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Israel has rights

Stop talking about Israel’s “right to exist.”

Crowds of Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Crowds of Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Shoshana Bryen
Shoshana Bryen
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

Recently, I attended a dinner given by a major pro-Israel organization. It was the first since COVID and the turnout was great. There were old and new friends, Jews and non-Jews, Democrats and Republicans. It was wonderful and uplifting in a time of worry, sorrow and love for Israel and its supporters around the world.

Until several speakers said that thing about supporting “Israel’s right to exist.”

No. Stop. Please. Stand up straight.

The fact that anti-Israel and antisemitic forces say Israel has no right to exist is not a reason for Jews to adopt their premise as a talking point that needs refutation.

Israel was established by a U.N. mechanism for post-colonial independence in areas that came under League of Nations control in the aftermath of World War I, when it was determined that the Ottoman Empire had no right to exist, having chosen the wrong side of the war. Just because the Arab states of the time didn’t agree with the League and the U.N.’s decision on Palestine didn’t make the British Mandate or the later State of Israel less legitimate in its modern origins.

Does Chile defend its “right to exist”? Does Iceland? Does Palau or Russia or India or Guyana or the UAE? What about the countries of the post-Ottoman era? Iraq or Jordan, say, both created out of whole cloth. What about Lebanon or Syria, both former French colonies? From 1945-1960, post-colonial Africa and Asia saw more than 30 new countries emerge. Today, the U.N. brags that since its founding, “80 former colonies have gained their independence.”

It is true that some people in some places don’t want those countries to exist—there’s a lot of turmoil out there—but in no case do these states feel the need to say, “I have a right to exist.”

What would work better than this defense? Perhaps holding the U.N. to its own language. You could start with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, which defines in great detail the protected status of Jerusalem and defines in great detail the democratic nature of the Palestinian Arab state that was supposed to emerge.

But UNGA resolutions have no actual force. This may be why Arab violations of the resolution, including the desecration of Jewish patrimony on the eastern side of the city, were entirely ignored. 

So, try U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of Nov. 1967, following the Six-Day War, when the U.N. rightly understood Israel’s Arab enemies as the aggressors.

The preamble refers to the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East in which every State in the area can live in security.”

Acquiring territory by aggressive war is not, in international law, the same as acquiring it in defense.  And security is security, not the permanent threat of indiscriminate rocket fire, rape, torture or kidnapping.

The resolution “affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, which should include the application of both the following principles: (i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”

The “recent conflict” is now 56 years in the past. Israel withdrew from more than 90% of the territory by returning the Sinai to Egypt under the terms of a peace treaty. Gaza was specifically excluded by Egypt. Jordan rejected the return of Judea and Samaria under the terms of the Jordan-Israel treaty. Syria rejects any conversation about peace, treaties or the future of the Golan Heights.

And then, the crux of the matter: “(ii) 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.”

This is precisely the position the Abraham Accords countries have taken. It is far from a wobbly “right to exist” at the sufferance of others. Israel’s life is not an “are not!” “am too!” argument with regional bullies or meddling superpowers.

Israel has rights.

Friends of Israel should demand that the U.N. Security Council put its muscle—such as it is—in service of the resolution it passed in 1967. The U.S. government should notify states or parties that do not accept the resolution that American political and military support will not be forthcoming the way it has been—take note, Jordan and Qatar. The U.S. should notify the Palestinian leadership as well. The fact that there was none in 1967 doesn’t change the requirement to terminate its claims and state of belligerency. It is the only way forward for them. Friends of Israel should demand that Congress adopt the language of the resolution as American policy.

I look forward to attending the dinner again next year, but I hope we will be more self-confident on behalf of our friend and ally Israel.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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