May 22, 2011

Leno jokes about Israel's occupation

Jay Leno told this joke on The Tonight Show Thursday:Earlier today, President Obama gave a speech outlining his vision for peace in the Middle East. He suggested that Israel go back to the pre-1967 borders. And, of course, Native Americans jumped right on this. They said, 'Why stop there? Let's go back to the pre-1492 borders right here in America? Oh, let's push it all all back.Comment:  This joke raises a valid point. "Why stop there," indeed? The main answer is that there was no governing body of international law in 1492. This kind of law may not have come into existence until the 19th or 20th century. But it was firmly in place in 1967.

If there had been a governing body of international law, the Indians could've made their case before some kind of adjudicator. Sure, the adjucator probably would've ruled against the Indians because of racial bias. But at least the Indians would've been on the record with their objections. A later adjudicator could've overturned the earlier decision on legal grounds.

Something like this has happened in the last couple centuries. The tribes have signed treaties protecting their rights. They've gone to American courts and even to UN forums demanding the US uphold their rights. They rarely win--but that's because of the US's superior political and economic power. It's not because of the merits of their cases.

In purely legal terms, untainted by outside considerations, the Indians often present an incontestable case. Namely, that the treaties are still valid. If the US obeys its own laws and Constitution, it must uphold them. Whether it actually does or not is another issue.

For more on the subject, see No Right of Return for Palestinians, Indians? and Educating Stephen About Israel's Occupation.


Anonymous said...

Some ideas about what was right and what was wrong in international affairs did exist even in 1492:

Rob said...

Thanks for the link. If I read about Vitoria, I don't remember him.

A noted scholar, he was publicly consulted by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. He worked to limit the type of power the Spanish empire imposed on the Native Peoples. He said "The upshot of all the preceding is this, then, that the aborigines undoubtedly had true dominion in both public and private matters, just like Christians, and that neither their princes nor private persons could be despoiled of their property on the ground of their not being true owners." Thomas E. Woods goes on to describe how some wished to argue that the natives lacked reason, but the evidence was against this because the natives had obvious customs, laws, and a form of government.