Leave it to Canada’s most brilliant MOT, Irwin Cotler, to lay out this legal and moral imperative justifying Israel’s existence. Yes to justify the existence of Israel. That is really what the current international debate is hinging on and the debate on college campuses (thankfully not in Congress). Putting Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-determination in line with other First Nation claims is brilliant spiritually, nationally, and politically.
The incendiary hate language emanating from Ahmadinejad’s Iran – in which Israel is referred to as “filthy bacteria” and a “cancerous tumor” and Jews are characterized as “a bunch of bloodthirsty barbarians” – is only the head wind of the gathering storm confronting Israel on its 60th anniversary.
Indeed, we are witnessing, and have been for some time, a series of mega-events, political earthquakes that have been impacting not only upon Israel and world Jewry but upon the human condition as a whole.
• state-sanctioned incitement to genocide in Ahmadinejad’s Iran (and I use that term to distinguish it from the many publics and peoples in Iran who are themselves the object of massive state repression) dramatized by the parading of a Shihab-3 missile in the streets of Teheran draped with the emblem “Wipe Israel off the map”;
• symmetrical terrorist militias confronting Israel, in particular Hamas in the south and Hizbullah in the north. These are not simply – though that would be threatening enough – terrorist in their instrumentality, but genocidal in their purpose as they openly and avowedly seek the destruction of Israel and anti-Jewish in their ideology. Both, by their own acknowledgement, demonize Judaism and Jews, not just Israel and the Israeli, as “the sons of monkeys and pigs” and “defilers of Islam”;
• the globalization of a totalitarian, radical Islam that threatens not only Jews and Israel but international peace and security, while warning Muslims who seek peace with Israel that they will “burn in the Umma of Islam”;
• the fragility, even erosion, of the Lebanon-Hizbullah divides, aided and abetted by the Iranian-Syrian pincer movements and further exacerbated in the present Lebanese-Hizbullah warfare;
• the phenomenon of radicalized home-grown extremism, fuelled by Internet incitement, threatening the security of Jewish communities in the Diaspora;
• exploding energy prices, with oil at $120 a barrel – six times what it was just six years ago – with the windfall billions of petrodollars encouraging and financing rogue states like Iran. Every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil represents millions more in the coffers of Iran;
• the ugly canard of double loyalty, where the Jewish and Israeli lobbies are accused of acting in a matter inimical to the American and European national interest, as if it is somehow “un-American” or “un-European” to petition government for redress of grievances, an Orwellian politics of intimidation that chills free speech and public advocacy;
• the trahison des clercs – betrayal of the elites – of which the UK is a case study, exemplified in the calls for academic, trade union, journalist, medical and intellectual boycotts of Israeli and Jewish nationals;
• the singling out of Israel for differential and discriminatory treatment in the international arena, as when the UN Human Rights Council,, the repository for human rights standards-setting, adopted 10 resolutions of condemnation against one member state of the international community, Israel, in its first year of operation alone; while the major human rights violators – Iran, Sudan, China – enjoyed exculpatory immunity; and
• the emergence of a new, escalating, global, virulent and even lethal anti-Semitism.
WITH ISRAEL’S 60th anniversary, these mega-events have not only intensified but congealed into what might be called a “gathering storm,” finding expression in the two theses that underpin this article.
First, that this gathering storm appears to be without parallel or precedent since 1938, suggesting thereby that 2008 is reflective and reminiscent of 1938. The second thesis, which reflects my own position and is not inconsistent with the previous notion, is that whatever 2008 may be, it is not 1938.
Simply put, there is a Jewish state today that is an antidote to the vulnerabilities of 1938. There is a Jewish people with untold moral, intellectual, economic and political resources. There are non-Jews prepared to join the Jewish people in common cause, seeing the cause of Israel not simply as a Jewish cause, but – with all its imperfections – as a just cause.
Nor is Israel is isolated or alone. It has important friends and allies: for example, the United States, Canada, Germany and France, to name a few; and it has diplomatic relations with the two emerging superpowers, China and India. There are peace treaties, however imperfect, with Egypt and Jordan.
In a word, if one looks at Israel at 60 in this global configuration, 2008 is, even with an admittedly gathering storm not unlike 1938, nonetheless very different from the Thirties.
It is important, therefore, that Israel not be viewed as an Andy Warhol of the international media, or what passes as virtual reality on the Internet of the day. Israel is not simply a snapshot at age 60, nor a fragment frozen in time; nor is it anchored only in 60 years of Israeli statehood, or 120 years of Zionism.
For Israel, rooted in the Jewish people, as an Abrahamic people, is a prototypical First Nation or aboriginal people, just as the Jewish religion is a prototypical aboriginal religion, the first of the Abrahamic religions.
IN A WORD, the Jewish people is the only people that still inhabits the same land, embraces the same religion, studies the same Torah, hearkens to the same prophets, speaks the same aboriginal language – Hebrew – and bears the same aboriginal name, Israel, as it did 3,500 years ago.
Israel, then, is the aboriginal homeland of the Jewish people across space and time. It is not just a homeland for the Jewish people, a place of refuge, asylum and protection. It is the homeland of the Jewish people, wherever and whenever it may be; and its birth certificate originates in its inception as a First Nation, and not simply, however important, in its United Nations international birth certificate.
The State of Israel, then, as a political and juridical entity, overlaps with the “aboriginal Jewish homeland”; it is, in international legal terms, a successor state to the biblical, or aboriginal, Jewish kingdoms. But that aboriginal homeland is also claimed by another people, the Palestinian/Arab people, who see it as their place and patrimony.
THE EXISTENCE of a parallel claim does not vitiate that of the Jewish people or cause it to resonate any less as memory and memoir of homeland – where homeland represents history, roots, religion, language, culture, literature, law, custom, family, myth and values. Rather, the equities of the claim mandate the logic of Israeli-Palestinian partition – a logic which in moral and juridical terms requires that a just solution be organized around the “principle of least injustice,” and that includes mutual recognition of the legitimacy of two states for two peoples.
Nor should the internal divides besetting Israel mask the existential raison d’etre, and moral imperative, of Israel itself. Nazism, and the gathering storm of the Thirties, almost succeeded not only because of its pathology of hate and industry of death, but because of the powerlessness of the stateless Jew and the vulnerability of the powerless without a state. Israel, then, is an antidote to Jewish vulnerability, the raison d’etre in the most profound existential sense for Jewish self-determination.
It is not the case, as it sometimes said, that if there had been no Holocaust, there would not have been a State of Israel, as if a state could somehow even compensate for the murder of six million Jews. It is the other way around: If there had been an Israel, there would not have been a Holocaust, or others horrors of Jewish history.
In the end, we come back to the beginning: that whatever the gathering storm from without may be, whatever the internal grievances, the Kulturkampf of the Jews’ despair in 2008 would not only be a betrayal of the Jewish aboriginal past, but a denial of the next 60 years and beyond.
The writer is the member of parliament for Mount Royal and the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. He is a professor of law (on leave) at McGill University and has written extensively on human rights and Middle-East issues.