tv Jews and the Origins of International Human Rights CSPAN February 19, 2019 11:17pm-12:39am EST
follow the senate live on c- span2. up next, jewish history professor james loeffler discusses his book "rooted cosmopolitans: jews and human rights in the twentieth century." in his remarks he profiled to attorneys who assisted in the nuremberg trials and helped found the movement of international jewish rights. held at emory university, this is about an hour and 20 minutes. >> it is my pleasure to introduce tonight speaker. a couple years ago now i got an email from james loeffler, saying he was writing a book on jews and human rights and we have the papers here at emory and he wanted to do some research and was there a graduate student or someone who could help him do some of that research remotely.
so one of our graduate students worked with him a little bit and hopefully got him some good source material. so when we were talking about doing something to commemorate morris abram, my i went back to jim and i thought his book was coming out and what could be better than contextualizing the career of morris abram in the larger story of jews and human rights in the 20th century. so, jim will be talking about his recent book, but he has also generously modified and added in more information and will maybe be referencing more things about morris abram, to sort of help us better understand and contextualize his career. so it is my pleasure to introduce james loeffler. he writes widely on modern
jewish history, focusing on themes from zionism and the holocaust, to jewish music, american jewish identity and yiddish culture. his first book was on the russian empire, published in 2010. which one eight major awards and honors. more recently, in may, 2018, he published a book on which this lecture is based. "rooted cosmopolitans: jews and human rights in the twentieth century." that will also be the title of his lecture tonight. i encourage you, the book is outside for you to buy and read after the program. with that, it is my pleasure to call on professor james loeffler . >> good evening. it is a pleasure to be here tonight and an honor to deliver the 10th annual rothschild lecture. i do want to thank the staff of the institute, kevin -- i want
to thank everyone who makes these lectures possible. i am going to have the chances you heard, to speak about morris abram, although you already heard a lot about him. my work is made easier by the wonderful description of him. he had an incredibly rich and diverse career in law, politics, and international affairs. this is a book that began with emory and the morris abram papers, so it is really an honor and feels like a homecoming, although i have never been here at emory, to speak about this. thank you. so there is a joke about to jewish guys sitting on a park bench and one turns to the other and says, boy. the second one looks back and he simply says -- the first one pauses and looks back at the friend -- so finally, the first
one looks at him and says, i thought we agreed not to talk about israel. so i am here to talk about israel and to talk about human rights. it is a controversial conjunction of topics and topics that generate a lot of debate inside the jewish world and more broadly about the nature of human rights, international human rights of the united nations. about the question of human rights in the israeli- palestinian conflict. it is also issues that we confront directly today that have to do with keywords that have now become very hot words, such as nationalism, globalism, right? and the goal of this talk is to share some work connected to the research in this book and to try to explain in a certain sense the history we don't know and it might help us unpack some of what we've arrived at
and i think the story and it may inform the way we think about the possible future going forward. now, to be more specific, this is an anniversary year, for the reasons you heard, as well as for the fact that 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of two monumental occasions. the universal declaration of human rights and the creation of the state of israel. the state of israel began in may of this year. the international declaration of human rights will celebrate its 70th anniversary in a few weeks time. today this double anniversary is a very contentious issue, among human rights activists and among people committed to the support of israel and jews identifying strongly with israel, and israel itself. for many, these concepts have
been come to be viewed by many as polar opposites. i am going to say a few words about this, because it will give you a sense of the context of the moment we are in and why he wanted to explore this history and explain to myself and all of us how we got here and what the story is really about. on parts of the left, i would make a full disclaimer, i would say parts of the left. there is an idea that zionism is viewed at its best as a tribalism and at its worst is a form of racism. israel is demonized in certain circles as a rogue regime. it is linked to demonic ideologies, so on and so forth. more specifically, many of you may be aware, in england today, the labor party is debating whether attacks by its leadership on israel constitute anti-semitism or simply a political critique.
in this country, starbucks recently partnered with the anti-defamation league to deal with bias and the idea was to do sensitivity training in terms of racial bias, because of an incident in philadelphia some months back. they said, we are going to partner with the anti- defamation league, a jewish civil rights group, then they severed that partnership because of allegations that the anti-defamation league was too close to israel and therefore, was the opposite of civil rights. what i am describing is not true of the whole left, but there is something over there, a deep association of polarization. on parts of the right, the jewish right and the right more largely, you have almost the reverse image. in many places, you can find people who say international human rights, whatever they may have been or are in theory, are
anti-semitic. so, having written a book on the topic i can tell you that in some communities, people have said to me, this is an interesting topic, but we cannot bring a speaker that speaks to the title of human rights. those words were considered to be anti-semitic. this is true in israel today where there is a raging debate about human rights organizations and for certain parts, human rights are seen as a shorthand for anti-semitic ideology. now, for that reason, there are some people who recently cheered the decision of the u.s. to withdraw from the u.n. human rights council and others who lemon did it. my question is not to his right and who's wrong, but how did we get here? how did we get to the point where there is extreme polarization when it comes to these topics? as a historian, i wanted to know as i began to think about this question, was it always like this? and what was it like, given the fact that back in 1948, these two things were born together. if they were born together, how
did they come to be seen as so much contention? to unpack this puzzle we have to go back to 1948 and think for a second about what was really going on in that moment. the idea of human rights has a long pedigree in human civilization. but as we know them, it really came into its own after world war ii. that's when the united nations began to introduce the new idea of taking principles of human dignity and justice and rights and transforming them into a system of international law. the idea was this law would fit atop the world and protect all of humanity and we couldn't only rely on our governments to give us rights, but we should have a united nations system of international law that would basically stay on top of governance, urged them to do the right thing and protect people's rights from the outside. now, jews were some of the first beneficiaries of this and the reason for it, because of the holocaust.
many supported the cause at the time as a way to say never again. what is interesting about this is, as we popularly understand it, what was the holocaust about? extreme nationalism. extreme racism. we have to find a way to make sure no country can do this again to its citizens. but the same moment was the moment in which there was also this idea of building new nations and new nationstates. the united nations didn't just proclaim universal ideals, it was also the knowledge the nationalism was a good thing. if it had not been, there would be no u.n., because it was a collection of nationstates. and they were deeply involved in building new states after world war ii and one of the states was the state of israel. in this model, the idea is, if you want to protect the people,
you give them a homeland. you give them a nationstate and that state is the way to give them rights and protect them. so for me, these two different images about what nationalism means it begs the question that i really wanted to look at in 1948. so, jews are going through the holocaust and coming out. why did they want a solid nationstate of their own at the same time that they wanted international laws that would undermine it or police it or limited? and if these things are diametrically opposed outcomes, why are jews working at the same moment to do both? the easiest way to answer that is to say, it was different jews. ahtv -- jews never agree on anything. some just wanted a homeland. to say this very crudely, some jews say we want laws to protect everyone, no matter where they are. and others chose the nation.
or, some jews wanted land and guns as a way to protect themselves as a people and create a refuge and others said we want law and ideals. i think in a nutshell, people often struggle with these two different images. it results in the polarization we see today. as i wanted to look into the story, i felt okay, so what are they saying when they speak about human rights and israel in 1948? are they totally different topics or are they linked or not? it turns out when you look more closely, you find a very different story, initially a confusing story but a very fascinating story, that will challenge our assumptions about this process. what i'm going to do is tell the story by talking about two people. one is a man most of you have never heard of, although he was a famous international lawyer. another we just heard about, morris abram. they represent, the two people
in the story, they represent many people but they help us understand what was going on in 1948 and what happened in the decade afterwards, with the complicated interaction between nationalism and internationalism, law and politics and human rights. this story begins with this man. today he is not very well known in america, but if you ask international human rights lawyers, they will tell you he is important. in fact, they will say he is the founding father of international human rights law. some will say he is the greatest international lawyer of the 20th century. he is the man who coined the term, crimes against humanity. he came up with the idea of an international bill of rights. recently, two law professors mentioned him in a book in which they say he was the man single-handedly responsible for the postwar international order, through his writings and
ideas. so i will have slides to illustrate people in the story. he studied law at cambridge, england. here is the international bill of rights of man and some of his writings on the subject. the question is, where did he come up with his ideas? if i told you, you heard me say a few minutes ago, after world war ii there was this big push to talk about rights being protected internationally. where did that come from? most scholars have an answer. he was a jew and from europe, so it was the holocaust. in fact, he grew up in poland. fled to england. lost most of his family during the holocaust. he tried to reach them and contact them during the war and he didn't succeed. he rose up to the career of a
successful international lawyer, then to a judgeship on the international court of justice. many people when they talk about it, they say, he was jewish so of course he was interested in justice. or they say because he suffered nationalism and persecution on the basis of being a minority, he sought to transcend nationalism and fight for all of humanity. because he was somebody who basically had no state of his own, he was able to shed the attachments to status him, to parochialism, to anyone place, and think about just humanity. these are often the theories we hear. there is only one thing wrong with them, that they are not true. this is something that begins to be how this story developed and how the puzzle gets really interesting. i found out these stories were not true when i went off to cambridge, england, to interview his son. he himself
was a distinguished lawyer. at the time he was quite aged and i went to see him in his house. i said i am interested in your father and i don't understand his politics. i understand what happened to him during the war, but what was he doing before that? his son said, everything i know about him i already issued or published. i said, really? he said, well there is a closet. there are a few things left in the closet. why don't you take a look and i will take a nap. he took a terrific nap and i did what all scholars do these days, which is i whipped out my iphone and started frantically taking pictures of paper. what i found in the closet were about jewish politics. it turns out this man also drafted a version -- it turns
out the man who dreamed up the international bill of human rights wrote his first legal paper declaring that the declaration was the greatest step forward in international law that we had ever seen. he cited it as a victory for jews wanting a homeland, as well as international law. it turns out the man who inspired what became the european conditt convention for human rights -- what do you say about the questions of law when it comes to saying we want to build a country over here? it turns out that basically he was not internationalist in spite of being jewish, but he moved out words into these ideas of internationalism and international law. so up here is a few snippets of documents. this is his version of the israeli declaration of independence. i can tell you more about what
happened with it. here is a document in yiddish. he was the founder of an organization called the world union of jewish students, which he launched in 1924 to fight anti-semitism at universities in europe. he said jews need to band together to do this. here is one of his first writings in polish, shortly after 1918, when he survived one of the worst violent attacks against jews in poland . after world war i had happened. it was his hometown. he was a student at the university at the time, studying law. he was a leader in a youth movement of young zionists. he responded to this attack by writing this and saying jews have the right to have their
own hebrew language schools and have recognition in the polish government and if they don't do that, we will go to the international community. even though there is none at this point. and we will demand that someone do something to recognize us. what was really happening here? the answer is, before there was a movement for human rights and a lot of law and lawyers talking, there was something called minority rights. and the starting point for thinking about these issues was what was going on during world war i. because what was going on was a debate about how we are going to draw the map of europe afterwards to protect all of the people who will be stuck on the wrong side of the border. millions of people, if these empires and and we have new countries. poland, hungary, lithuania, and so on. what you do about the people who are not ethnically polish or ethnically hungarian?
the jews were a people spread across eastern europe and beyond, in a unique situation of vulnerability at that point. even after the war was technically over. so what was the solution? the solution was that the league of nations, the precursor to the u.n., would create an international system but to protect and recognize the rights of minorities. more specifically that meant not just freedom from discrimination. you can't discriminate citizens regardless of their identity, religion, nationality. you also have to give them the rights as a minority group to preserve their own cultural, religious and national identities. in theory, their own schools, the right to use their own language and courts. a whole set of legal rights. this is the world in which
lauterpacht starts to think about what global justice means. he says as a person committed to my nation, i want a way to protect it and develop its own identity, otherwise it will be vulnerable to discrimination in these new countries emerging out of the ashes of the empires during world war i. now i mentioned the word zionism a few times and i want to pause and say something about it. many people today, whether they are supportive of israel are critical of israel says zionism means that jews should have a country. maybe there is a religious background , but to be a zionist means that jews should go and live in that country and those who don't should support it. that is true as a definition, but it is a limited definition. the key thing to understand about this story is that for someone like lauterpacht, who spent his nights dreaming about
jewish life in the historic land of israel and planned to move to what is now palestine. planned to move there a couple times. he taught himself beautiful hebrew. nevertheless, he decided that being a zionist doesn't mean to work for a country over there, it also means to protect my national identity over here. making sure there are schools where my children and others can learn hebrew is part of this zionist project and part of reordering the world to make sure jews fit into it. what this means is, when he looked out at the world, there are two ways to protect jews after world war i. one is to give them a homeland. the question of what is going to happen there, i'll say something about, and the terms of the debate about land. but also you would give them
human rights. legal mechanisms to protect them and the international law we have is supposed to guarantee that. this story is a complicated story, but essentially it comes down to one fact. lauterpacht says when the british arrived and kicked out the ottoman turks in palestine and didn't just say it is now a colony, but instead, we are going to create something here through the league of nations and the british and that making multiple promises about this land, but they say there will be a jewish homeland. we are holding this on behalf of the international community. he says that is a step forward for law. previously, countries just waltzed across the globe, took land and held it. now the british say, no, no, no, we are holding this country and we are going to let go of it, essentially. for him this was a crucial step forward that allowed international law to advance into a newer model. that is why his nationalism was part of this moment.
the story of lauterpacht continues and opens out words. in the book i talk about a number of people who emerge from this moment and followed a similar path. many of them were from eastern europe. i argue that this is basically the missing link between what we think of as the rights of man, the ideals during the enlightenment, the american revolution, the french revolution, about the laws of nations and rights. what we think of today as the international system of human rights, guided by law, so on and so forth. the network of people involved in this are people really speaking up. not the only people. but the jews in the story are picking up key building blocks. they brought us the international refugee convention. the genocide convention. the idea of a convention for human rights and most
intriguingly, amnesty international. the kind of first, pioneering right ngo, which goes on to get into a conflict with israel. you might say this is very fascinating. it is confusing, but it is the past. what happened after 1948 if these things were part of the same story? and if human rights were emerging out of these zionist activists, what happened to lead to all of the political politics, polarizations and controversy today? and if these thing were twins, the state of israel and human rights, how did they become estranged and why don't we remember it? they're not -- there are a number of people here. the simple answer is to say there are many opinions. jews have many opinions and jewish lawyers have even more opinions. one of the valuable lessons
from the history is back than they argued and they argued passionately about what was wrong with the world and wrong with human rights, much like we argue today. but there is something else going on and to understand it, you have to look more closely at, first of all, what happened over the course of 1947-1948. lauterpacht, as i mentioned, was deeply involved in working on the legal question about how the jews would declare a state. the united nations is going to divide up this territory and the british are going to hold it. how will we negotiate this and what will happen when that process begins to break down, because already from 1947 onwards there is fighting and the question of whether this would work for all. president truman in this country is very frustrated and nervous and saying it will
never work. other people are saying it is not even legal. there is a legal question. so lauterpacht is involved in that. what he says at this time, is he is actually not worried about israel, because he assumes there is going to be a partition. there might be conflict. eventually the dust will settle and you will have the countries that the u.n. envisioned. he is more worried about human rights. because he thinks already it is being compromised by politics. you can see the quote up here in which he says human rights should not be the object of diplomatic bargaining and political maneuvers. we must guard the borderline between law and most intractable problem of politics. what is he talking about? he is worried that human rights is this great idea that's bubbling up and he's seen where it comes from, but he's already worried it will be undermined, because the great powers. the british.
british citizens at this point, the americans, the french, the soviets, they don't seem really willing. they are talking about human rights, but they don't seem willing to acknowledge that we will bind ourselves into this new world we are talking about. secondly, it is already being used as a political weapon. people are starting to say this is a way for the u.s. to win the cold war and soviets are saying this is a way for us to accuse america of its racism. it is being politicized at this very moment. he is worried about this, because people are beginning to evoke these things and they haven't even agreed to them. he says to a lawyer, the enunciation of a right without a judicial remedy is a legal fallacy. you have to build a legal system that is truly binding, that everyone belongs to. once you do that, you can say what the rights are. the right to this, the right to
that, the right to education, the right to vacation. the right to life, the right to freedom of expression. and he's worried that what is happening at the united nations is, they talk and talk about rights, but they are not actually making sure that this system is going to be obligatory, so it's not a good legal design and therefore it's liable to politics. he's worried that law and politics won't separate enough and he's quite critical and nervous at this point. people ask what is our best option and he says, the judges will save us. he believes if we have an international court, that will help with this, because they will be able to referee these things. he is very nervous about politics. the story of what happens after that is not just about that moment, it is also that things keep changing. the conflict in the middle east, the israeli-palestinian conflict, only intensifies.
for many people when they hear this story, they say okay, it is complicated, but afterwards we know what happens. there is a war in 1967. israel survives and expands its territory and we are in the present state where it ended up. which is to say, grabbing land and then having debates about the human rights questions that go with the reality. these are a whole bunch of images i brought specifically because they are from the far right to the far left and everything in between. human rights and zionism begin to be debated and people begin to argue more and more. some people say that zionism is a biblical promise fulfilled, which means it doesn't matter what the u.n. says. the humans rights issue is secondary. there are also people begin to say the very idea is illegitimate because it is in
violation of international law, so it is therefore a rogue state. further complicating this is a group i haven't mentioned yet, which is palestinians. one of the things that happens in the 60s and after 1967 is the palestinian say we will respond to what's just happened by launching a new kind of militant combat and openly practicing a new kind of terrorism and were going to do it in the name of human rights. they say we are a human rights movement, and because our cause is just, we can use terrorism to pursue it. i don't want to get too distracted. my point is, human rights becomes more and more politicized in this conflict between palestine and the gaza strip and palestinian attitudes towards it. we can talk more about this, but that's not the whole answer. when i began to work on this book, i thought okay, maybe that's the end of the story. then i thought, what is actually happening at the
united nations and what's happening when people argue about these questions as lawyers? and then i realized there is more going on and that is the story i want to turn to, the story of morris abram. what is often missing is the larger context and it's very simple, the cold war. the cold war helps us understand some of how things become so polarized and toxic, when you think about what is happening on the left. here i want to tell you a different story. it also has world war ii ties. as you heard earlier, morris abram is a lawyer at nuremberg. he is crossing paths with lauterpacht, the first lawyer i mentioned. in the circles, these british and american lawyers are meeting. and he is somebody who goes on to become singularly important in the second half of the story, particularly from the 1960s onwards, because he is
the person, as you heard, who goes on to represent the united states at the united nations in many diplomatic capacities, but specifically with human rights from the 1960s onwards. now, i'm not going to rehearse his biography because we got a chance to hear it, but suffice it to say he ended up with a front row seat to this precise moment when this story about human rights and jewish politics is beginning to explode in new ways. and his story actually has a strange twist to it. the twist begins with what happens in germany, right in the closing days of 1959. now if you think back to morris abram, the rough timeline you heard earlier, he is involved in national politics and democratic politics. he is involved that year in civil-rights work and pushing for civil rights in this
country, but he's also alert to something else that happened. a new rising threat. this rising threat is going to interact and intersect with the story about laws and the u.n. and rights and israel. late christmas eve 1959, two men in the german city of cologne defaced the newly dedicated synagogue. here is a picture of the day after. they drew swastikas on the side. they doused the building with paint. then they scrawled an anti- somatic slogan which you can't see in the picture, but, out with the jews. if this had happened, there might've been a newspaper story and it might have blown over. but what happened was over the next five days, swastikas appear on synagogues all across west germany and the words with
them are straight out of the 1930s. jews go home. death to the jews. over the next week, swastikas spread to london, antwerp, paris, new york, other cities in the united states. on january 6, vandals defaced a statue of fdr, president roosevelt, in oslo, norway. with the phrase, the pots jewish peddler. it is strange, but it will come back in our story. meanwhile, in west germany, in a 20 day span, swastikas are appearing all over the place. by january 10, 1960, just two weeks after that first incident, 500 episodes across 34 countries.
over the next several months it would rise to 2500 attacks in 45 countries. this is forgotten today, but this was the first global outbreak of anti-semitism after world war ii and that is why there are some interesting parallels. it was known as the swastika epidemic and people began to debate, what we do about this? british politicians reported the most mail they ever received, demanding the british government do something. there were calls to the u.n. to mobilize an emergency force. some people said maybe west germany is so anti-semitic it no longer belongs -- now what was happening over here with people like morris abram? they were outraged and they didn't know who was behind it, they didn't know what to do about it, but they thought here is the opportunity to put into place what we have been working on for many years.
let's go to the u.n. and try to make the human rights laws that have been developing slowly there and maybe this is the moment where we can use the civil rights law we have been hearing about and debating and arguing about, toward something very concrete, to help us fight this new outbreak of anti- semitism. now, the way they do this, is they go to the u.n. and a bunch of different organizations. and they say to the united nations, if you're serious about human rights, let's do something about it. interestingly enough, this is during 1960, right away the u.n. issues a resolution denouncing anti-semitism and other forms of racial prejudice and intolerance. it receives unanimous approval. it is interesting to note, among the countries that approve it are the egyptians, the sudanese, the soviets, the lebanese, and the polls. then a few months later, the u.n. secretary-general says i am calling up all countries to
do a study of anti-semitism in their country and report back to us so we know how big this problem is. we need to basically get a study of this and then we will talk about creating some kind of law. so this raises the question and the question is one that begins to be urgently debated by morris abram and his colleagues and others in the jewish human rights world, which is, what should we do about the soviet union? the debate centers on this question. on the one hand, the soviet union is a very anti-semitic country at this point. it is publishing propaganda which demonizes the religion of judaism. this picture here, becomes well known as this horrible, conspiracy anti-somatic text, about how these people are
trying to take over the world. about the evils of judaism. there are millions of in the soviet union who are not free to leave and are persecuted. they can't practice their religion and have severe limits on the cultural freedom. just years before, joseph stalin had murdered nearly the entire jewish leadership. intellectuals, writers, he locked them up and murdered almost all of them. plus the soviets are beginning to market propaganda in which they say, in fact, israel and west germany is an alliance of former and knew well neo- nazis. there is a lot going on. the question is, can you use this anti-semitic moment to try to make human rights laws effective or will it only get caught up in the cold war? in fact, to add another twist
to the story, some people, some jewish groups, are asking, maybe this whole thing is a soviet kgb operation. there is debate about this. who is behind it? they arrest some people and they are classic, lowlife vandals. but how could they do this so quickly across the whole world? maybe it is diplomats. maybe it is the soviets. there is a debate about, much like we struggle with anti- semitism today, are there ties between these people? what is driving it? he suspects the soviets have a hand in it and in effect this is the moment to make human rights work by forcing through some major new changes. he is moving through a series of positions in the kennedy and johnson administrations and he ends up as the delegate to the
u.n. commission on human rights at the same time he has stepped into a role with the american jewish committee. what is interesting about this moment is why does he think that going to the u.n. with this explosive topic will succeed, because he knows all this. he says we have just begin to succeed in this country. we have just begun to make major strides in this country and this is a moment where civil rights really began to realize the promise of equality and in spite of the politics in this country, we are able to fight back against segregation and fight for equality. maybe we can do the same thing at the u.n. with anti-semitism and maybe in the process we can make this new human rights law fulfill this promise. he is confident about that and
so confident that at the u.n. when he confronts representatives he says listen, i would like to show you what is possible. he brings the whole commission down to atlanta. diplomats from around the world, especially soviets, if they could just see racial harmony, imperfect but real, in the city with the slogan, too busy to hate. then maybe in spite of political differences, we are able to make human rights grow and expand. while this happened, and these debates, what do we do? slowly working through the u.n. channel is a law that first became a resolution and then a law. it will eventually be known by this title, the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. what is this law? it grows out of that outbreak
of anti-semitism and the idea is, maybe we should have a law to specifically ban hate and start with anti-semitism. by 1962 this law has grown. jamaica plays a huge role in this. jamaica says let's ban racial segregation and apartheid. they are very upset. they just emerged from colonialism. morris abram says absolutely.