In this four part series exclusive to Huffington Post, novelist and essayist Douglas Anthony Cooper examines the accusations of genocide that have been made against Israel by its critics. You can read Part One: "Genghis Khan with a Computer" here, Part Two: Murder by Numbers here, and Part Three: A Matter of Lies and Death here.
The genocide libel can be innocent. I truly believe this. Many people simply do not have the relevant information. Not everyone can be expected to do historical research, and when quasi-respectable historians promote a lie, it is hardly a sin to believe them. An appalling number of decent people truly believe that Israel is committing genocide.
If you are coming into this argument late, I refer you to the beginning of Part 2 of this article, in which the numbers are laid out fully, with links to the relevant databases. The most important figures -- established with academic certainty -- are these: Approximately 15,000 have been killed over the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This number is accurate within a couple of thousand, and includes all Jewish and Palestinian fatalities: civilians and combatants. The number of innocent Palestinian civilians killed since 1948 is in the four figures.
These numbers have been calculated by rigorous institutions, whose sympathies lie with the Palestinian cause: They are not contested by serious scholars. I confess that I was amazed at just how low these figures are -- I found myself returning to the data again and again to check that I had not misread them. (I urge you to do so as well.) Hence, I can hardly condemn others for not pursuing them more rigorously, even if they have swallowed a vastly more bloated distortion.
It is a different matter when a liar knows that he is lying. Huffington Post member Bill Sampson, a ubiquitous "Level 2 Super User," is almost certainly less of a scholar than Norman Finkelstein -- he may not know the precise figures -- but make no mistake: He knows precisely what he is doing. Sampson is fond of spreading obscure pseudo-history -- for example, the anti-Semitic canard that Ashkenazim are all descended from converted Khazars, hence have no claim to Israel. And he is very keen on painting those Jewish interlopers as serial murderers:
"Attacking Gaza is the latest episode in its six-decade reign of terror satisfying the definition of genocide against defenseless Palestinian civilians."
Again, these comments appear on the Huffington Post. Not the Institute for Historical Review (a supposedly scholarly front for Holocaust denial). Not a neo-Nazi bulletin board. This is a liberal online publication, with moderated comments.
I suspect those moderators would react immediately if a contributor posted that Jews ritually slaughtered gentile children in order to use the blood in the preparation of matzo. Readers would scream. Perhaps a couple of the most malignant Israel-haters would quietly approve, but even they would be careful to stay quiet. The rest would quickly denounce the writer as a malicious, ignorant bigot.
Nevertheless it is entirely acceptable on this site to discuss the "Palestinian genocide." The genocide libel -- which is uglier than the blood libel -- is not even considered vulgar, much less impermissible. Worse, it is considered uncivilized by many not to share this bigotry. Note the following exchange between humanitarians on Huffington Post.
User gina51 opines:
"The unfortunate thing about this conflict is that if one sympathises with the Palestinians they are immediately labeled anti-semitic. Israel is committing genocide ...."
User "morgan1" responds immediately:
"Your statement is absolutely correct.... stating Gaza is a concentration camp does not go far enough. It is a slaughter house... They seem to take great delight in ordering people into shelters and then bombing them.... premeditated genocide."
As I say: this chat may well be quite innocent. Thousands of honorable, decent liberals have swallowed Finkelstein's poison. Denouncing a crime of this nature -- on this enormous scale -- is of course admirable, and many well-intentioned people are simply not aware of the fiction they have been served by apparently reputable public intellectuals. It is different, however, if you know the truth. And now you do. I have linked to the sources. Check them yourself. You no longer have an excuse.
I do not pretend that any of my research is original, by the way. This information is distributed widely. The scholarship has been done by others. I am quite sure that many if not most of my arguments have already been made by far more qualified writers. It is crucial to stress this, as Norman Finkelstein's favorite tactic is to accuse his critics of plagiarism. I shall be disappointed if I do not draw that accusation. Please assume, before the good professor weighs in, that everything here is stolen: that I am a plagiarist, and a lousy scholar, and a wretched human being. Agreed? Lovely. We are now free to ignore the inevitable circus and to concentrate fully upon what matters here: the truth about a slandered people.
Israel is not in the same league as the world's genocidal nations. It is not in the same moral universe. It does not matter whether you use the term "genocide" accurately, or loosely, or incorrectly. To apply this term to Israel -- in any imaginable sense of the word -- is slander.
If you obsess about Israel's supposedly murderous nature, yet feel neutral about Guatemala, Angola, Brazil, Mozambique, Nigeria, Indonesia, etc. -- each of which (though arguably not guilty of genocide) is responsible for the outright massacre of at least 100,000 innocent civilians -- then you are a bigot. You may not be an anti-Semite. But you have a problem with Jews.
The genocide libel is no ordinary lie. It is impossible to tar a nation with an uglier smear. You are suggesting that a state is utterly, irrevocably evil. To permit such a nation to survive is cowardice, and the people who do so are scorned by history as quislings and appeasers. The proper response to Hitler's Germany -- the only decent response -- was to destroy it.
Huffington Post user Lenajones has learned Finkelstein's lesson: "Send the Israelis to the Hague! The Israelis are committing nothing short of genocide payed [sic] for by my own Aipac [sic] controlled government."
You do not have to use the word "genocide" to engage in this species of libel. If you suggest that Israel is "Genghis Khan with a computer," for instance, you are saying something unambiguous. Remember that not everywhere is Hitler considered an evil man. In the Middle East, President Nasser of Egypt was hardly alone in his admiration: Anwar Sadat -- even though he later became a friend to Israel -- published a fond letter to the dead Führer in 1953. Technically, Temujin's crime may not have met the proper definition of genocide: it was less cruel. Nevertheless, if you aim to sow a hateful, incendiary equation, Finkelstein's is a far more effective analogy in that part of the world.
One of the great Muslim historians, Ali ibn al-Athir, happened to be Temujin's contemporary. He described the Mongol's sadism in words that are still widely read: Genghis Khan "spared none, slaying women, men, and children, ripping open pregnant women and killing unborn babes."
Importantly, ibn Athir wrote that this disaster was especially focused on Muslims. Temujin is described in theological terms: he was more pitiless than Dadjdjal, the Muslim anti-Christ, since he murdered indiscriminately, whereas Dadjdjal could be expected to kill only his adversaries.
Finkelstein has chosen his analogy with care. It is an exquisite lie. The blood libel pales.
Because Israel has been conflated with the most vicious regimes in history -- the Mongol Empire, the Third Reich -- many simply assume that every atrocity in the area must be a Jewish act. When an Israeli couple and their children, including a baby, were stabbed to death on the Sabbath while sleeping, Huffington Post user Anbreen -- who can always be counted on to explain Zionism -- argued that the murderer "could be a settler. Quite few [sic] of those people are whet [sic] would be called 'monsters' or 'criminally insane' in the US."
Surely they can be expected to murder sleeping Jews during the Sabbath. I urge you to read the entire conversation. Agreement all around.
Hamas took no credit for the butchery, but expressed "full support." When two Palestinians confessed that they had murdered the family, and had no regrets, Anbreen fell silent. Not a word from the once-eager claque. Not a single apology, despite the sickening depth of the libel.
If you put out the lie that a nation is genocidal, you strengthen its enemies. You weaken its friends. You convince otherwise well-meaning liberals that they are allied to a monster, that they enable this monster and its genocidal weaponry. Decent people do not wish to be complicit in genocide. Decent people cut off funding.
Huffington Post user "steve8072" speaks for them:
"After all, we can't let little things like Israel waging a relentless genocide campaign against the Palistinians, [sic] being a state sponser [sic] of terrorism and murdering a bunch of international humanitarian aid volunteers come between the U.S. and our best ally."
Which is to say: if the libel succeeds, Israelis will die. Despite Norman Finkelstein's concerns about some of his best friends, who are Jews. And if the libel truly accomplishes what it must intend, Israel itself will die.
When you refer to the Israel defense forces as "jackbooted" -- that favorite slur among supposed liberals -- you are engaging in a genocide libel. Jackboots have been worn for centuries, yes, but you are suggesting something very specific: that the IDF is no better than the SS, whose special Einsatzgruppen were directly responsible for the slaughter of over a million individuals, in a focused effort to erase their people from history. It is time to retire that metaphor.
In 2003, the Polish Air Force invited their Israeli counterparts to fly, as a ritual gesture, over Auschwitz-Birkenau. The resulting photograph has become iconic: three Israeli F-15s in formation over the remains of the death camp. Jeffrey Goldberg discusses this image in an important piece in The Atlantic about Israel and Iran. David Remnick refers to it in the New Yorker.
This photograph is a kind of Rorschach test. How you respond to it says something about who you are. Many will see it as propaganda: Israel flexing its muscle in a display of jingoism. Others -- Finkelstein's friends -- will take the opportunity to ponder just how little separates Israel, in their minds, from the men who built those banks of crematoria. The first response is forgivable. The second is not.
A third is possible. These planes are flying, by invitation, over Poland: once the largest Jewish community in the world, with a population of 3,500,000 -- now for the Jews little more than a graveyard. Perhaps 5,000 remain. It represents an unexpected and bitter failure on the part of the efficient men who occupied that country that there are any Jews at all. This third response to the photograph -- and the only response with any measure of perspective -- is to regard it as the closest thing post-Biblical history has offered us to a miracle.