The first half of the 20th century featured two dramatic attempts to construct New World Orders following the two World Wars. These attempts included the establishment of ambitious international governance frameworks in the form of the League of Nations, the Permanent Court of International Justice and the International Labor Organization after the First World War and the United Nations Organization, the International Court of Justice and the Bretton Woods System after the Second World War. In parallel with these developments, landmark agreements were reached resulting in a radical transformation of the Westphalian state system, and, in particular, with regard to the relationship between states, individuals and groups. These agreements included other major instruments such as the post-World War One minority treaties, the Slavery Convention (1926), the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928), the Geneva Conventions of 1929 and 1949, the London Charter (1945), the Genocide Convention (1948), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Refugees Convention (1951). It can be argued that the norms and institutions established in this dramatic period revolutionized international law in diverse fields, ranging from international human rights law, through international criminal law and international humanitarian law, to international economic law.
Recent years have seen a sharp increase in historical research describing the unique contribution of prominent Jewish international lawyers to the development of modern international law. Among the prominent publications belonging to this genre one can mention Philippe Sands’ "East West Street", focusing on the life and work of Raphael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht (2017), Gilad Ben-Nun’s book on the Fourth Geneva Convention which highlights the contribution of Georg Cohn, Georges Cahen-Salvador and Nissim Mevorah (2020), James Leoffler and Moria Paz’s edited volume on the Law of Strangers (2019), James Loeffler’s "Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century" (2018), Nathan Kurz’s "Jewish Internationalism and Human Rights after the Holocaust" (2020) and Rotem Giladi’s publications on Israel and the Refugees and Genocide Convention (2015). A number of earlier works also touched upon multiple dimensions of the topic, including the contributions of prominent Jewish international lawyers, such as Hans Kelsen and Jacob Robinson, and on the relationship between the experience of being uprooted and interest in international law.
The conference presentation will analyze the contribution of Jewish international lawyers to the major developments in international law noted above, and address the following questions: Can one truly speak of a “Jewish school” in international law? Or can one allude to a number of “Jewish schools” speaking in different voices? Can the contributions of Jewish international lawyers be distinguished from other contemporary trends shaped by migration and/or attachment to cosmopolitan ideals? If so, what are the main contours of this Jewish school(s)? How is it related to Jewish thought and experience generally or to the collective interests of the Jewish people in the relevant period? Does anything remain of this tradition in the 21st century? Has this tradition affected the approach to international law of Israel and international Jewish institutions? To what extent does the categorization of certain authors as “Jewish” do injustice to their own self- identification as individuals or as nationals of specific countries? To what extent has the Jewish stance(s) toward international law changed since the creation of the State of Israel (and to what extent is there a Jewish-Israeli School (or schools) that are distinct from the Jewish school(s)(? In particular, how may these questions be related to what some have seen as Israel’s skeptical stance towards many of the universal or cosmopolitan values articulated in the post-World War eras. Finally, can any contemporary lessons be drawn from this phenomenon and, if so, what are they?
Understanding the historic experience represented by the contribution of Jewish international lawyers in the period in question may also help researchers better understand contemporary attitudes towards international law as well as the feasibility of changing them.