Another Perspective

Does Anybody Really Know What Genocide Is?

In current parlance, Israel is its only practitioner.

By 8.11.14

Naomi Wolf (Thomas Good/Creative Commons)
Send to Kindle

There are some words in the English language that are misused. In the course of such misuse words lose their meaning.

In the misuse of the word genocide its meaning is not only lost, but is being butchered.

The country that is most frequently accused of committing genocide is Israel. Consider what has been said in the weeks following Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

An online petition signed by 525 Italians, mostly academics, accuses Israel of committing a “slow genocide” demanding not only Israel’s government and military be put on trial, but the entire Jewish populace as well.

Feminist author Naomi Wolf declared on her Facebook page, “I mourn genocide in Gaza because I am the granddaughter of a family half wiped out in a holocaust and I know genocide when I see it.” She went further. “I stand with the people of Gaza exactly because things might have turned out differently if more people had stood with the Jews in Germany. I stand with the people of Gaza because no one stood with us,” cried Wolf.

The husband and wife acting team of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz were the most prominent names in an open letter against Israel written by celebrities from Spain. Not only did they accuse Israel of genocide, but they demanded the Israel revert to its pre-1967 borders. The statement made neither mention of Hamas nor its genocidal intentions against Israel.

Both Bardem and Cruz subsequently issued statements claiming they are only for peace and denying any anti-Semitism, although both stood by their signatures. “I’m not an expert on the situation,” wrote Cruz.

With Wolf claiming she knows genocide when she sees it and Cruz saying she’s not an expert on the situation, I feel the need to ask two questions by paraphrasing a lyric in an old song by Chicago.

Does anybody really know what genocide is? Does anybody really care?

The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate killing of people who belong to a particular racial, political, or cultural group.” It is curious that Merriam Webster doesn’t include religious groups in that definition. Nevertheless, this is what most people understand genocide to be and Israel’s Operation Protective Edge comes nowhere near meeting this definition. Since when do the perpetrators of genocide warn their victims to get out of harm’s way?

Then there is the legal definition of genocide. It need not involve the actual killing of people. Genocide is defined in Articles II & III of the UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Article II states there is both a mental and physical element to genocide. The mental element is defined as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” The physical element involves the following:

(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; 

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. 

There may be countries where one or more of the five physical elements of genocide are present. But it cannot legally be classified as genocide unless both the mental and physical elements are present.

With this in mind, I believe that an organization such as Genocide Watch really knows what genocide is and really cares. It monitors high risk areas around the world and issues alerts. These alerts can take the form of a genocide watch, a genocide warning, and a genocide emergency. A genocide watch indicates there are warning signs that genocide may occur. A genocide warning indicates that genocide is imminent. Finally, a genocide emergency is declared when genocide is happening. According to Genocide Watch, here is where the world’s genocide emergencies are taking place: Iraq, Somalia, Central African Republic, Myanmar (in both the Rakhine and Kachin states), and in Nigeria’s Borno state.

So where are the Italian intellectuals with regard to the genocide in Somalia? Does Naomi Wolf see genocide in the Central African Republic? Is Penelope Cruz any more informed about Myanmar than she is about the Middle East?

To be certain, the genocide in Iraq is now getting its due attention with President Obama’s decision late last week to deploy air strikes due to the barbaric behavior of ISIS towards Christians and Yezidis. It is also true that the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by the Islamic group Boko Haram back in April did prompt a Twitter campaign called #BringBackOurGirls, which would eventually include First Lady Michelle Obama. But hardly anyone refers to what is happening in Nigeria as an act of genocide. Four months have passed since the kidnappings and this campaign has all been but forgotten.

But Gaza certainly hasn’t been forgotten. There is no genocide in Gaza and yet intellectual elites and celebrities are spending their energy claiming Israel has committed one. There is something stirred in these people when Jews are accused of wrongdoing (including by fellow Jews) that is simply not aroused where it concerns wrongdoing in Africa, the Far East, or elsewhere in the Middle East. But it has always been this way with the Jews. If they cannot blame Jews for the world’s problems what would they do?

Anyone who believes Israel is committing genocide in Gaza doesn’t really know what genocide is and doesn’t really care.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.