biden has called the October 7th massacre.

That doesn’t contradict the fact that Palestinian supporters can express their outrage for Israeli government policies or their support for Palestinian civilians suffering in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But when this support is mixed with support for the actions of Hamas, which has just committed despicable acts, their entire message becomes immoral, as it is morally wrong to be neutral and impartial in such a case.

Harvard University students’ letter of support for the Palestinians, as well as those of other campuses across the U.S., whereby they justify Hamas’s act, the Starbucks Union’s similar support for Hamas, numerous rallies across the world, sympathetically calling Hamas terrorists “militants,” illustrate this immoral consistency, time and again taking a stance against Israel, even in its darkest hour.

To be morally consistent, acting on one’s moral values is a challenge many nowadays prefer to forgo. Falling into the trap of taking one side while disregarding the suffering of the other is being consistently immoral. The understanding that moral consistency and moral clarity aren’t mutually exclusive parameters in our moral mathematics, but its imperative components, is what constitutes who we are as human beings.

About the Author
I am an English teacher. I am married with twins. I love this country.
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