Tuesday, January 30, 2024

It’s Tuesday, January 30, 2024.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What Exactly is the International Court of Justice? What of Its Judgment of Israel?

There have been some very big developments in Israel’s war against Hamas right now being fought out mostly in the territory known as Gaza. And the big development that took place that we need to talk about first did not take place there at all, but rather in the Netherlands at the Hague. It was there that the body known as the International Court of Justice on Friday handed down a ruling. Now, at this point, that’s the best thing to call it, a ruling, not so much a verdict, but a ruling, saying that it was plausible that Israel was guilty of genocide against the Palestinian people in the military effort there in Gaza. And furthermore, it called for an immediate ceasefire. Now, there was no immediate ceasefire and the United States did not come out and condemn Israel in light of the International Court of Justice’s action.

Indeed, a lot of nations have been absolutely silent on this. So what exactly did happen? Why is this a big story and what’s the story behind the story? Let’s unpack this. Number one, is it a big story? Of course, it’s a big story. You have an international body, that is deeply rooted in international law, that is stating that Israel–plausibly–is guilty of genocide. There’s so much loaded there. But we also need to recognize that the court called for an immediate ceasefire, but the ceasefire hasn’t happened and the court’s ruling was very clear. So why hasn’t it happened? It’s because Israel is not about to listen to the International Court of Justice about whether or not it will defend itself. In the immediate historical background of this is the fact that the charges against Israel were brought by another nation. That nation is South Africa. And South Africa brought the charges of genocide against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

The criminal court, let’s just remind ourselves, did not render a verdict. A verdict in this kind of case, by this kind of body, is going to take a matter of years, but it did hand down what is intended to be an immediate order telling Israel to honor a ceasefire in Gaza. It didn’t deter Israel in the slightest. And then again, as I said, it ruled that it’s plausible. Just consider just how thin that word is, plausible that Israel’s committed genocide. Now, why South Africa? Well, for a couple of reasons, internal and external. The external reason for South Africa is that during the years of the struggle against apartheid on the part of the Black majority in South Africa, the liberationist movement that led to that end of apartheid as it was known, that is legal segregation separation of the races there in South Africa, and that also meant with the history of white minority rule. The majority there during the years of its struggle against apartheid, it found common cause with the Palestinians in a similar kind of argument.

And this is one of the factors that really played onto the world stage in the last half of the 20th century. You had so many of these groups that styled themselves as liberationist groups, and undoubtedly some of them actually were, they made common cause with one another and they saw their efforts as being linked in some very real way. But we also need to recognize there were Marxist links and ideological links that also combined them. Now, by the time you fast forward, you have an internal reason too, and it’s the same internal reason for so many of the things among the Palestinians, and that is official corruption in their government. The government of South Africa, and now apartheid’s very much in the past, but the current government is very much accused of corruption. And furthermore, there are all kinds of political controversies and scandals. And this is, according to some internal sources in South Africa, an effort to divert the conversation. Let’s not talk about the problems in our government, let’s shift the attention to Israel.

But the most important thing is that there has been this common cause and it has linked causes from Cuban Marxism, to the Palestinian cause, to South African liberation. You can just go down the list, this was very much a part of the second half of the 20th century, and the legacy continues now. So that’s the immediate historical routage here. South Africa brought the charge against Israel. No real surprise there. The International Criminal Court made up of 15 judges, but 17 judges ruled. The reason for that is according to the rules of the International Criminal Court, there are 15 permanent judges. And if you have two nations facing off, each of those nations may appoint a judge. So you add two that were appointed by the two parties and you get from 15 to 17. And this was a ruling that, as I said, had the two parts: plausible that Israel’s committed genocide, and calling for an immediate ceasefire. The court has ordered, but nothing’s happened. And in order to understand that we need to open a far larger historical context.

But before we go any further, perhaps it would also be important to ask the question, what validity does the United States of America grant to the International Criminal Court? And the answer to that, and maybe you know this already, maybe you’ve anticipated the question. You just need to know the answer to the question is the United States of America does not recognize the International Criminal Court. Period. In an explainer offered by National Public Radio about this court, and this was published years ago, the National Public Radio staff reported that according to the United States of America, the International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority. That’s quite three strikes right there. No jurisdiction, no legitimacy and no authority.

But why is there an International Criminal Court and why doesn’t the United States recognize it? Well, the answer as to why it exists doesn’t go back to, just say the last half of the 20th century, it goes back to the last year or the last two years of the 19th century. It goes back at least to 1899 when an international call came out for an international tribunal to be established. And eventually it was. And here’s one of those ironies I just have to point out to listeners of The Briefing. The name of the court that was established was the Permanent Court of International Justice established 1899. But historians will also reveal that it was dissolved in 1945. So the Permanent Court of International Justice wasn’t so permanent after all. But the big historical break that came in 1945 was the establishment of the United Nations after the end of World War II.

Now, remember this, the United States was very big in terms of the formation of the United Nations. Such a major factor, that it was the major factor. And that explains why, for example, the United Nations is headquartered in New York City, not somewhere halfway around the world. But at the same time, the United States did not then, and does not now recognize the jurisdiction of these international courts. And there’s a good Christian observation to be made here. A Christian worldview principle, I often refer to subsidiarity, the fact that the greatest truth, the greatest flourishing, the greatest benefit is in the smallest unit. And the way that plays out in terms of the Christian worldview, just where the water hits the wheel, is that you’re a lot more likely to get justice from a court in your community than you are from a court that claims global status. And that’s simply because that’s the way justice works. And by the time you get to one of these, so-called international tribunals, you are basically arriving at some kind of proximate justice that almost always comes down to a politicized context.

So if the United States does not recognize that the court has jurisdiction, legitimacy, or authority, why do the national media make so much of this so-called ruling by this International Court of Justice? And the reason is because it plays into international politics, it plays into national politics here in the United States. Many on the international level recognize that one of the goals of bringing this court case, was to bring political pressure on the United States to bring political pressure on Israel. Is that likely to happen? Well, no doubt there is a lot of political pressure on the United States, and there is even more political pressure on Israel in this case. But Israel is determined as Israel has always been determined to fight for its own existence. And it’s also the case that Israel, in terms of the matter of whether or not it is going to live or die, it doesn’t recognize the International Court of Justice as having that kind of jurisdiction.

When it comes to this attempt to embarrass, by the way, we need to really underline the fact that the use of the word genocide here is of incredible moral significance, coming, of course, just days before Holocaust Remembrance Day. An actual genocide was carried out, and it was carried out in the 20th century against the Jewish people on a scale that remains unimaginable. The murder, the intentional murder of millions of Jewish people simply because they were Jewish, with the intention of eliminating the Jewish race. That is, by definition, what genocide is. That’s a very different reality than what is playing out right now in Gaza. That’s not to deny that the people in Gaza are suffering. And as we had pointed out, they are suffering not only because of Israel’s military action, they are suffering because of the political corruption of their own leaders and the fact that Hamas, this Islamist terrorist organization, intentionally has embedded civilians where they are put at greatest risk.

Part II

Israel Reveals UNRWA Workers Aided Hamas Attacks on Israel: Israel’s Fight for Its Existence Proves to Be More Complicated by the Day

But next, while we’re speaking about international organizations, we need to recognize another very, very big story. And this one has to do with an international group also connected to the United Nations as one of its agencies, and it is known as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Now, it has only one cause that serves only one purpose, and that is to represent the United Nations in humanitarian efforts in the areas of Palestine, as they call it, that are occupied by Israel, in particular West Bank, but even more emphatically in Gaza.

Now, here is the big headline news, and when it comes to moral significance, this is massive. Israel made the charge, and it backed up this charge with rather undeniable evidence. The staff members paid by the United Nations not only supported the Hamas deadly attack upon Israel on October the seventh, but some of the personnel actually participated in the murder of Israeli citizens. Now, when you think about big news, it’s hard to imagine news bigger than this. And because of that, the United States has paused, that’s an important word there, paused funding of this group known as the UNRWA. Again, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. And the action undertaken by the United States to pause this funding has now been joined by other nations including major European nations such as France, and Great Britain. As of the start of this week, at least nine countries had paused funding of this agency there in Gaza. And by Saturday, Germany, a very big factor in these cases, had also landed on a pause until the moral responsibility and the reality on the ground can be unwound.

But what’s really interesting to note is that United Nations authorities, including the head of this agency, they certainly didn’t offer any categorical assurance that their personnel were not involved, again, not only in plotting and supporting, but actively in killing on October the seventh. But we need to recognize that there is another huge backstory here. And that huge backstory is the fact that the United Nations through this agency, that only works in these specific territories, it has been accused of active complicity with Hamas in antisemitism, in teaching hatred of the Jews in schools, in fomenting all kinds of corrupt activity and terrorist support. There is really nothing new here. That’s the reason why the Trump administration also put a rather long pause on this funding. And actually it was paused when the Biden administration came into power. President Biden lifted that pause on funding, and well, now you can see one of the results.

The Wall Street Journal reporters that dealt with the story just days ago said this, “The allegation against UNRWA staff dealt a blow to the agency during a politically sensitive period at a critical time for the agency as Republicans in the United States and Israeli politicians have long accused the agency of pro-Palestinian bias.” Well, if anything, that’s an understatement. There are those credibly accusing this agency of working hand in hand with Hamas. And there are also credible reports of millions upon millions of dollars that have gone through the agency to Hamas itself. Remember, one of the most deadly Islamist terrorist groups on planet earth.

But then at the same time, you had the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, many other major media around the world, reporting on the fact that Israel is finding it nearly impossible to shut down that tunnel system that Hamas has built under Gaza. And it’s estimated remember to be about 80 to a hundred miles. One of the big questions raised by international authorities is where in the world did Palestinians get the money to build that kind of tunnel structure? Let me just put a pause on this and ask you, if you discovered that 80 to 100 miles of workable tunnels in order for terrorists to live and to plan and plot their attacks and to do commerce and to smuggle things in, if you discovered 80 to 100 miles of tunnels, wouldn’t you wonder where the money had come from to build that incredibly large infrastructure?

Well, Israel, and increasingly the United States are pointing to this United Nations relief agency and saying, “Well, maybe a lot of the missing millions, are actually in tunnels, under the surface of the earth there in Gaza.” At this point, I think it’s fair to say the most important aspect of this story is there in terms of the future of Israel and Israel’s fight against Hamas. But it’s also very important for us to recognize that all of these issues are going to play into the 2024 United States presidential election. There’s simply no way around it. And a third story we deal with today underlines the importance of these issues and the fact that we are talking about life and death. And increasingly the United States is being drawn whether we like it or not, and certainly we don’t like it into this conflict.

Part III

We Need More from President Biden: The Attacks Upon the U.S. Cannot Go Without a Strong Response

And over the weekend, the death of three US troops in Jordan and the injury of many more including serious injuries by a drone strike undertaken, it is believed from within Iraq, backed by Iran, this now threatens to draw the United States and our military directly into the conflict.

But there is a huge debate going on right now and it’s mostly, we should note taking place, it appears, within the Biden administration and within the Democratic Party, as to whether or not there should be a decided military effort and whether that military response should be directed towards Iran itself, which is undeniably behind all of this, or rather than that towards one of its assets or proxies in terms of other groups, including terrorist groups inside Iraq. The attack on what is known as Tower 22, that’s an American installation and it’s an American installation that has supported the war against terror. That attack was unprovoked and it was an attack against a military target to be sure, but one that was not actively involved in combat. Now, there’s embarrassment here on the American side. How did this drone get through with such deadly effect, and that deadly effect was amplified by the fact that the drone hit a residential facility there in the military compound known as Tower 22, in Jordan.

Now, if you look at a map and you see where it is, it is almost there on the border with Iraq and you can see just how close it is also to Iran. This is very dangerous territory. Now, the United States military can’t be on the alert against everyone, every place, all the time. The forward placement of American military personnel assumes certain risks, and those risks were certainly underlined in a very tragic way with the death of these three American service members and the very serious injury that was inflicted upon others. And more about that we will certainly learn in days to come. The president spoke of this attack in starkly moral terms. He said the United States would respond in a time and in a means of our choosing. But the President of the United States, Joe Biden, has not responded in this case or in previous cases with the kind of aggressive, clear, response that is likely to send the message that the United States must send.

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, I think rightly said on Monday, “It was bound to happen eventually, as President Biden was warned repeatedly, a drone or missile launched by Iran’s militia proxies would elude US defenses and kill American soldiers. That’s what happened Sunday as three Americans were killed and 25 wounded at a US base in Jordan near the Syrian border. The question now [say the editors] is what will the commander-in-chief do about it?” Now, the way that question is framed is underlined just a few paragraphs later when the editors point out that President Biden has thus far allowed about 150 attacks upon American interests there, and especially as undertaken by Iran’s proxies, without any direct action against Iran.

Now, you may recall, and this is rather embarrassing to the administration, that the administration actually went through a soap opera of what it would do to release money back to Iran that had been impounded. And it assured us that that money would not go to nefarious purposes. We talked about the flimsiness of that argument at the time, but the Wall Street Journal is summoning all of this in order to say, “Look, the president of the United States as the commander in chief, cannot fail to act when there is a direct military attack upon not only American interests but American personnel there in this installation known as Tower 22.” We’ve also had attacks coming from the Houthi rebels directly upon not only shipping that has an American interest, but upon vessels of the United States Navy. And just to state the obvious, if you are a nation and you intend to preserve yourself, the United States needs to take a lesson from Israel in this case, you can’t let direct attacks go without a direct answer.

Now, to be sure, this is a complicated situation, and military analysts are in the best position to say what would be most effective against Iran. But whatever it is, it’s going to have to be understood as an action against Iran. Whether it’s a direct attack upon Iranian military installations or interests or not, it’s going to have to be a very clear moral signal that the United States has acted to retaliate against the Iranian backing of this kind of effort. And as you’ll recall, we just said, it is in multiple places, and one of those places we need to recognize is Hezbollah in the north of Israel, Hamas right now, especially in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen and many of these other groups including remnants of the Islamic state operating as Iranian proxies in Iraq and elsewhere.

Part IV

Florida and the American Future: How the Vast Growth of the State Population Reveals the Shape of American Politics

But now with the time that remains, I want to come back to the United States and in particular to the state of Florida. And it is from Florida that I am speaking to you. Florida is my home state. I was born here in the year 1959. The population of Florida in 1960 was just under 5 million. Now, hear that again. When I was an infant here in Florida, the population of the entire state was less than 5 million. As of 2020, the census revealed that the population of Florida is not only growing, but it had already reached almost 22 million people. So from 5 million people to 22 million people in about 60 years. The reason I’m raising this issue today is to talk about Florida as a microcosm of American culture and American politics. A very interesting test case. Florida is a decidedly red state when you think about red and blue America.

It was not always so. When I was very young, Florida was under the control of the Democratic party, but those Democrats were very, very conservative. Figures such as Curtis Peterson from Lakeland, Dempsey Barron from the Panhandle. They were the lions of the Florida Senate. And Florida governors were pretty much cut out of the same cloth. Most of them were rather conservative or moderate Democrats, not so much like the Democratic Party that you see in 2024. But the same revolution that brought a Republican majority to so much of the South, which had been so solidly democratic for decades, it finally reached Florida as well. And Florida has been growing from 5 million to 1960 to over 22 million now. It has been growing certainly by birth rate, reproduction, certainly, but that’s not the major issue. The major issue is people moving from other parts of the United States to Florida.

Now, why would they do that? Well, for one thing, let’s just state the obvious, climate. And that’s something I just grew up taking for granted. But there’s something else to that, and that has to do with Florida’s low regulation status and the fact that it doesn’t have a state income tax. Now, it’s not true to say that Florida doesn’t have taxes. Of course it does. Otherwise it couldn’t support itself, it couldn’t have roads, couldn’t have all the things that a state has to have. But Florida has much less expense invested. For example, even as it has some of the best universities in the nation, it doesn’t spend the kind of money that you see in other states. Just compare Florida and California.

And the debate that took place symbolically, but also actually between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and California Governor Gavin Newsom a matter of months ago, it just underlined the fact that you are looking at two Americas. Blue America has a capital that, well, might be California and Red America has a capital that, well, might be Florida. We have cause to look at some of the issues of controversy and the cultural conversation here in Florida having to do with such things as whether books should be taken out of public libraries, whether social media bans should be put in place for teenagers. There’s some really huge issues here, vast worldview significance. But the significance I want to point to you right now is the fact that a lot of Florida’s population growth is not because of climate, and it’s not just because of taxes, although those things are certainly related. It is to do with the fact that there are a lot of people in other states that are drawn to Florida for its politics. This is sometimes referred to as a sort.

You have liberals, they decide, well, I want to live among other liberals, so I’m going to move to California. And now again, before Californians get up in arms, I know there are a lot of conservative Californians, but let’s face it, you are outnumbered. And there are people that simply want to go live in a place like Hollywood or Beverly Hills or Hollywood Hills or somewhere like that, where they can live among people who agree with them. And that means that at least until recently, they’ve stayed out of places like Orange County, although now they’re moving into much of Orange County in the San Diego area as well. But in Florida, well, you’re looking at a lot of people moving to this state because they want to live with other conservative people. They want to live among them. And you also see it sorting by ways that include generational, with many communities basically being designed for persons who are retiring, say in the high taxation north, moving to the low taxation state of Florida. And in many cases, they can live in a community with people who are generally like-minded.

We are really living in interesting times. We’re not only living in a time in which you have red and blue America on an electoral map. Increasingly, you’re looking at red and blue America, when you look at the neighborhood, when you look at the map, when you look at the population figures, because those are increasingly correlated with the election results. Oh, and by the way, the context of COVID certainly helped to underline these differences. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was declaring Florida to be the free state of Florida, and it was much more open than most other states. But just to state the contrast, again, it was extremely more open than the state of California, which relieved some COVID restrictions just last week. Americans increasingly sort ourselves by voting preferences, by climate preferences, taxation preferences, and for that matter also worldview preferences. And as we try to think in terms of how worldviews work, well, they work in one sense, that helps to explain why some people are moving from one state to another. It’s not only a physical shift, it’s a shift at least in part driven by worldview, explicitly, as well.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I’m speaking to you from Fernandina Beach, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow, for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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