Is It Genocide?

Published at 13:17 on 29 January 2024

It has long been a protest chant that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

Then the “genocide” rhetoric began leaking out of rallies in the streets. Early last month, Canadian MP Don Davies attracted a fair bit of attention when he tweeted:

You will note that I have posted that as a screen shot of a tweet, to which I have not linked. There is a reason for this.

Unfortunately for Davies, he really didn’t have much evidence to go on for those rather shocking assertions of his. He initially tried to pull a bait-and-switch by repeatedly posting excerpts from an (unreferenced) article talking about how “The [Israel Defence Force] Military Intelligence Directorate is using artificial intelligence and automated tools to ‘produce reliable targets quickly and accurately….'”

Sorry, no. So the Israeli military is selecting targets. Big surprise there. There is a war going on. In war, belligerents target each other, i.e. they select what to attack. The quotes merely support the claim that the IDF is engaged in target selection and that they are using artificial intelligence software in doing so. Nowhere are the criteria for target selection mentioned.

Jews were, of course, one of the main the victims of one of the worst (and certainly the most famous) genocides in history: the Holocaust unleashed by the Nazis. Part of the reason Zionism succeeded in its goal of creating a Jewish state was how this genocide showed the validity of the Zionist argument that Jews needed a state of their own to serve as a refuge during times of persecution. Plus, false allegations of Jewish atrocities against non-Jews served as pretexts for the Holocaust. As such, false claims of genocide really strike a nerve with many Jews.

Not surprisingly, Davies’ responses flew about as well as the original claim did. He then deleted the original tweet, and made a fresh tweet with claims better supported by available evidence.

As the most famous genocide in history, the Holocaust colours the popular conception of what a genocide is. As such, that conception goes something like: “collecting as many members of an ethnic group as you can in ghettos and concentration camps, and then systematically murdering them.” If this is the definition of genocide, then clearly Israel is not committing genocide. Yes, Israel is reducing Gaza to rubble. The Allies reduced Germany and Japan to rubble in World War II, yet the Allies are not generally considered to be guilty of genocide as a result.

But that is a mere popular conception and popular conceptions have no legal standing. That is important, as the accusations of genocide have now made their way into the International Court of Justice. There, the case depends on how “genocide” is defined under international law. The relevant document here is the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, commonly referred to simply as the “genocide convention.” That document defines the term thusly (all emphasis added):

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:

(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.

It seems clear to me that what Israel is doing falls afoul of the first three clauses of the definition. Don’t blame me, I didn’t come up with the above definition. I am merely reporting its existence.

And this is why South Africa has been able to plausibly make its case in front of the ICJ.

Of course, what the Allies did to Japan and Germany would also easily qualify. And now we are back to popular conceptions again. Such conceptions may not have any legal standing, yet they still matter, as ultimately it will be public pressure that plays a key role in stopping the bloodshed currently going on in Gaza.

But then, we have this:

The New York-based CPJ said at least 68 journalists and other media workers had been killed in Gaza, Israel and southern Lebanon since the Hamas cross-border attack on 7 October and subsequent Israeli assault.

“More journalists have been killed in the first 10 weeks of the Israel-Gaza war than have ever been killed in a single country over an entire year,” it said.

“CPJ is particularly concerned about an apparent pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military. In at least one case, a journalist was killed while clearly wearing press insignia in a location where no fighting was taking place. In at least two other cases, journalists reported receiving threats from Israeli officials and Israel Defense Forces officers before their family members were killed.”

Note that the CPJ is a pretty middle of the road press freedom organization that doesn’t generally take much of a side (besides that of protecting journalists) in any cultural or ideological struggles. So if they are willing to go out and accuse Israel of something like that, they must believe it has actually happened. What Israel is accused of is certainly pretty war-crimey, but is it genocide? Probably not, but it is finally some support for part of what Davies was alleging in his now-deleted tweet.

In contrast, this sounds a whole lot closer to both popular and legalistic definitions of genocide:

Aid organizations say all of Gaza’s universities have been partially or completely destroyed by the Israeli offensive, including the Islamic, Open Arab, and Al-Azhar universities.

Most recently, the Israeli military carried out the demolition of Al Israa University in southern Gaza with explosives Jan. 17. It was videotaped by the Israel Defense Forces and distributed to Israeli media, prompting the Biden administration to ask Israel for clarification for the reasons for its destruction.

The IDF said in a press statement this week that it was investigating the approval process for the demolition.

Going after the cultural institutions of a people like this is, after all, something the Nazis did to their victims. They burned synagogues, torched Jewish libraries, and levelled Jewish cemeteries. In Poland (the Nazis were anti-Slavic as well), the Nazi occupiers deliberately targeted Polish culture, dissolving universities and prohibiting Poles, under penalty of death, from acquiring more than the most basic of educations.

So yes, there probably is genocide going on in Gaza, and South Africa’s case has merit.

How likely any International Court of Justice ruling is to actually change anything will be the subject of a future post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.