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May 28, 2024 - 20 IYyAR 5784

05/27/2024 02:02:05 PM


Recent reports of the indictment proposed by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court [ICC] of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a codefendant with the leaders of Hamas directly responsible for the attack of October 7, 2023, that ended over 1200 Israeli civilian lives. The proposed charges are ‘genocide’. The facts of this action—which I can only see as antisemitic in content—point to the long-term resistance to signing on to its founding document by both Israel and the United States, known as the Rome Statute (2002).

The idea of such an international body seems to have taken shape alongside the founding of the League of Nations following the “war to end all wars”—known as World War I. Even after World War II, the courts that tried the Nazi war criminals known as the Nuremberg Tribunals, had no such formal jurisdictional origin. Their authority fell within the military occupation of Germany once the four major Allies converged on Berlin with final surrender coming on May 8, 1945.

The swath of territory the Nazis overran stretched from the Pyrenees Mountains and Atlantic Coast of France eastward toward the Ural Mountains. The lion’s share in the east was taken by the USSR, including contemporary Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—all now EU members), Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia—continuing across the former Prussian expanses to take about half of Berlin. To the east, with the prewar boundaries reset west of the Rhine River and France liberated and the smaller Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg) reestablished at their long-term boundaries, the western region of Germany was divided east to the west among the US, France and Great Britain. Nuremberg, in Franconia—site of Nazi Party Conferences in the 1930s—was in the US Zone.

The situation had many unique aspects. The Nazi war policy had left the country in ruins, requiring much reconstruction and restoration of the historic buildings of grand and small scale. Hunger, impoverishment, reduction of the male population and the burden of many, many severely injured combatants were matched against the presence of many thousands of former Haeftlinge—camp inmates—some of whom were Jews, others captives from the East. It is no small irony that so many hundreds of thousands of Jews were left in Germany—despite the success of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question in Germany that so motivated the Third Reich.

Examine the list of prosecutors, participants, and officers of the Nuremberg Tribunal. The pool of comfortably bi-lingual professionals included many whose first language was German. A substantial number of those were exiled Jews, refugees who took up the task of holding responsible the perpetrators of monstrous crimes against Jews, against humanity. 

At Nuremberg, many high officials of the defeated regime were tried, sentenced, and made to pay for their former allegiance. Over time, however, with the shift into Cold War mode beginning with a blockade of access to Berlin, an isolated island surrounded by Soviet Zone occupying forces, lesser figures were retrained, and indoctrinated but left in influential positions. Fortunately, as the Federal Republic of Germany was born in 1949 (with Bonn as capital) the highest echelon was composed of a strongly anti-Nazi cadre. Chancellor Conrad Adenauer—one-time mayor of Cologne—recognized the debt of the new state to the displaced, disenfranchised Jews living and murdered—and to the young State of Israel where so many took refuge.

The new wrinkle as WW2 recedes into the distant past, as even the Cold War division of Europe becomes un-remembered, sees the nearly 200 members of the United Nations often dominated by countries whose roots are on the dark side of Cold War politics. Their preferences lean toward Moscow, reflect older ideas of dominance and masculinity, and take authoritarian government as a chosen model. Growing terrorism—frequently sponsored by various states—has produced and funds Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, al-Qaeda, and various jihadi groups.

I have taken an excursion here from the current—not yet levied—charges. The context is critical to see the innate hypocrisy of Prosecutor Khan in viewing Hamas leadership in any way as equivalent, balanced, or comparable to the Israeli Prime Minister. His bias might be disguised as ‘fairness’, but his unfairness and prejudice override even my personal discomfort with the style and partnership that are the current Israeli government.

This is the vulnerability that defines the longer-term reluctance to join the great project of the International Criminal Court. It is equally the vulnerability we face as Jews in these times of agitation and unrest that offer the opportunity to many fundamentally opposed to democracy to hold forth, to sway the discontented—and all too often—to attack visible minorities in complex multi-ethnic states.

Chazak v’ematz—be strong and take courage—as we move through the cycle of political fashion that sees ‘others’ in society as disposable.

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784