Speech, Campuses, Antisemitism (guest post)


“If we don’t resort to censorship, we need to think more about the responsibilities of all actors involved with this difficult speech… This suggests an important role for colleges: helping students to exercise these responsibilities rather than simply trying to control them through speech codes.”

In the following guest post, Adam Omar Hosein, associate professor of philosophy and affiliate professor of law at Northeastern University, discusses how universities need to protect free speech while developing an “ethics of speech” that articulates the responsibilities of students, faculty, and other members of the university community.

It is part of the ongoing series, “Philosophers On the Israel-Hamas Conflict“.


Speech, Campuses, Antisemitism
by Adam Hosein

It’s clear that something was lacking in the congressional testimony of the three university presidents. They were quite right in their claims that standard campus speech codes, as well as the related First Amendment doctrine, protects the expression of odious, even horrifying ideas. And I think that these protections are necessary. Yet their remarks were insufficient. Just because a university formally protects speech doesn’t mean it is a healthy community of equals. We need an ethics of speech that goes beyond just legalistic formal protections.

What I want to do here, in a very preliminary way, is start a conversation about what this ethics might look like, for speakers, listeners, and institutions. I will suggest that part of why the presidents struggled is that there are in fact some hard, underexplored issues about how to respond to difficult, contested forms of speech on a campus, including speech that some want to label antisemitic. But rather than being purely defensive about higher-education, we should ultimately make clear that campuses are one of the few places in society where a valuable discussion of the issues can still take place, if appropriate measures are taken.

First, a brief reminder of the speech at stake. Despite Elise Stefanik’s disingenuous questions, campuses have not seen direct calls for a genocide against Jewish people. What we have seen is much more complicated: the use of phrases such “From the River to the Sea,” “Globalize the Intifada,” and “Free Palestine.” These phrases do not directly refer to violence, but count as “difficult speech” because some students associate them with liberation while others associate them with dangerous, even genocidal threats.

For example, “From the River to the Sea,” can be read simply as a call for liberation for Palestinians within the space between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, especially for self-determination within the 1948 borders, or it can be read as a call to remove Israelis from that space, through either violence and expulsion. “Intifada” is most associated in the popular consciousness with the violence of the Second Intifada. But the word itself has a more complicated history: the Arabic word “Intifada” means (roughly) “shaking off,” and in the context of Palestinian resistance it can also be associated with, say, the non-violent student protests of the 1980s. A lot also turns on how we understand “globalize”: whether it means rally worldwide support for Palestinian resistance or (on the most disturbing possible reading) conduct violent uprisings worldwide.

Perhaps you think it is naïve to complicate the interpretation of the phrases and that some or all should all be banned on campuses. In that case, consider those who feel threatened by unqualified support for Israel on campuses, which they read as indifference to the death of Palestinians or indeed as an endorsement of ethnic cleansing and potential genocide. Should all of this speech be banned? In the end, I think even-handed protections for speech will be to the advantage of all sides in these debates.

If we don’t resort to censorship, we need to think more about the responsibilities of all actors involved with this difficult speech. The most basic problem arises from the fact (which I’ve explained at greater length in earlier, co-authored work) that neither criticism of Israel nor anti-Zionism is necessarily antisemitic but each can be antisemitic. For example, some anti-Zionism is motivated by the view that under present conditions equality for Israelis and Palestinians can only be achieved within a single, pluralist state. But anti-Zionism can certainly be antisemitic as when, for example, it is motivated by animosity towards Jewish people, reflects stereotypes that Jewish people uniquely cannot be trusted to wield state power, or is expressed through tropes about Jewish perfidy. Likewise, criticisms of Israel can be legitimate condemnations of particular policies, but can also involve problematic stereotypes and so on. For instance, observe how easily some people move from discussing the “pro-Israel lobby” to “the Jewish lobby,” even though there are many Jewish people who are critical of Israel or are anti-Zionist, and a substantial amount of U.S. support for Israel comes from evangelical Christians.

These distinctions create responsibilities on the part of speakers and listeners in debates about Israel. Speakers should consider why certain words or phrases might reasonably, or at least understandably, be understood or felt as threatening or hurtful by fellow members of their community. That includes taking into account the full history of violence against Jewish people as well as present day rising hostility. Speakers also need to ask whether there is any special value in phrasing or presenting things a particular way and whether an alternative form of expression would do just as well. For example, before making Holocaust analogies, it is important to consider how fresh the memory of the Holocaust is in many Jewish communities, the “psychic familiarity” to many Jewish people of the Oct. 7th violence, and the fact that alternative analogies are surely available. Whichever phrases anti-Zionists use to rally their cause, it’s important for them to make clear that they equally value Israeli life and what they think peaceful co-existence might look like. Listeners need to consider the full range of goals that speakers may be pursuing. They should ask, for instance, whether everyone with a Palestinian flag is in fact aligning themselves with Hamas. And they too should consider the broader context, including the fact that the U.S. is not a passive observer to the war in Gaza but a major funder of Israel’s military operations and the key veto to U.N. ceasefire efforts. So protestors have important reasons for actions in the U.S. in particular that aren’t about targeting Jewish students.

This suggests an important role for colleges: helping students to exercise these responsibilities rather than simply trying to control them through speech codes.

A relatively straightforward task of this role during the present conflict is making sure that everyone is clear on the core facts by, for instance, dispelling conspiracies about the attacks of Oct. 7th, and making clear the full scale of civilian deaths and infrastructure destruction in Gaza. That includes emphasizing in a range of classes the importance of media literacy and good information.

In the longer-term, discussions of antisemitism shouldn’t only come up when there is war in the Middle East: students should be aware of the history of antisemitism as well as contemporary trends including not just left-wing antisemitism but ring-wing conspiracies that plausibly pose the greatest threat to Jewish people in the U.S., such as the “Great Replacement Theory” echoed by Stefanik. And while I have been focused on antisemitism, there is also of course also crucial work to done be in education around Islamophobia, including the long and distinctive history of anti-Palestinian racism. There have already been important efforts on colleges to ensure that students are exposed to teaching about racism and that teaching ought to include discussions of antisemitism and Islamophobia. My own class this semester in the philosophy of race, for instance, included a week on each of these topics, as well as a walking tour to discuss Jewish and Black history in the city, superbly led by a colleague in Jewish Studies. (All of this was planned long before October 7th.) The relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is not the place to start a conversation, but something to consider after establishing a shared understanding of the full range of forms of antisemitism.

In addition to educating, colleges can also help students fulfil their responsibilities by modelling how to engage in debates about the Middle East in a manner that is empathetic, well-informed, and so on. For instance, faculty panels can be organized that are likely to draw students from across the political spectrum and conducted in places, like large dorms, that are easily accessible to students.

Work of this kind is hard and takes time but is of course already being done by many dedicated faculty and staff members. While media attention has been almost exclusively focused on campus failings, campuses are in fact one of the few places in society with the speech protections and intellectual resources to frame lively but respectful disagreement. It’s time to use those strengths and trust what our students are capable of if we provide them with the necessary tools and support.

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Neutral Layperson
Neutral Layperson
1 month ago

I agree with the author’s analysis of the legality and ethics of the “from the river to the sea” slogan. It’s worth noting that, for most Palestinians, the slogan is neither a call for genocide of Jews nor for a secular state with equal rights for Arabs and Jews. Rather, it expresses a form of Palestinian ethno-religious nationalism and a desire for single state based on such an ideology in the West Bank, Israel, and Gaza:

A majority of East Jerusalem respondents once supported a two-state solution. In contrast, throughout the six-year polling period a plurality of respondents in the West Bank and Gaza have generally chosen “regaining all of historical Palestine from the river to the sea” as their preference. There was an exception in 2017, when 44 percent of West Bank respondents, a seven-point plurality, said that ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to achieve a two-state solution was their main goal. By 2020, however, West Bank support for a maximalist Palestine rose sharply to two-thirds—even higher than in Gaza, where the option garnered 56 percent support.

These numbers are not the same as popular support for a single state “from the river to the sea” with equal rights accorded to Arab and Jewish citizens, as in recent international proposals. In 2020 polls, only about 10 percent of West Bank and Gazan respondents favored this option over either a Palestinian state or two states. Notably, a theological premise underpins the one-state preference: A majority of the Palestinian respondents believe that “eventually, the Palestinians will control almost all of Palestine, because God is on their side”—that is, not because Palestinian control will flow from demographic changes or from a joint arrangement with Israel.

https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/what-do-palestinians-want?fbclid=IwAR3mBN-ndN7MKpEwJMG5oUWMBT2MDJ_cyyTDvKyh9fAuIms0guLeGbPziJc

Justin Kalef
1 month ago

To me, what was most irksome about the congressional testimony of the three university presidents was how inconsistently they and their universities had applied the rules to which they suddenly gave lip service. I agree with the idea that a strong commitment of free inquiry on campus is best — and that this requires a robust defense of free speech _insofar as that free speech can reasonably be motivated by the demands of free inquiry_, or by the need to preserve an environment in which people with unpopular viewpoints are terrified to speak.

The discussion here about the slogan, ‘From the river to the sea’, is helpful, but only if this is done in a principled rather than cynical way. A major problem that needs to be addressed is that many colleges and universities, and their members, have committed themselves to a purely subjectivist criterion of offense and harm, and have constructed an ethic of discourse (sometimes enforced by official rules) on that basis.

If that is the standard, then the harm or offense felt by any Jewish student or faculty member who hears ‘From the river to the sea’ as a call for genocide is real, and everyone who has used that slogan must be stopped at once, and removed from campus if necessary. At the same time, it follows that any Muslim student who feels that way after seeing a slogan in support of Israel must also be vindicated by an equal reaction on the other side.

Perhaps the result of taking this seriously on both sides would be the firing or expulsion of many professors and students, after which discussions on campus could settle into a policy of carefully avoiding any conversation of current events. Whether this would be desirable is another question. In fact, things might not even get that far, since even the act of complaining about one slogan could be taken by proponents of that slogan as a form of harm or offense, so that whoever makes the complaint must also be silenced or removed.

The only reason I can see why this subjectivist approach to harm and offense has not already lead to a complete emptying-out of university campuses is that it has never been applied in a principled way: instead, it always seems to have been applied by the politically dominant side as a means of cementing power and eliminating opposition, whether or not this was done consciously.

I hope this discussion is a sign that the obvious problems with the subjectivist account of offense and harm as a basis for campus policy might at last be acknowledged.

exhausted.
exhausted.
1 month ago

“Speakers also need to ask whether there is any special value in phrasing or presenting things a particular way and whether an alternative form of expression would do just as well. For example, before making Holocaust analogies, it is important to consider how fresh the memory of the Holocaust is in many Jewish communities, the “psychic familiarity” to many Jewish people of the Oct. 7th violence, and the fact that alternative analogies are surely available. Whichever phrases anti-Zionists use to rally their cause, it’s important for them to make clear that they equally value Israeli life and what they think peaceful co-existence might look like.”

While I sympathize with the overall sentiment of this piece and would in general be happy to see the author’s counsel on these issues taken seriously, I worry that the author wrongly suggests that much of what is identified by the mainstream Jewish community (which is Zionist) as antisemitism is only chimerically so, and that vocal sympathizers with Palestinian nationalism have some significant good will toward Jews and Israelis as such that they are simply bad at making explicit. Where’s the evidence of the latter? There’s certainly readily available counter-evidence. . . And if sympathizers with Palestinian nationalism don’t equally value Israeli life and believe in co-existence with Israel and Jews in the land, is the author asking them to lie?

Non-Jews regularly use phrasings and terms against Jews and Israel that are *obviously* barbed specifically against Jews, like Nazi comparisons and the endless barrage of “bloodthirsty baby/child killer” characterizations: That they are barbed in this way, for many speakers who sympathize with Palestinian nationalism, is their “special value.” Alternative forms of expression would be too sympathetic or ‘dull’ for many. Why not simply believe that in general, speakers who use these terms do so intentionally, and that we can read their attitudes off of their speech-involving actions (which often involve some the most theatrically exaggerated expressions one can find in politics), namely that they take joy in verbally abusing Jews and accusing Jews of being Nazis, etc.? Why is it so hard to explicitly recognize that antisemitism is and has long been commonplace (yes, in American university settings too. . .), such that many sympathizers with Palestinian nationalism are being instrumentally rational in their choice of words and methods, effectively using language barbed specifically against Jews to verbally abuse them?

NB: I’m still waiting for philosophers devote this much energy to producing public philosophy about violent political conflicts with more casualties but no clear involvement of Jews. The “proportionality” of the public discussion is telling: More Jewish evil, more talk; amount of casualties seems to have no correlation with amount of public-philosophical discussion—cf. the amount of discussion around single Black individuals murdered in the US like George Floyd.

NB2: Stefanik is not a bright bulb. But she asked about *calls* for genocide—these are not expressions of views, but of imperatives. The question of whether the Palestinian nationalist slogans are calls for genocide against Jews is an entirely distinct matter. Though once you recognize the literal meaning of “intifada,” as this piece thankfully does, it’s not hard to hear the dehumanizing connotation.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

“Non-Jews regularly use phrasings and terms against Jews and Israel that are *obviously* barbed specifically against Jews, like Nazi comparisons and the endless barrage of “bloodthirsty baby/child killer” characterizations.”

These aren’t “*obviously* barbed specifically against Jews.” If a different nation was carrying out a genocide, and one that had disportionately targeted children, I’m sure you would find critics making the exact same comparisons! If you do a quick Google search, you easily can find people calling apartheid South Africans Nazis, or chanting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did your murder today?” during the Vietnam War. This seems like a pathetically bad faith argument.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
1 month ago

Comparing Jews with Nazis isn’t obviously barbed against Jews? Sure bud. “Bad faith.”

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

If Israelis were behaving like Nazis, it would be appropriate to draw the comparison.

krell_154
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
1 month ago

It would. But they’re not, so it isn’t.

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  krell_154
1 month ago

That has nothing to do with them being Jewish, though.

ori
ori
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
1 month ago

you would have a valid point if what ‘exhausted’ said was that “even if israelis acted like nazis, it wouldn’t be appropriate to draw the comparison”. But that’s just not what he was trying to say, and you know that. it’s called strawmaning and acting in bad faith.

by the way, if jews had a secret plan to control the world’s economy, it would also be appropriate to point out that they seem to have this plan. but that hypothetical is offensive and in bad faith again.

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  ori
1 month ago

I’m not going to discuss it with you if you are going to make personal attacks.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  ori
1 month ago

Setting aside the absurd ad hominem, how could you draw any other conclusion? Nearly every critic of Israel who has compared Israelis to Nazis believes Israel is currently carrying out a genocide against the Palestinian people. The charitable interpretation of these critics calling Israelis Nazis is that they all sincerely believe that the Israelis are behaving in relevant respects like Nazis. To take what ‘exhausted’ is saying seriously, you have to believe that these critics of Israel, which include many Jews, are secretly motivated by antisemitism instead of what (at least to me) appears to be a genuine concern about an ongoing genocide.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

Again, if a different country was pursuing Nazi-esque policies, their critics would compare them to the Nazis. E.g., when Russia invaded Ukraine, I stood outside the Russian embassy in DC holding a sign comparing Putin to Hitler. It seems unreasonable that Palestinians who are being massacred in the ghetto they were forced into by Israel can’t make what’s a very obvious historical parallel.

andy
andy
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

You can’t just stamp your feet and say “Is too!” in response to a specific counter-argument and expect to persuade anyone.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  andy
1 month ago

What do you need an argument for? That comparisons of Jews to Nazis are barbed against Jews, or against the very silly argument that if X has been compared to Y, comparing Z to Y cannot be barbed against Z?

The first claim is self-evidently true. The second argument is entirely senseless: Suppose your father beat you repeatedly growing up. An assault case comes up on TV, and your mother compares the criminal to your father. That’s not specifically barbed against the criminal, because the criminal’s history has nothing to do with being beaten by your father. Now suppose you hit someone in a fit of anger–if someone compares you to your father here, leaving aptness aside, they are making a comparison barbed against you in light of your history.

Hope this helps.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

I dislike interacting with people who would read what I’m saying as childishly “stamping feet” (to talk about persuasion/rhetoric), though it’s rich that it comes in the form of a “you can’t just!”

But I dislike lots of things, so to say it another way, re. the argument: whether a comparison is specifically barbed against someone is not a matter of whether someone is being compared to a terrible person, but of whether someone is being compared to someone who is known to have done something terrible to them. The question of the aptness of Nazi comparisons is a distinct matter, as is the question of whether making comparisons specifically barbed against someone are per se justifiable to the person against whom the comparison is barbed (perhaps sometimes they could have a rhetorical force that benefits the listener, e.g.).

What should be obvious is this: It is well-known that Nazis targeted and committed sickening atrocities against Jews on a mass scale—indeed it is almost certainly known by everyone who reads this blog—and thus it should be widely recognizable (and recognized) that comparisons of Jews (or Israel) to Nazis is specifically barbed against Jews.

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

The fact that very many Jewish people (JVP?) are themselves actively involved in the Palestinian solidarity movement—as even cursory exposure to it reveals—is the evidence you’re asking for.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  TF Rector
1 month ago

Oh Herr Rector, good to hear from you! That’s hardly evidence of what I’m asking evidence for. JVP regularly honors people who have committed acts of terror in Israel, murdering innocent Jews in cold blood. See: https://www.adl.org/resources/blog/jewish-voice-peace-jvp-what-you-need-know

TF Rector
TF Rector
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

You might want to consider whether smearing your interlocutors as antisemites for no good reason is a sensible way to persuade anyone of anything. That’s just some friendly advice. You’re welcome.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

As a Jew, I think it’s wrong to suggest that “amount of casualties seems to have no correlation with amount of public-philosophical discussion,” and that anti-semitism is to blame. The bombing in Gaza has been overwhelming and indiscriminate. To quote an Associated Press report “ In just over two months, the offensive has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II. It has killed more civilians than the U.S.-led coalition did in its three-year campaign against the Islamic State group.” And to quote a CNN report “ In the first month of its war in Gaza, Israel dropped hundreds of massive bombs, many of them capable of killing or wounding people more than 1,000 feet away.”

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  ComeOnNow
1 month ago

Look up how many bombs (not even the entirety of Israel’s violent means of war) Israel has dropped in Gaza and how many Gazan casualties there are in Gaza—by the ratio of bombs dropped to Gazan casualties, “overwhelming and indiscriminate” is a vague mischaracterization.

Look up other current conflicts and the numbers of casualties—for those with, say, half the casualties, are they discussed even a quarter as much as Israel’s with the Palestinian territories? What about those with ten times the casualties: Are they discussed even the same amount as Israel’s conflict with the Palestinian territories? You have no argument against my claim that amount of casualties does not really correlate with amount of public-philosophical discussion.

Antisemitism has a slice of the blame pie, but of course any more in-depth explanation would have to get into the transmission of content and network dynamics. I’m confident that antisemitism informs how such processes have become what they are, but obviously the notion that discussion of Israel solely arises from prejudices harbored by individuals is implausible.

andy
andy
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

We can all see that you’re confident, but you are not giving grounds for your confidence. *Everyone* cares more about the Israel-Palestine conflict than other regional conflicts (at least in the U.S. and in much of Europe), not just critics of Israel. And there are pretty straightforward reasons for that.

krell_154
Reply to  ComeOnNow
1 month ago

To quote an Associated Press report “ In just over two months, the offensive has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II.”

Utter nonsense.

I won’t speak for Aleppo, but the claim that the destruction in Gaza is worse than that in Mariupol is insulting.

Louis F. Cooper
Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

This comment by “exhausted,” specifically its “NB2,” does not reflect very accurately what happened at the congressional hearing: news reports made clear that Stefanik’s question about calls for genocide took as its implicit premise the view that slogans such as “globalize the intifida” are necessarily calls for genocide. As Adam Hosein makes clear in the OP, that premise is wrong. In other words, Stefanik’s question that went viral was not asked in a vacuum and has to be seen in the context of the questions she asked immediately before it. One of the problems with the university presidents’ replies is that they did not challenge Stefanik’s premise that the use of “intifida” is the same as calling for genocide.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
1 month ago

“Globalize the [shaking off]” “revolution there is only one solution” are certainly plausibly calls for genocide. And as you know, any of the university presidents could say, “I do not affirm that ‘globalize the intifada’ is necessarily a call for genocide, but calls for genocide against Jews, as are calls for any violence against anyone, are against university policies.” So I agree with you in a way—the university presidents should have been more earnest and willing to challenge whatever premises they felt deserve to be challenged about the slogans and the protests, en route to recognizing that *calls* for genocide cannot possibly be protected under free speech in the US because they are obviously incitements to violence.

exhausted.
exhausted.
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

Also the standard of “being necessarily” is clearly far too high for any empirical phenomenon.

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

You are mistaken about the law. A call for genocide, without more, is not illegal.

Louis F. Cooper
Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  J. Bogart
1 month ago

Yes, the relevant case here in U.S. free speech law is Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), which held that speech of this sort loses protection only when it advocates imminent violence. It has not been overruled.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  exhausted.
1 month ago

Here is one obvious answer (which is not antisemitism), and that has nothing to do with the number of casualties absurd as it is to simply dismiss it, as to why the mass murder, starvation, torture, evictions, house demolitions, and other atrocities Israeli forces and settlers are currently conducting in Palestine on an unprecedented rate are receiving increased attention from academics in the West (Even though in my opinion it is not even enough): It has to do with the fact that Israeli actions (and some would argue its very existence) would *not* have been possible without the substantial and continuous direct military, economic, political and moral support from Western governments and elite institutions led of course by the US government.

It is only natural and obvious, thus, that Western academics who work in Western institutions where liberal values are considered the norm and pay tax money to Western governments through which Israel is financed and supported have more incentive to engage with discussion, analysis and critique/justification of Israel’s atrocities. As far as I know, no other atrocities are being committed right now with this level of direct Western support, so this what-aboutism is particularly bad because it even fails to refer to analogous cases.

Another interesting point to note here is that Israel and its supporters in the World put so much effort for weeks into publicising Oct 7 and making it the centre of attention of mainstream media and public intellect around the world, which was coupled with demonisation of Palestinians (not just Hamas) and gross arabophobia and islamophobia, but now they complain that the subsequent atrocities committed by Israel is receiving more attention than it should and that the world should turn instead to other atrocities being currently committed or else risk being labeled as antisemitic.

So Israel welcomes the attention, from academics and the media alike, as long as it aligns with its eternal victimhood narrative, a narrative that fixates on Oct 7 as an ahistorical event that has neither proceeding nor subsequent events, as sadistic atrocities committed by savages and enemies of civilisation who are motivated by nothing apart from their rampant hatred of Jews.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
1 month ago

Thank you Adam for this excellent piece, and thank you Justin for this series as a whole. One thing that is not being reported on or discussed enough in the US media at the moment are the many explicit claims by people in positions of power (or their advisors) in Israel that are *explicitly* genocidal or promoting ethnic cleansing. There have been a long series of such statements since October. Most recently, the Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs yesterday asked for other countries to contact the government if they are willing to take people from Gaza. On Christmas Day, Israeli PM Netanyahu publicly confirmed that Israel’s plans include mass population transfers out of Gaza to other countries. Meanwhile ethnic cleansing is speeding up in the West Bank, with the IDF either assisting or standing by as it occurs. For many often extreme examples of genocidal language directed at Palestinians by people in Israel, see this pdf: https://onedrive.live.com/?authkey=%21AFTLzU%5F7ywgHhog&id=20448391C9BF03A0%21181245&cid=20448391C9BF03A0&parId=root&parQt=sharedby&o=OneUp

I would encourage Justin to have an expert on genocide and ethnic cleansing write about the present crisis.

Last edited 1 month ago by ComeOnNow
Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  ComeOnNow
1 month ago

Words can be hyperbolic, which is kind of what has already been said. After 9-11 there were a lot of calls to bomb Afghanistan back to the stone age. In the current conflict, Lindsey Graham called on Israel to level the place. The leader of Turkey has said the leader of Israel is worse than Hitler (www.timesofisrael.com/turkeys-erdogan-says-netanyahu-worse-than-hitler-israel-running-nazi-camps/). I’m not condoning people saying crazy things, I’m just saying that this is a very raw conflict, it is easy to misspeak, or intentionally score political points by saying something awful. Saying they should empty Gaza or comparing Palestinians to animals is awful, but it hasn’t been a slam dunk case for genocidal intent.

I appreciate that one could point to military plans that have been leaked and ask whether that is more serious, but even that, in and of itself, is a bit weak. The October 7 attack did exactly what it was supposed to do. It totally disrupted the status quo. Based on all the evidence that has come out (most of which has been published in the NYT), it is clear that part of the reason the attack was successful is that the Israeli establishment was extremely confident with its assessment that Hamas wouldn’t strike Israel. Given that level of confidence (which resulted in dismissing numerous warnings and reports), it likely that the Israeli government/military may not have a very well thought out back up plan for how to go forward and likely spent the past several months wildly brain-storming and writing plans. So I doubt that a leaked plan is anything more than desperation about how to neutralize the threat from Gaza without re-occupying it.

All of that does feed into why Adam Omar Hosein’s post is so important. There is a lot of questionable reasoning going on (on both sides). A significant number on both sides almost certainly want the other side to leave and to control public opinion through misunderstanding of the conflict, passionate statements, and ambiguity to mask some pretty questionable premises and conclusions. The problem with statements like “from the river to the sea” and “Intifada” is that they are ambiguous and the extremists on both sides are making heavy use of ambiguity to make statements that appeal to moderates and radicals. (Some news media aren’t referring to “Palestine” because it isn’t clear what is meant by it, i.e. all of historic Palestine or Gaza and the West Bank.) The task of a university should be to help people understand and unpack those statements.

What is particularly ironic is that the flawed reasoning and premises on both sides is very similar. Both sides accuse no one else of wanting the other side. There is a sympathy on both sides that the whole of the lands are naturally theirs (divinely or otherwise). Both sides don’t like to recognize the other’s claims. Both sides like to say the other side can go to where they are from or another country that is close enough (e.g. back to Europe, even though a majority of Israel’s Jews are descendants of people expelled from Arab countries). Both sides believe the other only understands force. Groups on both sides believe that violence against innocents is acceptable to fulfill their goal. And both sides everyone would side with them alone despite some form of bias.

In any event, neither side is going to go anywhere without being ethnically cleansed. And it would be nice if the critical thinking skills that are supposed to be taught at university could assist people in understanding each of the two sides and thinking of creative ways to settle how these two groups can live together in peace and still realize on their aspirations as people to a homeland and place where their people can go to escape persecution.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

I don’t for a moment deny that there is genocidal rhetoric to be found on both sides of this conflict. I wouldn’t for a moment wish to defend Hamas. Still, one mustn’t forget there is a a huge asymmetry in terms of military power and what each side could achieve here. This is a key reason why serious genocide scholars such as Omer Batov have been warning that genocidal rhetoric in Israel could lead to genocidal actions

Nameless
Nameless
1 month ago

Please provide a source to a credible media link that says Netanyahu has confirmed plans to move significant populations out of Gaza. As far as I’ve read, Israel won’t disclose its long-term plans for Gaza https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/dec/27/benjamin-netanyahu-israel-refuses-to-discuss-postwar-plan-for-gaza-strip While that sounds like it could be scary, it is also plausible that: (a) there is no agreed on plan; (b) Israel doesn’t want to disclose for reasonable diplomatic or reasonable strategic reasons, including that they are still trying to cobble something together; (c) it is politically unpalatable for Netanyahu to announce the plan; or (d) some mixture of the above. I appreciate that there are people advocating for resettlement, but I would be shocked if there was wide-spread support for the idea (including from the army). There is a reason that Israel left in 2005.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Here is a source for the claim that Netanyahu endorsed ethnic cleansing on Dec 25: https://www.israelhayom.co.il/news/geopolitics/article/15002089
Translation: https://www-israelhayom-co-il.translate.goog/news/geopolitics/article/15002089?_x_tr_sl=auto&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=wapp&_x_tr_hist=true

Some will quibble with the term “ethnic cleansing” because of the inclusion of “voluntary,” but if one is talking about people whose houses have been destroyed, who are close to starving, and who are living in constant fear of themselves and their families being killed, “voluntary” doesn’t mean much at all.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

I would also note that you haven’t addressed the fact that actual ethnic cleansing (and not just the potential for ethnic cleansing) has recently accelerated in the West Bank, and has been going on for years. I don’t deny that long term plans for Gaza are still to be decided on and carried out, but to think that ethnic cleansing might occur in at least a significant part of Gaza does not look at all unlikely if one has been paying attention to what has been going on with settlers and their victims in the West Bank.

Last edited 1 month ago by ComeOnNow
Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  ComeOnNow
1 month ago

I’m not sure that voluntary means much, but what he described was getting refugees to other countries. That isn’t unusual and isn’t ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing typically requires an intention to remove an ethnic group from an area. Some refugees (even a lot) leave a war zone, isn’t in itself ethnic cleansing.

I do agree that there is a risk of ethnic cleansing in the conflict (albeit on a longer term scale) and that risk has gotten greater, but I don’t agree that the risk is primarily of Israel carrying it out or that it is imminent.

With respect to the risk of ethnic cleansing, there is a long-term risk of genocide in Israel/Palestine because there is a significant portion of each side (perhaps even a majority on the Palestinian side – https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/poll-shows-palestinians-back-oct-7-attack-israel-support-hamas-rises-2023-12-14/) who want the other side gone. That doesn’t, however, mean that genocide is likely to occur now or that Israel is more likely to carry out genocide because it is more powerful.

Up until the October 7 attacks it is doubtful Israel would want to carry out genocide because it was fine with the status quo. Right leaning governments had dominated Israel’s government because there was policy alignment between the center and the right in preserving the status quo. The center believed there was no partner in peace and no immediate threat. In my view, but I think it is a reasonable one, the right figured if it could hold out long enough, there was a descent chance it could grab all or most of the West Bank.

While the demography of the area is contested, there was at least a case that by the mid-2030s, the Jewish population in Israel would grow faster than the Palestinian population. This is because of the very high birth-rate among the ultra orthodox. That strategy doesn’t work with Gaza because you’d have too many Palestinians and the birth rate in Gaza was too high. Effectively, the strategy was seek credibility and wait. I also note that on the right that strategy also nicely fits with Gaza being where the Philistines lived, so there was less emotional attachment to the area.

So Israel being more powerful made a genocide less likely. Genocide has its own internal reasoning, and it isn’t just about power.

Conversely, a sizeable portion of Gaza’s population (and the Palestinian population, generally) want a single state solution where they dominate. This vision in itself likely entails some type of genocide because you cannot create a fundamentalist Islamic state when 40% plus of the population is not Islamic and very liberal.

I think it is fair to say that October 7 changed that dynamic, and it likely increased the risk of genocide on both sides. The survey I cited occurred after October 7. The survey I linked to occurred after the attacks, so the Palestinians, as a whole, became more likely to support genocide. Israel’s loss of its invulnerability, could also drive some type of horrific action. It’s very clear Israel does not want anything to do with Gaza, and I’d be concerned that if it were to come to the conclusion that it has to stay in Gaza, that might provoke some very crazy behavior. That doesn’t justify genocide or excuse it, I would just be surprised if a military campaign that resulted in 20,000 deaths (whether or not desired) wasn’t enough to quench any thirst for revenge. I’d also be less concerned about the far right, at least immediately, as I suspect the days of ignoring Hamas as a threat are long over.

That does lead to a another point about teaching critical thinking in respect of Israel/Palestine, which is that the conflict often stalls about because of a lack of critical and creative thinking. Israel missing the Yom Kippur War and the October 7 attacks being obvious examples. But you also had Trump normalize relations in a way that no one had really ventured as being a realistic possibility.

That is more than a little ironic when one remembers Zionism was a response to the Kishnev Pogrom and other ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe. It wasn’t an obvious answer, but the early writings on the Zionism show a lot more creativity in terms of solutions to a conflict than we are seeing today. Understanding both sides to the issue and engaging in critical and creative thinking, to me, sounds like a much better process than polemics, refusal to engage with tough questions and allowing conflict to become a political football or litmus test. It would at minimum be more in keeping with the values of a university than either mass censorship or rallies yelling ambiguous slogans.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

You don’t address the fact that ethnic cleansing has already been going on for a long time now in the West Bank and has accelerated since early October with the support of the IDF, and with more than 500 Palestinians having been killed there during this period. You talk about the West Bank changing as if it’s all just about waiting patiently for people to move on or having so many kids that the demographics will change without much violence occurring. As for the label “ethnic cleansing,” you haven’t given any reason to doubt that it’s appropriate.
https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2023/october/ethnic-cleansing-in-the-west-bank

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  ComeOnNow
1 month ago
Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  ComeOnNow
1 month ago

I agree that what is going on in the West Bank is awful. Whether it is state sponsored ethnic cleansing is another issue. The Israeli government is too complicit in settlement construction and isn’t doing enough about settler violence. That said, it is unclear that the violence is truly a state policy. Frankly, most military occupations are brutal, and it is extremely difficult to ascertain what is intentional violence and policy supporting violence and what is just standard operation for a military occupation. By definition you have a bunch of young men and women who are armed, vastly outnumbered by the population, and facing potential death if they underreact. There are going to be mistakes – lethal ones. In trying to curb excesses you’re often facing two people telling very different stories that often come down to just picking between directly competing narratives. You also have to control for military order. So it becomes incredibly difficult to tell what is being sanctioned by the state and what is not. I’m not saying this is a situation that should continue. I’d hope that critical thinking and creative thinking could revive some type of a peace partner or come up with a creative solution. I’d think the goal right now should be to push for some type of an independent Palestinian state with a de-radicalized government. I would note that Hamas has rejected at least two such proposals at present.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

I think it is worth noting that you like to use survey data very selectively. You link to a recent survey that reports support for Hamas without thinking about how having friends and family killed tends to lead to radicalization (one of a number of reasons why this war, in the manner it has been fought to date, is morally unjustifiable). A report on a survey completed before October 7: ‘“We find in our surveys that 67 percent of Palestinians in Gaza had little or no trust in Hamas in that period right before the attacks,” said Amaney Jamal, dean of Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs.‘ https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20231128-rare-survey-details-how-gazans-wary-of-hamas-before-israel-attack
And you fail to mention attitudes regarding the war within Israel, focusing just on the Palestinians. When it comes to support for the present brutal unjustifiable level military aggression, a very recent survey found that “…two-thirds (66%) of Israelis say they do not think Israel should agree to US demands to shift to a phase of the war with a reduced heavy bombing in populous areas.”
https://en.idi.org.il/articles/52085

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  ComeOnNow
1 month ago

I said that the wide-spread support for the attacks on October 7 suggests an appetite for genocide. There is a difference between dropping a bomb and raping someone in the immediacy and immediate hatred. Wide spread support for the latter is very different than a poll suggesting that Israelis don’t want their government to bow to international pressure if it could put their security at risk.

I have no doubts that violence tends to beget violence or at least indifference to the other side’s suffering. That doesn’t address whether or not the war/conflict is justified.

As you noted, 67% of Gaza’s population has said they don’t support Hamas (prior to the war). They, however, have no way to remove Hamas from power. Hamas also carried out brutal attacks and has promised more. It is unclear what if any other action could get rid of Hamas. Many people have suggested targeted assignations, cutting off funding, and targeted incursions. To me that sounds like a slightly more extreme variant of “mowing the lawn,” and it isn’t clear that it would remove or weaken Hamas immediately and would be dependent on what prolonged international support, which may not subsist (which is also the line of thinking in the Israeli survey – or a fair read of it).

There is a very long conflict going on here where two people want the same thing and are going to have to learn to live with something less. While we’d hope that people could see the bigger picture and move on, that doesn’t always happen. I don’t like what is occurring, and I think we should be looking for ways out. That said, I’m at a loss for how you can otherwise deal with Hamas. It may be possible to adopt a more aggressive mowing of the lawn policy, but I’m less sold that some massive incursion wasn’t required.

I want to be clear that I’d rather that not have been the case, and it eats me up in side that it isn’t.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Dropping a bomb is a civilised way to kill and is not genocidal like the tactics used by those Hamas terrorists. Thank you for your contribution, Nameless.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Thank you for pointing out that while support among Israelis for the bombardment of Gaza is fully rational due to security threats, the support for the Oct 7 attacks among Palestinians can never be rationalised under any pretext and can only be interpreted as appetite for genocide and barbaric bloodlust (most probably due to rampant antisemitism and nothing else).

Last edited 1 month ago by Yazan Freij
Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Yazan Freij
1 month ago

Given the nature of the attacks (gangrapes, killing children, taking children hostages), yes, supporting them is only understandable as barbaric bloodlust. That isn’t a claim of anti-Semitism, that’s basic human morality.

andy
andy
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Most people in Gaza simply do not believe that the attack included the kind of orgiastic violence you’re describing, for what it’s worth. Pretty symmetrical to how Israelis tend to view the IDF: supportive, with various mechanisms of dancing around or ignoring the ugly stuff.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Yes. Exactly. Thanks again, nameless, for your valuable insights. It is definitely due to innate barbaric bloodlust (which I presume is in turn due to their violent religion and/or inferior race and culture) and is definitely not a desperate reaction to colonial violence and ethnic cleansing as some people who do not understand the complexity of the situation have maintained.

Last edited 1 month ago by Yazan Freij
andy
andy
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

There are, I think, some problematic assumptions inside questions of the type, “Well, how *should* Israel respond to Hamas?”

Take a hypothetical from a partially analogous situation, say, the South African resistance to apartheid. The ANC was at certain points lax about killing civilians. This is morally condemnable. But, from the standpoint of today, it would feel absurd to stand around listening to the white South Africans debate how to bring the resisters to justice for this. The only morally appropriate thing to do was to simply end the apartheid regime. That doesn’t mean the killing of civilians loses its moral status, only that the moral question of the particular act is in a sense subordinate to the normativity of the political situation. Similarly, while the families of those killed in October 7 may have a right to demand justice, Israel as a state basically has no right of self-defense here.

Last edited 1 month ago by andy
Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  andy
1 month ago

At present a single state solution isn’t workable, but is what is demanded by Hamas (and what the Israeli right favour). If Israel were to immediately remove all borders with Gaza and let the Palestinian population into Israel, there is a very good chance it would result in numerous repetitions of October 7. Again, a vast majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza supported the October 7 attacks. It is accordingly doubtful that a group regarded as national heroes by upwards of 40% of a population would be brought to justice.

andy
andy
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

You’re factually mistaken regarding the demands of Hamas. Moreover your comment isn’t really responsive to what I said.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  andy
1 month ago
Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Yazan Freij
1 month ago

The 2017 Charter still affirms the original Charter and provides, among other items:

  • 2. Palestine, which extends from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west and from Ras al-Naqurah in the north to Umm al-Rashrash in the south, is an integral territorial unit. “
  • 27. A real state of Palestine is a state that has been liberated. There is no alternative to a fully sovereign Palestinian State on the entire national Palestinian soil, with Jerusalem as its capital.

While the new Charter is a move in the right direction, it is at best ambiguous on a two-state solution. It at best calls for a two-state solution, one being Palestinian and the other being Palestinian/Jewish – and even that is questionable.

There are 7 million Jews (and many more Christians) in the area. Jews constitute a majority of the population.

It should be a given that it is not reasonable to demand your own right of national self-determination while denying it to someone else. Both sides are going to have to live with states in Palestine that do not fit neatly within their religious beliefs about ownership of the land.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Perhaps better put, the portion of the document providing:

“[h]owever, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.”

Is not a real call for a two-state solution.

Given the rest of the document, which includes lines about how the land is Islamic in character, sacred, cannot be “relinquished,” forms one territorial unit, it is reasonably read as a demand that a Jewish state be demolished and an Islamic one be established, it is a demand for a Palestinian state with a possible willingness to accept another Palestinian state next door.

The document refuses to accept the concept of Jews as a people and doesn’t even address that a majority of the Israeli population are Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

So, no, I don’t think I’m factually mistaken about Hamas’ aims.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  andy
1 month ago

This is a fairly recent article on Hamas:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2023/10/hamas-covenant-israel-attack-war-genocide/675602/

This is a link to their Charter:

https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp

While there had been some movement on Hamas’ position in the early 21st Century, it has not moved on from: (a) no compromise and (b) the only state that can exist is an Islamic state.

There had been some talk of recognizing Israel, recently: https://www.jpost.com/israel-hamas-war/article-777968; however, that isn’t the position of Hamas and hasn’t been moved on.

This can be seen here: https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/article-779462

Given the circumstances, above, i.e. a terrorist organization that actively calls for the genocide of 1/2 the population or, on more generous reading, just requires them to live under severe repression, what exactly do you think Israel should do at present?

To me, it seems plausible, if not likely, some campaign in Gaza is required, and one can really only hope Hamas is weakened and some sort of two state solution is forced on the parties.

I don’t really see any other reasonable work around.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Yes. Thank you, nameless. Israel should keep doing exactly what it is doing now. It is the only way to ensure peace and prosperity for Israeli Jews. Unlike Hamas, no one can deny Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution. Those who point out to the continuous land grabbing and settlement expansion in the West Bank, the siege and total destruction of the Gaza Strip as well as official statements by the current and preceding Israeli governments against a Palestinian state as obstacles to the solution are simply deluded. Let’s just hope that these deluded people do not start calling for some sort of military campaign against Israel to “force some sort of two-state solution on it”.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Yazan Freij
1 month ago

Yazan, shooting someone is not the same thing as being brutally raped and tortured to death. What Hamas did cannot be justified under international law because you can’t accidentally rape someone. Israel could theoretically justify civilian causalities as being proportional damage and not indiscriminate bombing. It is at least theoretically possible.

There is a lot of reason to be frustrated by the current Israeli government. However, the major consideration that seems to keep them in power is that you cannot deal with Hamas, which does seem to be at least arguable.

You are clearly very upset about what is going on here, and you should be. I think we all hope peace and a two-state solution will be a silver lining here. And I think there is good reason to think it will be because eliminating or weakening Hamas is likely going to remove the argument about Israel not being able to deal with someone. I suspect it will also remove Israel’s current government from power.

Cheyney Ryan
Cheyney Ryan
1 month ago

The best historical discussion of ethnic cleansing that I know, and that I recommend reading, is MICHAEL MANN, THE DARK SIDE OF DEMOCRACY: EXPLAINING ETHNIC CLEANSING. It is principally a discussion of significant historical examples, so allows the question of Israel’s policies to be posed as how much it is similar to these other cases.

Keith
1 month ago

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is unjustified, for (at least) some of the reasons Nir Eyal raised in this space. Most of all, it’s gross overkill – knowingly, callously killing many civilians in the pursuit of a comparatively miniscule number of combatants, who aren’t even a mortal threat anymore. That’s awful, monstrous.

But I’m not sure how helpful it is to exaggerate it still, and call it genocide or ethnic cleansing, as though this has nothing to do with Hamas and it’s really about getting rid of a whole population of Gazans. Genocide and ethnic cleansing were born in contexts where governments had a definitive, explicit plan to eliminate an entire population permanently, either by death or expulsion. Hitler’s “Final Solution” was not a monstrous overreaction to militant Jewish forces embedded among the shtetls. It was explicitly seeking to end a certain ethnic community for who it was.

And yes, there is something especially problematic, all else equal, about accusing Jews (or Armenians) of genocide, or American Blacks of lynching, or Bosnian Muslims of ethnic cleansing; it appropriates the act of victimization that is both most traumatic and most searingly dominant in their recent historic memory and uses it against them. “Genocide” to Jews is always a double entendre, a dirty wink.

That, of course, doesn’t mean it’s off the table: if Jews are doing what the Nazis did, setting about to eliminate a population as an explicitly formulated national policy, then perhaps it’s appropriate. And ethnicized hyperbole may arguably be appropriate if it is the only effective means of pressure that might save lives. But I can’t see how either of those antecedents are even remotely true, much less supported enough to risk engaging in obvious race-baiting.

And this is not to defend Israel: quite the opposite; the tactic of ethnically loaded hyperbole serves only to hand the Israelis an easy strawman, thereby distracting from the genuine horrors being visited upon the people of Gaza. No one should sink to it.

ComeOnNow
ComeOnNow
Reply to  Keith
1 month ago

Not even the South African government should use such terms in their case before the ICJ? How about the ICJ (if it rules this way)? Have you read this document? I’m not saying you must agree with the choice to use such terms, but let’s not pretend there isn’t a reasonable case for using them. https://www.icj-cij.org/sites/default/files/case-related/192/192-20231228-app-01-00-en.pdf

Keith
Reply to  ComeOnNow
1 month ago

I don’t understand the relevance of your appeals to authority here. “Not even the South African government”? Whatever the merits of its position, the government you reference has been arguably the most vociferous diplomatic enemy of Israel’s in all UN fora or the past two decades. If there is an over-extreme way to condemn Israeli policy, it is not significant — indeed it is obvious — that the the South African government will reach for it. This is very much on record.

But more importantly, I, too, condemn the IDF’s knowingly killing civilians in Gaza, especially in such large numbers, and all the civilian suffering knowingly being inflicted. Monstrous, as I said (sigh). I’m no advocate for Israel on this. Again. But the document you link — which I’ve now read — amounts to little more than a detailed (and horrifying) accounting of this suffering and its cause. None of which is really in dispute.

The inference to genocide, however, is simply not motivated, much less a “reasonable case,” as you say. The tiny section dedicated to showing “genocidal intent” amounts to a collection of familiar quotes of Israeli officials, almost all of which are obviously about Hamas, not the Palestinian people as a whole. And none are traced to an official, agreed-upon policy by the Israeli government.

Does anything in the report show that Israel would be carrying out these operations if Hamas were absolutely absent from Gaza, and that its doing so is an express policy of eliminating the entire population (with or without Hamas)? Not only is there no reasonable case for this claim; there is no case at all.

The problems with appropriating the (obviously) ethnically loaded “genocide,” in contrast, need no demonstration.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Keith
1 month ago

Agree with Keith that if what has occurred is genocide, it’s a significant expansion of what was previously understood to constitute genocide.

Genocide typically requires an intention to physically destroy (read kill) Palestinians, so Palestinians cease to exist. In the circumstances, it would likely mean an attempt to kill or remove all the Palestinians from Gaza.

Killing ~21,000 people (including ~7,000 combatants) is horrific, but it is hard to argue that, in itself, is an attempt to destroy the Palestinians as a people in Gaza. That is especially so given that the obvious response from Israel is that because they are carrying out a battle in one of the most populous places on earth, the collateral damage is high. Being reckless when it comes to civilian deaths, is a war crime, but it isn’t genocide.

The South Africa’s brief focuses on the potential for a much larger scale of death should things continue. It is at best dubious that Israel would continue to conduct its campaign in the beginning of the war as it would later on. In fact, one might even expect the conditions to be worse early in the war because supply lines and logistics are being put in place (and sorted out). That doesn’t reflect strategic changes that occur after positions are taken over and defenses are overrun.

It is very possible that the ICJ could come up with a very different take on whether Israel has carried out genocide. Israel refusing to work with the UN makes it look bad. It’s politicians have said some awful things (which is actually some of the strongest evidence in support of genocide), and other alleged war crimes likely make it particularly unsympathetic.

I also suspect the image of Israel as a very white, very militaristic, colonial power also hurts it – not matter how incorrect that image is. Israel is not a bunch of crazy religious American Jews living on hill tops. The largest group of Israeli Jews are related to the Jews expelled from the Middle East and North Africa around 1948, and they certainly represent some settlers on hill tops. Itmar Ben-Gvir is of Jewish Iraqi and Kurdish descent, for example. A majority of Israeli Jews are not American citizens and most do not have ties to the United States. Who is indigenous isn’t always particularly clear and a sustained spiritual and cultural connection to a very specific location does distinguish the conflict from a typical colonial experience. That leaves aside the lack of an obvious metropole.

andy
andy
Reply to  Keith
1 month ago

I don’t see why there’s an exclusivity between an interest in destroying Hamas and an interest in destroying the population or devastating their capacity to have a society. If anything, I would say Israel may be operating with a counterinsurgency strategy similar to the US’ in Vietnam–the idea being that the only way to root out an embedded militia with broad social support is to destroy the society as a whole. What’s more, the Holocaust wouldn’t have *not* been genocide if Hitler had articulated it as an act of self-defense (which of course he did do).

Whether the Gaza massacre qualifies as genocide is another story. The legal definition is so broad as to be practically useless, mainly because of the ill-articulated “in whole or in part” clause. There are non-ridiculous ways to interpret that phrase, but no consensus on the right interpretation. So we end up with a radical split between the legal scope and the popular sense of what genocide is, and an inflation toward covering collective punishment and total war.

That said, the idea that genocide/ethnic cleansing necessarily means something planned and executed in a meticulous way is wrong. It can unfold through de-centralized incitement and it can unfold over a very long timeline, distributed across a variety of methods (e.g. the Native Americans). 

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  andy
1 month ago

Leaving aside that genocide as a crime requires specific intent, the issue is that war is legal and genocide is not. So if the evidence could be read as supporting both a legitimate war and genocide, it would usually weaken the evidence as proof of genocide. If the action being complained of is one that is likely required in any war, it is hard to say it is evidence of genocide. I’m not going to address whether this is a great case for expanding the definition of genocide given the history of the conflict.

I think your post really highlights a main part of the issue here though. Words/phrases like “genocide” or “river to the sea” are used and they are confusing and inflaming debate. Effectively, the phrases are being used as and/or function as propaganda. That is more than a little concerning given that the anger provoked by that propaganda is often directed at a vulnerable minority sometimes for holding relatively main stream views on the subject and other times for simply existing.

It is a university’s job to teach people to think critically about propaganda and evaluate it. It is also to teach people tolerance of other opinions and how to see both sides of an issue. So going back to the main post, it is a failure of a university if students aren’t able to ascertain propaganda and to determine that a particular word may be ambiguous and another may be more appropriate.

This isn’t a conflict with one bad guy.

From the Palestinian perspective, they’ve been dispossessed and want recognition that they were driven from their homes. They also feel they’ve never been offered a fair solution and their claim to their homeland is being overlooked. They also feel that they were forced to fully bear the results of fixing a problem with anti-Semitisms. They do not understand why the world will not protect them or why they cannot return. They also don’t understand why a Jewish state is necessary or fair.

From the Israeli perspective, nearly the whole of their population is composed of what can loosely be called refugees (mostly people fleeing what would now be considered ethnic cleansing). That population comes from all over the world but identifies as a people, has a significant culture attachment to the land (arguably more), speaks the same language, and has lived in Israel for generations. Their view is that they are entitled to a state in a place they have some justification in believing is their homeland. They speak one language, they live in a geographically defined area, and they want to know why they can’t continue to exercise their right to national self-determination. They see their state being Jewish as no different than France being France. A state is important to them because based on their history they do not have a lot of trust in world to protect them and a major theme of their history is that not matter what they will be outsiders in any state but their own. Finally, they do not understand why like millions of dispossessed peoples around 1948 (including most of Israel’s jewish population), the Palestinians can’t compromise.

Neither side has any other place to go. Neither side feels it is treated fairly. Both sides have religious claims and because of religious sentiment want the whole of the lands. Both sides also have governments that are extremely radical.

While the deaths of thousand of people should spark outrage and the events of October 7 should spark outrage, the role a university can play is calling out propaganda and teaching nuance in thinking. People should be aware of the impact of their words and be aware that radicals on both sides are using propaganda to seek allies and change narratives.

andy
andy
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Well, no–there is no tension between saying there is both a war and a genocide. Driving my car is legal but driving on the sidewalk isn’t; evidence that I’m driving a car doesn’t affect the question of the second thing. If you mean that war can create a plausible excuse or explanation–that the mass killing of civilians was all collateral damage–then sure.

Usually the hard thing to prove is intent, because usually it’s hard to find statements from political and military leaders that the destruction of the civilian population or their society is deliberate. That’s not going to be the case here.

I looked at that interview. The guy isn’t very persuasive or original. The interview begins with him saying that Netanyahu has no plans to evict the Palestinians from Gaza. In fact Netanyahu is on record stating that he would like to do that (although that hardly means he is actually planning on making it happen). The rest of what he says is at the meme level of argument–cut-and-paste potted sentences. The second article seems pretty similar. 

Neither author shows any evidence of having actually looked at the South African application for charges. The specifics are just irrelevant to them.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  andy
1 month ago

Andy,

If you are accused of driving a car on the sidewalk, the key component is that you did it on the sidewalk. Someone could prove you were in a car (the driver seat in fact!), that the wheels of the car were turning, that the engine was on, and the car was driven, but if that’s all they could prove, the case would fail because the key component of driving on the sidewalk was missing.

While I appreciate it is an appeal to authority. Rosalie Abella, Menachem Rosensaft, and Irwin Cotler (South Africa is inverting reality by accusing Israel of genocide | National Post) have all said genocide is likely not occurring. Cotler points to the inconsistency between warning civilians and a genocidal intent. Rosalie Abella is one of the most respected jurists in Canada (likely the world).
The issue is that while it is possible, that you could conduct a war and commit genocide, the issue is that if all the facts support both, it would be difficult to find a genocidal intent.

To be blunt, I think Abella’s article is actually the most bang-on thing that I’ve read on this. It is increasingly obvious that the October 7 attacks constituted a crime against humanity and Hamas has genocidal intent. Assume that men break into a house. They brutally rape and kill the daughter, and approach the husband and wife with weapons. The husband shoots one of them. If the police arrive and only charge the husband (who may have acted in self-defense), most people would consider that to be highly unjust and say something has gone wrong.

It’s fair that the husband may have over-reacted. But the condemnation of the husband alone without context would suggest something manifestly unfair has occurred. It doesn’t matter that the husband owned a gun or lived in a fancy house and the attackers did not. The husband could have even been a total jerk to the attackers before and the home built on their former campsite.

International law is not supposed to be about politics (although they are inescapable).

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/08/world/middleeast/hamas-sexual-violence-un-israel.html

While whether or not Israel is doing bad things doesn’t depend on whether Hamas and the Palestinians are, omitting or excusing what occurred on October 7 should be unacceptable.

andy
andy
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

You can substitute the driving analogy with a different one that makes the same very transparent point that both can be happening at once—as is *almost always the case* when genocide occurs! 

Your own analogy is just bizarre–it would be more appropriate to imagine the husband driving into another neighborhood afterwards and blasting everyone who looked like they might be among the attackers, and also anyone else who happened to be there.

I understand you find the articles to be correct and relevant, but you have not explained why. What I said was that the authors repeat familiar talking points about the justice of Israel’s cause, how unfairly it is treated, etc. Abella mostly just whines–about how rude and unfair it is for South Africa to criticize Israel but not Sudan, about how terrible Hamas is, about how it’s for some reason inappropriate for anyone in the present to make judgements about what Israel is doing, how she personally finds the charge offensive. Also the Holocaust happened. 

There is simply no argument here. There’s no analysis of the law or the facts adduced or the interpretation of those facts. I’m not sure it’s actually possible to describe the effect this article produces on someone as persuasion; it only fosters conviction.

One can argue that what Israel is doing is justified, as she does, but that’s not actually the same as claiming that it doesn’t meet the criteria of genocide. One can often find justifications for such things, and they are often persuasive to many people! Me, I don’t have a strong opinion on the legal question–there’s obviously strong evidence of intent, but I can see how a court could reasonably conclude that Israel is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity but not genocide.

Here, this is better (from Haaretz): https://archive.is/Ja02r

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  andy
1 month ago
  1. The analogy reflects that Hamas’ conduct is obviously a gross violation of international law. It is such a flagrant violation that it stands out because not only is their obviously no defense for it but because it is an extreme example of the conduct that was intended to be prevented. It is effectively a poster child for why international law is required. While Israel may be violating international law, it could only be compared to what Hamas did based on the comparative scale of loss of humanity. It lacks the unimaginable direct cruelty and lack of humanity that is displayed by the Hamas acts.
  2. Abella and Cotler are extremely respected jurists in Canada and internationally. Both are writing for newspapers, which would limit the space for responding to a very lengthy brief in a newspaper column. They don’t have the time to take the allegations one-by-one. The fact both have ventured to write on the topic is telling. While it is certainly possible they are both wrong, it is far more likely that this is a very weak case for genocide.
  3. You’re factually mistaken about there being strong evidence of intent to commit genocide (at least as that is usually understood). To be blunt, the statement of a few politicians, a bunch of troops chanting, and a lot of carnage (including some major interruption to supplies) is far from conclusive evidence of genocide. South Africa’s case is probably as strong as it is going to be at this point because Israel has not submitted its response. While it is possible Israel will give a lack luster defence, assuming Israel is able to present warnings to civilians, policy manuals directing behavior, evidence of targets struck, etc. (none of which is very public), and you have a weak case, which has been submitted for political purposes.
Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Andy,

You can find more of an analysis here: https://www.ejiltalk.org/rebutting-allegations-of-genocide-against-israel/. There is a very good argument that the case is weak and that it is highly politically motivated. Because it is a weak and politically motivated case, is Abella’s point. Bringing forward that type of case undermines the whole of the legal order that we are trying to protect.

Mass rape, shooting of innocents outside of combat zones at close range, and mass sexual violence cannot be justified. The are not just war crimes, they are offences against humanity.

Expanding phrases like “genocide” allows for politicization and abuse. There are many people who question whether an international legal order is even possible because of the politics involved. Expanding genocide to include wars we don’t like, undermines the sanction and power these concepts are supposed to have. They undermine the humanity these concepts are supposed to provoke.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

To just add one further item, allegations of genocide are typically proven using a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. So it isn’t enough to say a reasonable person could come to the conclusion a genocidal intent existed. You need to prove that a reasonable person wouldn’t doubt that genocide has occurred. It gets a bit murky for this hearing specifically because it isn’t really about is genocide occurring, so much as an interim application for some type of order to address the possibility of it existing.

With that in mind, the South African case looks much closer to a procedural step that was likely taken for political gain.

andy
andy
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Most of this is simply unresponsive to what I said. I don’t see the relevance of Hamas committing crimes to the Israeli genocide question. Your second point is just repeating the fact that you’re impressed by these people’s reputations despite the banality of the content of their essays; I agree that you are, but disagree that it is impossible to address the legal/factual questions *at all* even in the short space of several hundred words, and I even linked to an example of someone doing so more extensively in a newspaper. I said the authors produced conviction rather than persuasion and it seems we agree on that. Your third point seems to confuse matters of fact and interpretation, as well as plausibility with conclusiveness. I don’t think it’s conclusive, but it’s obviously plausible. In most legal cases concerning genocide, the hitch is that there are *not* statement from government officials announcing an explicit intent to punish the civilian population. The difficulty with proving intent is that a state is a collective actor, but that is also why the South African case charges both intent to commit and failure to prevent.

As to your last point, I don’t know exactly what you mean by “political gain”, but if the interim step of the court calling for a cessation of hostilities induces Israel to carry out even the most insincere, pro-forma, one-day-long gesture of not declaring every single person in some given area a presumptive combatant, and that saves one life, then it’s plainly a laudable tactic.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  andy
1 month ago

The issue is that the chances of proving genocide occurred beyond a reasonable doubt is extremely low. Most of the statements by government officials have been taken out of context. You can read more here: https://www.ejiltalk.org/rebutting-allegations-of-genocide-against-israel/

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  andy
1 month ago

The issue is that it is highly unlikely that a successful case can be brought that Israel carried out a genocide. The allegations made by South Africa would have a hard time meeting the standard that it is more probably than not genocide occurred.

That is incredibly unfortunate because for international law to work, it can’t be a political tool used to malign parties we like with weak cases. Doing that undermines the institutions. Prosecutors shouldn’t bring baseless cases against unpopular individuals because it undermines the respect for the rule of law and the integrity of the system.

In the example I provided, if the attacker had a knife, shooting the father may not acted in self-defense. It might be worth looking into that. However, in light of what had occurred it would a horrific miscarriage of justice to the facts that the rapist/murders were not charged or that context was omitted. It would be creating multiple standards of justice and it suggests a politicization of the international law that should simply not exist.

Countries need to respect International Law and that means respecting the integrity of the system and ones role in it. It means not bringing cases that are weak for the purposes of making political statements, which is what is going on here.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Charging a person with a crime that it is obvious they did not commit to stop them from carrying out an immoral act, is highly unethical.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/sep/22/pakistan.usa

After 9-11, the Bush administration threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the stone age if it didn’t cooperate.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/nov/01/lindsey-graham-israel-hamas-war-civilian-casualties

This was Lindsey Graham’s remarks on the recent attacks.

While I think we should all be resolute to prevent genocide. The quotes (particularly those taken out of context) are hardly surprising. I doubt the U.S. actually told Israel to attack Gaza without holding back, and I think you’d be foolish to read the Bush administration quote as strong evidence of a genocidal intent.

Given the statements by Israeli officials are likely the best evidence of genocidal intent, I’m very skeptical that there is a solid case here.

The problem with bringing weak cases, likely for domestic political gain, is that they undermine the credibility of the system. This isn’t a person bringing an iffy lawsuit. This is a state bringing an iffy lawsuit, and given the behavior of South Africa in at least one other case, there is a reasonable basis to conclude this isn’t a government committed to the eradication of genocide, but a government that isn’t above playing politics using international legal institutions.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  andy
1 month ago

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/sep/22/pakistan.usa

Just to put the quotes that are cited in context.

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

It might help the discussion to have the Convention definition at hand:

“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, 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.”

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  J. Bogart
1 month ago

The key issue is the “intent to destroy.” Looking at Prosecutor v. Radislav Krstic – Appeals Chamber – Judgment – IT-98-33 [2004] ICTY 7 (19 April 2004), you’d note para. 10 to 11:

  1. “This interpretation is supported by scholarly opinion. The early commentators on the Genocide Convention emphasized that the term “in part” contains a substantiality requirement. Raphael Lemkin, a prominent international criminal lawyer who coined the term “genocide” and was instrumental in the drafting of the Genocide Convention, addressed the issue during the 1950 debate in the United States Senate on the ratification of the Convention. Lemkin explained that “the destruction in part must be of a substantial nature so as to affect the entirety.”6] He further suggested that the Senate clarify, in a statement of understanding to accompany the ratification, that “the Convention applies only to actions undertaken on a mass scale.”[17] Another noted early commentator, Nehemiah Robinson, echoed this view, explaining that a perpetrator of genocide must possess the intent to destroy a substantial number of individuals constituting the targeted group.[18] In discussing this requirement, Robinson stressed, as did Lemkin, that “the act must be directed toward the destruction of a group,” this formulation being the aim of the Convention.[19]
  2. Recent commentators have adhered to this view. The International Law Commission, charged by the UN General Assembly with the drafting of a comprehensive code of crimes prohibited by international law, stated that “the crime of genocide by its very nature requires the intention to destroy at least a substantial part of a particular group.”[20] The same interpretation was adopted earlier by the 1985 report of Benjamin Whitaker, the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.[21]
  3. The intent requirement of genocide under Article 4 of the Statute is therefore satisfied where evidence shows that the alleged perpetrator intended to destroy at least a substantial part of the protected group. The determination of when the targeted part is substantial enough to meet this requirement may involve a number of considerations. The numeric size of the targeted part of the group is the necessary and important starting point, though not in all cases the ending point of the inquiry. The number of individuals targeted should be evaluated not only in absolute terms, but also in relation to the overall size of the entire group. In addition to the numeric size of the targeted portion, its prominence within the group can be a useful consideration. If a specific part of the group is emblematic of the overall group, or is essential to its survival, that may support a finding that the part qualifies as substantial within the meaning of Article 4.[22]

While 22,000 people is a very big number, given that it is less than 1% of the Palestinians living in the strip (and is certainly less than 1% if you note this is supposed to include 7,000 combatants), it is not clear that it an intention to destroy within the meaning of convention. That is leaving aside the evidence that Israel has been taking some steps to avoid mass deaths, which while arguably white-washing does at least confuse the intention analysis.

Further, if you look at how the components have been read, it isn’t even clear Israel is doing those things as within the meaning that has been ascribed to them. Indiscriminate killing, for example, doesn’t meet the test. It is also unclear that fall out from a bombing campaign would meet the test in (b), which is typically evidenced by things like mass rapes or being forced to watch ones family members being executed.

So, again, if you look at how this has historically been interpreted, there is not a strong case. The case appearing to be that the sheer scale of the operations necessitate a finding of genocide. My recollection is that Bartov made a similar argument about the entire Eastern Front in WWII. Based on what is known, this is not the Eastern Front in WWII.

I would agree that the Convention may be capable of a more robust interpretation. However, that robust interpretation does not appear to be consistent with past case law that has narrowed its scope, considerably.

It also does and should open the argument about whether a broader scope is workable – i.e. can it be reconciled with allowing for wars, which is the intention of the convention, and might broadening the interpretation remove the stigma attached to these crimes by making them far more common.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  J. Bogart
1 month ago

I’m not sure if the other post will get posted or not, but you need to look at how it has been interpreted. What is being asked for is an expansion of the historic reading. Why South Africa is being accused of “politicizing it” and “acting in bad faith” is because South Africa’s commitment to such an expansive definition is questionable based on recent past conduct related to Sudan.

andy
andy
Reply to  Nameless
1 month ago

Thanks, I appreciate the detailed citations here.

If South Africa’s case is weak and Israel presents good evidence that its actions are merely war crimes and crimes against humanity but not genocidal, and a court agrees with them, then I’m fine with that. And I do think that is overwhelmingly likely. 

International law is unfortunately rarely anything *but* a political tool, but I take your point about the corrosive effect of abusing the law. I think that’s convincing and makes the question of spuriousness relevant. I think the Ukraine case is an example of this. It may have been more responsible in this case to bring a more specific array of charges of crimes against humanity. 

However, here’s one way to look at what South Africa is doing: the legal definition of genocide was basically constructed with the Holocaust in mind, but many events widely recognized as genocides might not meet its standards. Perhaps we should see what South Africa is doing as an attempt to challenge those standards, on their own terms. I take it this is more or less what you mean by ‘politicizing’, and that seems true. I don’t know if I endorse that or not–I don’t know if, legally, SA could have instead brought forth other charges of crimes against humanity.

That said, I am still not fully convinced (based on my admittedly lay understanding) that interpreting what Israel is doing as genocidal is obviously *implausible*. I’ve seen the US strategy in Vietnam interpreted as genocidal: I think that’s wrong, because the indiscriminate massacre of the civilization population and its possibilities of life was instrumental toward defeating the Viet Cong rather than an end in itself. In the present situation, it seems like that’s what’s going on, along with a strategic motivation of terrorism, but also that there is a parallel motivation of vengeance. That makes the characterization more plausible to me here. Even then, as you say, the deliberate massacre of civilians is not per se automatically genocide, because the existence of the group qua group has to be diminished as a result of this. 

The percentage of the population killed is one way to do that–right now we’re at 20k-plus, which is surely an undercount since it does not include deaths from famine and disease. But still let’s say we’re looking at 1 or 2%. (I’ll set aside Israel’s claim, which you endorse, that every adult male who has been killed is a combatant.) It’s probably a given–I hope I’m wrong–that a year or years from now, given loss of infrastructure and resources, we’ll be looking at six figure death counts via disease, hunger, etc. But this hasn’t happened yet and you can’t convict someone of a crime in advance. All that said, geographic cleansing, a la permanent displacement and concentration, certainly counts.

(BTW, a noteworthy difference vis a vis US comments about Pakistan is that the US did not then go on to displace almost the entire population of Pakistan and render a large part of its geography indefinitely uninhabitable. If they had, it would be quite plausible to read those statements in that light. Lindsay Graham’s comments seem to describe the Israeli approach accurately.)