As Israel has settled on what we hope will be a lasting truce in Gaza, there will be much discussion in the world regarding Israel’s mission and tactics. It is important that there be boundaries in discussing Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Words matter a great deal, as does Israel’s existence in the world. Here is my column that appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star on August 20, 2014. It addresses a hate-filled column which appeared in the August 7 edition of the same newspaper. Both appeared in the Local View column on the Opinion page.
In recent days, an obscenity has appeared in the Journal Star’s opinion page. Obscenities, such as those made famous by George Carlin, are generally words which have been divorced from their original meanings and used for their shock value. For this reason there exist social mores regarding how inflammatory speech is used. Speakers, writers, and the publications which grant them a platform have a responsibility to know the meanings of their words and their potential impact. When they fail to exercise proper caution, they speak in obscenities, using powerful words, divorced from their real meanings, for the sole purpose of stirring emotion or winning an argument.
The obscenity in question is “genocide.” The articles which included this word were not about ISIS and the Yazidis, but rather about Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, a military operation aimed at ending rocket attacks and destroying a network of terrorist tunnels between Gaza and Israel. “Genocide” is a very powerful word with a specific meaning, and the way this word has been thrown around, far removed from its true meaning, is nothing short of obscene. The definition of “genocide” is “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.” According to the legal definition used by the United Nations, there must be “intent to destroy.” Israel has no intent to destroy the Palestinian people. Israel has provided medical care, humanitarian aid, and even building materials (much of which was used in constructing the infamous terror tunnels) to Gaza. Israel’s attitude toward Palestinians and specifically the people of Gaza is anything but genocidal.
Still the word has been used because it evokes strong reactions. Any sensible person is against genocide. We all share a moral responsibility to prevent it, but to call Israel’s war in Gaza a “genocide” is to ignore the facts in favor of emotion. It also lays the blame exclusively at Israel’s feet and exonerates the Hamas terrorists who have fired over 3,000 missiles toward Israeli cities. This alone would be enough to understand the use of “genocide” as obscene. Unfortunately, with the cynicism behind its usage, it becomes even worse.
In 1944, a Polish Lawyer named Rafael Lemkin crafted the word “genocide” to describe the Nazis’ actions against Jews during the Holocaust. Those who call falsely call Israel’s actions genocide relish the irony that the once victim Jews are perpetrators of genocide. This ploy is cynical. It is sick. It is obscene.
We can only guess at the intentions for writing such misleading articles. At best, the writers are horrified by the killing and want, as do we all, for it to end. Unfortunately, even with best intentions, these writers are misinformed. Were Israel to lay down their arms, Hamas would continue to harass and murder Israeli citizens striving toward the goal clearly stated in their charter, that “Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it…[and] the day of judgment will not come until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.” It is doubtful that the writers of such articles hope for Hamas to achieve the genocidal goals in their charter. Therefore, at best, we can see these writers as well-intentioned but grossly misguided.
As far as the worst case scenario regarding the intent of these writers, we can examine the quotes cited by Ruth Raymond Thone in her Local View column on August 8. She referred to a statement by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion which called for “terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation and the cutting of all social services… to the Arab population [in Israel].” Ben-Gurion never spoke these words. Media watchdog, CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East reporting in America, has time and again vetted the supposed source for this terrible quote and found that it was untrue. Though it has been debunked, it still appears on multiple anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic websites (and now in the pages of the Journal Star). We cannot know Ms. Thone’s or anyone else’s intentions for using these fallacious quotes, but we can reasonably guess which sources they have been reading.
All war is bad, and we should mourn the loss of innocent lives in Gaza and Israel. Still, while we might hold varying opinions regarding the methods and strategies employed by Israel to defend their citizens, we would do well to remember the words of the late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
An important fact to remember is that “genocide” has a specific and very strong meaning. Its definition is not a matter of opinion. To misuse this word is nothing short of obscene.