Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The day I found myself defending Israel

It happened on a cold fall evening a few weeks ago. A composition of mine had been premiered at the Tango House in my city, and I treated my arranger and three of the musicians to dinner at a riverside restaurant.

My arranger is also my teacher and we have worked together for a few years now. Apart from setting my piano pieces for bandoneón and strings, he has turned me from a writer of bare melodies into a decent harmonizer. Give him a few decades and he'll make me master the intricacies of counterpoint and orchestration.

He's also a far-left Jew and an extreme critic of Zionism. While aware of each other's views, we don't usually talk about it.

The Tango House in Rosario

The subject of Israel wouldn't have popped up in the conversation if the double-bass player had not been what I term a "Jewish community Jew" -- a Jew who (unlike those whose life takes place mainly outside the community) blindly supports Israel and takes quite seriously weird theories about intermarriage.

The two began to argue, raising their voices and the eyebrows of other diners. Then, at a given moment, my arranger mumbled something about the genocide in Gaza.

"Genocide" is the second-most abused word in I/P debating. Some people talk of cultural genocide, or geographic genocide or whatnot, but the word shouldn't be devalued. Genocide is when people come searching for you and you have to hide. Then they find you and shoot you on the spot. Or ship you to a concentration camp to kill you with Zyklon-B. Or take you to a desert and leave you there to die of thirst. Or cut your head off with a machete. Not what Israel does.

Of course there are other ways of committing genocide. You can create conditions in which many people belonging to a specific group will die without your having to fire a shot. Like in the Ukrainian Famine. But it's not what Israel does either. Israel has prevented essentials from coming into Gaza and has caused malnourishment among the Strip's children and that certainly is a crime, even a crime against humanity -- but not the crime of genocide.

I told my arranger as much.

"I can't believe you're defending Israel," he said.
"Am I defending Israel? Or am I sticking to intellectual honesty," I replied.

After that, I thought of an analogy I should have made. If a person beats a kid, do you charge him with murder? I don't need to call Israel what it isn't, because what it is is already enough to expose its fraudulent nature -- an ethnically supremacist country masquerading as a Western democracy; a State hijacked by fringe religious fanatics purporting to be an outpost of enlightment; an entity that claims to seek peace just as it builds ever more land-grabbing settlements on another people's property.

So that no, Javier (not your real name), you shouldn't irresponsibly use that second-most abused word in I/P debating when you fight the Zionists. Because if you do, you're giving them the perfect excuse to hurl at us the most-abused one.



andrew r said...

I agree that what Israel does should not be called genocide, although when people charge it with politicide or sociocide, I tend to argue the definition.

Gert said...

So you love Tango, huh? Good man, so do I...

Absolutely on the money: genocide isn't what the Israelis are doing. Ethnic cleansing definitely but not genocide.

O/T: seems I'm banned from HP too...

Anonymous said...

Technically, by the legal definition of genocide, what Israel is doing in Gaza really is genocide. The key part is the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the group in question:


The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

Article II describes two elements of the crime of genocide:

1) the mental element, meaning the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such", and

2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called "genocide."

Article III described five punishable forms of the crime of genocide: genocide; conspiracy, incitement, attempt and complicity.
Excerpt from the Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of Genocide (For full text click here)

"Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

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

Ernie Halfdram said...

Exactly the point I was intending to make when I read Ibrahim's post, Anonymous. The International Community hath decreed that _genocide_ is as defined in article 2 of the covnention and there's no reason to resile from using it in that sense. Ditto for _apartheid_: http://bureauofcounterpropaganda.blogspot.com/2009/05/saving-israel.html.

Samuel said...

Anonymous, I have to disagree with you on that one. You cannot conclusively say (1) is satisfied, and the parts of (2) Israel is guilty of falls (for the most part) under the definition of collateral damage.

(1): the mental element, meaning the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such"

In order for the legal definition to be satisfied, this statement would have to be proven true beyond a reasonable doubt. While there are some arguments that you can make, It would be nearly impossible to show that Israel's intention is to destroy the Palestinian people.

I would be interested to hear what legitimate arguments there are that say Israel does its thing with destruction at the forefront of its mind. I have always been under the impression that they act on a misguided sense of moral righteousness in perceived self defense. While I do not think their actions are justified, I have just as hard a time believing that their intent is to destroy innocents.

andrew r said...

Prima facie evidence of: (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

"UNRWA reports scarce medical facilities in
Gaza, where 7 out of 17 incubators for newborn babies have not been
duly maintained due to the lack of spare parts in the local market,
which appears to have resulted in a decline in health standards among
newborns during the reporting period. According to UNRWA, the number of
infant deaths at Gaza's main hospitals - Shifa hospital, Gaza
paediatric hospital and the Gaza European hospital - was on average 20
per cent higher during the period of January-October 2007 than during
the corresponding period in 2006."

[I posted this link elsewhere a few months ago; it doesn't work now]

Anonymous said...

The intent to destroy the Palestinians as a people has been stated many times by many members of the Israeli government, and we can also look at their actions to prove that this was their intent. Had they not intended to destroy the Palestinians as a people, the government of Israel would not have worked so hard (and with such success) to erase the Palestinians' history from the lands from which they have been ethnically cleansed, and from the minds of everyone.

andrew r said...

There's also comments from officials not on the world stage. Such as deputy DM Mitan Vilnai who said, "their actions will bring on them an even bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."

Anytime an air power has to defend itself from a civilian population that doesn't even have anti-aircraft, you should worry.

Anonymous said...

"...the parts of (2) Israel is guilty of falls (for the most part) under the definition of collateral damage."

This is not true. There is more than ample proof that Israel intentionally targets civilians. The majority of children killed in Gaza, for instance, were killed, not by bombs or military ordinance, but by a single sniper's bullet. This is not "collateral damage", but deliberate murder.

Further proof of Israel being guilty of genocide is the literature that was being passed out to Israeli soldiers by official government Rabbis during the this last big attack on Gaza stating explicitly that the goal is to get rid of all of the Palestinians.

David L said...

According to the UN definition, Israel might well be trying to commit genocide. Some genocide scholars argue just that. But the everyday popular definition of genocide is different to the UN's one - it is trying to kill an entire population group and managing to kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people.

This is where I think Ibrahim is right. Context is everything. When people in everyday contexts accuse Israel of genocide they really aren't referring to the UN definition. And so the accusation sounds, at best, like hysterical exageration, and at worst, like they've no idea of what they're talking about.

David L said...

'The second-most abused word in I/P debating' though? Agree with you about the most abused one, but the close second has to be 'terrorism'

Gert said...

In a sense I have to agree with both sides.

Clearly the attempt at reducing the Palestinians to a displaced, dispossessed and defeated people is deliberate (and often stated by the Zionist leadership) and has strong connotations with both ethnic cleansing and genocide.

On the whole Israel's tactic does not appear genocidal though. Instead it relies on a wide range of measures designed to 'free' Eretz Israel from Palestinian populations. It cannot be denied that in many instances this leads to the deaths of Palestinians but the case for genocide isn't really strong enough, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I think many people are using the definition under international law when they use the word genocide. And since it is not possible to live inside of the head of another person, one shouldn't make assumptions about what others mean when they use the word genocide.

j said...

Words matter, specially when they are brandish as weapons of disinformation. More that words, historical facts shows the contradiction between good intentions and falsehoods. Would we measure genocide by its magnitude? and if so what it is proportionally and historically speaking? If the only yardstick is the Shoat or Holocaust then the rest of human genocides such as the Gulag, the Armenian genocide, the bombing of Japan and Germany are acts of countenance? Then again where you place Al- tanture? http://www.palestineremembered.com/Haifa/al-Tantura/Story560.html

Me said...

Are you from Mar del Plata??

Ernie Halfdram said...

David L has a valid point. Not that many people have the Convention’s definition in mind when they use or hear the word ‘genocide’, if they’re even aware that the Convention exists. Of course we can’t live inside others’ heads, we do have a window into their thoughts, as people have been known to express them in linguistic form. And I concur that we need to be sensitive to the views of our interlocutors, and make it clear exactly how we are using the term, lest we be dismissed as hysterical. But this is no reason to concede the territory to those who would deny that anything short of, or indeed other than, the Holocaust itself is genocide. After all, the Shoah was absolutely unique and even to suggest that anyone has ever suffered anything similar, including even the Nazis’ other victims, is anti-Semitic because it diminishes the uniqueness of Jewish suffering.

andrew r said...

We should certainly not concede the mystical uniqueness of the holocaust or forget that the Nazis were bent on exterminating or enslaving most non-Aryans. However, I think "crimes against peace" and "apartheid" are international cases against Israel that leave less maneuvering room for hasbarists. There's a very linear path from understanding ZA apartheid to Zionism, but accusing Israel of genocide only evokes historical comparisons that are too easy to scrutinize. Even with the UN definition in mind, I have trouble accepting what Israel does as genocide (that said, it irks me when substitute words like Baruch Kimmerling's 'politicide' are used, you might as well stick with genocide in that case).

andrew r said...

By the way, I did get a local hasbara paper to throw me a liberal bone by accusing Israel of "gerrymandering an ethnic majority in a land that does not have this majority." That's saying apartheid in so many words, but I doubt they would've printed the letter if I said it outright.

Ernie Halfdram said...

Exactly, Andrew, people are no more au fait with the apartheid convention than they are with the genocide convention and regard accusations of Israeli apartheid as hysterical and 'ahistorical'. Israeli apartheid is not the same thing as South African apartheid and Israeli genocide is not the same thing as Nazi genocide. And so, by the same logic, how dare you call that thing you’re sitting on a ‘chair’ – it may look the same as what I’m sitting on and perform the same kind of function, but they are obviously composed of completely different molecules, so you better just think up another word for yours.

On the apartheid analogy, a lot of people appear to have forgotten that the whole point of the Bantustans was to provide the appearance that Blacks were not disenfranchised, oppressed South African citizens, but fully enfranchised citizens of Bophutatswana and Lesotho. Nobody bought it then. But now they’re crying for Israel to ‘allow’ the Palestinians ‘self determination’ in their own little nominally independent country. If and when that happens, whether the borders follow the Green Line or the Livni-Olmert option, the parallel with South Africa will be even closer than it is now.

andrew r said...

Ernie, do you think South Africa under the ANP was committing genocide? You could make the case that they were trying to eliminate the various national groups within 'white' ZA. Also, Lesotho wasn't one of the Bantustans. It was a British colony until 1966. A tidbit from wiki: "Ireland also showed support to Lesotho in 1975, when Lesotho took a stand against South Africa's apartheid.[citation needed]"

andrew r said...

Also, people are already trying to paint Gaza and parts of the West Bank as sovereign. I once overheard an Israeli suggest the "three state solution." A reponse in said hasbara paper reminded me Gaza was ceded. As always, I remind every one that Hamas will be shot by the Israeli navy if they try to drill for natural gas in their own sovereign waters.

Ernie Halfdram said...

You’re right about Lesotho, Andrew. It was not technically established as a Bantustan, but I think it did serve much the same function as a ‘real’ Bantustan. Among those functions, I would definitely include making critical noises now and then to demonstrate their independence.

I’m not familiar with an ANP in the South African context. If you meant to type ‘ANC’, then I don’t recollect them ever enunciating a position that whites ought to be eliminated. The very first line of ‘The freedom charter’, over which the Pan African Congress (PAC) split from the ANC in 1955, states, ‘...South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people...’ Not that the text of a charter is decisive evidence of anything. After all, the Israeli ‘Declaration of independence’ clearly states, ‘THE STATE OF ISRAEL...will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace...it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture...and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.’ The PAC, as I recall, used to have a slogan, ‘One bullet, one settler; one settler, one bullet’, that would certainly be open to the kind of interpretation you suggest, but that was under apartheid.

If I’m not mistaken, the ‘three state solution’ (http://bureauofcounterpropaganda.blogspot.com/2007/06/how-many-states.html) was the brainchild of Martin van Creveld. The link to the original 12 June 2007 article in the Forward ‘Let Palestine Split Into Two’ seems to be broken, but there is a copy at http://desertpeace.blogspot.com/2007/06/israelpalestine-three-state-solution.html.

Obviously, in the entirely independent ‘enemy entity’ of Gaza, you don’t have to be Hamas, or engage in anything so provocative as drilling for gas, to come under the Israeli Navy’s sights. Casting a net within Gaza’s ever diminishing territorial waters, or even a picnic on the beach is more than adequate.

andrew r said...

Whoops. ANP = Afrikaner National Party. So I was wondering if the white minority regime was genocidal under the same terms we'd charge Israel with.

andrew r said...

Also, Ran HaCohen quoted a very nice idea from van Creep, er, Creveld.


Ernie Halfdram said...

Sorry, Andrew, I didn’t twig who you were talking about when you wrote ‘they were trying to eliminate the various national groups within 'white' ZA’. And I’m still not sure. Do you mean the group more commonly known as the National Party? Or Terre’Blanche’s Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB)?

Anyway, my understanding is that there was a stage in the colonisation of SA when the colonists may have hoped to cleanse the land of the untermenshen, but that the economy soon came to rely on African labour and that remained the case.

As Moshé Machover writes (http://www.amielandmelburn.org.uk/articles/moshe%20machover%20%202006lecture_b.pdf), there is more than one kind of settler colonialism.

‘The crucial difference is whether the indigenous population is harnessed as a labour force to be exploited, a source of surplus product; or excluded from the settlers’ economy – marginalized, exterminated or expelled, ethnically cleansed.
‘South Africa belonged to the former species…a system in which black Africans were the main source of surplus value.

Apartheid was a system designed to keep the non-whites at hand, as an essential resource of the economy – but without civil rights. Zionism deliberately, consciously and explicitly chose the other model: use of indigenous labour power was to be avoided. The Palestinian Arabs are not regarded as a useful exploitable source of surplus labour – but are themselves surplus to requirement. They are not needed to be at hand or even at arm’s length, but are to be moved out of the way. They were to be ethnically cleansed or – in Zionist parlance – ‘transferred’.’

The species found in Palestine is more akin to the American and Australian models than to the South African. http://bureauofcounterpropaganda.blogspot.com/2007/06/how-many-states.html

andrew r said...

Weren't blacks cleansed from ZA-proper into the bantustans? I thought they were used as a prison for any African, not only those who were born there.

Israel's economy isn't reliant on Palestinian labor, but shopping malls for example use people from the West Bank as do the settlements themselves. Obviously it was more common before the al-Aqsa Intifada and even now the territories are a captive market for Israeli goods.

That's why I think it's fair to say if Israel is planning to someday secure its Jewish majority for good, but uses its intended victims for labor in the meantime, it might be fair to say the National Party designated most of South Africa for genocide, although not the homelands.

(I haven't done as much homework on ZA so I don't know if large scale cleansing was done after 1948 or if it was accomplished by then.)

Ernie Halfdram said...

No, that’s not my understanding. South African Blacks weren’t driven en masse into the Bantustans. They were just assigned citizenship in one or another Bantustan according to ethnicity – amaZulu into kwaZulu, Batswana into Bophutatswana, etc. In that way, they would not be citizens of SA, although they could live and work there provided they carried a valid pass book. Like with any foreigner, any real or perceived infraction could lead to deportation, which would mean losing their livelihood. But not even the AWB advocated herding all the blacks into the Bantustans and dying in the mines themselves.

You’re quite right that a proportion of Palestinians continue to work in ‘Israel proper’ and the settlements, and that this proportion has declined since 2000. According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics 2008 Labour Force Survey, in 2000, 19.6% (117,600) of Employed persons in the OT worked in Israel and the settlements. The proportion declined to 8.7% in 2004, and has since recovered to 11.6% (75,200). (http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_PCBS/Downloads/book1545.pdf Tables 1 and 20)
I hasten to add that nearly 70% of the civilian population aged 15 and over are not employed. It’s not clear whether those working in Israeli owned factories in industrial zones along the wall count as working in Israel, but I suspect that those working there, and in construction of the wall itself, may account for the increase since 2004. (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/849684.html) I gather that most of the menial work formerly done by Palestinians from the territories has been absorbed by gastarbeiters from SE Asia and more recently, Eastern Europe.

andrew r said...

Here's part of a pertinent lecture from Ward Churchill. He discusses genocide denial in the Americas, Deborah Lipstadt's book on Holocaust denial and also Raphael Lemkin's coinage of the term genocide and how the UN convention was formulated.



Ernie Halfdram said...

Thanks for that, Andrew. I watched parts 4-10. Learned a lot. Feel somewhat vindicated. I reckon it would be just as pertinent on the thread over at JsF?

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The two began to argue, raising their voices and the eyebrows of other diners.