Listening Sunday to Netanyahu’s strident, aggressive remarks prior to the opening of his trial, I was both shocked at how brazen his lies and injured self-pity were and at how extraordinarily effective he was.
As social animals, our construction of reality is based on and reinforced by communication with others. It is profoundly challenging to listen to someone describe a reality so different from ours and with such confidence. Our human tendency in these circumstances is—at least at some level—to question our own understanding. But as Netanyahu’s performance before his hearing demonstrated, this positive, human tendency must be applied with caution. It is not quite what William Blake had in mind, but there is further truth to his line “We are led to believe a lie, when we see not through the eye…”
It is also difficult to confront and recognized the kind of evil that such lies represent. Can someone truly, willfully and with no sign whatsoever of guilt or self-reproach boldly lie in front of us (with no fear of a scarlet letter in their soul)?
As I think of this it occurs to me that so many examples evil in our cultural repository are bound up with the feelings of guilt that ultimately burn through. In the aforementioned Scarlet Letter, the reverend’s guilt plagues him. In Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, transgressions are reflected in monstrously graphic detail within the painting—even if Dorian Gray, himself, seems never to age.
We have multiple examples of the opposite, as well. Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors springs to mind. The good are not necessarily rewarded and those who do evil escape justice.
Perhaps precisely because of the imperfection of our social capacity to ensure that evil and wrongdoing are eliminated, we’re reminded that we must remain ever vigilant. “Justice, justice you shall seek!”
So can someone truly, willfully and with no sign whatsoever of guilt or self-reproach lie in front of us? The answer, apparently—obviously—is yes.
We know that good is not necessarily rewarded and those who do evil escape justice. We also recognize that this represents a fundamental threat to our social fabric—to our very lives. As imperfect as our worldly justice is, our lives depend upon it. Ensuring that the light of justice can shine forth, in turn, relies on our vigilance, courage and integrity.
We are each obligated, always to strive towards a world in which, as is written in the Book of Daniel, “the wise will shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who bring the multitudes to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.”
Our worlds—which we are constantly building—collapse when we fail. This is the danger of Netanyahu’s attack on Israel’s justice system and on Israel, itself.