Partners in Law

Scripps-Howard News Service 4.17.02
Balint Vazsonyi

Many are incredulous, disturbed, even baffled by the growing sense that America and Israel seem to be on one side, while the whole rest of the world - with few exceptions - is on the other. They needn't be incredulous - it is so. And they ought not to be baffled - the reasons are obvious.

Based on the English model, established almost eight hundred years ago in the Magna Carta, America's Founding Fathers realized that the only guarantee for one's own rights is the concession of those same rights to one's neighbors. We might call the concept reciprocal rights. In fact, guarding one's neighbors' rights is just about more important than guarding one's own because the latter, ultimately, depends on one's neighbors. Equal standing before the law is both the aspiration and the result.

The Founding Fathers wrote a Constitution based on that premise, and adopted a complex legal system, unlike any on the European Continent. At its heart is contract; the assumption of innocence; a jury that consists of peers of the accused; and delivery of the verdict by these lay jurors, as opposed to professional jurists - which is the case elsewhere.

And the system relies totally on the oath taken by all who bear witness to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The foregoing places the English-speaking world on opposite sides with the rest, the gamut of deep cultural ties with the continent of Europe notwithstanding.

Where does Israel come into this? Way back, at the beginning. Whereas no one but the English - those in Britain, and those who became the first Americans - could have formulated the details as eloquently, the roots go back to the Old Testament. Specifically, it is the admonishments of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments that laid the foundations of the world's most envied legal system, and the societies that succeeded on their premise.

The Ninth Commandment forbids the bearing of false witness. The Tenth proscribes coveting one's neighbor's possessions.

Rights are our most precious possessions.

The instinctive assumption of humans in most places, apparently, is that rights must be distributed, because they can only be enjoyed by one at the expense of another. For millennia, slavery existed on the premise of taking away the most basic rights of individuals or of entire nations. Feudalism operated a hierarchy in which the largest layer at the bottom had practically no rights and, as each successive layer got smaller in number, rights were conceded upwards, so that the single person at the top - Prince, Archbishop, King - ended up with everybody else's rights in the realm.

Socialism, Europe's long-standing attempt at replacing feudalism, is the latest scheme by which to distribute rights. As the European Union progresses, more and more rights are conceded to the bureaucracy in Brussels, at the expense of the governed. Socialist regimes in the member countries are proliferating simultaneously, and that explains the growing, open disapproval of America.

Being anti-American is a basic socialist tenet because the concept of reciprocal rights guaranteeing the true physical, entrepreneurial, and creative freedom of the people is incompatible with continental European attitudes.

Thus, it should not surprise us to find Europe on the opposite side. In fact, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a welcome opportunity to cloak a fundamental disparity into a specific, current issue. And it should not surprise that the United Nations, with its growing majority of lawless members, should oppose the few whose name is synonymous with the law.

As for the Arab world, it's doubtful if so much as a comprehension of reciprocal rights may successfully be conveyed to its people; adoption of such a concept is less likely than wedding bells for the pope. And that, in a nutshell, also illustrates the likelihood of a solution in the Middle East. Or the likelihood of Afghanistan turning into a functional democracy.

Should the United States abandon its best efforts because of a world in which, when the chips are down, we have few reliable allies? Certainly not. But we need to know who our allies are, and we need to remember why. And if we hope for temporary relief through "coalitions" and other parlor games, why not?

The awful part of all this is that people are dying. For them and their families, it is anything but a parlor game. But without America many more would die. And we surely have an obligation to those with whom we share the law.