Friday 12 January 2024

When is genocide not genocide?

Genocide is a relatively new term. It was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Holocaust survivor, in 1944. Interestingly, at the time, there was concern that 'genocide', as a term, would fail to capture the full horror of such crimes because it would focus on the targeting of a group potentially at the expense of the individuals murdered. Six million Jews murdered is bad not (just) because they were Jews, but also because of the sheer number and focusing on the 'Jew' part may undermine the 'six million' part. The unique horror of the holocaust lies not just in the fact that Jews were targeted, but that six million of us were murdered. The counter-argument is that there is something uniquely awful about murdering individuals because they are members of a specific group; the Holocaust's horror is precisely because of the systematic mass murder of Jews and the attempt to exterminate every last Jew. And so 'genocide', formed by combining the Greek genos meaning race or tribe with the Latin suffix cide meaning killing, so literally, the killing of a race/tribe was coined. Its definition is codified in Article II of the Genocide Convention:

"In the present Convention, genocide 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

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
The intent to destroy is the mens rea component and the five bullet points are the actus reus of the crime.  Both are necessary to make out the crime. In addition: 

Importantly, the victims of genocide are deliberately targeted - not randomly – because of their real or perceived membership of one of the four groups protected under the Convention (which excludes political groups, for example). This means that the target of destruction must be the group, as such, and not its members as individuals. Genocide can also be committed against only a part of the group, as long as that part is identifiable (including within a geographically limited area) and “substantial. (See here)

It matters what genocide is. It matters because genocide is bad. Obviously. It is so bad that if something is genocide, debating the topic is not just futile but actively offensive; there is (rightly, of course) no justification for genocide. But I am not writing to debate whether Israel is committing genocide. It isn't, but the most sophisticated legal arguments won't convince the people who believe the contrary. Facts do not matter, it seems. It is not worth anyone's time to engage with such absurd and deliberately offensive comments. Instead, I want to spend some time considering why the accusation of genocide is levelled at Jews. It is not because there actually is a genocide. But it is also not by accident. 

It is a deliberate attempt to bait Jews; to use our past against us in the most horrific and cruel of ways. Jews, perhaps unique in our millennia of persecution, pogroms, hatred and actual genocide, know what genocide looks like. It is, unfortunately, in our DNA. So our opponents use the word genocide. They accuse Jews of genocide deliberately to undermine the meaning of the term, to rid it of any significance because they hate Jews. It is a win-win. Either Israel is found guilty of genocide (and bashing Israel is all these antisemites really care about) or they succeed in watering down the meaning of genocide. It's soft Holocaust denial, attempting to label everything you do not agree with as genocide. 

The Genocide Convention was part of the world's response to the Holocaust. It was part of the world's response to abandoning the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi regime; of the Red Cross having more compassion for Nazi soldiers than Jewish victims (oh how history repeats itself); of Western powers knowing about the gas chambers and not lifting a finger to help the Jews. It was part of Never Again; a pledge meant to protect against the crimes perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th. It is now being cynically and deliberately abused by South Africa and its cabal of human rights-abusing dictatorships to attack Jews. The legacy of Nelsen Mandela, a proud defender of Zionism (and Palestinian nationalism), is being destroyed by a racist government that hates Jews. There is no other explanation. They do not care about Palestinians; this political stunt will only make their lives worse as the crimes of Hamas are sanitised for consumption by the world's useful idiots.

Let's be clear. Genocide is the brutal, systemised mass murder of six million Jews. It is the murder of between 1.5 million and 2 million Cambodians or the mass rape and murder of up to 400,000 Darfuris. The slaughter of 800,000 Rwandas. I could go on. The odd thing is none of these resulted in state accusations of genocide; I wonder why. Throwing around 'genocide' as if it has no meaning, as if it is not the most heinous of crimes, just because you do not agree with Israeli policy or attempts to defend itself against the closest thing to genocide in this entire conflict is to deliberately offend Jews. Jews must suffer the double crime; an actual genocide perpetrated against us and the constant and deliberate undermining of the horror of that genocide. 

South Africa and the Hamas cheerleaders gleefully supporting this case should hang their heads in shame. History will judge them much like it judges the Nazis; as an antisemitic rabble that added no value whatsoever to the world. 

The Jewish people, however, will live on. 

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