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The United Nations and Israel

Ivan Rand and the UNSCOP Papers

Part 2

Israel's and Canada's histories deeply intertwined

by John Ross - April 2002

Of the 11 members (Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, India, Guatemala, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia) who served on the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), Justice Ivan Rand of Canada became the leading implementer of the Zionist dream for a separate independent Jewish state in Palestine.

Rand's role in UNSCOP was quite remarkable because Canada and the United Kingdom (U.K.) had hoped that Rand would recognize that the Balfour Declaration was the source of the problems in Palestine. The decision they had expected from Rand and his fellow UNSCOP members was a final recommendation to simply “amend” the terms of the British Mandate by formalizing the Jewish immigration restrictions set out in the White Paper to be official United Nations (UN) policy.

Such a measure, they believed, would help deflect criticism from the British government and place it upon the UN, thereby allowing the British to continue enforcing their decision to restrict Jewish immigration into Palestine.

It was therefore no accident that, on his way to Palestine in June 1947, Rand received a briefing report from the Department of External Affairs that equated the annihilation of six million Jews by the Nazis to the killing of 800,000 Muslims by the Mongols in Baghdad in 1258. Not only did this memorandum state that it was “futile” to determine whether the Jews of the Arabs had suffered the most, it also suggested that any solution for Palestine must recognize the need to rebuild Islamic culture from the devastation inflicted upon it in the 13th century.

Nor were the words of the British High Commissioner in Palestine unintentional when he advised the UNSCOP members that the thorny issue of immigration into Palestine would soon pass because Jews would not want to immigrate to Palestine once they had been settled in other countries around the world.

Yet a few weeks later, when UNSCOP members had left Palestine and had gone to Geneva, Switzerland, to write their report, Rand distanced himself from the views of the Canadian and British governments. He saw himself as a member of a committee of the UN and accountable only to the UN rather than as a delegate of a country.

On August 6, 1947, Rand prepared his own memorandum for a solution to the problems in Palestine, advocating partition and the establishment of an independent Jewish state. Over the next three weeks, he gradually convinced a majority of the committee members to adopt this position and to give control over the Negev to the Jewish state. He also single-handedly and successfully opposed the anti-partition members who challenged the validity of the Balfour Declaration as the primary basis for the British Mandate. And he reaffirmed the legality of the Balfour Declaration and suggested it was the White Paper of 1939, with its restrictive limits on Jewish immigration, that was the illegal document and the real source of the problems in Palestine.

What caused Rand to so forcefully renounce the political line suggested to him by the Canadian and British governments, and to echo the words of David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann in their addresses to UNSCOP? It is difficult to find the exact moment when he decided to follow the Zionist position, as this would normally be an exercise in pure speculation. But having read his private correspondence, I would argue that the primary influence on his decision was the contact and correspondence he had with Jews living in Palestine.

Unlike the other UNSCOP members who were isolated and cooped up away from the “rank and file of Palestine,” Rand was invited to many social engagements. He was also extended every kindness from the Jews of Palestine. This was especially true of those Jews who had emigrated from Canada. Their letters to Rand as a “fellow countryman” reflect the sincere graciousness and warm hospitality that epitomized the noble ideals and principles of Zionism. Most importantly, they succeeded in exposing the fallacy that lay behind the anti-partition positions of the British High Commissioner and Canadian External Affairs.

One of Rand's first letters was from Moshe Novomeysky of Upper Talbieh, Jerusalem, who was the directing manager of Palestine Potash Ltd., a public company that had the concession for processing chemicals from the Dead Sea. He thanked Rand for the pleasurable exchange of views they had while spending the afternoon together at the Dead Sea, and asked if they could meet again. One of the leading industrialists of Palestine, Novomeysky planned to build a railway to the Mediterranean. He was also a member of the “Brandeis group,” an economic corporation that had been guided by former Justice Louis Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court to invest in Palestine. Rand must have been a most interested audience because, prior to his appointment to the Canadian Supreme Court, he was lead counsel for Canadian National Railways and was deeply involved in many capital projects of this nature.

Rand also received a letter from Bernard Joseph of Rehavia, Jerusalem, a Canadian lawyer who left Montreal in 1922 to immigrate to Palestine and who became a leading member of the Palestine bar. This letter explains the significance of Rand's interest in the Palestine Economic Corporation as Joseph wrote to Rand that he was “interested to read in the Palestine Post that you recently published an essay on the late Brandeis whose friendship I had the privilege of enjoying.” Rand was quite an admirer of Brandeis, who was a fellow graduate of Harvard Law School and who specialized in business and commercial law. It is most interesting to note the remarkable similarities between these two justices, as their careers, their commitment to higher education and their social activism on the bench for which they both became famous mirror each other in virtually every respect.

From the collective settlement of Ein Hashofet came a letter from Ms. M. Bloomstone. She warmly invited Rand, as a fellow Canadian, to visit her on the 10th anniversary celebrations of her settlement that was located in the quiet hills of Ephraim. A letter similar in nature arrived from Molly Lyons Bar-David, who, in her own charming and inimitable way, invited Rand to Beth Mamoud at Arnona, Jerusalem, to share in their Shabbat. In extending her heartfelt hospitality, she wrote about her birthplace in Tisdale, Saskatchewan, and proceeded to list some names in the Canadian legal profession in order that Rand might not think her a “terrorist.” But most importantly, she addressed the question of why Jews emigrate from free countries such as Canada to Palestine. The answer, she explained, was that “I couldn't resist the challenge of Palestine and couldn't divorce myself from the fate of my people in Europe, nor ignore the implications of both; this, despite the fact that I was happy in Canada and (except for isolated occurrences and childhood sorry memories) was in no need for personal salvation.”

All of these letters showed Rand the personal and human side of Zionism, and undoubtedly made him much more sensitive and receptive to the need for an independent Jewish state. If these Canadian acts of “kindness” or “chesed” were indeed the spark that enable Rand to write the UNSCOP report that set the wheel in motion toward the United Nations resolution of November 1947, then all Canadian Jewry can take great satisfaction.

It would be a serious mistake to believe that Rand's concern for improving the lives of Jews ceased after he helped to initiate the creation of the State of Israel. In 1950, he wrote and delivered the landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that struck down restrictive covenants that had prevented land from being sold to Jews. The case of Noble and Wolf v. Alley was an appeal from a decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal that had ruled in favour of discrimination against Jews in respect to private property rights. But Rand refused to let stand the argument from the respondent's counsel, who claimed that “his client's property would depreciate in value if Jews were allowed in as owners.” Stopping counsel in mid-speech, Rand said, “If Albert Einstein and Arthur Rubinstein purchased cottages there, the property values would increase, and the association should be honoured to have them as neighbours.”

Rand was a true friend to the Jews of Israel and of Canada. Given the momentous importance of the two contemporaneous and courageous decisions that helped us at home and abroad, we should recognize the fact that the history of Israel and Canada may be far more intertwined than we will ever know.

John Ross practises law in Hamilton, Ont.
Part 1 [] Part 3

©2002 Canadian Jewish News

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