Words have meanings, and those meanings matter. It is therefore disturbing when people throw around words with blatant disregard for their true meanings, especially when those words carry a powerful emotional charge. Humans are emotional beings and we can barely help ourselves from responding to those triggers even when logic and facts might actually prove the opposite to be true. Misuse of such words is a cynical ploy by people who will do anything to win an argument rather than allow the facts to determine a just outcome. We encounter it in our personal lives, sometimes in our professional lives, and it has become all too common a tactic in domestic politics. It seems increasingly that arguments are meant to be won rather than proven. Facts be damned.
We hear the egregious misuse of very powerful words in relation to Israel’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Israel’s opponents have long thrown around the word Apartheid, knowing full well it conjures images of the injustices committed against the black population of South Africa by the white minority. It is a common trope in discussions about divestment in Israel. The word is powerful, and its very mention evokes a strong response which clouds our vision from seeing Israeli Arab citizens who vote, who serve in the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament), and who even sit on Israel’s highest court. To be sure, Israel has its share of racial tensions and bigotry, but so does the United States of America. Using a strong word like “Apartheid” is effective, however, when you want to win an argument. Facts be damned.
The other, still more disturbing word being employed against Israel is “genocide.” Genocide is the systematic killing of a group of people who share a religion, race, or nationality with the intention of eliminating them from the Earth. Such was the plan of Adolf Hitler against the Jews during World War II. It was his stated goal. He was proud of it, believing he would do the world a favor by ridding it of the Jewish problem. When we examine recent events in Gaza, we see a high death toll. Collateral damage of innocent men, women, and children who are killed in the crossfire is to be collectively mourned by all decent people throughout the world. But Israel has no desire to kill these people. They are stuck in the middle of terrorist rockets and public facilities being used to store armaments. Israel did not put them in harm’s way. The Hamas militants did. If Hamas wanted to protect Gaza’s citizens, they would draw the combat away from them rather than right into their midst. Or better yet, they would recognize that Israel will not tolerate a steady barrage of rockets being fired toward its cities and its airport, and they would simply quit instigating violence. Hundreds of lives could be saved right this moment. The battle in Gaza, or any of Israel’s wars, has nothing do with antipathy toward Muslims or Arabs. It has everything to do with quashing the terrorist threat against Israel’s safety and sovereignty.
The death toll is sickeningly high, and yes much higher on the Palestinian side. Yet, Israel is not in a war against Palestinians, it is engaged in a fight against Hamas, a terrorist organization committed to the downfall of the Jewish state. Unfortunately the terrorists attack from within the civilian populations, storing rockets in UN schools, using hospitals as headquarters, shooting from residential streets drawing Israeli fire toward innocents. Sad? yes. Regrettable? Of course. But what other option does Israel have? Are they meant to continue living under constant rocket attacks, always ready to run into the nearest bomb shelter, to sit under the Iron Dome and pray that it does not miss? Do they wait for a direct hit on an apartment building, Ben Gurion International airport, or its nuclear reactor in Dimona? Do they simply wait to find out just how many tunnels have been dug underneath its border and how Hamas intends to use them in attacks against Israeli citizens? No. They are fighting back to defend their home. This is not genocide. It is a sophisticated military operation with the clear objective to eliminate the terrorist threats. By Hamas’s design, however, the line between combattant and non-combattant has been drawn quite blurry. Still, the warfare and the killing can end. Once Hamas agrees to a cease fire, or once their capacity to threaten Israeli citizenry is significantly weakened, the fighting will stop. But facts be damned. Genocide is a word employed by those who simply wish to win an argument and foment anti-Israel sentiment. It stirs emotions, conjuring images of concentration camps, gas chambers, and Einsatzgruppen, mobile death squads employed by Nazi Germany to wipe out entire villages one by one. And those who wish to defame Israel relish the irony that the Jewish state is now being called genocidal. It can be a persuasive argument. The problem: it is simply not true.
As far as identifying who is truly genocidal, let us compare two documents. One of the parties involved has these words in its foundational document:
“[I]t will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
And the other party has these words in its foundational document:
“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it. The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him… The HAMAS regards itself the spearhead and the vanguard of the circle of struggle against World Zionism… Islamic groups all over the Arab world should also do the same, since they are best equipped for their future role in the fight against the warmongering Jews.”
The first of these documents is from the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The second from the Hamas charter. Which one of these sounds genocidal? Those who say the second, are correct, and if Hamas achieves their objectives, it would mean the end of Israel and a threat to all Jewish people. Those who say the first is genocidal are simply anti-Israel– facts be damned.