Leave it to Canada’s 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. In his recent essay The gathering storm and beyond, Cotler writes:

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.

There is only one pitfall, perhaps two to this argument. There are very few First Nations that have modern States. It could be that Israel is the first. Secondly, the Muslim revisionist history that spreads from Mecca until UC Irvine calls Abraham & Sarah Muslims and the Palestinians as Philistines — no matter how absurd and absolutely wrong that is — which would seemingly nullify/equalize our First Nation status.

Nonetheless, his position if accepted by the left and moderates, would be a great step forward towards resolution of the conflict. Only if.

About the author

Rabbi Yonah


  • Rabbi Yonah perhaps has spent too much time in the hothouse atmosphere of UC Irvine. The debate there may have to do with Israel’s right to exist– that is, if one uncritically accepts the premises advanced by Israel’s opponents. Why take the bait of framing the debate on their terms?

    If you generalize from what you see on campus to infer a broader hostility to Israel, you’re mistaken. This is like Barack Obama concluding that the presidential election hinges on his decision not to wear a flag lapel pin– and spending all of his air time on that issue. Just because the other guy wants to fight that fight doesn’t mean he has to.

    The analysis seems to hinge on notions of “aboriginal” and “successor” states. What “international legal” principles are cited? It’s one thing to view, say, the BRD as the “successor state” of the Third Reich, as the West Germans acknowledged in paying reparations to Israel. But on the face of it, the latter seems no more a “successor” state to David’s kingdom than, say, Mexico is successor to the Aztec empire. Can Libya sue Italy over the destruction of Carthage?

    Does a state enjoy an enhanced, privileged basis of legitimacy because it’s old? Try telling that to Nigerians and Costa Ricans and FYR Macedonians. Or Americans, for that matter.

    And does every people get a state? Ask the Kurds, the Igbo, the Chechens, the Tamil, the Navajo. Indeed, the fewer states the better from the point of view of int’l. stability.

    We’ll need something better than this if Israel, Palestine and Canaan are to live together in peace.

  • The term “First Nations” has a very specific meaning in Canada. I assume this article is really about trying to contextualize the Israel-Palestinian conflict for Canadians (particularly those of a liberal bent) who might be inclined to believe that the Palestinian Arabs are the only “aboriginals” in Israel/Palestine.

    I don’t think the idea here is that Israel’s claim to having a Jewish state is justified by the “we were here first” line of argument, or that all aboriginal people should have the right to their own state.

  • I think this is like the 2nd or 3rd time I ever agreed with Morrisey.

    The proper response is to refuse the terms of the debate – nobody asks the Irish or Basque to justify their existence.

    Our legitimate right to take up space on the planet – and our connection to Israel – do not require us to beg anyone for their approval. They are matters of fact.

  • If age is somehow significant, the 60 year-old Israeli state is itself older than scores of other countries.

  • I agree with all above. When I first got into the conflict debate, I noticed all these people focused on the history of Israel and the feeling that if they could delegitimize Israel’s history, they could delegitimize Israel and destroy it as a country. What wishful think on their part. The bottom line is, there is a country called Israel, it is the only Jewish State in the world, with its capital in Jerusalem, and that’s the situation folks. We start there and move forward. Occasionally you have to remind these half-wits that the discussion begins there. Too bad if they don’t like it. As Run-DMC famously opined: “It’s like that, and it’s the way it is! Ha!”

  • Goodness. Am I agreeing with Alex? How can I not, especially with the “Old Skool” hip-hop reference? Of course our historical ties to the land of Israel are important, but the First Nations analogy simply fails. The Aboriginal residents of Canada and the United States definitely suffered as a result of pale face’s arrival on their shores, but an 18th century notion of nationalism was never a part of their culture, nor were they ever sent into exile.

    So like Alex quoted “It’s like that, and it’s the way it is! Ha!” The Jews are here. We’re not going anywhere. This is the reality that people wish to ignore. The recognition that coexisting with nearly 6 million Jews is a far better option than the catastrophic results of what it would take to destroy the State of Israel would be in everyone’s interests. But then again, this isn’t a region known for rationality. Oy.

  • Even Muffti has to agree with all of the above, mostly! The very notion of a right to exist is so incredibly murky that anyone who claims that some nation does or doesn’t have it is probably talking completely out of their ass. Including, however, in this case, Cotler.

  • The “It’s like that, and it’s the way it is! Ha!” argument misses the point (though I can obviously appreciate the Run DMC reference).

    The actual, physical “destruction” of the State of Israel is not likely (though there nonetheless remain many, many people in the world committed to this goal).

    The Jews will not all of the sudden be “denied” a state. But the Jewish State will itself be denied the rights and priveleges that other states enjoy and take for granted.

    In the “international community’s” efforts to single out Israel, it will be forced to apologize for its founding, it will have dangerous regimes imposed on it by other nations and supranational institutions, it will be pressured into adopting policies that are against its interests and that would never be demanded of other nations.

    The UN Security Council is probably not going to vote to nullify the Partition Plan or revoke Israel’s UN membership any time soon.

    But the erosion (and eventual abolishment) of the Law of Return, the slow dillution of Israel’s Jewish national symbols and character, the eventual, de facto creation of a binational state. These are real possibilities, and are happening both from within Israel and by forces outside of Israel.

    Basically not the destruction of Israel per se, but the destruction of Israel as we know it today . This is a real possibility. Indeed, it’s already happening.

  • Aboriginal Rights to Israel (Aboriginal Native Jews to Israel “Palestine”)

    By Allen Z. Hertz · April 23, 2009

    For over sixty years, there has been a bitter dispute over the unwillingness of most Muslims and Arabs to accept the legitimacy and permanence of Israel as an independent Jewish State in the Middle East. In this connection, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have denied that the Jews are a People within the context of the modern political and legal doctrine of the self-determination of Peoples. However, there is an enormous body of archaeological and historical evidence demonstrating that the Jewish People — like the Greek People or the Han Chinese People — is among the oldest of the world’s Peoples.

    Thus, it is well known that the Jewish People has more than 3,500 years of continuous history, with a subjective-objective national identity that, in each century, has kept a link to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. For example, the Jewish Bible, the Christian Gospels and the Koran all specifically testify to the connection between the Jewish People and its historic homeland.

    Like other Peoples, the Jewish People has a right to self-determination. Though the self-determination of the Arab People is expressed via twenty-one Arab countries, Israel is the sole expression of the self-determination of the Jewish People, which of all extant Peoples, has the strongest claim to be considered aboriginal to the territory west of the Jordan River.

    Thus, the Jewish People is aboriginal to Israel in the same way that, in Canada, certain First Nations are deemed aboriginal to their ancestral lands. And, it is noteworthy that the Supreme Court of Canada has decided that, where aboriginals maintain their historical connection with the land, aboriginal title can survive both sovereignty changes and influx of new populations resulting from foreign conquest.

    In this regard, it is essential to recognize that the Middle East has always had a significant Jewish population, including some Jews who, in each century, continued to live west of the Jordan River. Today, many of the sons and daughters of these Middle Eastern Jews are citizens of Israel, where they have been joined by Jews from many other countries. Though some Western thinkers are now uncomfortable with the idea of a nation-State as the homeland of a particular People, that is no reason to target Israel, because the overwhelming majority of modern States are the homeland of a particular People, e.g., Japan, Italy, or the twenty-one countries of the Arab League.

    Israel and thirty-odd modern countries are all successor States of the Muslim Ottoman Empire which for four hundred years (1516-1920) was the principal Power in the Near and Middle East. Apart from the ruling Turks, the Ottoman population was composed of several large ethnic groups, including Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, Arabs and Jews. For centuries, these Jews lived in large numbers in a variety of Ottoman venues — including Constantinople, Salonika, Cairo, Alexandria, Damascus, Aleppo, Mosul, Baghdad, Basra, Tiberias, Hebron, Safed, Jaffa and Jerusalem.

    In late October 1914, the Ottoman Empire opted to enter the First World War to fight against the United Kingdom and its Allies. As the fortunes of war began to favour the British Army, the United Kingdom Government addressed the question of what to do with the multi-national Ottoman lands both in the light of current British interests and the nineteenth-century liberal doctrine of the self-determination of Peoples. In this regard, the father of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, in his 1896 manifesto The Jewish State, had already proclaimed that Jews, though living in many different places around the globe, constitute one People for the purpose of self-determination.

    In October 1917, the British Cabinet adopted, as a declared war aim, the creation of an entirely new country called “Palestine” to serve as “a national home for the Jewish People.” This was done to help realize the Jewish People’s self-determination on its ancestral lands; to shore up Jewish support for the Allied war effort in revolutionary Russia and the USA; and to help the British better cover the eastern flank of the Suez Canal, which was then the crucial gateway to British India. The intention to create this Jewish-National-Home Palestine was announced to the world in the November 1917 Balfour Declaration.

    As Great Britain worked to defeat the Ottoman Turks, the world also began to learn about the national claims of the Arab People. Here recall the wartime exploits of Lawrence of Arabia and the Hashemite Prince Feisal ibn Hussein, both of whom were present at the 1919-1920 Paris Peace Conference. There, a powerful international searchlight was trained on the self-determination of Peoples, including the claims of the Arab People.

    However, no one there had ever heard anything about a distinct Palestinian Arab People. Had there then been such a distinct Palestinian Arab People, Prince Feisal, USA President Woodrow Wilson, France’s Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and others would have known about it. This assessment is confirmed by extensive local testimony and petitions collected, in 1919, by the USA King-Crane Commission which told President Wilson that Arabs around the Jordan River specifically rejected any plan to create a new country called Palestine. To the contrary, local Arabs then enthusiastically sought creation of a new, unitary Arab State matching the then Ottoman Province of Syria, which for centuries had included modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.

    The 1919-1920 Paris Peace Conference was concerned with the task of accommodating the political interests of the victorious Allied and Associated Powers with the claims to self-determination of well-known Peoples which had long histories of national self-affirmation and bitter suffering under foreign oppression. Thus, considered were difficult and entangled issues touching the self-determination of such famous Peoples as the Chinese, the Poles, the Germans, the Finns, the Letts, the Latvians, the Estonians, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Serbs, the Slovenes, the Croats, the Italians, the Hungarians, the Romanians, the Bulgarians, the Greeks, the Turks, the Kurds, the Armenians, the Arabs and the Jews. In this larger context, just one decision among many was creation of an entirely new country called “Palestine” as “a national home for the Jewish People”.

    The international decision to establish “a national home for the Jewish People” was the sole rationale for the 1922 creation of Jewish-National-Home Palestine which, under the aegis of the League of Nations, was administered by the British until May 1948, when Israel declared independence. Decision-makers at the 1919-1920 Paris Peace Conference knew that Jewish-National-Home Palestine would initially lack a Jewish majority population. However, the international decision to create Palestine “as a national home for the Jewish People” was made not so much on the basis of local demographics, but in recognition of the Jewish People’s aboriginal title and continuing links to the land around the Jordan River, as well as with regard to broader considerations of demography, history, politics and social justice that were both global and Middle Eastern. Thus, there was a conscious choice to refer — not just to the 85,000 Jews then living locally — but also to the past, present and future of 14 million Jews worldwide, including the one million Jews then living in the Near and Middle East.

    Failure to create Jewish-National-Home Palestine would have meant denying the Jewish People a share in the partition of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire, where Jews had lived for centuries, including some west of the Jordan River. Failure to create Jewish-National-Home Palestine would also have meant that the Arab People would have received almost the whole of the Ottoman inheritance. That result would have been unacceptable to David Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson and their peers, because they clearly understood that the claim to self-determination of the Jewish People was no less compelling than that of the Arab People.

    The Paris decision-makers strongly believed that they had also done justice to the claims of the Arab People whom they had freed from 400 years of Turkish rule and helped on the road to independence via the creation or recognition of almost a dozen new Arab States on territory that had formerly belonged to the Ottoman sultan.

    Moreover, the decision to create Jewish-National-Home Palestine did not result in the displacement of any Arabs. To the contrary, from 1922 until 1948, the Arab population of Jewish-National-Home Palestine almost tripled, while the Jewish population multiplied eight times. The later problem of Arab refugees (about 736,000) from Jewish-National-Home Palestine and Jewish refugees (about 850,000) from Arab countries only emerged from May 1948, when local Arabs allied with several neighbouring Arab States to launch a war to exterminate the Jews living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

    Like the Greek People or the Han Chinese People, the Jewish People has kept the same name and subjective-objective national identity, in each and every century, since ancient times. By contrast, the first steps towards a distinct, subjective-objective Palestinian Arab identity were taken only after the international community had already created a new country called “Palestine” to serve as “a national home for the Jewish People”. Thus, the continuing subjective-objective national identity of the Jewish People and the creation of Jewish-National-Home Palestine were both preconditions for the subsequent evolution of a distinct, subjective-objective Palestinian Arab identity. This logical sequence reminds us that the history of Jewish-National-Home Palestine (1922-1948) and the factual existence of modern Israel are only explicable because the subjective-objective national identity of the Jewish People, and its continuous link to the lands west of the Jordan River, precede by around 3,500 years the formation of a distinct, subjective-objective Palestinian Arab identity and any articulated Palestinian Arab claim to a hypothetical Palestinian Arab State that has, in fact, never existed.

    Thus, deep into the 20th century, Arab leaders themselves failed to recognize the right to self-determination of a distinct Palestinian Arab People. For example, as principal Arab leader at the 1919-1920 Paris Peace Conference, Prince Feisal specifically accepted the plan to create Palestine as “a national home for the Jewish People” and his father, the Hashemite King of the Hedjaz (later part of Saudi Arabia) was party to the 1920 Sevres Treaty that explicitly stipulated that the newly-created Palestine would be “a national home for the Jewish People.”

    And, decades later, the governments of Egypt and Jordan showed how little regard they had for the self-determination of a distinct Palestinian Arab People; first, by rejecting the 1947 UN plan to partition Jewish-National-Home Palestine into two new independent States, the one Jewish and the other Arab; and second, by themselves failing to create a new Palestinian Arab State, between 1949 and 1967, when Egypt held the Gaza Strip and Jordan administered East-Jerusalem and the West Bank.

    Such analysis does not deny the current existence of a distinct Palestinian Arab People; nor does it claim that such a Palestinian Arab People is today without rights. Rather, the conclusion is that there are rights on all sides, and that there should be a peaceful process that respectfully reconciles the rights of the Palestinian Arab People with the prior rights of the Jewish People.

    I have always seen Israel as the result of the national liberation movement of the region’s aboriginal Jews.
    Liberation of the aboriginal Jews (and anyone else lucky enough to find refuge within Israel’s borders) from the twin fascisms of pan-Arabism and Islamism which have oppressed and even eliminated so many of the region’s aboriginal ethnic groups.
    Israel’s aboriginal Jews were not unique in accepting outside help (and even immigration) in their liberation struggle.
    Lebanon’s Maronites; Egypt’s Copts, Iraq and Turkey’s Kurds, and Iran’s Zoroastrians have all sought and received outside help in their liberation struggles, each group according to its own circumstances.

  • Let it to radical “liberals” who are busy perpetuating the Pallywood-LIE that the children of Arab immigarnts into Israel [‘Palestine’ – historic homeland of the Jews] are “natives”..