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“Never Again”: The Perpetual Excuse

On Friday, January 26th, 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in a 15-2 vote, ruled that Israeli conduct in the Gaza Strip during its war against Hamas could constitute genocide, and emphasised that Israel must therefore take preventative measures to ensure that it doesn’t.

By way of background, South Africa brought forth charges against Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), stating that the Israeli government and its military bombing campaigns against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip following Hamas’ October 7th attack constitutes genocide. 

While Hamas’ attack was universally condemned by Western politicians as barbaric, and unanimous approval was given to the Israelis to defend themselves initially, Western opinion on Israeli conduct in Gaza has since soured as the bodies of tens of thousands of civilians have piled up.

Now, I’m not so much interested in the ICJ case, itself. In fact, I am weary about claims to genocide, in general. What is interesting, however, is the mainstream reaction to it, and their expectations of our responses as citizens and moral agents. 

Since South Africa’s allegation was made on December 29th, 2023, numerous Canadian politicians and pundits – from the left to the right – have come forward to defend Israel. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Trudeau has maintained a distant and uninvolved stance, stating that he and is government are ‘watching the case closely’ but will not confirm nor deny South Africa’s main allegation of genocide. This has led to some ire from his more passionate party members as well as members of the commentariat

On January 19th, The National Post published a special plea from Liberal MPs Marco Mendicino and Anthony Housefather urging Canadians and their own Federal Government to take a clear stance on allegations of Israel’s commission of genocide. 

To my mind, their arguments are farcical and insulting, and yet predictable. There are lies by commission as well as omission, and double standards abound. 

Housefather, who is Jewish, and Mendicino, who represents a federal electoral district with a large Jewish population, both state that the charge of genocide against Israel is, in and of itself, a ‘perversion of justice’. Echoing Irwin Cotler, a former Minister of Justice and past president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, they argue that since six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, Israel has a unique understanding of the ‘devastating consequences of this most heinous crime to its people’ – and thus would never engage in such behaviour, themselves. You’re going to have to just trust them on this one. 

On the face of it, this argument looks like a non-sequitur. After all, how would Israel, as a state, be endowed with the understanding of genocide that Jews, as a people, are so collectively attuned to? Presumably they mean to imply that Israel is a Jewish state.  

More importantly, this argument is disingenuous. Are we really to look at Israel, the Jewish state, and its actions and believe that they’re so burdened by the weight of the Holocaust’s imperative ‘Never Again’ that genocide is categorically impossible? 

Now, there is certainly some truth to the claim that Israel and the Jewish people have long-standing connections with genocide. One can easily trace the connection all the way back to the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, wherein the Israelites massacred the Hittites, Canaanites, Jebusites, and Amalekites – among others. 

One may dismiss this comparison as moot because religion ought to play no role in modern Israeli thinking. After all, that sort of stuff is only meant for bloodthirsty Muslims or whacky evangelical Christians. But this is also disingenuous since Zionism – Israel’s claim to the land it is on – is precisely rooted in this sort of Biblical history. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, invoked the massacre of the Amalekites in direct relation to Hamas:

‘You must remember what Amalek has done to you’, says our Holy Bible. We remember, and we are fighting … our soldiers are part of a legacy of Jewish warriors that goes back 3,000 years…

In fact, this Amalek phrase is inscribed on Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum and is also inscribed on a memorial at The Hague, itself! So, it is false to minimise the Judaic nature of this war.

Netanyahu’s statement about Amalek is only partial – for what is to be remembered and what is to be done about it? The full verse, in context, is as follows from 1 Samuel 15:2-3

2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

Now, Samuel, like much of the Deuteronomistic texts are full of warfare and destruction, boastful campaigning, and rebellion. Haughty and cavalier war-chants and bombast abound in ancient and classical histories, but to have the current-day head of state from our Greatest Ally In the Middle East™ make such allusions is, at best, tactless poetry – recall that George W Bush calling The Global War on Terror a ‘crusade’ – at worst, it may show intent. And now with roughly 25,000 Palestinians killed, most being civilians, intent or incompetence seem more likely than mere poetic invocation. 

Since the war broke out in Israel on October 7th, there have been discussions and debates on how Israel should respond. Given the country’s history of over-reactions coupled with the profound humiliation and violence that the Hamas attack rendered unto Israel, people were sure that Israel would throw down their gloves and dish out an opposite and utterly unequal response. The response has been rather Amalekian and has given rise the South African charge of genocide. 

According to Cotler, Housefather, and Mendicino, since ‘[g]enocide is the “crime of crimes”’, when such allegations are made ‘Canadians deserve to know, clearly and unambiguously, where their federal government stands.’ Canadians, apparently, don’t clearly and unambiguously deserve to know the facts of the matter – at least not yet anyway. 

The Canadian government, from what I’ve seen over the last nine years, has a rather loosey-goosey relationship with ‘genocide’. In fact, lest we forget, Trudeau clearly and unambiguously stated that Canada was engaging in an ongoing genocide against Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women and girls – as per the Final Report of the National Inquiry on that issue. Our government has also accepted the Canada committed genocide with its Residential School program. And lest Canada hog all the genocidal glory for itself, our parliamentarians have graciously shared the joy with China when the  Canadian parliament passed a motion last year declaring that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs constituted genocide.

So, our own politicians have no problem throwing their own country under the genocide bus for arguably dubious reasons, and they’ll also state that Chinese repression is genocide, but when it comes to Israel, they’re mum on the issue despite the evidence. 

Israel has dropped over 2,000 pounds of bombs, hitting hospitals, churches, schools, and homes. Israel also bombed Gaza’s sole power plant thereby extinguishing power to roughly half of Gaza’s population. Israel also cut off water to Gaza affecting hydration, sanitisation, and hospitalization. 

Among a litany of statistics, one could mention that twenty-five times more people in Gaza have been killed than in Israel – nearly 40% of them being children – and 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people has been displaced – 47% of which are children. 

Additionally, we have statements from various members of the Israeli government, displaying a  less-than-restrained approach to the matter. 

Deputy Knesset Speaker Nissim Vaturi stated that Israel should ‘burn Gaza… It is better to burn down buildings rather than have soldiers harmed. There are no innocents there… I have no mercy for those who are still there. We need to eliminate them.’

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that ‘I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed… We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.’

Such statements almost make one want to run afoul of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism and compare the State of Israel to the Nazis.

On the lighter end of things, Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich called the population of Gaza ‘Nazis’ – as if that justifies their killing – and ‘[welcomed] the initiative of members of Knesset Ram Ben-Barak and Danny Danon on the voluntary immigration of Gaza Arabs to the countries of the world. This is the right humanitarian solution for the residents of Gaza and the entire region.’ 

To elaborate on this point, former deputy director of Mossad, Ram Ben-Barak, and Israel’s 17th Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Danny Danon, both inked a chutzpah-riddled piece in the Wall Street Journal stating, 

Europe has a long history of assisting refugees fleeing conflicts… [and] has a moral imperative – and an opportunity – to demonstrate compassion, help the people of Gaza… We simply need a handful of the world’s nations to share the responsibility of hosting Gazan residents. Even if countries took in as few as 10,000 people each, it would help alleviate the crisis.

So, what we have are examples of disproportionate violence targeting non-combatants coupled with demonising rhetoric from senior political representatives. While I am weary of charges of ‘genocide’ this does seem akin to war crimes and ethnic cleansing. 

Despite this, we’re told by our betters such as Cotler, Housefather, and Mendicino that ‘Canada should categorically reject the claim of genocide against Israel. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.’

It is just that simple, guys. No need to ask any questions. 

When confronted with evidence of Israeli misconduct, as listed above, for instance, Israel’s cheerleaders will minimise Israeli actions by stating that some rockets that hit civilian targets were accidents. When pressed on the matter as evidence arises, they’ll say that such outcomes are merely the inevitable collateral damage of asymmetrical warfare. Either Israel lacked intent, or it had intent. Sometimes the lives are innocent, or they can be implicated with terrorist actions. The responses change as needed. They deny, and then they justify.

What we have is a War Crime Rorschach test. The Zionists see a justified act, their opponents see an unjustified one. 

To these Zionists, the goal of war is defeating the enemy and achieving peace. They claim this as though it is unique to them, but everyone who is in a war wants to win the war. Victory is obviously an objective. But surely some victories are more justly achieved than others. And so, if peace is the objective, what does peace entail? Defeating the enemy is an objective, yes. But how is that enemy being defeated, if at all? 

If people agreed on what constituted peace, then a lot of war could be avoided. But peoples often disagree on what peace entails, and sometimes if those disagreements get too hot, then they lead to war. So, to appeal to ‘peace’ is not even close to an answer. Obviously, Zionist conceptions of peace in Israel are at odds with Palestinian conceptions of peace. Why? Because to Zionists ‘peace’ means that they maintain their dominance. To the Palestinians, Zionist peace entails their captivity and subjugation. The last 75 years have made this evident. But we’re not supposed to think about that. The relevant history for our moral judgements of Israel and Palestine begins on October 7th, 2023.

This sticking point was made evident ten days later by Irwin Cotler at the Antisemitism: Face It, Fight It conference in Ottawa. During his speech, he stated that ‘[e]very rocket shot [during October 7th was] a war crime, but a massive number fired at cities, that’s a crime against humanity…’ 

What then of the thousands of rockets fired at Gaza that has razed roughly 70% of Gazan homes?

Again, stop with the questions. Just listen and get in line. 

What is doing a lot of work for the Zionist cause is the inherent sympathy that Western Gentiles have for Jews due to their millennia of suffering reaching its nadir in the Holocaust.  

As with so many aspects of our current global order, Cotler reminds us that the term ‘genocide’, originated with the Holocaust. While not exactly wrong, the term, in fact, originated in the mind of Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer of Polish extraction who coined the term and actively campaigned for the adoption of his drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 

Since the creation of the Genocide Convention, the Holocaust has become the head honcho of genocide and that against which all other crimes against humanity are judged. Since it is the crime of all crimes, a fitting slogan has been crafted to illustrate the sentimentality of our liberal rules-based order for protecting human rights: ‘Never Again’.

On the surface, ‘Never Again’ implies a commitment to preventing genocide and other forms of mass violence. It serves as a rallying cry for advocates of human rights and a reminder of the international community’s responsibility to protect populations from genocide and crimes against humanity. But that is not what it really means when it comes to Israel.

Never Again doesn’t mean ‘No genocides, ever’. Instead, it means ‘No genocide of Jews, at any cost’. They’ve been oppressed for thousands of years and were brought to the brink of extinction in the Holocaust. Despite this they’ve held strong and persevered, founded a Jewish state in their historical homeland, and made the desert bloom. Or so the tale goes. 

They cannot let up their guard since anti-semitism is always lurking, and as the self-appointed canaries in the coal mine of toxic hate, the Jews are on hair-trigger alert for any whiff of sentiments that runs counter to their aims. As such, they prioritise the safety and survival of themselves and their posterity. This sentiment is embodied in Netanyahu’s admonishment of the ICJ, ‘No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else.’

There is clearly a sense of collective destiny being expressed here by Netanyahu. He sees his mission – rightly or wrongly – as one to shepherd the Jewish people through this tumult, and to fight off the threats to them. Meanwhile, our own leaders cower before the ethnic voting blocks of Jewish-Canadians and their Muslim counterparts, hoping to tow a line delicately enough to not fumble any future electoral prospects. 

To my mind, the Israelis and their Jewish and Gentile allies around the world were caught with their pants down for what became the single most deadly day in Jewish history post-WWII. As a result, the Israeli reaction was desperate and uncalculated; it was a scramble to blindly swing back after being dealt an unforeseen haymaker.  

Irwin Cotler has stated that the South African accusations against Israel ‘turn[s] fact and law on their head, inverting reality and effectively undermining international justice and the rules-based international order.’ There is truth in this statement since the inversion that is occurring is of Jewish victimhood. 

The attack on October 7th brought about the disproportionate response from the Israeli government, and that disproportionate response coupled with the near-genocidal rhetoric from some top Israeli officials tipped South Africa off to make its accusation of genocide against Israel. In turn, Jews are doubly humiliated. They were humiliated on October 7th, and they’ve been humiliated again by having their rules-based international order used against them. 

As with ‘peace’, we should also figure out what the ‘rules-based international order’ means. If any aspect of these means that European nations, including Canada, can be expected to take the war-weary Palestinians as refugees because Israel has ethnically cleansed them from Gaza and the West Bank, then to hell with it. 

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