The Fatal Post World War II Contradiction

Lawrence Davidson delves into the history behind the founding of Israel as a European settler state and how it came to see international law as a danger to defy and overcome.

May 2021: A child filming a protest for Palestine in Amman, Jordan, after the forced expulsion of families in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, and Israel’s recent deadly airstrikes on Gaza. (Raya Sharbain, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

By Lawrence Davidson

Human Beings are not showing off their best abilities of late. They appear to have mostly failed when it comes to climate change. For instance, “By 2100, average temperatures in the U.S. are expected to increase by approximately 8°F or more (4.4°C)” if the current high rate of greenhouse gas emissions is maintained. 

If “immediate and rapid greenhouse gas reductions” are achieved we can keep the warming down to “approximately 2.5°F (1.4°C).” Given our lack of international institutions with the capability of enforcing agreements and treaties, which do you think is more likely?

Actually, we have been coming up short like this for a while. I am going to give you an example that almost no one recognizes. It constituted an opportunity, a window, to transform the planet’s state system and expand its legal code so as to assure relative peace and cooperation into the future.

As we will see, nation states actually started down this civilizing road right after World War II. However, they failed to carry through and have landed back in the mire of barbarism and near continuous war. So much for love for our children and concern for their future. 

Here is the story of this lost opportunity:

World War I & Palestine 

From 1914 till 1918, the Western “civilized” countries fought World War I. Besides the trench warfare, use of poison gas, and the introduction of such modern killing machines as tanks and machine guns (updated gatling guns), the war was fought as a consequence of alliance entanglements and to realize imperial and colonial ambitions.

As an example of the latter, take the 1917 promise given by the British government of a “national home” in Arab Palestine for Europe’s persecuted Jews. This is known as the Balfour Declaration and is a case of an ambitious Western imperial power (Great Britain) promising a European ethnic group land in the Middle East — land that, at the time, belonged to yet another empire, the Ottoman Empire. 

This was not as crazy as it seems: (1) The British saw the Jews as potential wartime allies. (2) The British were at war with the Ottomans, and planned on winning. (3) Victory would expand their empire so as to include Palestine. (4) So why not start passing out somebody else’s imperial property which, one hoped, would soon be the spoils of your victory?

Abdulmejid II, center, the last caliph of the Ottoman Empire, in 1924, surrounded by the official delegation that came to inform of his dethronment. (Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

At the time, and indeed, throughout the following interwar period, very few in the West saw anything wrong with this imperial sleight of hand. 

The goal of expanding empire was supported by a centuries-old belief that national greatness was to be measured in terms of lands subjugated, ruled over and in some cases, colonized. 

In the West, there was the added assumption that Western rule was beneficent, it spread civilization. Therefore, Western populations in general saw nothing ethically or morally wrong with this situation.

“The goal of expanding empire was supported by a centuries-old belief that national greatness was to be measured in terms of lands subjugated, ruled over and in some cases, colonized.” 

At the time, British leaders tried to explain this logic to the Arabs of Palestine. Winston Churchill, then the British colonial secretary, held a meeting with local Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem in April 1921.

He told them that Zionism, the movement for a Jewish national home that involved the colonization of Palestine, “would enrich the country and they [the Arabs] shall share in the progress.” (For more, see page 43 of my 2001 book, America’s Palestine from University Press of Florida.)

We know now that this was not going to happen, but at the time Churchill probably believed what he said: a rising tide floats all boats.

Winston Churchill, second from right, and Emir Abdullah of Transjordan, fourth from right, in Jerusalem, March 1921. (U.S. Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

It is important to note that at this time there were no international rules against imperialism or colonialism. Thus, a European power could proceed to control foreign lands, as Edward Said put it, in “flat disregard of both the presence and wishes of the native majority residents.” The assumption was that the natives just did not know what was good for them. 

Europe’s Jews, though long the victims of “Christian civilization,” shared the Western sense of cultural superiority and, predictably, this attitude had consequences when Zionists came to Palestine.

Indeed, the Palestinians were about to inherit the status of second-class human beings that Europe’s Jews were trying to throw off.

Thus, it was with no ethical or moral qualms whatsoever that, in 1943, Chaim Weizmann, leader of the World Zionist Organization (and the same man to whom Balfour had promised a “national home” in Palestine), categorically told the personnel of the U.S. State Department’s Division of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) that “Palestine could never be an Arab land again.” (See page 150 of America’s Palestine.) 

Weizmann (left) with Faisal I of Iraq in Syria, 1918. (Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

The NEA personnel thought this was hubris on Weizmann’s part. Alas, within five years, the fledgling Zionist lobby in the U.S. used its influence with President Harry Truman to have those State Department personnel who disliked Zionism transferred or forcibly retired.

Things Changed After World War II

Now let us step forward to review the status of world affairs from 1945-1950. We are a mere 28 years from 1917, yet now we find that things have radically changed. World War II had largely bankrupted even the winners, and the horrors of Nazi atrocities had seriously scared almost everyone. 

“Europe’s Jews, though long the victims of ‘Christian civilization,’ shared the Western sense of cultural superiority.”

As a consequence of near bankruptcy, imperialism and colonialism lost some of their luster. Impoverished by the war, Western populations were not willing to continue to pay exorbitant taxes to support their empires.

This, in turn, led the West’s political leadership, some quicker than others and some only after bloody colonial wars, to start to move in the direction of decolonization. This was particularly true for Great Britain.

The British Empire, upon which “the sun never set,” the largest of the Western colonial enterprises, transformed itself into a commonwealth. This act created many new independent states and allowed free movement of labor within the commonwealth. In an unprecedented fashion this transformed England into a multi-racial, multi-ethnic country.

Simultaneously, the horrors of World War II, ranging from the Holocaust to the use of nuclear weapons, encouraged an effort to put limits on the behavior of nation states. As a consequence, international law was rapidly expanded:

Treaties and “universal declarations” were drawn up, outlawing the behaviors of the Nazis. By treaty, genocide was outlawed and eventually made a crime against humanity.

  1. The Fourth Geneva Convention was created to “deal with humanitarian protections for civilians in a war zone.”
  2. An International Court of Justice at the Hague was established. Now complemented by the ICC.
  3. Finally, there was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, according to Eleanor Roosevelt, represented “a great event in the life of mankind.” It guaranteed, among other things, the right of every individual to “live their lives freely, equally and in dignity.”

Window cleaner at work outside the U.N. Secretariat building in September 1951. In the background, the General Assembly Hall, then under construction, and the buildings of Midtown Manhattan. (UN Photo/JG)

[Related: Craig Murray: Activating the Genocide Convention and  Palestinians Sue US Leaders for Aiding Israel’s Genocide and  Invoking the Genocide Convention Against Israel]

In essence, Nazi crimes had so shaken up the public and its leaders that the result was international laws and declarations that offered a guide to a better world — a set of new standards of civilized behavior. Unfortunately, hopes for enforcement through the new United Nations would prove a serious problem.

The U.N. was hobbled by the Security Council veto of World War II’s victors and it lacked an independent source of income.  At the time there was an innovative suggestion that sovereignty over the oceans and their resources be given to the U.N., but this never came about. Instead, the U.N. had to rely on state membership dues.

The Unforeseen Contradiction

Almost immediately, this new world potential would be undermined by an inherent contradiction — the colonial ambitions of World War II’s principal victims. 

This takes us back to the Zionist movement and British promise of a national home. In 1948, the Zionists achieved their ends and declared the State of Israel.

Unfortunately, the founding of a European settler state, and Israel’s subsequent behavior, contradicted the post World War II spirit of decolonization, though few but the Arab states noticed. Eventually, the contradiction would prove fatal to the post World War II reforms.

One can speculate that there existed a slim chance that Israel’s leaders would overcome the contradiction by following the path laid out by the new treaties and declarations. There were Jews known as “cultural Zionists” who wished to establish a religious and cultural center for Jews in Palestine, while urging the founding of a democratic, bi-national, Jewish-Palestinian state.

As It turned out, the Zionists who led Israel chose not to pursue this path. Why not? Their recent history made them ethnocentric to a fault — driven back upon themselves by horrible discrimination, reaching the point of genocide.

Under these circumstances it made no difference that the Palestinians, and Arabs in general, had nothing to do with this near fatal period of European Jewish life. The “new Jewish personality” to be bred in Zionist Israel was to be aggressive and exclusionist. So, these incoming Europeans had (and still have) the goal of creating a state for their group alone. 

This was the exact opposite path of the one represented by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Surrounded by an indigenous “other,” the only way you can achieve your exclusive state is through discriminatory practices and laws. Thus, Israel became a state that saw international law as a danger, something to be defied and overcome.

More often than not, this effort was supported by Israel’s major ally, the United States — which had its own settler/colonial history.

Palestine & Our Future

A Palestinian man in the wreckage of an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on Oct. 9. (Palestinian News & Information Agency, or Wafa, for APAimages, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

In the post-1948 era, Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonialism became seen in the West as terrorism. And sometimes it was. But keep in mind, as a general principle, it is the tactics of the oppressor that creates the context for the tactics of the oppressed.

The disproportionate acts of revenge carried out by Israel in response to early cross-border incursions of the Palestinians, together with Israel’s massive advantage in weaponry which made impossible a classic guerrilla war, led to the acts of terrorism used at certain periods of Palestinian resistance.

[Related: Craig Murray: The Right of Self-Defense]

Nonetheless, what most Palestinians have always desired, besides a state of their own, is racial-ethnic equality, and religious freedom under the rule of law — the same things post World War II treaties and declarations stood for.

Thus, symbolically at least, the Palestinian struggle stands for that better world that so many — including the Jews — said they wanted at the end of World War Two.

“As a general principle, it is the tactics of the oppressor that creates the context for the tactics of the oppressed.”

The Israelis, through their exclusion and persecution of the Palestinians, have taken a definitive stand against such a better future. Indeed, there is now an ongoing effort — an ongoing Zionist project, to move the world backward so that past colonist/racist practices are once more acceptable.

The unsettling truth is that in its effort to turn the clock back, Israel seems to be having its way. In the rest of the world, particularly the Western world, government and diplomatic bureaucracies are either silent about Israeli behavior or actively supporting it. Such positions erode international laws and conventions — exactly what the Zionist Israelis desire.

Supporting De-Civilization 

As the Israelis drag the world backward into a racist pre-progressive era, the U.S. follows and financially subsidizes the effort. American taxpayers are therefore helping to pay for a process of de-civilization. 

Some readers might think this is hyperbole, but it is not. Israel’s present genocidal action in Gaza should clearly demonstrate just how low the Zionist state has fallen. Its behavior is so far beyond a reasonable reply to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack (which itself was an act of revenge for Israel’s impoverishment policies of Gaza) that it is simply self-imposed blindness to deny its criminal nature.

Israel’s mass destruction in Gaza is one of the worst criminal acts committed by a state since World War II. 

For those illogical enough to think it is anti-Semitic to point out such enormous Zionist sins, I would point to the growing number of Jews in the Diaspora who condemn Israel’s actions. I take my stand with them.

Israel is not representative of all Jews. And Israel’s goals and leadership arguably represents a betrayal of the best of Jewish values.  In this strange convoluted way, the real enemy of the Jews are the Zionists.

Let’s end by taking a quick look at a list of 74 countries adhering to the U.N. charter. This is the so-called Multilateralism index and it ranks how these countries adhere to the United Nations’ Charter and its goals.

Guess who is at the very bottom? You got it, the United States of America. Guess who is second to last? Right again. It is Israel. Enough said.

[Related: US & Israel Dead-Last in Following UN Charter]

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010. 

This article is from his site,

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

16 comments for “The Fatal Post World War II Contradiction

  1. CaseyG
    December 7, 2023 at 20:48

    Then Israel came—NAKBA came too
    Britain gave land –unlawful rule.
    Palestine existed
    Israel persisted–.
    Palestine—survives—Israel the ghoul

  2. Judith Dyer
    December 6, 2023 at 13:46

    “Israel’s mass destruction in Gaza is one of the worst criminal acts committed by a state since World War II. ”
    An obvious fact not to be excused or forgotten…
    But, they will get away with it.
    Palestinians in Gaza, The West Bank and even as Israeli “citizens” will continue to be obliterated.
    When I have tried to discuss what I have learned about this, some say, “but what can you do about it? ” Or. “it’s hopeless…why bother?” Or, “who cares about people, animals are better. ”

  3. Burt
    December 6, 2023 at 13:21

    Why adhere to any international standards of justice when you have GOD on your side commanding you to not let live anything that breathes? The same God that promised to you the land as if God were some divine real estate agent.

  4. December 6, 2023 at 12:48

    “American taxpayers are therefore helping to pay for a process of de-civilization. ”

    Altogether too true – but not willingly. I will take my revenge in November.

  5. Selina Sweet
    December 5, 2023 at 22:32

    Thank you for this history much of which I never had learned. All but 13 members of the House voted recently for the resolution that equates anti semitism with anti Zionism. They could have used this history lesson prior to the vote. But given the power of AIPAC in influencing American elections, and the House members discriminatory powers to parse the difference being dulled by the magnetism of which side their bread is more lavishly buttered with do-re—me (half of them are millionaires), the intellectual effort much less the will to actually learn and be challenged by such an essay just didn’t seem that important. Probably. Why work and not get something that boosts your re-election stats? Besides morality and that thing called ethics are in the same land of that touchy-feely compassion stuff, men are men still. Not pussies. Guns are King! Bombs their Barons. Man oh man those cluster bombs rock! Sick. Seriously.

  6. Susan
    December 5, 2023 at 19:41

    Just goes to show you cannot count on humans to solve problems without violence and war…

  7. December 5, 2023 at 16:02

    What a wonderful, insightful comment – “The real enemy of the Jews are the Zionists.” I find it infuriating that Israel
    declares that it is “the homeland of the Jewish people”. There was never a referendum of Jewish people that Israel would represent us. Also Israel trashes the fundamental Jewish value of social justice. Israel should be a home to all
    its inhabitants, not just the Jews.

    It is likely to be the people that will improve Israel; the many Israeli peace and human rights groups, and Jewish
    Palestinian collaboration to create a future where all live in dignity and peace; free and equal.

  8. Drew Hunkins
    December 5, 2023 at 15:49

    Balfour, Rothschild, and Herzl were racist imperialist Zio freak members of the global ruling class.

    The Zionist supremacists should all go back to Europe, Brooklyn, Jersey, Philly, and Russia pronto. They have no reasonable claim to ANY of the land they’re currently sitting on, even Israel proper, which was gifted to them via Holocaust guilt and arm-twisting at the U.N.

    A two-state solution will never work bc paranoid Israelis would just make mischief on its borders.

    A one-state solution won’t work bc paranoid Zionist supremacists can’t live peacefully and democratically with Palestinians they’ve been killing and subjugating for a century.

    Stop bombing helpless Palestinian infants and toddlers.

  9. December 5, 2023 at 15:35

    Context, an interesting albeit depressing concept. Justice, equity, human rights, international law: non-existent. If the Nazis were as history describes them, then current actions by Israel, the United States and the member statesof NATO seem no better. Perhaps they never were.

  10. Rick
    December 5, 2023 at 15:01

    Both sides have people who are creating this problem. Yes, the Zionists but, on the other side has always been Palestinians who have always called and fought for the total annihilation of the Jews. As long as those two groups are allowed to project their power there will be no fix for the situation.

    • December 5, 2023 at 15:39

      Were it not for Muslims across the millenia who considered Jews “People of the Book”, there might well be no non-assimilated Jews today. Your premise is very innaccurate. Rejection of the right of Israel to exist as a theocracy is not synonymous with calling for Jewish genocide.

    • Drew Hunkins
      December 5, 2023 at 15:44

      Give it a rest! The Palestinians were totally infringed upon and displaced by the Zionist supremacist land-grabbers.

      The both sides crap is tiring and peddled primarily by closet Zionists who realize the Overton Window is currently expanding on this issue to finally include how violent and repressive Israel’s been over the past several decades towards the native Palestinians who’ve been uprooted, “re-located”, abused and murdered daily.

      • J. Henningsen
        December 6, 2023 at 12:29

        Absolutely on target!

        • Drew Hunkins
          December 6, 2023 at 15:58

          Thank you.

    • bobzz
      December 6, 2023 at 15:51

      Hate to say this, because I am a Christian, but it is true nonetheless that the Jews were treated far better in the past under Muslim than so called Christian governments.

      • Em
        December 6, 2023 at 21:27

        Why do you hate to say what you said?
        Isn’t it the truth that sets us free?
        If you require mythical biblical reassurance for speaking the truth as you know it see: John 8: 31 and 32:
        To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’
        Presumably then, these words were spoken pre-institutional Christianity!

Comments are closed.