"The Lesser Evil"
The Torah demands from us “Tzedek tzedek tirdof” (Justice justice you
shall pursue). Our Rabbis interpreted the repetition of the word tzedek
as if the text read: ”Justice with justice you shall pursue.”
Often, in the pursuit of practical solutions to complex problems we try
to cut corners and not insist on the purity of our methods. This is the
basis for the expression “the end justifies the means.” Sadly, this
refrain is read too often in political circles as well as our personal
lives. We often assuage our conscience by saying “I had to do it because
the end was right.” This contamination of even the best of intentions
with unethical parts leads to a decay of our moral fiber that can be
lethal in the end.
In the realm of political affairs and especially in the decisions of
leaders of nations there exists an open and unabashed justification for
this attitude that “the end justifies the means.” There is a particular
twist of this phenomenon when alliances are forged with unsavory
individuals when they serve our temporary goals. This is the choice of
the lesser evil, a practice that is not only unethical but
inefficacious as well.
America has been dancing to this tune for a long time and each time we
have been rebuffed by our erstwhile allies. Just to cite a few examples
from the last twenty years: the U.S. supported Iraq in its war with Iran
because we thought that Iraq was the lesser evil. How ironic is to hear
that Iran now may be a lesser evil than Iraq! When the Soviet Union
invaded Afghanistan, the US sought to support the Afghan Moslems, with
the CIA training and arming people like Bin Laden because we thought Bin
laden was the lesser evil. Now we seek the Russians’ support in getting
rid of Bin Laden. These terrible choices were made because of the thesis
of “the lesser evil” that never worked and never will work.
Israel too is guilty of this and it is paying heavily for its mistake.
In the 70’s and 80’s in an attempt to curb the influence of the PLO,
Israel supported and trained none other than Hamas. A few years later
Israel made a pact with the PLO to get rid of Hamas. This comedy of
errors has fatal consequences yet nobody admits the fundamental truth
that you cannot make a pact with the devil and win.
The most evident refutation of the argument that we can work with the
lesser evil is the case of Yasir Arafat. The illusion that he was a good
partner was short-lived. Tragically he made Israel pay a high price for
its mistake. We should not forget how the Israeli government and many
Jewish leaders rallied to support the candidacy of Arafat for the “good
guy” prize and the support of the New York Times for awarding this mass
murderer the Nobel Peace prize. Now the same people declare the man a
“monster” that not long ago had heralded him as the messenger of peace.
The Israeli government and its leaders will be held forever accountable
for their errors in judgment concerning the “Arafat gamble.” The
victims’ blood –especially those murdered in the latest intifada--cries
out from the earth!
What is most disturbing—and incredible-- is that the same mistake is
being made again. With the discrediting of Arafat, a new candidate for
the “good guy” position has emerged. His name is Abu Mazen and he is
being feted as the “new great hope.” This is a man who supported mass
murder, justified terror and claimed that the Holocaust was a hoax. The
IDF website had carried an interview with him that revealed these ugly
ideas. But the Israeli government has now decided to clean up the man’s
image and withdrew the interview from the site. There is also a rumor
that Abu Mazen’s book with the clear revelations of his true thoughts
was in the process of being translated into English when the Israeli
government put pressure to stop its publication. Bush’s National
Security advisor declared recently that it was in the best interest of
Israel to work with Abu Mazen. Here we go again. He is not as bad…he is
the “lesser evil.” How long will this illusion live until we meet the
After the war with Iraq ends, the world will put pressure on Israel to
give in to the demands of whatever group or leader is the lesser evil.
Even admitting that the future “partner” is evil, we keep pushing
because he is, you guessed it, the “lesser evil.” Is anybody reading
history and learning from these foolish mistakes? How long will we
continue to engage in this egregious blunder? There is no such thing as
the “lesser” evil. Evil is evil, in whatever size they come. Just
as a cancer is dangerous whatever its size, so is evil when it is
combined in anything. A small amount of bad friends is just as
pernicious as a large group; one murder is just as bad as multiple
murders. There are things that vary in value according to size; evil
is not one of them.
The Torah repeats this phrase in several places: “And you shall
extirpate evil from your midst.” The commandment is not only to avoid
working with evil but also to remove it entirely from our system. To
forge alliances with evil never works. So as Bin Laden and Arafat proved
untrustworthy, so will all alliances with evil, even when it is called
“lesser.” One hopes that governments that want to see the development of
good throughout the world will finally understand that supporting any
evil is evil too.