Research Unit Law

Jews, Sovereignty, and International Law

Ideology, Identity, and Ambivalence in Early Israeli Diplomacy

This project examines the role of Jewish identity and Zionist ideology in shaping Israel’s early attitude towards international law. It looks at how these factors have affected the approach of Israel’s legal and diplomatic elites to international law during the first few years of Israel’s existence. By considering international legal history and Israeli diplomatic history through the prism of modern Jewish history, the project traces the effect of Jewish sovereignty on the terms of the Jewish engagement with international law, and maps the shift from Jewish and even Zionist advocacy to Israeli diplomacy. That shift itself is manifest in the biographies and legal practices of the project’s protagonists, Shabtai Rosenne and Jacob Robinson.

The project demonstrates that Israel’s early attitude to international law, inasmuch as it touched on »Jewish questions«, was ambivalent and not merely instrumental. This ambivalence was rooted in Israel’s identity as the Jewish State and in its ideological interpretation by Israel’s jurist-diplomats. The project records such early Israeli ambivalence in the cases of the 1949 Draft Human Rights Covenant, the 1948 Genocide Convention, and the 1951 Refugee Convention. In these and other cases, Israel’s lawyer-diplomats displayed indifference and instrumentalism, aversion and hostility towards postwar legislative projects perceived, otherwise, as ‘Jewish’ projects. This portrays Israel’s early diplomatic practice as the continuation of pre-state Jewish politics, and demonstrates how international law itself was, and continued to be, an arena of intra-Jewish political contestation. The project thus challenges prevalent assumptions about Jewish scholars, cosmopolitanism, and nationalism before and after the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel.


Rotem Giladi, Jews, Sovereignty, and International Law: Ideology and Ambivalence in Early Israeli Legal Diplomacy (The History and Theory of International Law), Oxford: Oxford University Press 2021.