Tuesday, May 28, 2024

It’s Tuesday, May 28, 2024. 

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

Part I

A Second “International” Court Rules Against Israel: The Ruling Reveals the False Promise of Global Justice and False Confidence in Politicized Institutions

Once again, we have to begin this week in the international scene, and once again, we have to turn to Israel and its battle against the terrorist group, Hamas. Once again, we’re talking about the action of what is called an International Criminal Court, but we’re going to have to once again look at this very carefully. Just a matter of a few days ago, we considered the fact that the body known as the International Criminal Court located in The Hague, the chief prosecutor had indicated that he would be seeking indictments, criminal indictments against both the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the nation’s defense minister. Now, we talked at the time about the fact that the United States and Israel are not members of the International Criminal Court, nor signatories to the treaty that produced it.

So in one sense, that particular action threatened and perhaps now undertaken by the International Criminal Court is more of a bark than a bite, at least when it comes to the understanding of both the United States and Israel when it comes to that body, the International Criminal Court. But the big mischief here is the fact that there is a certain credibility attached in the modern world to anything called the International Criminal Court. And furthermore, many nations are signatories to the statute that produced it. And so we are looking at the fact that there is a moral challenge presented here, but it tells you something that neither the United States nor Israel has signed the treaty, nor will either recognize the actions of the International Criminal Court. But now we’re talking about the International Court of Justice. Now here’s what gets really complicated. On Friday, the International Court of Justice indicated that it would order Israel to stop military actions in Gaza against Hamas if those actions could not be undertaken without major risks to the loss of life there among the Palestinian people.

Now, the international media reported it basically as an unconditional order by the International Court of Justice, also located in The Hague, by the way, there in the Netherlands. It was presented as an absolute order. The New York Times headline: “UN Court Orders Israel to Halt Some Military Operations in Rafah.” Rafah, of course that city, which is the subject right now of Israel’s action, because it is the last major area there in Gaza where Hamas is deeply embedded. Israel has indicated consistently that it will not stop this military action until it eliminates Hamas as a military threat to Israel.

So as Christians, think about this, there are so many big issues. We have to consider it once. For one thing, we have the alphabet soup of these international organizations, the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice. It was the ICC that threatened the action of prosecution, which would have consequences just a matter of days ago. On Friday, this past week, it was the International Court of Justice. The action there against Israel was instigated by the nation of South Africa. And Israel has plenty of enemies to line up in the International Court of Justice demanding this action or another. But there are other giant worldview issues here. What exactly are these criminal courts? Where do they gain their authority? What is their jurisdiction? How do they operate?

Well, this raises some massive issues of worldview significance. For one thing, after the experience of the 20th century, we should have the understanding as Christians that when you look at the global picture, the one thing you really cannot believe with any credibility is that there can be an international government or an international regime of justice. To put it another way, looking at the 20th century, honestly through Christian eyes, it is easy to understand why there might be people who would want an International Court of Justice or an International Criminal Court. But, given the experience of the 20th century, it’s hard to see how people could honestly say that they believe it could be achieved, either one. But let’s be clear, we are talking about two different courts, and the International Criminal Court does not count the United States or Israel as members and signatories to the treaty or the declaration.

But when it comes to the International Criminal Court, that’s something different, because the International Criminal Court is actually an arm of the United Nations. And the United States and Israel are both parts of the United Nations with the United Nations existing at least largely because of the leadership of the United States after the end of World War II. And the International Court of Justice located there in the Netherlands at The Hague is the only major branch of the United Nations that is not headquartered in New York City. And yet at the same time, there are vast worldview implications to how this court came into existence, what came before it, why that court came into existence, and why its failure underlines something absolutely basic. So first of all, the International Court of Justice is the official court, which is a part of the United Nations.

So date the International Court of Justice to 1945 and actually to 1946 when it began operations. Justices on this court serve for nine-year terms, there is a president of the court. It is supposed to operate at the global level with the authority of the United Nations to settle certain kinds of legal and criminal questions. But there was a precursor court, and this really does get interesting. The impetus behind the creation of a worldwide court of justice goes back to the 19th century where nations including Russia clamored for some kind of international tribunal to help settle disputes among nations. And also there was the idea that there may be certain forces such as terrorist forces, anarchist forces that might cause damage in one country and seek refuge in another.

There ought to be some world court, and of course behind that there would have to be some world police system, that would prevent that from happening, bad people from leaving one country going to another, finding safety in one country in order to continue to threaten yet another. We can understand why there would be a hunger for a certain kind of international justice. But then came World War I, And after the horrors of World War I, there was a clamoring for an International Court of Justice. Who would hold the belligerent nations that started this world conflagration to account? Who would prosecute war crimes? For example, the use of poison gas on the battlefield. Well, at the end of World War I, the body which became known as the League of Nations, and remember the American President Woodrow Wilson was a globalist himself with a big leadership role in creating the League of Nations.

The problem was, the United States Senate did not pass the treaty that would’ve brought the United States into the League of Nations. A major embarrassment to Woodrow Wilson, of course. But that body did create what was known as the Permanent Court of International Justice. So listen to the words, Permanent Court of International Justice, only the word “of” survived the experiences of the rest of the 20th century. As for permanent court, international justice, not so much. First of all, the permanent part. For one thing, the League of Nations ceased to exist. And after the Second World War, the United States did put its national energy behind the creation of the United Nations. And there was after and of course, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, there was a great desire for there to be some achievement of justice.

Now of course, there were war tribunals in both theaters undertaken by the United States and allies, but there was the hope, the institutional hope, that there might be put together some kind of permanent court of justice. After the creation of the United Nations, what had been the permanent court of International Justice became the International Court of Justice.

But let’s think for just a moment about how this works. For one thing, if you do have an International Court of Justice, which is a part of an organization like the United Nations, well you might judge that it couldn’t be any more effective than the United Nations. So let’s ask the question, how effective has the United Nations as an organization been in preventing, say the Cold War in the 20th century? Absolutely ineffective. How effective has the United Nations been in avoiding war all over the world? Fairly ineffective. When you have a nation that is determined to do what breaks, say a treaty or international law, what withholding power does the United Nations have? What threat does it have? Now it’s not nothing. But as you look at the history of the United Nations, it has often been action undertaken by the United Nations that centers in conflicts in discrete areas.

And one thing that tends to make sense as you look at the involvement of the United Nations and those who are mobilized in order to achieve the ends of the United Nations, most of those nations are pretty small. You don’t have United Nations action, for instance, undertaken against say Russia or Germany, China, or the United States of America. Not going to happen. It is in particular not going to happen when a nation has a seat much less a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. And that means, for example, nations such as Britain, Germany, Russia, China, the United States of America, I think you get the theme by now. So while we’re thinking about the relative effectiveness or ineffectiveness of say, the United Nations, much less its International Court of Justice, just consider the fact that there has been no major action taken against Russia after its offensive invasion of Ukraine that broke any number of international laws.

So, so long as your name is Russia, your country is not going to be the focus of concerted United Nations effort. And furthermore, you’re going to just rebuff any authority of the United Nations to tell you what to do anyway. And we need to be honest, the same thing would be true of the United States of America if we believed that our own national security, or national interest were at stake. If you are the President of the United States and you’re presented with the choice, do you defend the national security interest of the United States of America or do you obey some order taken by the United Nations or anybody thereof? Your choice is going to be clear. You’re going to tell the United Nations to take a hike. You might not say that out loud, but by your actions, that’s exactly what you would do. Now, I am certainly not drawing a moral equivalence between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and any action undertaken by the United States, or for that matter, the action now undertaken by Hamas against Israel. It is doing what is absolutely necessary to counter a murderous terrorist threat.

But the United Nations looks at the world quite differently, which is why to be honest, most of us I think understand that the United Nations, or for that matter, the International Court of Justice, might have begun with what we might call understandable historical considerations and a hunger for some way to avoid many of the horrors of the 20th century. The problem is, of course, those same bodies have been relatively ineffectual, if not totally ineffectual in avoiding the horrors of the 21st century. And the lesson has been learned. But just to show you Israel’s predicament in the current situation, let me just mention that the current president of the International Criminal Court is a justice named Nawaf Salam.

Here’s what you need to know. Nawaf Salam is a citizen of Lebanon. Here’s what you need to remember. Lebanon does not recognize the legal existence of Israel. So here you have a court led by a president who is a member of a nation that doesn’t even recognize the nationhood of Israel, and he is the president of the court that has now issued this order against Israel. And you should just know that Israel is going to completely ignore the order. The United States would as well. And major European nations would as well. Russia would, China would. You can pretty much fill out the list yourself. Furthermore, when it comes to the International Court of Justice, it takes actions primarily against nations. And Hamas is not a nation. Hamas is a terrorist, a murderous terrorist organization. Israel has not only the right, it has the responsibility to defeat Hamas as a threat to its own national existence and the lives of its citizens. Just say to yourself, October 7, 2023.

But you’ll notice that it’s not just that Hamas is not recognized within the jurisdiction of this court, and by the way, what moral credibility would a terrorist group give to such a court in the first place? But the president of the court himself represents a nation. And I realize there are people going to say that the justices don’t represent, but when you put a picture of the flag of the nation beside the name, frankly, that’s a very hard argument to make with any credibility. And that nation does not recognize Israel at all. And this president has actually posted on social media statements that deny the legal existence of Israel. Why should Israel pay him and the court he leads any heed? Now, even as I say that, Israel’s now accepting the fact that it undertook a military effort against Hamas there in Gaza near the city of Rafah that led to civilian casualties.

It says that it was responsible. It takes responsibility. It is going to seek to avoid civilian casualties. But remember that Hamas is not a nation. It has not been dragged before the United Nations. It can’t, because it is a terrorist organization. It doesn’t recognize any legal jurisdiction over it, and frankly, it only exists by breaking the laws, not by keeping them. It is Hamas that has embedded the civilians among its own armed personnel in order to require massive civilian casualties if Israel prosecutes an effort against it. Hamas is absolutely committed to the extinction of Israel, and Israel knows it. And even as we’re looking at mistakes made by Israel and to its credit, it is accepting the responsibility for those mistakes, that’s not something a terrorist organization does. We do understand that war is never undertaken with clean hands, but at times the moral imperative is that it must be undertaken.

And quite frankly, Israel is not going to pause what it sees as a necessary effort against an existential threat, in order to placate some kind of international tribunal, which by the way, is toothless, at least when it comes to helping Israel to prosecute its cause against the terrorist threat of Hamas. Where is the United Nations in that sense when you need them? Now, from a Christian perspective, I just want to remind us that our affirmation of what is called subsidiarity, that is the principle that the most basic unit of creation has the greatest moral authority that begins in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 with marriage and the family. We’re just reminded of the fact that inevitably anything that claims to be international, whether it’s an International Criminal Court or an International Court of Justice, or for that matter, the United Nations, it is an abstraction.

It is a place for political debate. It is a place for political intrigue. There might be some good things in terms of humanitarian efforts that can be undertaken, but there is no such reality as a global government, at least not yet. There is no competence for a global government and a global government would be by definition a form of tyranny. God has put within us a hunger for what we would call perhaps even international justice, but he has not given us the means to achieve anything like international justice. When you do have the existence of a body such as what would call itself the International Criminal Court, or the International Court of Justice, there’s the implication that it can achieve justice. And by the way, it’s not to say that everything such a court would do would be wrong in moral terms, but it is to say that the jurisdiction for the current conflict that Israel must prosecute against Hamas, that jurisdiction is not something Israel is going to recognize when the existence of the nation is under threat. And that’s exactly what is the case.

Nor would any of the major European nations now beating up on Israel, act differently if they were the recipient of the same terrorist threat, nor would the United States. Let’s just be clear. And that doesn’t even begin to state the obvious, which is that the autocratic communist and totalitarian states which are already living in abject denial of any kind of international system of justice, they’re not going to be swayed by the name United Nations, the United Nations Security Council, the International Court of Justice, or the International Criminal Court. None of that in the end is going to keep a malevolent nation or a malevolent force from doing the evil that it intends. By the way, just to document one social media posting undertaken by the president of the International Court of Justice, and remember that is Nawaf Salam of Lebanon. On the 48th anniversary of Israel’s independence he tweeted, “unhappy birthday to you, 48 years of occupation.” So let’s just put it this way, so much for the claim of unbiased justice.

Part II

This Is About Lawsuits, Not Serious Law: European High Court of Human Rights Hands Down Decision on Climate Change

But alright, honestly I can’t leave this without one more egregious example. This one, not quite so serious, at least at this point, as matters of life and death. World Magazine reported just recently, “In a landmark decision, the European high court of human rights ruled April the 9th, that nations have a duty to protect their citizens from the effects of climate change.” And so here you have a body known as the European High Court of Human Rights that ruled, remember ruled, the nations have a responsibility to protect citizens from the effects of climate change. Let me just ask the obvious question. How’s that working out? Then what follows is this, “the case was brought by Senior Women for Climate Protection, a group of 2,400 Swiss women whose average age is 74.”

“They argued that because older women are more likely to die in heat waves, Switzerland has a responsibility to help stop global warming by implementing emissions targets listed in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.” Well, we’re told that the court had rejected a similar case from Portugal, but the Swiss case, “sets a legal precedent in the European court and likely will open the door to similar legal challenges in the 46 nations that belong to the Council of Europe.” So just imagine what this really means. This is opening the door not for a major advance in nations fighting so-called climate change, and I’m not denying that climate change is real, but what this really opens the door to is a flood of lawsuits. And as is so often the case, that’s what this is really all about.

Part III

The Politics of Show: The Major Issues Behind the Recognition of a Palestinian State by Spain, Norway, and Ireland

But at this point, we also need to recognize another development last week related to Israel. As the New York Times reported, Spain, Norway and Ireland on Wednesday announced that they would recognize an independent Palestinian state. As the Times said, this is, “a rebuke to Israel that though largely symbolic, reflected, dwindling international patience with its military offensive in Gaza and its decades of occupation of Palestinian territories.”

Well, we need to at least take a look at this. What does it mean that these three European nations, and by the way, they’re hardly insignificant, Spain, Norway and Ireland, what does it mean that they have recognized the legal existence of a Palestinian state? Let me just point out something fundamentally important. This does not create a Palestinian state. You can say that you recognize it, but that does not mean that it exists. There’s The Palestinian Authority, but it has a tenuous grasp upon the West Bank. It was voted out in a vote that took place many years ago now in favor of Hamas, the terrorist organization there in Gaza. The terrorist organization, Hamas has stated emphatically that it will not accept a two-state solution. It doesn’t want a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It demands the elimination, the eradication of Israel.

And so what we’re looking at here is just Western liberal politics. That’s all it is. It’s the politics of show. You have Spain, Ireland and Norway creating a show which is intended to embarrass Israel, but is not going to deter Israel in the slightest from defending its national self-existence against Hamas. And when you look at this, you recognize that even though these nations are likely to say, I can’t say with absolute assurance, but they would be likely to say that they would oppose the efforts undertaken by Hamas. You also have the fact that some of these European nations, they’ve been playing both sides of this game, and one of the nations that’s been doing that for much of the 20th century is Ireland. Remember that Ireland did not even side with the allies against Nazi Germany in World War II. That’s one interesting place to begin.

It’s also important for us just to ask the question, what is a state? How does a state exist when it didn’t exist before? Well, you look at the state of Israel, and it was decided action undertaken by the Jewish people, advocating for a national Jewish state. That was eventually recognized partly because of the horror of the Holocaust and World War II by the United Nations in adopting a plan for the existence of Israel. But one of the reasons Israel exists is because Israel had to win a war of independence against hostile Arab nations. The United Nations had proposed a two-state solution, but the Arabs would not accept the existence of Israel. And so Israel’s been on the defensive ever since it was created in 1948 and 1949. And at the same time, you recognize that one of the reasons Israel exists as a state is because Harry Truman, the President of the United States, granted Israel almost immediate diplomatic recognition by the United States of America.

And you look at that in its context, that was a decisive action. That’s not to say that Israel exists only because of the United Nations, although you can’t take the United Nations out of it. You can’t say that Israel survived only because of the recognition of the United States, that would be to over claim, but neither of those actions was insignificant. But Israel has operated as a legitimate state ever since then. It had to prove itself to be competent as a state. And quite frankly, it has had to defend itself in unusually hostile territory. And under unusual constant threats, it’s had to defend its own self-existence. It is a state. There is no parallel structure on the other side in terms of the Palestinian controversy. That is not to say that the Palestinians should have no rights. It’s not to say that a two-state solution is absolutely insane.

It is to say that there is no conceivable situation in which a two-state solution is a reasonable answer to the current predicament there in the Middle East. And even as there are those in the United States government who say they’ll only be satisfied with a two-state solution, and even as you have European nations and others demanding this now and perhaps convincing themselves that they’re making a contribution to that end by recognizing, they say, the existence of a Palestinian state. Let’s just state the obvious, that does not create a legitimate state. That does not create a legitimate government. That does not create a national entity with recognizable and rational borders. It certainly does not create a state alongside Israel. Israel knows that. Hamas knows that. This is certainly a conversation that will continue, but at the very least, we need to demand that it is a conversation that is honest.

Part IV

International Tribunals: When You Need Them, They Aren’t There — But When They Are There, Watch Out

I’ll also end by affirming in a very different way the importance of that Christian principle of subsidiarity. I remember a cartoon years ago it was published showing a little boy who was being carted off by an angry parent and the little boy, likely facing some kind of deserved punishment, was simply crying out that he wanted to appeal his case to the United Nations. It was funny because you look at that and say, “Well, kid, good luck with that,” if you know what I mean. But that’s exactly how we should look at much of the conversation about the United Nations or the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice or the European Court, the high court of human rights.

When you look at it, it is like that little boy. You can cry out for rescue by one of these global bodies, but as is so often the case when you need them, they’re not there. And when they’re there, you don’t need them.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter or X 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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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