Jeremy Hardy thinks… about the right to exist

'We’d all say a person has a right to a home, but we wouldn’t say their home has rights.'
May 2013

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cannot easily attack the state of Israel because he doesn’t recognise it. I don’t know why he doesn’t recognise Israel; it’s the same shape as Palestine, give or take – mainly take, obviously.

I jest; it is Israel’s right to exist that he refuses to recognise. But should people recognise it? Well, it does exist, so it’s childish to pretend otherwise. But whether states have rights is another matter. Whether people have rights is a moral rather than a biological question. The right to statehood is not like a liver. People are not born with one. Saying someone has a right to something just means you reckon they should have it.

But at least such judgements apply more sensibly to human beings than they do to geo-political entities. We’d all say a person has a right to a home, but we wouldn’t say their home has rights. Let’s imagine all Israel’s critics recognising its right to exist – although why should they say that if they don’t believe it? One can accept a fact on the ground without thinking it was historically right. But anyway, let’s say everyone accepts that Israel has a right to exist. That would still not guarantee its existence, in its present form or any other.

Did Yugoslavia have a right to exist? Does the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? We once laid claim to the South as well, and might not always be able to claim the North. And what if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom? Or Wales? Or England? What if we become a republic or we’re sold to America as Walt Disney’s Cockney World of Adventures? States come and go, and their populations change. Will Israel exist as presently constituted in 30 years’ time? It seems unlikely. Israelis will still exist, but that’s a different matter.

Jeremy HardyJeremy Hardy is a comedian and writer who regularly appears on BBC Radio 4's The News Quiz and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

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