George Weigel

To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II

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In Defense of Israel's Legitimacy

Last month, I was happy to join with former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble, Italian philosopher and political leader Marcello Pera, and several other international figures in launching a global “Friends of Israel” Initiative, which debuted in the United States in a July 8 Wall Street Journal op-ed article. The initiative, begun under Mr. Aznar's leadership, intends to challenge the campaign of moral and political delegitimation to which the State of Israel has been subjected in recent years — a campaign which my colleagues and I believe has grave moral and strategic implications for the entire West.

As we stated in our joint Journal op-ed, we are an eclectic group: none of us speaks for any Israeli government; all of us have our disagreements with Israeli policy. More importantly, however, we are agreed on the following, basic points:

– Israel is a mature, established democracy and an integral part of the community of democracies that is centered historically in the West; as such, Israel deserves to be treated as any other normal western country.

– Israel's right-to-exist was established by international law (United Nations Resolution 181) in 1947. That decision recognized that the Jewish people had a right to establish a sovereign state on a land in which they have lived, and to which they have had a historic claim, for millennia. To dismiss this decision as a matter of guilt over the Holocaust — a common theme in the current campaign of delegitimation — is to misread history and to undercut the authority of international law.

– Israel, which has a clear right to self-defense, is beset today by a unique combination of threats: it must defend its people from attack while defending its very right to exist. No other state in the world faces this dual challenge. To deny Israel's right to confront some of the world's most vicious terrorist groups in order to ensure the safety of its citizens is to corrode international norms from within — a process that is already well-advanced at the United Nations, to that organization's shame.

– The assault on Israel is one part of a more general assault on the West, on democracy, and on the moral and culture heritage that grew from the fruitful interaction of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. One especially threatening part of this assault is the effort to use human rights claims and claims of universal criminal jurisdiction as weapons against Israeli democracy. Should these efforts succeed, similar efforts will certainly be turned against other western democracies.

– Peace in the Middle East, to which all of us are firmly committed, is not a matter of Israel-and-the-Palestinians only. Responsible Israelis and responsible Palestinians both know that there will be no peace in the Middle East absent a pan-Arab recognition of Israel's sovereign legitimacy.

– Israel and the West are both confronted with two particularly grave threats in the early 21st century: the threat of Islamist jihadism, which has already caused enormous suffering while altering patterns of daily life throughout the world, and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, led by men who believe that a new holocaust of the Jews will hasten the advent of the messianic age. Israel must not be put into a position of facing these threats alone. Those in the West who do not understand this should ponder the lessons of the late 1930s more carefully.

– The campaign of delegitimation against Israel includes aspects of that anti-semitism that has fouled parts of western culture for centuries and that must be forthrightly condemned by all who share the moral values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

The “Friends of Israel” initiative is no blank check for the present Israeli government, or for any future Israeli government. Rather, it is an effort, by men and women across the spectrum of responsible political opinion, to restore a measure of moral integrity to an international environment that is becoming increasingly toxic because of untruths and rank prejudices. The success or failure of such an appeal to moral reason promises to be an interesting bellwether.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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