A ‘Historical Commitment’? Identity and Ideology in Israel's Attitude to the Refugee Convention 1951–4

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The paper examines and debunks the conventional wisdom that Israeli foreign policy incorporates a ‘historical commitment’ to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Particular Jewish interests and universal values, it is argued, led the newfound Jewish state to initiate the Convention, participate in its formulation, and promote its acceptance; Israel was, additionally, among the first states to sign and ratify the Convention. Against the backdrop of present-day discourse and competing perspectives on the Jewish motif in Israel's foreign policy, the paper traces the process of Israel's ratification of the Refugee Convention. Israel's attitude to the Convention, it finds, was characterised by delay, disinterest, indifference, even hostility. Moreover, neither particular interests nor universal values satisfactorily explain Israel's attitude. Rather, this attitude was the outcome of competing visions of Israel's identity and ideological interpretations of Jewish nationalism. Ideologically, the Convention validated yet at the same time also undermined Israel's particular identity as the state of refuge of the Jewish people and its ideological raison d’être in the world system. This ambivalence allowed Israeli diplomats to construct a logic of exemption under which the particularity of Israel's very existence as the state of refuge of the Jewish people represented complete performance of its universal obligations under the Convention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-767
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2014


  • Refugee Convention
  • Israel
  • Jewish diplomacy
  • international law
  • Jacob Robinson

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