Genocide Chic

January 14, 2009

So I was wrong when I said I didn’t want to say anything about Israel/Gaza/etc. Mostly because for two straight days, there have been letters in the Daily Northwestern accusing Israel of genocide, and they’ve – how’s the saying go? – placed, rather delicately, a bee in my bonnet.

Let me get it out of the way right now that I think it is an important role of the international community and media in scrutinizing armed conflict to ensure that deliberate war crimes are not committed. I say “deliberate” because I agree with Thucydides and Jeffrey Goldberg that war, unfortunately, is a nasty business; such awesome awfulness, as Lee rightly observed, is good only insofar as it keeps us from loving it too much. And I’ll admit that Israel’s history is not uncheckered in this regard, and that it is possible it is not uncheckered now. (I point you to this excellent article by Adam LeBor, which is a must-read for those interested, as well as the relevant just war discussions of, among others, Ross Douthat, Daniel Larison, and John Schwenkler.) Of course, determining whether war crimes have been committed while combat is still ongoing is a difficult and muddled process; hindsight is more clear, but not preventative. That Israel is making it difficult, if not impossible, for Western journalists to gain access to Gaza raises unpleasant questions.

This is all tragic, but so is war. That’s not a justification, mind you, but merely a platform for me to point out that even when war crimes are deliberate, they need not be evil, or hatred-inspired. “Mere” war crimes and blood-libels, I would go so far as to say, are mutually exclusive.

Which brings me back to the claims of “genocide” I spoke of earlier. For clarity, we’ll use the UN definition of genocide, since any appeal to international law would need to do so, and I’m assuming those making such appeals realize this. Genocide involves the acts which one might expect, but what makes it distinct from lesser crimes is the intention of the perpetrators: to be genocide, genocide itself (or some such anesthetized term inserted to make it more palatable) must be the aim. Intent is where the claims fall apart before even beginning to move toward whether action has been undertaken (which, I’ll insert here, has not been the case). Genocide, by definition, must also involve conspiracy to commit genocide.

It seems that Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, the President of the UN General Assembly, gave cover to these claims when he voiced them himself to Al Jazeera. Either he did not present evidence to support his claims of an Israeli when being interviewed, or the station chose not to report it (though I can’t imagine why, if he had presented it, they wouldn’t have made it front page). I’m not aware of any other evidence to support this claim, or any action that would make one assume there had been a conspiracy. The fact of the matter is, at present, any accusations of genocide made against Israel must be foundationless because there is no evidence that demonstrates Israel intends the total annihilation of Palestinians in Gaza.

Which leaves us with my fellow students writing into the Daily to accuse Israeli Jews of committing genocide, when either they know there isn’t evidence, or they aren’t thinking for themselves. And then even more making the same accusations online. All in all, it leaves me with the distinct impression of arguments against Israel culminating in by jumping frantically while waving one’s arms and shouting, “THE JEWS! THE JEWS! THE JEWS!”

The point of crying genocide without a genocide is to paint Israelis – which, in its own way, means merely, “Israeli Jews” – as cold-blooded murderers driven by intense ethnic/religious hatred to slaughter innocents. It sounds to my ears like the modern day version of a blood-libel. It’s shrouded, of course, in that now-neutered term, “genocide”; that Israel, unlike the old devil-eyed shtetl Jew, is politically powerful compared to its enemies; and by the defense that the accusation is not made of Jews, merely Israelis (ignoring that Israelis are nearly half – if not more – of the world’s Jewish population, and that their Jewishness is why Hamas and the like have vowed to destroy them — in other words, Israelis engaged in military action act as Jews because they are attacked as Jews).

It is one thing to suspect or worry over war crimes, and investigate them. It is one thing to debate just wars, or whethe even pragmatic reasoning holds in Israel’s offensive. It is quite another to scream genocide without evidence – without wanting evidence or caring for evidence; to shout “Genocide!” when it doesn’t matter whether it is true, to (apparently) merely slander and attack Jews.

Seeing it once pissed me off; seeing it twice has made me resolve not to tolerate it, and not to let it go unremarked – and I mean more than just on this little self-conscious blog.

What with Rod Dreher acting as an “Anti-Semitism in Action” news aggregator, they picked the wrong week to piss me off two mornings in a row. If I’m dour for some time now, it’s because I have the distinct impression of fighting a losing rearguard effort. And, of course, the idea that this time, we won’t be shlemihlim, even if it means reacting to the noise of leaves from time to time.

And if, God forbid, there ever should be evidence that Israel committed genocide (now, in the past, in the future), I will denounce them as loudly as I can.  And, should this happen, I will likely never sleep without lying in bed weeping for some time before.


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