Accusing Israel of ‘genocide’: Major fail

And deservedly so, because it’s a false accusation. This is not how to fight the occupation, this is how to help strengthen it.

Mahmoud Abbas’ speech last Friday at the United Nations General Assembly gave the highest-profile-ever exposure to the accusation, popular among anti-Zionists, that Israel practices “genocide” against the Palestinians, and that the war in Gaza was a genocidal one. That’s the highlight of the speech that was picked for the headline in any number of major international news outlets; in Israel the speech is already known, and will be forever, as Abbas’ “genocide speech.” That one word seems to have overshadowed everything else he said at the UN podium, which is a pity, because his basic message – that 21 years of internationally-sponsored peace negotiations have screwed the Palestinians, and they will stand for no more – is right and true, and must be heard, in exactly the furious, combative tone he adopted.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UNGA during the general debate, September 26, 2014. (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UNGA during the general debate, September 26, 2014. (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

If his use of the term “genocide” to describe the occupation and the war in Gaza were truthful but “impolitic,” that would be one thing. But it’s not true – it’s plain false. And on top of that, it’s impolitic in the extreme – it’s politically suicidal, precisely because it’s so clearly false. It’s an Achilles heel in the argument against the occupation. It allows the right wing to sweep aside everything else, in this case every true thing that Abbas said at the UN, and zero in on that one blatant falsehood. It stamps the anti-occupation cause with fanaticism, with reckless disregard for the truth, with hysterical hatred for Israel. That one stupid word.

Using it against Israel may work well to “energize the base” in closed, anti-Zionist circles; it may also get some  college kids to join a protest. But now that Abbas has, for the first time, put the term out in the mainstream, it is so painfully obvious that accusing Israel of genocide is to shoot oneself in the foot, if not the head.

When you accuse Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians, you are accusing it of deliberately, systematically executing them en masse, hundreds of thousands or millions of them. You’re accusing Israel of an attempt to exterminate an entire people, like the Nazis did the Jews, like the Ottoman Turks did the Armenians, like the Hutus did the Tutsis in Rwanda. That’s what people think of when they hear the word “genocide.”

That was not the war in Gaza, and that’s not the occupation.

But many anti-Zionists disregard the common understanding of the word, and instead point to the “official” definition adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, and still used at The Hague:

[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (f) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

As Mitchell Plitnick just wrote, “Now, it is easy to state that Israel would love to see the Palestinians gone. But have their actions been motivated by the ‘intent to destroy’ them? If so, they’ve done a lousy job of it as the Palestinian population has grown significantly and consistently over the years.”

And if the UN definition of genocide does fit Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, or the war in Gaza, then what unjust rule of one nation by another, or what unjust, one-sided, devastating  war, was not genocide?

No, the term, either in its colloquial or UN-approved meaning, misses the truth by a great distance.

It seems “genocide” has entered the far Left’s vocabulary for no other reason than to satisfy its own rising fury at Israel. Sorry, the rising fury is absolutely justified, but it’s still not an excuse to talk bullshit. Especially when there are so many harsh terms that can be applied to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians that are indeed accurate. The ones I use – sparingly, though, because otherwise they lose their effect – are “military dictatorship” and “colonialism” (for the West Bank), along with “tyranny” and “oppression” (for the Palestinians as a whole).

One of the other terms Abbas used in his speech was “ethnic cleansing.” It hurts me as an Israeli to hear it, but I have to admit it’s a true characterization of the Nakba. And while current Israeli policies toward Palestinians in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank’s Area C don’t fit the popular image of “ethnic cleansing,” they do fit the literal meaning.

And let’s not forget “apartheid.” I don’t use the term because it’s based on racial supremacism, while the occupation is based on national supremacism, and this is a major difference. But the most significant feature of apartheid – that of one people officially, as a matter of policy, keeping another people down by force – is the most significant feature of the occupation, too, so the comparison is certainly more true than false. Besides, good Zionists like Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon and star newspaper columnist Nahum Barnea have made the comparison, so it can’t be dismissed as another exercise in slanderous Israel-bashing by the “loony Left.”

Not so with “genocide.” Using it puts you an inch away from equating Israel with Nazi Germany. This sort of rhetoric will not stand the light of day. When Abbas used it in his UN speech, he might as well have put a “kick me” sign on his back as he left the podium. And I’m just dreading to hear Bibi take him up on that inadvertent offer when he makes his own speech at the UN later Monday.

Israel, Armenians and the question of genocide
Abbas’ generous offer to Israel
The Israel-apartheid debate

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