Speaking Up, Sovereignty, Frank Galvin, and Balfour

Mickey: The case is over. You know, you broke the first rule I ever taught you in law school. Never ask a question unless you have the answer to it. Even your own expert witness said there was no negligence….There will be other cases.

Frank: There are no other cases, this is the case. There are NO other cases. This is the case.

– The Verdict

“The Verdict,” a 1982 film starring Paul Newman, written by David Mamet and directed by Sidney Lumet, is the story of Newman’s Frank Galvin, once an up-and-coming attorney who became an alcoholic after trying to do the right thing early in his career. The attempt resulted in his losing everything — being fired from a prestigious law firm, losing his wife, and barely escaping disbarment. Now an ambulance chaser, Galvin is handed a medical malpractice suit by Mickey, his supportive, now-retired partner, a former law professor, played by Jack Warden. He is asked to settle with a hospital operated by the Archdiocese of Boston. But once Galvin sees his client, a young woman who was left in a vegetative state as a result of gross negligence, he makes the ethical decision to fight. He is set against a corrupt judge, a win-at-any-cost law firm representing the powerful Church, and nefarious events that leave him desperate.

Despite all this, even at his lowest point Galvin knows that he must fight through, because there will be no other cases for him if he can’t win —and put his life back on track.

This November marked the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent a letter to Lord Rothschild, head of the Zionist Federation. In the letter, he recognized the re-establishment of the Jewish national homeland in biblical Israel, a land that had been renamed Palaestina by the Romans after they defeated Shimon Bar Kokhba and his followers in the second century. This name change was done deliberately, to obfuscate any connection between the land and its indigenous Jewish inhabitants for future generations. But the Jewish people never forgot Israel or their eternal capital, Jerusalem, which the Romans renamed Aelia Capitolina.

At the time of the Balfour Declaration, the Ottomans ruled the area, and the word Palestine was used to describe a region, not an official entity. In fact, many Ottomans and Arabs considered the area to be southern Syria. The Ottoman rule, which lasted for 400 years, ended with the end of World War I in 1918. Then the area became British Mandatory Palestine, encompassing present-day Israel, Jordan, and the Gaza Strip.

The Balfour Declaration’s one-sentence statement was the first official recognition of Jewish national rights by a significant world power. That was something for which Theodor Herzl had labored since the first Zionist Congress in 1897, which declared, “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.”

Herzl was secular, but he became committed to the re-establishment of Israel after he covered the Dreyfus trial in France. He saw that Captain Dreyfus was prosecuted not based on evidence, but because he was a Jew. If this could happen in France, Herzl thought, it could happen anywhere. And so political Zionism — the Jewish people’s right to self-determination — was born. Herzl understood that only the sovereign powers of the day could grant the Jews the right of sovereign power. “Zionism demands a publicly recognized and legally secured homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people,” he said. “Our first objective is the obtaining of sovereignty, assured by international law.”

And this is what Britain, one of the sovereign powers of that time, did with the Balfour Declaration. “His Majesty’s government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country,” it said. To be clear, the Balfour Declaration did not create the modern State of Israel, but it confirmed the pre-existing right of Jews to live in their ancestral home, now referred to as Palestine.

The declaration led to endorsements around the globe, including from President Woodrow Wilson. It was submitted to and approved by the Council of the League of Nations in 1922; then it was incorporated into the Mandate and ultimately codified into international law. As Alan Dershowitz points out, “The State of Israel was established by the pen and the law, and defended by the sword, in contrast to most other countries that were established by the sword.”

At the American Zionist Movement’s conference in Washington, D.C., last month, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, talked about what sovereignty means to the Jewish people. First, it offers the blessing of a shield and a sword. After centuries of being a powerless people, we no longer have to beg others to protect us. Many at the conference could not help thinking about the plight of the Kurds today.

Second, it offers the blessing of Israel as a refuge. Israel is the answer for Jews around the world who are in danger.

Third, sovereignty restores Israel’s voice among the nations. Israel can and will have its say — but, the ambassador reminded us, along with the right to speak comes the responsibility to speak when necessary. He talked about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress about the JCPOA, aka the Iran deal. Though there were those people who painted the speech to Congress and the American people as a partisan move, the ambassador made the point that especially in times of existential threat, it is incumbent upon any sovereign state to raise its voice. And that is what it did and will continue to do whenever the future of Israel or Jews around the world are in danger.

Dermer referenced the delegates from 32 countries who met at the Evian Conference in 1938 to discuss the urgent plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria. The Nazis said they were willing to allow the Jews to go to any country that would take them. It was a disaster for the Jews, because only the Dominican Republic allowed any significant increase in Jewish immigration, and it sent a clear message to Hitler that there would be no consequences for his treatment of the Jews.

Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann were in Evian as observers, but they were not permitted to talk. Meir wrote in her autobiography that she was “…not even seated with the delegates, although the refugees under discussion were my own people.” She told the press after the conference: “There is only one thing I hope to see before I die and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy any more.” After Evian, Weizmann said, “The world seemed to be divided into two parts — those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter.”

So what does sovereignty have to do with Frank Galvin? Frank understood that without fighting for justice — without fighting to give a comatose patient a voice in bringing the powerful to justice — he would never be able to believe in himself and be complete.

No fully sovereign nation can be denied its capital. For those who pretend this doesn’t matter, last week’s UNGA vote should be sobering. On Thursday, Nov 30, the UN General Assembly passed six anti-Israel resolutions, including one that denied Israel’s ties to Jerusalem, saying that Israel’s rights in Jerusalem have “no validity whatsoever” and calling for “respect for the historic status quo at the holy places of Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif, in word and practice.” No mention of the Temple Mount, in essence erasing any Jewish connection, for the only indigenous nation of the area. The vote passed 151 to 6, with 9 abstentions.

Like Frank Galvin, we must acknowledge that if we do not raise our voices, justice will not be done. Without world recognition of our ancient historical claim to Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Israel cannot be complete. We know the right thing to do, the only course of action, is to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. If we don’t do it now, 151 nations out of a total of 193 will continue working hard to erase Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish people, from the land of Israel.

The Jewish land cannot survive without its heart. As Frank Galvin said in his closing argument, “We need only to believe in ourselves and act in justice.”

About the Author
Martha Cohen is an award winning producer and creative executive. She is a Berrie Fellow and currently sits on the JFNNJ JCRC and StandWithUs East Coast Boards. She chaired the JFNNJ Partnership2Gether when the Young Leadership program was developed and executed; and, continues to be closely involved. Martha and her husband David live in Fort Lee with their son, Harry.
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