Israel’s Critics Only Care about Law and Rights When It Suits Them to

May 13, 2021 | Elliott Abrams
About the author: Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the chairman of the Tikvah Fund.

While the legal case of landowners trying to evict delinquent tenants from property in Jerusalem may have little to do with the hundreds of rockets that Hamas and its allies launched into Israel in the past few days, or the mob violence in Israeli cities, it has frequently been cited as a proximate cause. The affair (explained here and here), concerns Jews who lost their property when Jordan cleansed the neighborhood of Jews in 1948, to whom it was returned through normal legal procedures after 1967. Elliott Abrams compares this case to those of works of art stolen from European Jews by the Nazis—which have similarly been returned to their owners through ordinary litigation:

The principle is not controversial: title to the property in question was not legally obtained, and just compensation was not paid. This . . . seems to be willfully ignored when it comes to the eviction cases that are now before Israel’s Supreme Court. . . . Israel’s courts, sometimes viewed as too sympathetic to—or indeed part of—the Israeli “left,” have consistently applied standard property law, as would courts in any Western country, and consistently found that the rights of ownership have not been obliterated just because people moved into these homes when the Jews who lived in them were driven out.

Now let’s return to the paintings forcibly seized from Jews by the Nazis. There is widespread sympathy for the owners of those paintings, and it is visible in newspaper accounts and in court decisions and international conventions. Why is there so little sympathy for those who own the properties in contention in Jerusalem? Why the bias in most accounts of these eviction proceedings. . . . Is the criticism of Israel here explained by the bitter old conclusion that the world likes dead Jews (and their paintings) more than living Jews who are fighting for their rights?

Here’s a theory: Israel’s critics here don’t care about law and rights. Yesterday, before his meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Jordanian foreign minister spoke of “provocative measures against . . . the peoples of Sheikh Jarrah” to describe court cases in which ownership rights are being asserted. The theory seems to be that the Jews were downtrodden by the Nazis, so the Jews can recover their stolen paintings—but the Palestinians are downtrodden by the Israelis, so the stolen properties cannot be recovered. In other words: forget rights, forget courts.

[D]oes the rule of law apply only in Europe, when it comes to old Nazi cases where there’s no political risk in siding with the Jews?

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