Saturday, June 07, 2014

Universal Salvation?

From Spengler, 29 May 2014, by David P. Goldman:

There are two kinds of people: those who think that everyone will (or should be) saved, and those who don’t.
Among the former are many – communist, socialists, and most present-day liberals – who assert that human agency can right all the world’s wrongs. There also are religious millenarians who believe that God has a plan for universal salvation, but because things do not work out this way, they feel obliged to help God accomplish what he does not seem eager enough to do on his own.
That is a religious outlook rejected by the Catholic Church. [See Note 1] After Pope Francis I’s journey to the Holy Land this weekend, though, it is hard to suppress the perception that in his heart he yearns for universal salvation, although his public discourse, to be sure, is consistent with Church doctrine. The Holy Father really seems convinced that he can fix the world, starting with a part of the world that no-one has been able to fix, and in any case does not especially require fixing.
His intervention into Middle Eastern politics, I believe, arises from deep theological convictions that override perceptions of fact and practicality. He appears to believe that a miracle will move the recalcitrant hearts of the contending parties in the Middle East. I believe in miracles, but I don’t think they can be summoned at will.
Why focus on the Israel-Palestine issue to begin with? The Muslim world long since put it on the back burner, as Lee Smith observed last year. In the pope’s mind, the problems of the Palestinians – benign as they are compared to those of Syrians, Iraqis or even Egyptians – stand as a symbol of the ills of the world that a just God would want to fix. Francis has mistaken windmills for giants.
The pope’s strangest gesture, but perhaps his most characteristic, was to invite Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestine Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican next month to pray for peace. Peres does not pray, as he hasacknowledged in public.
In the unlikely event that he were to pray, he could not do so in the Vatican, for Jews are forbidden to pray in buildings with Christian religious images. In any event he has no mandate to speak on Israel’s behalf, and will resign his largely ceremonial position in July. Outside of the world of miracles the exercise is triply pointless. According to most Islamic authorities, the same stricture applies to Abbas, who is not a religious man, either. A prayer session with Peres and Abbas is the stuff of the real maravilloso.
Everything a pope does should be viewed through the prism of theology. and a purely theological impulse led Pope Francis to wade into the minefields of Middle Eastern politics, as the champion of what he alone among the leaders of the West hails as the “State of Palestine”. For 20 years, the Israelis and the Palestine Authority along with the major powers have debated whether and on what conditions there might be a State of Palestine. Francis seems to believe that it will be so if he declares it to be so.
Kindness radiates from this pope, whose gestures to the Palestinians were balanced by unprecedented gestures to the Israelis – a wreath on the grave of Zionist founding father Theodor Herzl, and a declaration that the Holocaust was a uniquely evil act in world history. There is not a hint of ill will towards the Jews in Bergoglio’s public record. On the contrary, in his November 2013 encyclical he reaffirmed, “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’.” The subject is neither the Jews nor the Arabs, but rather the new pope’s vision for the Catholic Church.
A controversy erupted in the Catholic world after Francis preached “universal redemption”, arguing that all people naturally seek the good because of the good ness of creation. The pope argued that atheists can do good just like Christians, and that “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation … The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us.”
But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.
“Yes, he can… The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!”
Father, the atheists?
“Even the atheists. Everyone! We must meet one another doing good.”
But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!
“But do good: we will meet one another there.”
By the pregnant word “there”, Francis did not necessarily mean Heaven. Catholic theologians hastened to point out that “redemption” means the potential for “salvation” after Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, which in Catholic doctrine redeems the whole world. Francis nonetheless blurs the distinction. The (mostly anti-religious) media hailed Pope Francis’ remarks as a declaration that one doesn’t have to adhere to Church doctrine to be saved. Those were not his words, to be sure, but that’s how the music sounded.
As the Church ministers to a shrinking number of individuals, it is tempted instead to try to save everyone. The Church is still growing in the United States mainly due to Hispanic immigration, but it is almost certain to shrink as Latinos leave the faith. In 2010, two-thirds of Americans in the United States of Hispanic origin identified as Catholics; by 2014 the figure had dropped to only 55%. Latin America is still majority Catholic, but not with strong conviction. A gauge of diminished faith is the decline of Latin American fertility from four children per female in 1985 to just two today.
How to respond to shrinking numbers of communicants is the subject of a quiet but impassioned debate. Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, advocated a small church strategy; he wrote in 1996 that the time may have come to “abandon traditionally Catholic culture” and consolidate the Church around “small seemingly insignificant groups” that nonetheless “bring the good into the world”. The alternative view is millenarian and messianic: despite the shrinkage of the Church itself, he believes, the Church in the person of its Supreme Pontiff will intervene in and transform the world.
Pope Francis’ sudden passion for a Palestinian state is not arbitrary. It is yet another expression of his millenarian hopes for the renewal of a Church that saves fewer individuals than ever but hopes instead to save everybody. We observe the same messianic universalism in his New Year’s message denouncing market-based capitalism, and in his willingness to soften doctrinal restrictions in order to broaden the Church’s tent. This troubles conservative Catholics, for example New York Times columnistRoss Douthat, who worries that small exceptions (permitting divorced Catholics to take Communion, for example) will lead to what he calls:
the late-Soviet scenario, in which Catholic doctrine is officially unaltered, but the impression grows that even the pope doesn’t really believe these things, and that when the church’s leaders affirm a controversial position they’re going through the ideological motions – like Brezhnev-era apparatchiks – and not actually trying to teach a living faith.
Francis has said nothing in public at variance with established doctrine, contrary to the impression given by media reports. It is all a matter of words and music. Putting the Church’s earlier emphasis on social issues such as abortion and traditional marriage in the background, Francis famously called the Church “a field hospital after battle”.
Leaving aside the niceties of dogma, that is a view quite different from most of his predecessors. It may portend a revolution in the Church unprecedented in its 2,000-year history. When the Church emerged in Europe in the Dark Ages, it was Europe: it assembled Europe out of the migrating riffraff of pagan tribes. European mainstream culture was Catholic culture, and by construction. The marginalization of the Church is an anomaly so at variance with its origins at character that it has elicited a truly novel response.
Traditionally, the Church taught that salvation comes through acceptance of its Sacraments and the forgiveness of sins by Jesus Christ by the proxy of a duly-ordained priest (although exception is made for righteous non-Catholics who have not explicitly repudiated Catholic doctrine). As the Church’s influence shrank in the aftermath of the two world wars, though, an alternative theology of universal salvation poked its head up through the rubble.
What Catholics believe, of course, is their affair; I am not a Catholic, and I do not share the Church’s views of sin, salvation and damnation. Nonetheless, the Church is the core institution of Western civilization and what it does affects the rest of us. Without presuming to instruct Catholics about their religion, I wish to call attention to some of these implications.
The great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar proposed to hope that hell itself was empty (in two books published in 1986 and 1987, translated by Ignatius Press under the English titleDare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?). He wrote: “I would like to request that one be permitted to hope that God’s redemptive work for his creation might succeed. Certainty cannot be attained, but hope can be justified.”
That, to be sure, was a speculation carefully advanced at the end of a long and distinguished career, but it elicited cries of heresy. Urs von Balthasar insisted that the Church must “contrast Christian universality of redemption to Jewish salvation-particularism”. For most of its long history, the Church taught that it was Israel and that Gentiles were saved by adoption into Israel; not until the 1980s did John Paul II declare that the living, breathing descendants of Abraham still were “Israel” in a theological sense. John Paul II’s declaration (restated by his successor, Benedict XVI, as well as Francis I) that the Old Covenant never was revoked was a revolution in the Church’s relationship with the Jews. Nonetheless, the new universalism
also raises the prospect a new form of anti-Judaism. It abhors the notion that God has a particular love for any section of mankind.
Pope Francis’ impatience with Jewish particularism roils below an amicable surface. When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu mentioned during his public meeting with Francis that Jesus spoke Hebrew, the pope corrected, “Aramaic!” Netanyahu patiently observed that Jesus spoke both languages. Israelis, for example the distinguished Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, read this (I believe correctly) as an effort to attenuate Jesus’ Jewish identity, that is, his association with the particularity of Israel. It is not that Francis does not want to love the Jews: he wants to love everyone in exactly the same way.
Not long ago, Catholic practice was nearly universal in the Catholic countries and admitted heretics were few; today, Catholic practice involves a small minority and the mainstream culture repudiates religion altogether and Catholicism in particular. Even most Catholics reject a great deal of Church doctrine, which explains the great popularity of Francis I; they believe the media stories that the new pope doesn’t much care about issues such as abortion and homosexuality.
From the viewpoint of traditional Catholic teaching, the vast majority of humankind, including the vast majority of citizens of once-Catholic countries, will suffer eternal damnation. Urs von Balthasar simply couldn’t stomach the notion: how could God be so cruel as to condemn the preponderance of his creatures? What would that say about the goodness of creation itself? [See Note 2] Inspired by his mystic soul-mate, the visionary Adrienne von Speyer, Urs von Balthasar formulated a novel and hugely influential mystical doctrine of universal salvation.
That is one drift inside the Church. Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Ratzinger, sought instead to consolidate the Church around a stronger core of faith. In his 1996 book Salt of the Earthhe put the matter as forcefully as possible:
Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live and intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world – that let God in.
This formulation made headlines when the book’s first, German edition appeared. The largest-circulation news publication in the country, Der Spiegel, featured Ratzinger’s willingness to abandon “traditionally Catholic cultures” (the German read rather die Volkskirche, the popular Church). The distinguished Catholic philosopher Alisdair McIntyre also proposed a small-church strategy. I do not know why Ratzinger resigned his office, but sentiment in the Church clearly has shifted away from this view of the role of the Church.
Among Catholic writers in the English language, Joseph Bottum has addressed the problem most directly. He argued in a 2013 essay that the Church should not make a stand on the issue of gay marriage where it was bound to lose, but rather concentrate on broadening its tent: “We should not accept without a fight an essentially un-Catholic retreat from the public square to a lifeboat theology and the small communities of the saved that Alasdair MacIntyre predicted at the end of After Virtue (1981).”
Conservative Catholics heaped opprobrium on the author without, however, addressing the core issue: how should the Church respond to its marginalization by mainstream culture?
Ratzinger, in my view the last great man of the West, anticipated this problem from the 1950s onward. Not so his peers in the Church. The fall of communism during the papacy of John Paul II persuaded many Catholics that a glorious new era of Church history was at hand, in which Catholic Poland would set the tone for the industrial world (see First Things Last, Asia Times Online, July 22, 2013). On the contrary, Poland, like most of Eastern Europe and a good deal of Western Europe, is on course for a demographic catastrophe later in this century.
Benedict XVI believed in God’s special love for Israel, for the same reason that he believed in the particularity of a Church whose institutional and doctrinal integrity he fought to preserve. When he visited the Holy Land in 2009, Israeli newspaper columnist Aviad Kleinberg noted that Ratzinger
… was the confidant of Pope John Paul II, and his immense theological authority was a critical aspect of the previous pope’s moves … . John Paul and Ratzinger buried once and for all not only the accusation of the Jews’ murdering the messiah, but the entire theological theory that the Christians replaced the Jews and are now the Chosen People and that the New Testament annuls the Old Testament. The Old Testament is still valid, declared the two, and the Jewish people is still God’s chosen and beloved people.
Benedict made no attempt to insert himself into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because he understood his role as spiritual; Francis, by contrast, has declared the plight of the Palestinians “unacceptable” and has inserted himself into a political process. It would be wrong to think of Benedict as “spiritual” and Francis as “political”.
On the contrary, different theologies are at work.
The Palestinian problem is “unacceptable to Francis” not because the Palestinians are being butchered, as in Syria, or because they are starving, as in Egypt, or subject to constant terror attacks, as in Iraq. Except for the oil-rich Gulf states, Arabs in Judea and Samaria have the best living standards, health and educational levels in the whole of the Arab world. They suffer inconvenience and occasionally humiliation, but they are not at risk.
Other popes have taken political stands, notably John Paul II’s role in the Cold War. But St. John Paul did so under conditions when humanity was in real danger; Bergoglio staged a political theater when nothing more is stake than his own salvific ambitions. Benedict XVI offered a public critique of Islam’s propensity for unreason and violence; Francis offered a public embrace of his “dear brother” Sheikh Muhammed Hussein, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who has earned international condemnation for advocating the extermination of the Jews.
For Pope Francis, the Palestinian problem is “unacceptable” because it represents the failure of the world to elevate a people perceived to be downtrodden and oppressed: it is important for its symbolic value rather than its factual content. Never mind that the Palestinians have painted themselves into their own (rather comfortable) corner; their perceived plight is an offense to Pope Francis’ millenarian vision of universal salvation. Francis evidently feels he must intervene to right a perceived wrong, like an ecclesiastical Amadis de Gaula, because it is there.
I fear that the Church, the founding institution of the West, its pillar and mainstay, has lost its moorings. The State of Israel will do quite well without it; it was founded in 1947 against the opposition of the Church then immeasurably more influential, and does not require the blessing of the Church to flourish today. But Bergoglio’s behavior in the Holy Land bespeaks a dilution of the Church’s self-understanding and a deviation from its mission. 
In 2005 I wrote, “Something is stirring in the ashes of the West, and Benedict XVI yet might bring forth a flame.” I am less sanguine today.
1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 676, states: “The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the ‘intrinsically perverse’ political form of a secular messianism.
2. How, indeed, can a good Creation produce an overwhelming preponderance of damned souls? That paradox lies at the heart of the particularist-universalist divide. Judaism is not a salvific religion in the Christian sense: the World to Come figures only hazily in Jewish thinking, and the rabbis taught that righteous Gentiles have as much share in the World to Come as pious Jews. But rabbinic Judaism has quite a different view of the goodness of Creation: God left Creation in an unfinished, imperfect state, so that humanity would have the task of perfecting it. SeeWhy Intelligent Design subverts faith, Asia Times Online, October 23, 2012.

Egypt at the Brink

From Spengler, 1 June 2014, by David P. Goldman:

...The United States faces a unique challenge in Egypt: state failure in Egypt would unleash problems orders of magnitude greater than the collapse of Libya. Yet avoiding state failure is especially difficult because Egypt’s economy is in utter ruin after sixty years of “Arab socialist” mismanagement. It is a banana republic without the bananas, a mainly rural country that imports half its food, the host to a vast jobless proletariat living off a state bread subsidy.
With the U.S. increasingly withdrawn from Egypt, we have seen three countries involved in Egypt. The first is Saudi Arabia, which is lending the country enough money to keep the bread subsidy intact, and preventing actual starvation. The second is Russia, which has stepped in to sell Egypt arms after the United States foolishly withdrew. The third is China. Chinese companies are constructing a north-south rail line and have undertaken to build a national broadband network.
U.S. policy should seek to minimize Russian influence, which can only grow at America’s expense. We should maintain our strong ties to Egypt’s military, the only source of stability in a situation bordering on state failure. Despite our vigorous (and well-founded) objections to Chinese foreign policy elsewhere, we should cooperate with China in investment in Egypt: here China’s influence is economic rather than strategic, and its investments represent no threat to American interests. We have a uniquely difficult challenge in salvaging Egypt’s economy, and China’s willingness to invest in the country is a net positive.

The first paragraphs of Goldman's essay on Egypt, and its conclusion, from a London Center for Policy Research recently-published book on America’s allies in the Sunni Arab world, titled, The Sunni Vanguard: Can Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia survive the New Middle East? follow. (Former Hudson Institute President Herbert London and former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jed Babbin wrote the essays on Turkey and Saudi Arabia, respectively.)
The so-called Arab Spring in Egypt began in January 2011 with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, an American ally of thirty years’ standing, and ended in November with the restoration of the country’s cold-war alliance with Russia. America’s determination to depose Mubarak’s military-backed regime and to lead the most populous Arab country towards democracy had nearly unanimous bi-partisan support, with the Obama administration vying with the Republican mainstream in its zeal to sweep out the old regime erred and foster a Western-style democracy. The drive for a new democratic Egypt was buoyed by a wave of popular sentiment, and serenaded by rapturous media accounts of young, hip revolutionaries toppling a sclerotic dictatorship.
Instead of moving forward to a new era of democracy, Egypt set the clock back to 1973, before then President Anwar Sadat expelled Russian advisors and prepared the way for an alliance with the United States.
Egypt’s political crisis stemmed from external economic shocks. It faces no external threats, and only minor and ultimately managable internal threats from Islamic radicals including elements of al-Qaeda. Although Egypt fought three wars with Israel from 1947 through 1973, a cold peace with the Jewish state has held firm for nearly four decades, and there is no conceivable scenario under which Jerusalem would seek conflict with Cairo. The radical Hamas government in Gaza represents a prospective haven for terrorists and a source of weapons, but the Egyptian military has shown itself fully capable of controlling its common border with the Palestinian rump state. Although the use of Nile water is the source of a running dispute with Ethiopia, it is far below the level of a prospective casus belli. Egypt’s neighbors (Libya, Sudan) are too weak to engage Egypt militarily. Egypt’s military budget is several times the combined spending of its neighbors excluding Israel, and its air force flies 216 F-16s.
Egypt and its Neighbors: Armed Forces Comparison
$28 billion
$4 billion
$0.4 Billion

Egypt is a unique, standalone case of a country unburdened by external threats and comfortable in its alliances (with the United States and the Sunni Arab world) whose civic life was undermined by the consequences of economic backwardness in a changing world economy. Its military exists less to defend the country than to impose social order from the top.
It is a banana republic without the bananas.  Once the breadbasket of the Mediterranean, it imports half its caloric consumption. It ranks 118th among the world’s nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.  After sixty-two years in power, the country’s military rulers own 30% of its economy. Most of the country remains locked in the premodern world of traditional society characterized by illiteracy, genital mutiliation and consanguineous marriages. It is a horrible example of how socialism and cultural backwardness can push an economy past the point of no return, such that no policy remedy can reverse the deterioration through the actions of domestic economic factors. The country came to the brink of starvation during the first months of 2013 and survives as of this writing on a subsidy from Arab oil states of about $15 billion a year.
Because Egypt’s economic problems are so intractable the likelihood is that the crisis will deepen over time. Egypt’s military will succeed in crushing the Muslim Brotherhood as an organized force, but elements of the Brotherhood as well as overtly terrorist organizations will remain active and seek opportunity to destabilize the military government. Egypt’s allies among  Sunni states in the Persian Gulf will maintain an economic subsidy sufficient to avert outright starvation for the time being, because the Sunni states seek unity against the threat posed by Iran and its Shi’ite allies in Syria and Lebanon. Such a subsidy cannot last forever, and Egypt’s medium-term prospects for stability are poor.
* * *
America’s best option is to work with the Saudis and the Egyptian military to reduce the likelihood that any of these risks might be realized. In the short term there is no alternative to Gulf State financial support to keep the lights on and the bakeries open. Restoration of order might bring some amelioration by restoring Egypt’s tourist industry, which earned only $5.9 billion in 2013, about half the $11 billion earned in 2008.  In the medium term, Egypt requires extensive investment in infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing to reverse six decades of economic mismanagement. The United States and Europe are poorly positioned to undertake such investments, which involve high risk and a slow payout of returns. It is more likely that China will step in to the void that is now the Egyptian economy. As the dominant investor in Africa, China has a long-term interest in transportation and telecommunications links between the Eurasian continent and Africa, for which Egypt is a natural bridge.
The cumulative errors in American foreign policy—long-term support for an ineffective and corrupt military government, the sudden abandonment of Hosni Mubarak, and the flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood—may lead to a vacuum of influence in Egypt which China eventually may fill, erasing the effect of decades of American diplomacy and investment.

Antisemitism on the Rise, Again.

From The Australian, 7 June 2014, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor:
President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, right, participates in a service f
President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, right, participates in a service for the victims of a shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Source: AP
THE fatal shootings in late May at the Brussels Jewish Museum were shocking. A young Muslim man, who experienced jihadist campaigning in Syria, is accused of opening fire at random victims. He shot and killed four people, two of them Israeli tourists visiting the museum, before escaping, later to be captured.
His choice of victims was random in the sense that, individually, he didn’t care who they were. But the choice in its most profound respect was not random. He went to the museum to shoot and kill innocent Jewish people. His mind was formed in the heart of jihadist battle and it gave him the motivation to murder Jews.
We should pay a lot of attention to this appalling and hateful business. It would be bad enough if it were a truly isolated incident. It is not an isolated incident at all.
Senior Western, Middle East and Asian intelligence agencies have been telling their governments for months now that the Syrian alumni will become a bigger terrorist menace than the ­Afghan alumni were before them. But it is actually not primarily, or at least not just, through the prism of terrorism that I think we should view these terrible murders.
Instead we should understand them as just another emanation of hateful anti-Semitism, which is making an astonishing comeback around the world and across many points of the political spectrum.
Anti-semitism is a prejudice against or hatred of the Jewish people. It takes many forms. It is sad to say that anti-Semitism was a mainstream element of Christian culture over most of the past 2000 years.
I don’t believe anti-Semitism was ever at the core of Christianity. You don’t find anti-Semitism in the New Testament. But a misunderstanding of the culpability for the death of Jesus Christ led to the traditional view among many Christians that the Jews were responsible for killing Christ. Moreover, as a result of this, they were as a people cursed and homeless.
This was always a completely wrong view of Christianity, but it would be foolish to pretend that it did not have widespread support among many mainstream Christians for hundreds of years. As a Catholic, and as someone who believes that the contribution of the church throughout human history was overwhelmingly positive, I would say the history of Catholic anti-Semitism is the most awful element of Catholic history.
The experience of the Holocaust in World War II, in which Hitler’s Nazis [and very many willing collaborators from most European nations] murdered six million Jews, changed the traditional Western view of the relationship of Western civic culture to the Jews. Of course, even before the Holocaust, there were always countless pro-Jewish Catholics. JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, was a conscientious and serious Catholic. Before World War II, his German publishers wrote to him to ask if he was an Aryan.
He replied with words to the effect that he was a bit surprised by their inquiry, that Aryans were an Indo-Persian race, but that if their reference was to matters relating to the Jewish people, he could only regret that he did not have a direct connection to that talented and cultured people.
But it was not until Vatican II that the Catholic Church made its attitude to the Jewish people completely clear. The Vatican II Documents stated that: “`True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf John 19.6); still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God [a remnant of Replacement Theology still evident in Catholocism], the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the holy scriptures.’’
The very fact the Vatican Council documents had to make this statement shows how widespread Catholic anti-Semitism had been. But what is perversely disturbing today is the rise again of anti-Semitism. Several currents of this noxious, moral poison are operating simultaneously.
There has been astonishingly, a recrudescence of Christian anti-Semitism. Some of this comes from Arab Christian churches who seek to portray Jesus not as Jewish, which he certainly was historically, but as a Palestinian.
This theological idiocy and historical travesty has been taken up by a number of progressive Western Protestant churches. This has an echo with the old Christian replacement theology, which held that because the Jews did not accept Christ they had been replaced as the chosen people.
It is indeed a legitimate element of Christian theology that the Old Testament promises are fulfilled by Christ in the establishment of Christianity. But it is not legitimate to deny the Jewish ­people their peoplehood, or their history. The idea of Zionism is that there should be a Jewish state in the historical lands of Israel. It is not remotely necessary to have any religious faith at all to acknowledge the historic and ongoing Jewish connection with the land of Israel.
This certainly does not entitle Israel to all the land of the Biblical passages. But it is a historic claim of association to a land of a kind that we recognise explicitly in our own legislation regarding Aboriginal land rights. It is the kind of association of a people with a land that is the basis for many civic identities around the world.
But now, alone among all such claims, Zionism has become a dirty word in all progressive circles. But what is really disturbing is how many other rivers of anti-Semitism are all flowing together.
The recent European elections saw substantial votes for a number of explicitly anti-Semitic, right-wing political parties. Perhaps the worst is Jobbik, which won 15 per cent of the Hungarian national vote. It has politicians who have called for Jews to be registered as a national security threat. Or there is the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece which won 9.3 per cent of the vote. The French National Front, which won a quarter of the French vote, has rejected its old anti-Semitism, but it has a history of anti-Semitism and it still honours its former leader, Jean Marie Le Pen, who certainly had a strong anti-Semitic record.
The rise of these right wing parties is a sign of the failure of European mainstream politics, but the degree of popular anti-Semitism in all this is quite real.
For some years now a mutant variety of anti-Semitism has been evident on the political Left in the West. This takes the form of a hostility to Israel that is so excessive and deranged, so uncoupled from the facts, so full of lies and grievous distortions, so unhinged in its lack of proportionality that it easily flows over into hostility to Jews in general.
This often takes an ugly manifestation in the use of Nazi imagery, in a cliched faux irony which implies that once the Jews were the victims of the Nazis, now they are the Nazis themselves. This propaganda is almost insane.
The Middle East today is roiling with a quasi-genocidal Sunni/Shia hatred, and the collapse of order in countries as diverse as Libya and Egypt, although Egypt has recovered some order under the military. None of these hatreds and killings could remotely be attributed by any plausible causality to Israel in any way, and yet Israel is still presented routinely as the centre of the Middle East’s problems. Similarly, Israel’s imperfections are treated as being of the same moral and human gravity as the enormities in Syria, or the excesses of the Iranian government.
Similarly Jews within Western societies who have views on the Middle East are routinely delegitimised as being merely the Zionist lobby, or sometimes more explicitly the Jewish lobby. These ad hominem attacks imply two bizarre things. One is that alone among Western citizens only Jews must not have views on the Middle East. The other is, perhaps unconsciously, to echo the historical conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish cabals.
And then of course we have contemporary Arab anti-Semitism which is widespread, nearly orthodox, among many Arab and Muslim societies. The government of Turkey, by Middle East standards a moderate government, recently accused the “Jewish diaspora’’ of orchestrating demonstrations in Turkey. Jihadist culture is fixated on the Jews, but broad Arab culture is home to much flagrant anti-Semitism.
These disturbing currents should be opposed by every civilised human being.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Why BDS Can't Win

From JPost, 27 May 2014, by Mitchell Bard*:

A 2010 study by the Reut Institute reported that a well-organized, well-funded international network with hubs in key cities, such as London and San Francisco, was managing an international delegitimization campaign against Israel. The report led to the creation of a network of pro-Israel organizations to develop a response. 

Four years later, it is clear that it is not the Israel deniers but Israel’s supporters that are networked, well-financed and organized. Israel denial remains a serious concern, especially in Europe, but the fears engendered by Reut’s report were exaggerated because the detractors’ network has since been revealed as weak to non-existent, Israel’s supporters have mobilized effectively to thwart their initiatives, and the merits of their arguments cannot withstand scrutiny.

The effort to delegitimize Israel can be traced at least as far back as the UN’s infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism in 1975. The campaign was given new impetus at the 2001 Durban conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance where Israel was pilloried. At the parallel NGO conference hosted by the UN, the strategy for destroying Israel was laid out in the final statement, which called for promoting “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel . . . the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.”

This declaration of political, economic and cultural war against Israel was largely ignored for the next decade until it began to gain traction with calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel that prompted the Reut report. Anti-Israel campaigns are now focused on convincing college campuses, unions, academic bodies, artists, and others to boycott Israel. Advocates call on institutions to divest from owning stock in companies that do business in or with Israel and, ultimately, they hope to impose sanctions on Israel comparable to those used against the racist regime in South Africa. BDS proponents seek to tarnish Israel’s image, isolate the Jewish state and, ultimately, destroy it. The fact that the founders of the movement are uninterested in peace or a two-state compromise, and seek to deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination they claim for the Palestinians, makes the BDS advocates Israel deniers. 

Israel deniers have established beachheads in a handful of places and continue a drumbeat of criticism of Israel aimed at eroding its image and weakening the bonds between Israel and its Western allies. It is true the BDS campaign has managed to harass and intimidate a handful of artists to cancel bookings in Israel, to convince some student governments on American and Canadian campuses to adopt divestment resolutions and to disrupt events featuring Israeli speakers and artists. Due to their repeated failures, they boast of these “victories” and conceal their inability to convince all but a handful of their targets to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel.

How can we explain this? 

Perhaps the most important reason is that the diagnosis of the problem was incorrect; the Israel deniers are not well-organized, well-funded, or connected in a network. More important, their arguments do not resonate, especially when they are exposed as Israel deniers with no interest in the welfare of the Palestinians, peace, or human rights beyond the West Bank. Their goal is simple, the eradication of Israel. As Professor As’ad AbuKhalil explained, 
“The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel….That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.

Buycott Not Boycott
Let us examine the record of the Israel deniers. The artist boycott has probably received the most attention because of the threats and intimidation used to discourage artists from performing in Israel. With the exception of Elvis Costello and one or two others; however, virtually all of the celebrities who boycotted Israel are marginal figures in the entertainment industry. By comparison, look at the caliber of people who have performed in Israel: Elton John, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and soon the Rolling Stones.

Detractors suggest that Israel's policies have led to its isolation. It is no secret that most of the world is frustrated by Israel’s continued control over parts of the West Bank and the expansion of settlements; nevertheless, criticism of these policies has not impeded Israel’s international trade. 

The United States remains Israel’s largest single trade partner with imports and exports totaling $36 billion. If compared against the entire European Union, however, the United States falls to second as roughly one-third of Israel’s trade is with the EU. 
In fact, during the last decade of European complaints about Israeli settlement policies, trade with the EU has grown from 19 billion Euros to 31 billion.

A good example of the bifurcation between political grandstanding and reality is Norway, which in January 2014 announced it would exclude two Israeli firms – Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus – from its government pension fund due to “serious violations of individual rights … through the construction of settlements in east Jerusalem.” 
Meanwhile, imports to Norway from Israel totaled roughly $137 million, an increase of 1.6 percentage points more than the overall imports from other countries. 

In addition, Israel has steadily built strong business ties with Asia, which will overtake the United States as Israel’s second biggest export destination this year. 
China is already Israel's third-largest trading partner, with the total volume of trade growing from a paltry $50 million in 1992 to more than $10 billion in 2013. 

Similarly, Israel’s trade with India has risen from $180 million in 1992 to more than $6 billion a year and relations are likely to improve further with the election of Vijeta Uniyal Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India. 
Writing in the Times of Israel, Vijeta Uniyal noted that more than 2,000 farmers from Gujarat traveled to Israel at their own expense each year to learn advanced farming techniques while Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat State (2002-14). “He welcomed Israeli companies to enter the water management and recycling sector in fifty cities in Gujarat,” Uniyal said. He created an industrial fund to promote joint ventures between Israeli and Gujarat-based companies. He is the first Indian leader to have actually visited Israel and has often expressed admiration for Israel's achievements. Ideologically, Modi is sympathetic to the notion of the Jewish homeland.”

Israel has even managed to maintain quiet cooperation with the Persian Gulf states despite their rhetorical embrace of the Palestinian cause. These states typically place commercial concerns above politics; however, they now share Israel’s concern with the threat posed by Iran, which trumps the lip service devoted to the Palestinians.

International investors have not been scared off by the Israel deniers. They poured nearly $75 billion into various ventures in 2012, a 41% increase from 2010. 
Warren Buffet paid $6 billion to buy Iscar – his first major acquisition outside the United States. More recently, Pratt & Whitney spent several hundred million dollars to buy Blades, one of the world’s largest producers of machine blades. Among the more than 10,000 U.S. companies doing business in or with Israel are all the technology giants, including Intel, which recently announced plans to invest $6 billion in its plant in Kiryat Gat.

A History of Failure
The BDS crowd did not invent the idea of boycotting Israeli products; the Arab League has had a boycott in place since 1945 and look at what Israel’s “startup nation” has accomplished in that time. One dramatic failure was the campaign against Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream, which backfired because Johansson stood up to the bullies and refused to give up her position as spokesperson for the company. Moreover, when the allegations against the company were investigated, people learned that SodaStream’s factory is a model of coexistence in which dozens of Palestinian workers are employed and treated the same as Israeli workers. The company is located in Ma’ale Adumim, a town of roughly 40,000 people, just ten minutes from Jerusalem, that some regard as a settlement but nearly everyone, including the Palestinians, expects to be incorporated into Israel as part of any future peace agreement. The attacks on SodaStream and Johansson backfired as she courageously refused to be intimidated and the company began to draw interest from major drink manufacturers such as Starbucks.

BDS advocates suffered an especially devastating blow when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas publicly denounced boycotts in December 2013. Paradoxically, it is the Palestinians who primarily suffer from boycotts and it is no surprise they have little support outside a handful of islands of ignorance where radical college students comfortably reside 6,000 miles from the people who must live with the consequences of their actions. If they were informed, the Israel deniers would know that approximately 50,000 Palestinians now earn a living and feed their families by working in Israel, as well as in the Jewish settlements their leaders speciously claim are the obstacle to peace.

The Battle for Young Hearts and Minds
One of the principal battlegrounds are college campuses where many people fear the next generation is being conditioned to believe the calumnies of the Israel deniers. In response, an international team of scholars, professionals, lawyers, computer experts, and campus professionals have developed a network that has three principle objectives: to provide a rapid response to threats as they arise; to provide students with the information and support they need to preempt and defeat BDS initiatives and to encourage students to build coalitions and set a positive Israel agenda on campus. The team has shown an unprecedented willingness to cooperate and share information for the benefit of students. And this is only one of several formal and informal groups that have been established to address the problem of Israel denial. 

One resource for students and communities facing divestment and other challenges on their campuses is The BDS Cookbook (, which is designed to teach students and communities everything they need to know about the issues relating to Israel denial. The ongoing level of concern with BDS is reflected by the growing number of visitors to the site. In the first five months of 2014, the figure doubled compared to the previous year. During the same period, the “recipes” from the Cookbook were accessed by students from more than 120 universities. 

No one likes to see any attack on Israel succeed but even those that have been called victories have been pyrrhic at best. Take for example the overly hyped decision of the American Studies Association to boycott Israel. Setting aside the blatant anti-Semitism of this decision to boycott only the one Jewish nation, the ASA vote has no practical impact. It cannot tell its members what to do so the vote is primarily a PR exercise by Israel deniers who had no intention of cooperating with Israel under any circumstances. Meanwhile, hundreds of American scholars continue joint research projects with their Israeli counterparts, developing new advances in the fields of agriculture, health, technology, and many more.

The ASA vote also provoked a backlash with more than 100 universities condemning the vote and several withdrawing memberships from the association and refusing to pay travel expenses to scholars who want to attend future ASA meetings.

Still, the ASA vote was a wakeup call for a pro-Israel community that has misinterpreted the campus threat as originating primarily from students. The real danger comes from professors who routinely violate their ethical requirement to provide a scholarly-based curriculum and instruction. Instead, they use their position of authority to commit academic malpractice and promote personal anti-Israel agendas that are often unrelated to the subject they are supposed to be teaching.

The most serious erosion of academic freedom occurs inside the classroom where professors often ignore the academic part of the term. A professor is obligated to teach only what they can demonstrate to be true or based on theories that can be justified by facts. Nevertheless, faculty have gotten away with abuses by hiding behind the shield of academic freedom, which has been so diluted as to have little or no meaning. 

Some professors and administrators mistakenly equate academic freedom with freedom of speech. Outside the classroom professors are free to speak their minds, but they also should be accountable for what they say. A professor appearing at a rally who made the type of bigoted statements toward Hispanics, African-Americans, women or gays that are routinely directed at Jews and Israel would face serious consequences that would not be protected by academic freedom. 

Faculty and administrators are very reluctant to challenge their colleagues, even when they are engaged in sophistry and politicizing their classes. This is slowly changing as the egregious behavior of some professors has galvanized scholars across the country to form groups aimed at restoring the meaning of academic freedom and holding faculty accountable for adhering to established standards of discourse and scholarship.

The Campus Divestment Campaign
Some schools will remain in session for a few more weeks and additional divestment efforts are in the works; nevertheless, the Israel denial movement on campus has been a colossal failure. Consider that there are approximately 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in the United States. Of those, a total of 17 schools (less than 1%) considered divestment resolutions in the current school year. Thanks to the work of students, campus professionals and the network providing assistance, 12 (71%) resolutions were defeated (UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, New Mexico and San Diego State defeated resolutions twice) and only 5 were adopted (UC Riverside was defeated the first time and then it was adopted by one vote a second time).

Despite fears of a global network, the Israel deniers have mobilized support on only a handful of campuses outside California, which had votes on seven campuses. On the five campuses where student governments adopted divestment resolutions – like the handful that did so in the past – the chance of the administration acting on the votes is nil. In fact, university officials have repeatedly denounced calls to boycott or divest from Israel. Consequently, the Israel denial movement has had zero impact on the policies of universities toward Israel. To the contrary, many universities that have had active BDS campaigns, such as UC Irvine and UC San Diego, have greatly expanded their academic ties with Israel.

A disadvantage for the Israel deniers is also the fact that students are not completely oblivious to world events. They can see Palestinians being slaughtered by Syrians, and Muslims murdering each other throughout the region, so the plight of the Palestinians in the disputed territories is hardly the most serious issue on the world stage. The failure to speak out against the slaughter of Palestinians by their fellow Arabs has further exposed the Israel deniers’ hypocrisy.

Israel deniers have had no success with the general student body, which considers their tables, walls, guerrilla theater and hate weeks more of a nuisance than an education about Israel’s shortcomings. Consequently, they have turned to student governments where they can run for election and often win due to the general apathy toward the student government. In these forums, detractors need to convince only a handful of students to support their cause. Their “victories” are typically based on the votes of fewer than 20 council members; meanwhile, most students are unaware of what their representatives are up to, and would oppose their positions if they knew. For example, at Berkeley, one of the hotbeds of the BDS movement, the student government voted in favor of Israel denial this year on the basis of the opinions of 11 students out of a student body of nearly 26,000. 

The Israel deniers have become increasingly desperate because of their repeated failures whenever their opponents mobilize a strong response. This has led the BDS advocates to try a variety of underhanded tactics to sneak their agenda past the student government -- scheduling votes during Jewish holidays, at the end of year/semester, or introducing them at the last minute before a response can be developed.

...While Israel’s supporters are busy lamenting BDS, they often ignore the many positive programs put on by students that show a very different Israel from the one pilloried in the media and by Israel deniers. Pro-Israel celebrations such as Israel Peace Weeks are held each year on college campuses, but chances are you aren’t familiar with them because so much attention is given to the detractors. The truth is the quality and quantity of the anti-Israel campaigns can’t compare to the hundreds of events that attract thousands of students to Shabbat dinners, lectures, concerts and social activities. Compare, for example, the small group of Israel deniers who tried and failed to organize a nationwide BDS campaign with the AIPAC policy conference’s 1,000-plus high school and college student activists representing a rainbow coalition that is working to strengthen U.S.-Israel ties and build greater understanding of Israel on their campuses. If you add all the other programs and events put on by the vast array of organizations representing the range of Jewish opinion, you will have a much more accurate picture of Israel’s standing on campus.

Given the decades of anti-Israel propaganda on campus, there are legitimate fears that the incessant attacks will erode American support for Israel. This is one reason why the pro-Israel community should adopt a positive agenda and create its own drumbeat that highlights Israel’s virtues without fear of addressing its shortcomings in the proper context. One way to do this on a nationwide scale is to adopt the Israel Calendar (, or something similar, that offers campuses and communities a guide for programming positive Israel messages throughout the year.

The Growth of Israel Studies
It is also important to note that Israel deniers face a steep uphill climb with the American public, which sides with Israel over the Palestinians by roughly 4 to 1 and views the Palestinian Authority only slightly more favorably than Iran. Meanwhile, sympathy for Israel has been at record levels the last three years and has grown each decade. This suggests that while young people may question Israel, they begin to adopt the attitudes of their parents and grandparents as they age. 

The best way to ensure that young Americans appreciate the complexity of Israel is to ensure they learn about it through multiple lenses rather than solely through the prism of the conflict they see in the media. This can be accomplished by bringing the best Israeli scholars to teach at American universities, training graduate students to teach courses on Israel, expanding the number of Israel-related course offerings, creating minors in Israel Studies, supporting research in and about Israel, and funding centers and chairs of Israel Studies.

Prior to 1998, there were no centers of Israel Studies in the United States. It is only in the last 10 years that philanthropists began to recognize the importance of supporting scholars whose research looks at Israel through a variety of lenses. Though a handful are now investing in the field, those donors’ contributions are dwarfed by those of Arab and Muslim states and individuals, which total nearly $1.3 billion dating back to 1986 (92 percent of the donations were made after 9/11).

The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise has brought more than 100 visiting Israeli scholars to 68 different universities including Yale, Michigan, Berkeley and Stanford. The schools welcome these visitors because they have impeccable academic credentials and meet the university’s standards. These scholars typically express shock at their students’ lack of knowledge about the Middle East. Nevertheless, they report that in one year they make a tremendous impact on their students who, often, have never met an Israeli (or in some cases a Jew!) before. The scholars also help to shape the campus culture. Evaluating the AICE program, an investigator from Brandeis concluded: 

Israel has moved from its place as an isolated ‘extra-curricular’ topic into mainstream classrooms and core curricula. In addition, the way Israel is discussed on college campuses has shifted. AICE programs have succeeded in incorporating rigorous scholarship and debate into discussions on Israel that were previously dominated by polemical hyperbole. 

The visiting Israelis also plant the seeds for the growth of permanent courses, programs and chairs in Israel Studies. Imagine if the generous philanthropists who have built libraries, laboratories, medical, law and business schools, and Jewish and Holocaust studies departments at so many universities invested a fraction of their gifts to support Israel Studies. This investment in faculty will pay off exponentially by shaping the minds of students for decades and ensure that the next generation of Americans will be well-informed and not taken in by the Israel deniers. 

The Israel deniers have been successful in one regard. The BDS campaigns often provoke an overreaction by Israel’s defenders and force them to fight battles in multiple arenas at great cost of time, money and energy. Every divestment resolution a student government considers; entertainer who is pressured to shun Israel; and coop that considers boycotting Israeli goods sets off alarm bells that brings out the Israel Advocacy SWAT team. More judicious and strategic responses to the Israel deniers are sorely needed; care must be taken assessing if and when a reaction is warranted, and what type of action is most effective. Vigilance, education, research and quick reactions are still needed to deprive the Israeli deniers of oxygen.

Many people fear that any victory by the Israel deniers can lead down a slippery slope that ends in the ostracism and, perhaps, destruction of Israel. That is not going to happen. As Golda Meir said, “I understand the Arabs wanting to wipe us out, but do they really expect us to cooperate?”

*Dr. Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and author of the forthcoming "Death to Infidels: Radical Islam's War Against the Jews."

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Crimea, International Law, and the West Bank

From Commentary magazine, 1 June 2014, by Eugene Kontorovich:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent the spring shuttling between his two major foreign-policy concerns—Russia’s control over Crimea and Israel’s control over the West Bank—entirely unaware that he was engaged in a world-historical irony. Both these situations turn on identical international-law principles. Indeed, the failure of the United States to apply these principles consistently has led to the long-standing failure of its Middle East initiatives, while inadvertently opening the door for Russian aggression.

The legal principle that explains why Crimea was and remains under Ukraine’s sovereignty also validates Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

Let us start with the less controversial case. The international community agrees that, despite Russia’s annexation, Crimea remains sovereign Ukrainian territory. On March 27, the UN General Assembly voted 100 to 11 to continue to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. Russia cannot rewrite Ukraine’s frontiers at will.

But, as many foreign-policy realists argued while Vladimir Putin was making his move, it is not all that clear why Crimea shouldbelong to Ukraine in the first place. The substantial majority of the population is ethnically, linguistically, and religiously Russian. The majority of its population probably prefers to be ruled from Moscow rather than Kiev (though not by the 90-plus percent margin of the recent shotgun referendum). The territory is adjacent to Russia and has been part of Russia historically.

So why Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea? The answer: Nikita Khrushchev’s caprice. In 1954, the first secretary of the Central Committee detached Crimea from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic and gave it to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. He did not consult the Crimeans, but it did not much matter, as everyone was ruled from the Kremlin anyway. From that moment on, official internal Soviet borders included Crimea in Ukraine.

Thus, all Ukraine has for its claim of title to Crimea is a dead dictator’s whim. But for international law, that is more than enough. When new countries emerge from old ones or from colonial empires, the last official international borders constitute the new boundary lines. This doctrine is known as uti possidetis iuris (meaning “you possess under law”). It has been applied to the borders of new states around the world and recognized as a basic principle of international law by the International Court of Justice. Even when several states emerge from one, as Russia and Ukraine did from the USSR, the prior internal administrative divisions become the new international frontiers.

Most striking, this principle applies in full when the old borders were colonial or otherwise undemocratically imposed. If it were not so, new countries would be born with all their borders in dispute, and endless frontier conflicts between neighbors would ensue. That is why international law sets the last official boundaries, even colonial provincial boundaries, as the permanent ones. Subsequent aggression cannot change them, as the reaction to Russia’s Crimean conquest shows.

Now let us apply these principles to Israel.

The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in World War I led to the division of its territories in the Middle East. The core of the Ottoman Empire became the new country of Turkey, which, in turn, surrendered all Turkish sovereignty over Ottoman territory in the rest of the Middle East (not just Israel, but also modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan). Instead of imposing their own sovereignty on the parts of the Ottoman Empire they conquered, Britain and France allowed the newly created League of Nations to transform these territories into “mandates.” The European states were committed to shepherding the mandates into new independent nation-states. The League did so pursuant to an explicit clause in its charter that authorized it to create such mandates out of the lands “formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire.”

In 1922, the League of Nations established a new “country” to serve as the Jewish national home. This was the Mandate for Palestine. Under certain provisions of the Mandate, Palestine was partitioned at the Jordan River to create the country of Transjordan (now called Jordan) on its eastern bank. After that, international frontiers of Mandatory Palestine ran from the river to the sea. The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine provides the legal basis not only for Israel’s borders, but for those of Jordan as well, and indeed for Jordan’s entire existence.

Israel is the state created in Mandatory Palestine. Thus under uti possidetis iuris, it inherits the Mandatory borders. The only question is whether anything has happened since the 1920s that legally modified these frontiers.

Three events are commonly cited as justifying the non-application of the uti possidetis doctrine. First was the UN General Assembly’s 1947 partition proposal, Resolution 181. Second was the partially successful 1948–49 Arab attempt to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, which led to the Green Line of 1949. Third was the UN Security Council’s response to Israel’s retaking of these territories in the Six-Day War.

The Partition Proposal

 Resolution 181 did not, as many seem to think, “create” the Jewish state. That had been done on paper 25 years earlier by the League of Nations Mandate, and later through Israel’s declaration of independence and War of Independence—a struggle in which the UN did nothing to promote the survival of the fledgling state.

Resolution 181 proposed an elaborate seven-sector division of Mandatory Palestine, an idea the Jewish leadership was willing to accept, but that the Arabs rejected. The General Assembly Resolution did nothing to alter the Mandatory borders because the GA is not a world legislature: It has no legal power to make any binding rules, let alone redraw the borders of nations.

Indeed, the resolution itself explicitly recognizes that the Assembly has no power to legislate its recommendations. If the GA were to vote today to “partition” Ukraine, it would be similarly ineffectual. The 1947 plan was a proposal for a compromise that, if accepted by both sides, would have been binding, but which had no force in itself.

Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, with a document that “proclaim[ed] the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called the Medinat Israel.” Under the uti possidetis iuris principle, the borders of the new state were those of Mandatory Palestine. The new state was immediately invaded by all its neighbors, who succeeded in occupying much of its territory. But the 19-year-long occupation of parts of the Mandate by Egypt and Jordan did no more to change its borders than has Russia’s equally unprovoked aggression against Ukraine today. Indeed, if Jordan’s occupation changed Israel’s borders, surely Russia’s 20 or so years of controlling Transnistria should change Moldova’s borders and Turkey’s 40-year occupation of Cyprus should change that country’s borders.

The Green Line

Israel concluded armistices with its neighbors in 1949. These were not peace treaties. They were temporary agreements to stop shooting. The “Green Line” of 1949 was simply the demarcation of the separation between Israeli and Arab forces. Without establishing any sovereign border, it thereby preserved the Mandatory boundary. All of Israel’s armistice agreements reflected this, including the Israeli-Jordanian one: “The provision of this Agreement shall not in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.” Other provisions also made clear that both parties recognized the Mandatory boundaries as the only international borders for Palestine. The only dispute was who would ultimately control it.

Thus the very document that formalized the Green Line specifically said it was not to be construed as a border, or anything other than a temporary line of separation between Israeli and Arab forces. When Israel expelled the Jordanian occupation forces after King Hussein attacked across the Armistice line during the Six-Day War, the need for such a separation came to an end.

President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, like so many others, use the phrase “1967 borders” to describe the Green Line; but it was explicitly not a border, nor was it created in 1967. Indeed, with the exception of Britain, no nation recognized Jordanian sovereignty over the territory of Mandatory Palestine during its 19-year occupation. When Jordan and Egypt signed peace treaties with Israel in 1979 and 1994, both nations expressly referred to the Mandate boundary as the current international border of Israel, demonstrating its continued relevance.

Resolution 242

 The United Nations Security Council responded to the Six-Day War with its famous Resolution 242, which has set the basis for all subsequent action by the council. Before turning to the resolution’s text, we should note that, as was true of the General Assembly in 1947, the Security Council does not have the power to redraw preexisting national borders. Though the council has power under its charter to take certain “binding” decisions, those are limited to authorizing economic and military means to respond to breaches of the international peace; it cannot alter the underlying dimensions of UN member states.

No less important, Security Council practice requires the Council to refer explicitly to the textual source of its authority as Chapter VII of the UN Charter in order to make resolutions binding. The resolution does not include such a reference, showing that the Council understood its resolution to be nothing more than a recommendation.

Resolution 242 famously calls for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” This language was deliberately chosen by its drafters to reject demands that Israel withdraw from all territories it occupied, and instead leaves the scale of the withdrawal up to future diplomacy. The wording of 242 was drafted by the British delegation as a replacement for other versions that would have required leaving “all” the territories.

A vast literature has arisen to cope with the fact that the word the does not precede the word territories in that sentence, but like much discussion of the ArabIsraeli conflict, it puts questions concerning Israel in a unique legal universe. In fact, it is fairly easy to see whether using the language ofterritories would be a standard way for the Security Council to require complete withdrawal. I have identified 16 other resolutions demanding military pull-outs, of which four were prior to 1967. In each case, the demand for complete withdrawal is explicit, with language such as “withdraw from the whole territory” and “the territory” and with references to particular antebellum positions. The language of 242 is unique in the Security Council’s history, but consistent with its own drafting history and the document’s intentions. Thus reading 242 to require a complete withdrawal not only misreads the resolution, but also makes nonsense of 16 other important resolutions.

Some argue that 242 compels Israel to return to the Green Line, relying on the resolution’s preamble, which stresses the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” But that would be a strange way to require Israel to return their territorial seizures of 1949 to Jordan and Egypt. The next operative paragraph in 242, moreover, describes a withdrawal to “recognized boundaries.” The 1949 Armistice Lines were not “recognized boundaries” in any legal sense. They constituted nothing more than a stand-off.

So to recap: The League of Nations, acting pursuant to powers in its charter, established the territory of Mandatory Palestine in 1922, much as the Mandate system established the borders of most other Middle Eastern states. The UN General Assembly did not have the power to modify that territory with its 1947 Partition proposal. Nor did the pan-Arab aggression of 1948–49 and its subsequent reception by the international community.

To be sure, international sentiment has turned sharply against Israel’s control over much of this territory. But international law is not a popularity contest; if it were, Israel would have long ago been voted off the island.

None of this undercuts the common arguments for the creation of a Palestinian state. Those arguments are rooted in diplomatic and demographic considerations. But even if one accepts the idea that the Mandate gave Israel borders too large for the Jewish population, it does not therefore follow that the pan-Arab aggression of 1948–49 established presumptive or default borders. In fact, those can and should be defined only by mutual agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

If one believes, moreover, that the vague doctrine of self-determination—which is generally not thought to entitle a people to an independent state—made an inarguable case for a Palestinian Arab state somewhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, uti possidetis would still be relevant. The doctrine make clear that the relevant boundaries have nothing to do with the 1949 Armistice Lines unless both parties agree they should.

Recall that when new states emerge, the doctrine dictates that their borders follow the last prior internal administrative division, such as state or provincial borders. Under the Mandate, Palestine was divided into six districts, no combination of which closely approximates the 1949 Armistice Lines. (For example, Gaza was lumped into one district with the entire Negev, while the area now called the West Bank straddled three different districts.) The 1993 Oslo Accords create three administrative divisions (Areas A, B, and C)—two under Palestinian jurisdiction and one under Israeli jurisdiction. Those lines make more sense under international law than the sum of the noncontiguous, illegal conquests by Egypt and Jordan in 1948–49.

The international community has, perhaps in sympathy with Palestinian claims, selectively forgotten the uti possidetisprinciple when it comes to Israel. Putin’s actions in Ukraine illustrate the dangers of such inconsistency. Once the world begins making exceptions to the uti possidetisdoctrine, it opens the door to claims like Russia’s. After all, if an internationally established mandatory border does not continue to abide for a new country, why should the arbitrary frontier of a totalitarian dictator?

Russia’s quick takeover of Crimea—and, as of this writing, its incremental invasion of eastern Ukraine—also has significant political lessons for Israel about any potential agreement with the Palestinians. Russia’s dismemberment of Ukraine offers a frightening scenario of how a state of Palestine could continue effective activities against Israel in the wake of a peace treaty.

One of the main rewards promised to Israel for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is that it would also give Israel internationally recognized borders. While these borders would be narrow, they would, it is said, enjoy the deep guarantee of international legitimacy. Nations would move their embassies to (West) Jerusalem. Israel would, as Tzipi Livni has said, be “put on the world map.” The perceived value of this deal stems from the view that in the 21st century, sovereign borders cannot simply be rewritten.

Crimea has proven that “19th-century acts,” as Kerry called them, are alive and well, and that the international community will do little to stop them. Consider Moscow’s methods for taking apart Ukraine.

First, it bided its time, waiting more than two decades. Of course, if a deal with the Palestinians lasts only that long before it is followed by new demands, it will have proved to be a disastrous bargain for Israel. Second, Russia focused on areas with significant concentrations of co-ethnic population. In those areas, it followed Hitler’s Sudetenland strategy of provoking riots and protests, and then protesting Ukraine’s response.

This is precisely Israel’s greatest fear: that after the euphoria of a peace deal, a newly emboldened Palestinian government, now with all the apparatus of a state, would begin stoking disorder among Israeli Arabs in the Galilee Triangle and Negev. Of course, Palestine would not be able to grab these territories in a single putsch, as Russia did with Crimea. Rather, it would seek to destabilize Israel, as Russia is now doing in Eastern Ukraine.

The Machiavellian goal would be to use Israel’s response to the fomented unrest in a kind of diplomatic jujitsu, to make the case that the Jewish state cannot be permitted to maintain sovereignty over its non-Jewish populace. Then would come the kinds of demands that have been afforded far too much respect when it comes to Russian claims in Ukraine—greater federalism, decentralization of power, all of which would be designed to empower disgruntled minorities who show greater fealty to the neighboring aggressor than to the state of which they are citizens. In such a situation, would the world rally to defend the internationally mandated borders when it showed so little appreciation for them in Israel’s case throughout so many decades?

No one with a serious understanding of international law asks if it is fair or just for Crimea to remain part of Ukraine, no matter the wishes of Crimea’s population. Entertaining such a question and making it part of the discussion would eventually lead to redrawing many of the world’s borders. As we have seen, the same principles that justify Ukraine’s claims to Crimea justify Israel’s claims to the West Bank.

Israel should not be too put out by the international community’s failure to apply its general rules to the Jewish state’s rights, for the Ukrainian crisis also shows the limits of those rules. Ukraine may enjoy international backing for its claims while Israel does not. But the Ukrainian crisis also shows that when it comes to action, the international community will be driven primarily by the exigencies and conveniences of the moment, not by considerations of legality or past promises. In the end, as has been the case since 1948, Israel will have to rely on itself.

About the Author

Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at Northwestern University School of Law who specializes in international and constitutional law, a senior fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem, and a Lady Davis Visiting Professor at Hebrew University.