Of course it must be said that, shamefully, one extremist American Jew wrote a column appearing in the Times of Israel to advocate genocide (which, however quickly it was taken down, cannot be unsaid or excused).* But contrast the shame expressed across the board by Jews in Israel and abroad with the fact that Hamas’ call for genocide has been enshrined as the very heart of the “Definition of the Movement.” The Hamas call for genocide was an official position of a group seeking international respect. True, several nations have declared it a terrorist group. But even terrorism is not (always) genocide.
As for Hamas even acceding to Israel’s right to exist, that same Jewish defender of Hamas claimed that Hamas had offered Israel a “hudna,” the Arabic word for temporary truce once Israel had met some nonnegotiable demands. But a hudna is not toleration; a hudna is a truce in a war that will eventually continue, Hamas’ war for a Final Solution. It is only if contemporary discourse on events in Gaza take the words of the covenant into account that the events can be understood.
Apparently the world is content to ignore the fact that the Hamas Covenant is, in and of itself, a war crime. (A war crime, not yet a genocide.) Apparently the various moral equivalence explainers are unaware that advocating genocide is a punishable war crime, different only in degree from genocide itself. Indeed the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted the perpetrators of a Rwandan radio station of crimes against humanity just for its broadcasts inciting the murder of the Tutsis as that genocide (yes, genocide) got underway. Though neither party is a signatory to the Rome Statute on Genocide, I wouldn’t be opposed to that idiot Jewish advocate of genocide being hauled before the International Criminal Court. As long as the entire leadership of Hamas was there in the dock, too, for advocating genocide in their covenant.
Because of course the entire governing entity of Hamas is prima facie guilty of advocating genocide. But the ignoramuses comparing Israelis to Nazis and Gaza to genocide while ignoring actual ongoing genocide in Syria and Iraq must be seen as an excrescence of the enduring double standard to which Israelis—and Jews—are subjected.
As George Packer reports in The New Yorker, real genocide, the attempted extermination of an entire people for racial or religious reasons, was underway with the mass murder of the Yazidi people in Iraq. Not to mention the estimated 150,000 or so Syrians murdered by Bashar al-Assad.* I bring up Packer because he quotes one of the doomed Yazidi:
Karim couldn’t help expressing bitterness about this. “I don’t see any attention from the rest of the world,” he said. “In one day, they killed more than two thousand Yazidi in Sinjar, and the whole world says, ‘Save Gaza, save Gaza.’ ”
I’m sorry, these #GenocideinGaza people have long left behind any strictures of Godwin’s Law. Those using slogans like #GenocideinGaza have left behind any fig leaf for what seems clear to me is a twisted joy of an excuse for Jew-hatred, a hatred it now seems clear was never eradicated, just briefly driven underground, as the multiplicity of chants “death to the Jews” (not to the Israelis but the Jews) sweeping Europe, makes clear. It suggests that there is in Europe (to say nothing of the Middle East) an adamantine anti-Semitism that rises to the surface whenever it is possible to malign Jews, instigate pogroms (as we’ve already seen in France), beat Jewish passersby, burn synagogues, and (as in Belgium) just murder Jewish families. Perhaps more than anything, Gaza gives Europeans a fraudulent but apparently satisfying way of exculpating their entire continent’s complicity in Hitler’s genocide. (“See the Jews were just as bad, just like Nazis.”)
Everyone debates the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. I think the #GenocideinGaza analogists have shown us one place it can be found. Those who use it give themselves away.
Perhaps the #GenocideinGaza analogizers don’t realize what a hideous distortion of history they perpetrate. Perhaps they don’t realize that what they are doing is, to my mind, the moral equivalence of Holocaust denial, certainly an abject ignorance of Holocaust reality.
Holocaust reality: Indeed there are those of us who have spent years thinking and writing about it who can lose sight of it. Lose touch with it. Who wants to stay in touch with it? Yes, W.G. Sebald has told us “No serious person thinks about anything else.” But this was hyperbole. He didn’t mean we don’t think about lunch or dinner. It means we ought, if we’re serious, to keep in our minds what it said about human nature and human potential—the human potential for evil.
And yet it’s true that we sometimes feel numbed, sometimes feel “Holocaust fatigue,” sometimes need reminding of the uniqueness of that six-year-long horror. I actually feel that for many, the reality of it all has faded into the abstract number of 6 million with little sense of who the killers were except that one bad guy with a sniper rifle in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, or Bruno Ganz in the Downfall parodies.
The ill-conceived phrase “banality of evil” has blinded many to the vile, feral totalizing nature of the evil perpetrated 24/7 in the death camps. The fact that Eichmann boasted he “would go to his grave laughing with the death of 5 million Jews on his conscience.” The fact that even when the war was lost, even when Himmler was trying to end the killing in order to have enough live Jews to trade for some kind of amnesty, Eichmann pursued the remnants of the Hungarian Jewish community, with a vile vengeance, making sure everyone could be fed into the disintegrating industry of death.
How nice it would be if all evil could be dismissed as “banal.” I know I’ve experienced “Holocaust fatigue” and don’t like to be constantly reminded of genocide’s past and future.
It was something I realized when reading the galleys of Martin Amis’ forthcoming novel The Zone of Interest, set in Auschwitz. Amis has written brilliant satiric novels, but he has also repeatedly returned to the question of evil, battering at the door to darkness—in Time’s Arrow and The House of Meetings (his novel about the gulag) and Koba the Dread his meditation on Stalin and Stalinist genocide. The Zone of Interest is by far his most successful attempt to grapple with the hideous granularity of the death camps—the dailiness of Auschwitz. And in reading it, I found myself taken aback by the horrid specificity, the unrelenting description of the stench of industrialized murder. The landscape of Auschwitz, the fields of suppurating corpses buried beneath them, the swampy shallow graves where corpses were left to rot—once their gold teeth had been removed with pliers—during the many periods when the gassing outran the capacity of the crematoria and even the ad hoc death pyres sending human smoke to the skies.
The way the fields of corpses would move and emit small geysers of corpse gas.
I believe Amis has made a remarkable breakthrough here. He has painstakingly—and successfully—restored the power to shock—to remind us of what we’ve insulated ourselves from. Amis manages, through “thick description” of the routines of Auschwitz, to make unrelatable evil “relatable” through the mindsets of the evil doers.
I have one suggestion for those who use Gaza/genocide analogies to flout Godwin’s Law, those who are too far gone to read Primo Levi or Tadeusz Borowksi for instance; those who don’t have the patience to sit through Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah. They should try getting through the new Amis and not getting sick on themselves with shame for the way they’re using the genocidal libel to inflame the fires that will murder more Jews.
Bad analogies kill.
Correction, Aug. 26, 2014: This piece originally misstated that an Israeli wrote a column in the Times of Israel advocating for genocide. The author of that column was an American Jew. The piece also misstated that Hafez al-Assad, not Bashar al-Assad, is responsible for the murder of an estimated 150,000 Syrians.