The destruction of the Jewish people is not genocide

The previous post explained that the Jewish people has no right to exist. That claim is primarily used as a secondary argument, in support of a claimed existence right of the State of Israel.

A related but not identical claim, is that opposition to the State of Israel and its policies is genocidal, or is motivated by a genocidal aspiration. In Europe, it is commonly made by the right-wing ‘friends of Israel’, rather than Israel’s official representatives. The logic is that the Jewish people would be destroyed if Israel did not exist, and sometimes the ‘friends of Israel’ suggest it is a crime to oppose Israel’s existence. Unlike the claims to existence rights, these are primarily accusations, made for propaganda purposes, and directed at their left-wing opponents.

The truth is that the crime of genocide is precisely defined in international law, and the prohibition of genocide does not imply a prohibition of the destruction of peoples, let alone the destruction of states.

The term ‘genocide’ was first used publicly in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, to describe the policies of Nazi Germany in occupied states, and in puppet states such as Slovakia. It was not formulated as a description of the Holocaust: the scale of the Nazi extermination camps was only apparent, after Lemkin’s work had been published. The term itself was invented in 1943.

For Lemkin, ‘genocide’ meant more a destruction of national identity, to ensure German domination. He places mass killings in that context, among other German policies. Some will now seem strange, but Lemkin saw their purpose as demoralisation: cheap alcohol, gambling clubs, and even the distribution of pornography. Lemkin describes what we would now identify as policies against national identity and sovereignty:

… local institutions of self-government were destroyed and a German pattern of administration imposed. Every reminder of former national character was obliterated. Even commercial signs and inscriptions on buildings, roads, and streets, as well as names of communities and of localities, were changed to a German form…

The destruction of the national pattern in the social field has been accomplished in part by the abolition of local law and local courts and the imposition of German law and courts, and also by Germanization of the judicial language and of the bar. The social structure of a nation being vital to its national development, the occupant also endeavors to bring about such changes as may weaken the national, spiritual resources…

In order to prevent the expression of the national spirit through artistic media, a rigid control of all cultural activities has been introduced. All persons engaged in painting, drawing, sculpture, music, literature, and the theater are required to obtain a license for the continuation of their activities. Control in these fields is exercised through German authorities.

The claim by Eurosceptic populists and nationalists, that the European Union constitutes a genocide of its member nations, is therefore close to the original meaning of the term ‘genocide’.

It was only after the Second World war, that the term became a synonym for the mass murder of ethnically selected victims. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the national anti-genocide laws which are derived from it, follow that evolution of its meaning. The emphasis is on violence and murder, not on their consequences for the national identity. The convention defines genocide as:

… 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.

The Convention makes not only genocide itself a crime under international law, but also complicity, conspiracy, attempts and incitement to genocide. The Statute of the International Criminal Court follows the 1948 definition exactly.

National laws have copied this definition. In the Netherlands, where this was written, genocide is a crime under the Law on International Crimes (Wet Internationale Misdrijven). It too, literally translates the 1948 definition.

Note that elements of genocide such as murder were already crimes, when committed against individuals, or a series of individuals. It is the intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, that makes them genocide. That does not work in reverse. Acts which are not listed in the definition do not constitute genocide, even if they are intended to ‘destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’.

National and international law therefore offer no guarantee of continued existence, to national, ethnical, racial or religious groups. Neither do they prohibit their disappearance, which is certainly the inevitable fate of all nations and peoples. Most of the millions of ‘national, ethnical, racial or religious groups’ in human history have already disappeared, often without trace.

Genocide in the legal sense is a question of extermination camps, mass graves, forced sterilisations: violence. The term ‘genocide’ does not refer to an uncertain future for the Jewish people, or to a lack of a guarantee of its existence, or indeed to its future disappearance. Not even, if that is a direct consequence of the dissolution of the State of Israel. Genocide in the legal sense means the items on the list in the 1948 Convention, and that’s it.

It is therefore not a crime to advocate the disappearance of the Jewish people, even if that disappearance is intentional, and equivalent to its destruction. Most peoples disappear. The destruction of ethnic groups is a normal historical process, usually by assimilation of their members into another group. Indeed, forced assimilation of the Jews in Europe was advocated in the past, as a long-term answer to antisemitism. Similar strategies are still advocated for the Sinti and Roma peoples. The separation of the Jewish religion from Jewish ethnicity is another strategy, which could lead to the de facto destruction of the Jewish people. The point here is not whether these are desirable strategies, but whether they constitute genocide. They do not.

Neither does membership of the European Union, nor the European Union itself, nor the introduction of the Euro and the European flag, constitute a genocide. That remains true even if these are intended, as Eurosceptics believe, to destroy the nations and peoples of Europe. That remains true even if such policies do in fact result in the creation of a European superstate, and the destruction of the nations and peoples of Europe. That remains true even if the State of Israel joins the European Union and the Schengen Zone, loses its Jewish identity, and ends up as part of a European superstate. That remains true even if the Jewish people then disappears.

A world without Jews is not morally abhorrent, any more than a world without Picts, Kreevins, Sarmatians, Morlachs, or any other extinct people. The transition from a world containing a specific people, to a world without that people, is not genocide, unless that transition is effected by the violent means listed the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The right-wing ‘friends of Israel’ are not interested in these legal definitions. Many belong to the new xenophobic-populist movements, which oppose immigration from Islamic countries. In Israel they see an entire state which reflects their views – an outpost of western values fighting the barbarian hordes of Islam, just as they would like to do at home. It is not surprising that they have abandoned the traditional antisemitism of the European right. Their accusation, that left-wing opponents of Israel are ‘genocidal’, should be seen in that light.

The European right’s shift to philosemitism is however important, because it says something about the nature of Israel itself. The founders of the State of Israel in 1948 would not have foreseen its current status, as a utopia for the right. The question is whether the right’s identification with Israel will result in Israel identifying with the right, and what consequences that has for European attitudes to Israel, and to the Jews. I will post on that issue later.

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