Over the course of Israel’s latest brutal attack on the besieged Gaza Strip this past month, a recurring narrative peddling the notion of genocide as a tactic to be used against the Palestinians has become prevalent, indicating a significant shift of extremist rhetoric from the fringes of society to its mainstream.
On August 1, Yochanon Gordon, New York-based writer, wrote a blog post on The Times of Israel called, “When Genocide is Permissible,” which captured a lot of negative attention by the international press.
In his infamous post, Gordon proposed a concluding question, “If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?”
The inflammatory question he asks at the end is all the more pertinent when considering the creation of Israel relied on the ethnic cleansing – an act of genocide – of much of the indigenous population of Palestine. If such an act was committed once in the past without obstruction – and legitimized by the international political system at the time – can it be done again?
A casual glance of the op-eds and posts within Israeli media, specifically those published or translated into English from Hebrew, over the course of Israel’s latest brutal attack on the besieged Gaza Strip this past month alone is illuminating and shows that Gordon’s view isn’t exclusive nor exceptional to Israel’s fringe.
It echoes across broad sectors, often influential ones, of the Zionist state’s society.
The ubiquity of genocide
The same day that Gordon’s blog post was published, The Times of Israel also published a post by another New Yorker named, Irwin E. Blank, called 1 Samuel 15:18, which still can be read on the website.
Using a biblical analogy of Saul’s war against the Amalekites with Israel’s war on Hamas and the Palestinians, Blank wrote, “ G-d had demanded that Saul (or the “prime minister”) enter into battle with the Amalekites (Hamas and its savage partners) and destroy them utterly even if that means to the last child, cow and goat.”
Unlike Gordon’s post, Blank received less attention, nevertheless the attention did pressure him to apologize, in a very convoluted manner, saying that even though he wrote “destroy them utterly even if that means to the last child, cow and goat” and “we cannot stop this war until they unconditionally surrender, even if it means make the war more horrific for the people of Gaza,” that did not really mean he was calling for genocide.
Similar language, themes, and sentiments can be seen within other prominent Israeli English-language news sites.
Here for example is a July 15 op-ed for the Israeli National News, Arutz Sheva 7, written by Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of the Knesset and head of the Jewish Leadership faction within the governing Likud party. It is neatly titled, “My Outline for a Solution in Gaza.”
Feiglin calls for what can only be interpreted as an act of ethnic cleansing. Within his plan, organized in stages, Feiglin begins with describing how the “enemy population”, if innocent, would be allowed leave (permanently) to the Sinai. It ends with his describing the absorption of Gaza because it “is part of our Land and we will remain there forever” and “will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews.”
Nary a few weeks later, on August 1, Feiglin follows up with this article by writing a Facebook post that calls on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “concentrate” and “exterminate” the Palestinian population in Gaza and to “turn Gaza into Jaffa, a flourishing Israeli city with a minimum number of hostile civilians.”
Another example in Arutz Sheva 7, takes place on July 29, in which Efraim Inbar, a political studies professor of Bar-Ilan University, called for collectively punishing the Palestinian in Gaza because they supported Hamas and therefore bore the ultimate responsibility.
“Furthermore, we should not forget that the essence of war is a competition of inflicting pain in order to change patterns of behavior. Actually, pain may have a positive value in affecting the learning curve of the warring sides,” he wrote, concluding the piece by describing this all was coming out of a form of “tough love” for the Palestinians in Gaza.
There are plenty of examples in the same news site, like Sam Green’s call for an “authentic Jewish response” by demanding Netanyahu “do everything it takes so that the Arabs will be terrified to touch a single Jewish child ever again. It’s not impossible. It’s what history demands of us. It’s what G-d demands of us.”
For his part, Italian journalist Giulio Meotti’s wrote of his desire to end the Israeli army’s “purity of arms” philosophy by invoking the specter of the Holocaust, and ultimately urges Israel to use all means of deplorable violence against the Palestinians.
He wrote, “Jewish soldiers shouldn’t be ‘merciful,’ must not show ‘restraint’ or follow ‘purity of arms,’ but destroy the enemies who come to kill Jews. It is obscene that the Jews’ mortal enemies, including prisoners of war, should be treated with such care and populations should be spared even if this care causes greater Israeli casualties.”
Like its peers, the Jerusalem Post has a plethora of articles that invoke total warfare regardless of legal or ethical concerns, including ethnic cleansing, as a final solution.
Echoing Feiglin, Martin Sherman, founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote on July 24, “The only durable solution requires dismantling Gaza, humanitarian relocation of the non-belligerent Arab population, and extension of Israeli sovereignty over the region.”
Equally, one can pour through this op-ed by Ariel Harkham, director of the Jewish National Initiative, which denounces the idea of proportionality as a “dangerous species of pacifism” and an op-ed by the infamous Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz that points to previous crimes by Western governments as a justification for the use of all sorts of violence against the Palestinians, both teeming with a tone and language that incites and urges rabid violence.
In Ynet, the English language news site of one of the most-read newspapers in Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth, the examples multiple considerably and are equally uncompromising.
They include retired Israeli Major-General Giora Eiland’s August 5 article declaring “In Gaza, there is no such thing as ‘innocent civilians’,” Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini’s call to “crush the monster,” Israeli politician Avital Sahar’s demand for Israel to “break the rules” and “destroy Hamas’ terror nests,” and columnist Shimon Shiffer’s musings of “kill or be killed” and that “the legal explanations will come later,” among many, many others.
Such rhetoric in turn is unmistakable in statements by an Israeli politician and senior figure of the Jewish Home party, part of the governing coalition in power, calling for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes,” as well as the remarks by a “renowned Middle East scholar” Mordechai Kedar, Bar-Ilan University, that the rape of Palestinian women be used as a deterrent tactic.
A look at the past
These statements are not confined to this month, let alone this year.
They follow on the heels of previous examples such as when the son of war criminal Ariel Sharon, Gilad Sharon, called on the Israeli army to “flatten all of Gaza” during its short attack on the blockaded strip in 2012. Sharon’s piece, which references Hiroshima and Nagaski as inspirations, was made during a time when Israeli politicians were discretely speaking about forcing a “diet” on the Palestinians in Gaza through the illegal blockade.
It also takes place amongst a pattern of support of radical theocratic individuals such as the financial backing by the Israeli government of a West Bank settler rabbi who authored a book endorsing the killing of Gentile babies. The implicit support of indiscriminate violence against Palestinians is not limited to the theocratic radical settlers, but also by leading rabbis, such as the 2007 ruling of Israel’s former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu “that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians.”
These are but a handful of copious, unforgettable incidents in the past years.
Numerous statements of similar ilk have been made in the past by former Israeli officials across the political spectrum, who spoke of Palestinians as “two-legged beasts” or “grasshoppers” to be crushed or “drugged cockroaches” or that Palestinians simply did not exist.
It leads back to the founders of modern Zionism, like Theodore Hertzl, who wrote in his diary in July 12, 1895, “Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment… Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
Ultimately, if the mentality and narrative of the elite and influential leaders are foundational in such an antagonistic way, backed by discriminatory laws and policies towards non-Jews that reflect these positions, it is no wonder that much of the Israeli Jewish population has become exceedingly vicious over time.
As above, so below
When the latest war on Gaza erupted, 95 percent of Israeli Jews, surveyed by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University on three separate occasions between July 14-23, believed that the war was justified, and only 3 to 4 percent agreed with a statement that the Israeli army had used excessive firepower in the conflict. Compare this latest survey to the one conducted in February 2009, after a month-long war on Gaza, in which 45 percent of the Israel public were open to negotiations with Hamas, and 15 percent thought the war should have been ended sooner.
Meanwhile, large, violent mobs were witnessed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv chanting, “Death to Arabs” or “Tomorrow there’s no school in Gaza, they don’t have any children left,” and were also looking for Palestinians and “leftists” to physically abuse. These mobs vastly outnumbered Israeli anti-war protests, and were allowed freedom by the Israeli police to stage their gatherings. Moreover, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that various experts have noticed a considerable rise of the threat of sexual violence amongst Zionist discourse.
Along the social media arena, these sentiments really flourished in the form of popular Facebook pages that call for the “killing of Palestinians every hour”, the “terrifying tweets of pre-army Israeli teens” calling for ethnic cleansing, both likely a natural extension of earlier articulations of violence in such pop-cultural platforms like the 2013 Instagram photo posted by an Israeli soldier of a Palestinian child within the cross-hairs of his rifle, and earlier in 2009, the t-shirts developed and worn by numerous Israeli soldiers that boast about killing children, pregnant women, and the sodomizing of Hamas leaders.
The sheer equivocalness of this desire of violence towards the Palestinian is matched by the unhindered rise of the ultra-right parties within the politics of Israel, manifested in the political success of Avigdor Lieberman in 2009 – the head of the ultra-right wing Yisrael Beiteinu – who ultimately became the country’s current foreign minister.
The shift continues even more, especially with the complete domination of the coalition between ultra-right parties like Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud (Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu’s party) – a right-wing party whose charter denies the existence and rights of the Palestinians. The difference between parties, one can argue, is ultimately and mainly based on the tactics involved in ensuring the supremacy and sustainability of Israel as a Jewish-majority state.
As journalist Gregg Carlstrom wrote recently in Foreign Policy: “Decades ago, a commentator coined the phrase ‘quiet, we’re shooting’ – a reflection of the Israeli public’s tendency to rally behind the army in wartime. But this time, public dissent hasn’t just been silenced, it’s been all but smothered.”
“Though this current bout of fighting in Gaza may be now at an end, Israel’s rightward turn appears here to stay. The deaths of more than 60 Israeli soldiers in the conflict have not dented public support for the war; if anything, it appears to have whet many Israelis’ appetite for vengeance,” he added.
For the next generation of Israelis, who are immersed in this environment, which excuses the language and perspective, the future is not bright, especially as many of them must enroll in the military.
“When we left, we made sure there was nothing left standing, no resistance. That’s the only way to leave Gaza,” two 19 year-old Israeli soldiers, David and Alon, told BuzzFeed after they had left Gaza on August 5.
“If they were there [in Beit Hanoun], then Hamas was using them. All of Gaza supports Hamas anyways, and would help them. They are all Hamas,” Alon had said.
The logic of Zionism – an ideology that is based on the supremacy of one group over another – has come full circle. As it persists at its current rate, the discourse will not merely be about ‘if’ another act of genocide by the Israelis will occur, but a matter of when.