“It’s important to remember that you don’t need millions of dead bodies and a Nazi industrial system of extermination to constitute genocide under the relevant convention,” writes Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a Washington-based media watchdog. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines “genocide”as inflicting on a group “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” As the very title of the treaty suggests, a genocide need not be anywhere near completed—the destruction need not be “in whole”—for genocidal behavior to merit the label. What matters is the motivation, not the body count.
“While conflict has many causes, genocidal conflict is identity-based,” says the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, an expert on such things. “These conflicts are fomented by discrimination,” as well as “hate speech inciting violence.”
Now, consider: Israel is a state that openly discriminates on the basis of identity, denying Palestinian refugees the ability to visit their old villages in what is now Israel while granting citizenship to anyone with a Jewish mother who wants it. Israel is a state where the deputy speaker of parliament openly calls for replacing the indigenous population of Gaza with Jewish settlers, and where a leading newspaper just published an article titled “When Genocide Is Permissible.” It’s the sort of place where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feels comfortable calling the 20 percent of the population that isn’t Jewish—the indigenous people who weren’t pushed out—a “demographic threat” to apartheid, their continued reproduction posing a serious challenge to continued ethnic supremacy west of the Jordan River. So why are people afraid to use that word: “genocide”?
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