The leading scholars, Professor John Dugard and Professor Avi Shlaim, challenged “Israel’s right to exist” in their expert testimony. Dugard is an advocate of the High Court of South Africa. He served from time to time as a Judge of the International Court of Justice. His other high-profile appointment was at the United Nations where he was Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories from 2001 to 2008. Shlaim is an emeritus author of several books on Israel and Palestine. Fellow of St Antony’s College and Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University.
Dugard and Shlaim released their testimonies in response to the UK government’s ban on schools and universities contacting organizations that question Israel’s “right to exist”. The testimonies are part of a legal action against the former Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, by the UK human rights group, CAGE. In a 2021 letter to schools and universities, Williamson pushed for the acceptance of the discredited International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The letter also told schools that they were prohibited from contacting organizations that reject their “right to exist”.
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CAGE submitted a judicial review of the government’s guideline. He argued that there is no such right in international law that prevents people and groups from questioning the legitimacy of a state. “For a long time, the political phrase ‘Israel’s right to exist’ has been used as a weapon to frame any debate about the legitimacy of its creation, the right to return displaced Palestinian refugees and the apartheid nature of the state of Israel. , ” CAGE said at the time. In July the British High Court ruled against a judicial review.
This week CAGE published the expert testimony of Dugard and Shlaim. Both opposed the prevailing narrative pushed by the UK government regarding Israel’s “right to exist”. Their testimony provided a brief history of the creation of the State of Israel and explained why the demand for a “right to exist” in law and morality is current.
Shlaim described Williamson as someone who usually condenses anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism. He also claimed that the former education secretary used his ministerial position to restrict freedom of speech in Israel. Commenting on the IHRA and the financial sanctions that could be imposed if schools refused to adopt it, Shlaim said: “This is a very controversial definition and, in my opinion, this is what the friends of Israel have promoted. The two sentence definition is empty. , but after that there are 11 ‘illustrative examples’ of what anti-Semitism is. Seven of the 11 examples relate to Israel. The real purpose of the definition is not to protect Jews from anti-Semitism but to protect Israel from legitimate criticism.”
Shlaim was one of 77 Israeli academics in Britain who came together in response to Williamson’s infamous intervention. In January 2021, they sent a letter to vice-chancellors and academic senators in England urging universities not to accept the IHRA document, which they considered to be “harmful not only to academic freedom and the struggle for human rights, but also for the fight. against antisemitism.”
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Challenging Israel’s right to exist, the expert testimonies argued that such a claim has no basis in international law. The idea that states have rights is completely rejected. The point is often made in the following way: Human beings have a right to exist, and to live a flourishing life. The moral and legal justification for its existence at all A nation-state is founded on its ability to protect and defend human rights and by serving the interests and welfare of the cultures and peoples that live within the territory under its control. When a state fails to do this to enough of those people for long enough, its control is challenged and it loses its legitimacy. The shelf life of any state is as long as it can guarantee the human rights of the people in the territory controlled by that state.
Although there are many examples, a classic case often cited to highlight this point is Apartheid South Africa. Arguments were raised that Apartheid South Africa should not be recognized as a state and should be expelled from the UN. Although South Africa was not expelled from membership of the world body, the credentials of the South African government were not accepted, and the right to participate in the work of the General Assembly was denied. In reality, this meant that many countries believed that South Africa no longer had the right to exist as a state because of its apartheid policy. South Africa lost its legitimacy because it refused to guarantee and protect the rights of black South Africans in the same territory.
There are many similarities between the settlement in Apartheid South Africa and Israel, which is why every major human rights group has concluded that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. Within the territory controlled by the occupying state – also known as historic Palestine – the seven million Jewish population of Israel enjoy full rights and privileges, while the seven million non-Jewish population of the territories enjoy some form of discrimination depending on where they live. For example, twenty percent of Israel’s Palestinian citizens experience less discrimination than the five million Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. Also not forgetting, the six million Palestinian refugees who are denied their right to return and all Jews around the world to be granted their “right to return”.
Returning to the expert testimonies, Dugard and Shlaim rejected a “right to exist”, explaining that such a right cannot be exercised because it has no basis in international law. According to Dugard, state rights enshrined in international law are the right to territorial integrity; political independence and not being violently attacked by another state. It is not clear, therefore, why Israel should be allowed to enjoy these rights since it has no defined borders, and moreover it has not only forcibly invaded and occupied the State of Palestine on it, that it continues to annex territory beyond the borders of the internationally recognized apartheid state. .
Other arguments rejecting Israel’s “right to exist” are illustrated by the fact that some states may recognize a state as a state but not another. Therefore, it is a state for those countries that recognize it but not for states that do not. Palestine, for example, is recognized as a state by 138 countries, which is more than Kosovo, recognized by 100 states.
Perhaps the most powerful objection to Israel’s claim to recognize others as its “right to exist” is the claims it made about itself during the founding of the country. Israel’s declaration of independence was based on the Balfour Declaration, the Mandate of the League of Nations and the Partition Resolution of the General Assembly. Each of these claims has been contested on legal grounds since 1948. For example, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 did not recognize the Jewish right to a state in Palestine. He simply stated that the attitude of the British government was “in favor of establishing a home in Palestine for the Jews” but that this was to be without prejudice to “the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. The plain and obvious goal of the declaration was to create a “home” for the Jews”I Palestine“, do not destroy Palestine as Israel did to replace a new state on top of it.
Similar arguments exist with the British Mandate for Palestine and the UN Partition Plan. Although the Mandate incorporated the provisions of the Balfour Declaration it made no provision for a Jewish State. Regarding the partition plan, the Palestinians rejected Resolution 181 because of its unfairness: it gave 57 percent of the land and 84 percent of the agricultural land to the Jewish community comprising 33 percent of the Palestinian population.
The message in the testimonies of the experts can be boiled down to the fact that not only is the British government suppressing discussion of Israel’s “right to exist” preposterous, historical and an attack on freedom of thought, there can be no discussion about Israel” right to exist” without a similar discussion of Palestine’s right to exist.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.