The UN and the Failure of Mankind

Yesterday, I joined hundreds of American Jews – mostly women – in witnessing the failure of mankind.

The gathering took place at the United Nations New York headquarters and was convened by the Israeli mission to the UN in partnership with the National Council of Jewish Women and other Jewish groups. The goal was to conduct a hearing addressing the sexually based violence committed by Hamas on October 7th. Those present were overwhelmed by the images, testimonies, and the cumulative outcry of the compelling array of speakers describing Hamas’s unimaginably sadistic and lustful brutality.

But Hamas’s failure is not the failure of mankind. That distinction is reserved for the United Nations and its deafening silence.

Humanity is expressed not when we share our own pain but when we share the pain of others. Our sense of justice is manifest not when we seek justice for ourselves but when we demand it for others. It is only because Cain rejects his responsibility to be his brother’s keeper that his brother’s blood needed to cry out from the ground. If humankind was doing its job, the outcry would have come from elsewhere and Abel could have rested in peace. Basic humanity demands that we look out for each other. The victim should be supported and defended and should not need to cry out.

The hearing had everyone in the wrong seats. The leadership of the UN should have presided, the representatives of UN Women and the UNHRC should have called the witnesses, and the ambassadors of other nations should have voted on a call to action. That is the world we want to live in. That is the world which will witness the fulfillment of the prophecy inscribed on the Isaiah wall at the UN, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” But that was not what happened yesterday. Instead, Israel and the Jews were left to carry out a make-believe UN hearing and were – with the notable exception of a remarkable address by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand – the lone voices raised over their own tragedy.

It should not have been the Jewish victims’ voices crying out over a human tragedy. Nor, for that matter, should it have had to be women’s voices decrying violence against women.

A speaker at the hearing noted how the event came just two days after Jews across the world had read from the Torah the tragic story of Dina, the daughter of Jacob who was abducted and raped by Shechem. Following this horrific act, Shechem and his father attempted to resolve the matter with Jacob and his sons. Dina’s voice was neither sought nor heard, cementing further her status as an object of the desire of others.

Dina’s silence underscores the failure of Shechem but it may spell the success of Jacob’s sons, Shimon and Levi. They demonstrated what it means to be a brother, unhesitatingly standing up as their sister’s keeper. They were men who took it upon themselves to protect, to defend, and to restore dignity to their sister. They would fight her battle as the first warriors for women’s rights. And they were men. Real men stand up for women’s protection and safety.

Swords will only be beaten into plowshares when every human being considers the safety and wellbeing of every other human being as their personal concern. The only “us and them” in the world of evil is between the perpetrators and everyone else. Everyone else, Jew and non-Jew, man and woman, must stand up to every evil, advocating for each other and defending and supporting each other.

As we witnessed yesterday at the UN, this has yet to be achieved. That is the failure of mankind.