In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: Claim of Israel “genocide” — shameful

 

aoppenheimer@MiamiHerald.com

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica’s claim that Israel has carried out a “genocide” in Gaza is not only an insult to the memories of the millions who were killed by the Nazis in World War II, but makes one wonder whether he and others who have used the same term against Israel are sincere when they claim that they are not anti-Semites.

Mujica, following the steps of the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia, and show-business figures such as Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar, said in later statements that he is not an anti-Semite, and added — as if to prove it — that three of his ministers are Jewish.

I have interviewed Mujica, 79, several times, and I used to sympathize with his austere lifestyle and his candid way of talking about almost everything. But we shouldn’t be amused anymore.

Anybody has the right to criticize Israel, and I have occasionally criticized its settlement policies, but the irresponsible use of the world “genocide” demeans the gravity of the horrors it describes and gives fodder to anti-Semites — who often hide behind the banner of “anti-Zionism,” which they think gives them an aura of greater respectability — across the world.

As Argentina’s Radio Mitre columnist Jose “Pepe” Eliaschev brilliantly noted in an editorial earlier this week, “The word ‘genocide’ is of such a stature, importance and dimension that not only political leaders but also the media should use it with much more care and prudence.”

Among Eliaschev’s points: Just last year, 75,000 people were killed in Syria’s armed conflict. In total, there were 118,000 deaths in the seven biggest armed conflicts around the world, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program of Sweden’s Uppsala University, a well-known wars database.

The Gaza conflict, by comparison, has left a toll of 1,800 Palestinians, of which Israel says 900 were terrorist combatants, and 67 Israelis. And yet, neither Mujica nor others are talking about a “genocide” in Syria, or other places, as if it were OK to denounce “selective genocides,” Eliaschev pointed out.

Mujica said earlier this week that “when you bomb hospitals, children and old people, I think it’s a genocide.” His foreign minister, Luis Almagro, who is running for secretary general of the 34-country Organization of American States, had earlier accused Israel of practicing a “massacre” in Gaza.

Here are some things they should know:

First, Israel has the right to defend itself from the constant shelling of Hamas, which has fired more than 11,000 rockets into Israel since the Israeli army withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The reason so many more Gaza civilians than Israelis have died in recent weeks is that Israel has used its money to build defensive missiles that have successfully stopped most of Hamas’ rockets, while Hamas has used its money for offensive rockets aimed at Israeli civilians.

Second, any dictionary’s definition of “genocide” is “the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.” And only one side in this conflict — Hamas, which has been officially designated a “terrorist” group by the United States and the 28-country European Union — calls for the deliberate killing of the other.

The Hamas’ covenant not only calls for the extermination of Israel, but says in its Article 7 that “the stones and trees will say, ‘O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.’ 

As prominent Hamas defector Mosab Hassan Yousef told me in a recent interview, “There are 1.5 million Arabs who live in Israel. If Israel were hungry for Palestinian blood, how can you explain that they live in peace and freedom in Israel?”

Third, as the United Nations refugee agency in Gaza has officially admitted, there is no question Hamas has stored its rockets in schools and hospitals. And according to Israel and Hamas defectors, and as India’s NDTV captured on tape only days ago, there is no question that Hamas terrorists use women and children as human shields.

Israel routinely asks Gaza residents to leave buildings from which rockets are launched, but “Hamas asks civilian residents to stay in their homes. Hamas is an adversary that doesn’t care about Palestinian children in Gaza or Tel Aviv” and “only seeks pictures of dead civilians for propaganda purposes,” Hassan Yousef told me.

My opinion: Mujica and others who loosely accuse Israel of carrying out a “genocide” are trivializing a word that does not apply to Israel’s actions in the Gaza conflict. They should be ashamed for being so irresponsible.

Read more Andres Oppenheimer stories from the Miami Herald

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