(April 10, 2018 / Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.) A great legal mind can be used in many ways. Eugene Rostow used his to aid the cause of American democracy—and Israel.
Born into an immigrant family in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rostow soon revealed himself to be an intellectual prodigy, graduating with the highest of honors from Yale at age 19. By 1937, he was a member of its law-school faculty.
Because a back problem prevented Rostow from serving in combat during World War II, he put his legal skills to work in the State Department, where he helped guide the lend-lease program. Returning to Yale University Law School as Dean, he turned it into one of the country’s top professional schools.
Rostow returned to government service as Lyndon Johnson’s Undersecretary of Political Affairs. In that post, he helped author U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, making him its foremost authority, informing his frequent commentary on its many, and often deliberate, misinterpretations.
As Rostow emphatically noted, while it said that the outcome of the Six-Day War should not be the basis for territorial acquisition, it was no way “ambiguous” as it insists upon “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” Rostow observed further that “speaker after speaker made it explicit that Israel was not to be forced back to the ‘fragile’ and ‘vulnerable’ Armistice Demarcation Lines.”
Moreover, in speeches and articles, he pointedly affirmed that the original U.N. Mandate for Palestine explicitly permitted Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. As he put it, the mandate does not “permit even a temporary suspension of the Jewish right of settlement in the parts of the mandate, west of the Jordan River.”
As an expert on the Geneva Convention, he also noted that claims that it applied to Jewish settlements were absurd since the convention prohibits the “mass transfer of people into and out of occupied territories for purposes of extermination, slave labor or colonization. … [But] the Jewish settlers in the West Bank are most emphatically volunteers. They have not been ‘deported’ or ‘transferred’ to the area by the Government of Israel.”
These would be among Rostow’s greatest battles in the public arena. Even when political tides turned, Eugene Rostow never flinched from defending the truth about Israel’s legal rights.