The Early Roots of Anti-Israel Lawfare

weapon of choiceAnti-Israel lawfare actually has a longer pedigree than usually imagined, dating from a seemingly obscure lawsuit arising from Israel’s 1948 re-birth.  Sreemati Mitter, an Ernest May Fellow at the Belfer Center of Harvard University’s Kennedy School and Harvard history Ph.D. candidate detailed the matter in a May 20 lecture.  About forty mostly middle-aged and older pro-Palestinian individuals at the like-minded Jerusalem Fund think tank heard Mitter.

Mitter recounted the June 12, 1948 freezing by the newly reborn state of Israel of all bank accounts belonging to Arab refugees from Israeli-controlled territory during the country’s independence war.  She focused on the Palestine branches of Barclays and the Ottoman Bank in London, the two of which held deposits from the Arab Bank, a “Palestinian nationalist bank.”

Arab Bank’s attempts to win restitution of its seized accounts ultimately resulted in a “seminal lawsuit in banking history” against Barclays and Ottoman.  A 1954 House of Lords (then the British high court) decision in Arab Bank Ltd. v. Barclays Bank (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas), though, rejected Arab Bank’s demands.  Yet Barclays and Ottoman “won in Britain, lost in Jordan” as lawsuits in the latter country produced the opposite result. These banks then threatened to leave an economically developing Israel, leading to a settlement with Israeli account restitution in return for a low interest loan from the two British banks.

Mitter assesses that in principle “everybody is happy” in this story, as the banks along with the United Kingdom in general preserved commercial reputations, the account holders received their assets, and Israel got a loan.  Yet her general euphoria has one wrinkle.  Rebuffed in the United Kingdom, lawyers for the Palestinian account holders tried to “find a legal regime that does not recognize Israel,” Mitter explained.  Some fifty resulting lawsuits filed in Jordan led to the judicial holding that Israel is an “illegal entity” not entitled to seize property.  Therefore “Palestinians really fought for their rights” and “turned to the law” precisely by denying Israel its rights.

Britain’s Law Lords, by contrast, affirmed in their decision private sector subordination to wartime Israeli state action.  Similarly, Israel’s March 14, 1950 Absentee Property Legislation seizing Palestinian refugee property in Israel comes “almost word for word” from British enemy property legislation, Mitter noted.  These laws have the “same justification, which is war.”

The decision cites the Israeli proclamation on May 19, 1948, five days after Israel’s independence declaration, that Palestine Mandate “English law…should remain in force” wherever “not repugnant to” Israeli enactments.  Thus in “all questions relevant . . . there is no difference” in British and Israeli application of “English common law regarding trading with the enemy.”  Under a “general principle . . . not in dispute . . . war prevents the further performance of contracts” with “persons in enemy territory . . . . Many kinds of contractual rights are totally abrogated.”

The “economic dimension” of “what it means to be stateless” formed the central theme of Mitter’s presentation, which sought to place “Palestinians in context with stateless people everywhere.”  Yet, upon this reporter’s questioning, Mitter conceded that Jordan did bestow citizenship upon West Bank Palestinian refugees, the largest Palestinian refugee contingent, in contrast to other Arab states.  Mitter also acknowledged that Jewish refugees fled Arab countries following Israel’s independence.

In fact, these Jewish refugees exceeded Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel in numbers and property losses, prompting Israeli demands that Jewish refugees concurrently receive compensation in any Palestinian refugee settlement.  Most of these Jewish refugees avoided statelessness precisely through immigration to an “illegal” Jewish homeland at considerable integration costs to Israel.  Not surprisingly, 68 percent of Israeli respondents in a 2007 poll rejected compensating 1948 Palestinian refugees.

This long record of lawfare against the Jewish state, with the goal of denying Israel’s right to protect sovereign interests, provides Israel’s enemies with legal and propaganda weapons used to delegitimize its existence to this day. The assertion that Jewish settlement in any territories won by Israel in the 1967 war, including Jerusalem, are absolutely illegal, rest on these efforts, as do (more perniciously) attempts to justify sanctions and actual violence against Israel. While Mitter and others focus on the plight of Palestinian refugees and their descendants who deserved integration into Arab states long ago, Israel, a country formed largely by Jewish refugees from all over the world, remains under threat.

This essay was written for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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  • Bert

    Much of the blame falls to Jewish leaders who fail to claim Jewish rights or even side with the enemy. Legally the original Palestine Mandate of the League of Nations is still legal although ignored. The ebook on Amazon “The Jewish People’s Rights to the land of Israel” by S. Benzimra, presents the legal case that refutes all claims by the Arabs. This book was called to the attention of Jewish leaders in both Israel and the U.S. They all refused to even respond. Jewish leaders have forfeited the argument and are trying to create a peaceful PLO state in Judea and Samaria with suicidal concessions. We cannot blame the nations when we betray ourselves.

    • Miki Bacsi

      Jewish leaders were quick to forget the League of Nations’ decision as if it was against the Jewish people. They keep on ignoring it. Instead, they are in a race to kiss Arab butts as if they were paid for it.
      Something must be in the water in Israel.

  • Walter Sieruk

    All the anti-Israel ruling of any court or courts have been greatly overruled by the Ultimate Court by the Supreme Judge. Who is God Himself. For the Sovereign God had declared in HIs Word ,the Bible, that all of this land that now composes the State of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. In other words this land belongs to the Jews by Divine Right. As seen, for example ,in Genesis 28:13-15. 35:10-12. Deuteronomy 32:48,49. Psalm 105:7-11. 135:4. This land also belongs to the Jewish people by historic rights. As shown in First Kings 4:20,21,24,25. 8:55,56. Nevertheless, there is one way that a human court may convince God to change His mind and turn His Back of Israel and thus have that nation be no more. That way is for a humans court to change the laws of astrophysics including that of the sun, the moon and the stars. For God has said in Jeremiah 31:35,36. which reads “Thus saith the Lord, which gives the sun for alight by day and the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night…The Lord of host is His name. If those ordinances depart from before Me saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever.”

    • Zeezus

      fo fk yourself. thats a bunch of Protestant crap that fell through when Britain left Palistine defeated, 1948. Today’s Jew aint got nothing in common with a Jew from 3000 years ago. All white Jews are Jewish by conversion.

      • aspacia

        Current Jewish DNA disproves your claim.

  • herb benty

    Many Arabs that fled Israel LIVE IN Jewish houses in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Morroco etc. From the Jordan River to the Med belongs to the Jewish people and they owe nothing.

    • aspacia

      herb, The Arabs you mention are discriminated against, cannot hold certain jobs, nor land as the Arab lands refuse to assimilate their brethren, unlike tiny Israel.

      • Gee

        Not exactly our problem. The Apartheid Arab thugocracies have to answer for that, not us

        • aspacia

          It becomes our problem when the UN and USA use our taxes to aid Fatah.

      • herb benty

        Ya, I have read how Muslim countries keep the “palestinians” in a refugee condition, to put Israel in a bad light.