Ari Afilalo

Another crime for which there is no name

In his radio broadcast of August 24, 1941, shortly after the Einsatzgruppen launched their systematic massacre of Jewish communities throughout Europe, Sir Winston Churchill told the world that “Jews in entire districts are being exterminated” and that “we are in the presence of a crime for which there is no name.”

Years later, when the wartime fog of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis began to dissipate, History gave birth to several names to designate this massive crime, among them Shoah, Holocaust, Hurban (Destruction), and Genocide.

Paul Celan, the poet of the death camps, spoke about the initial silence of language, overwhelmed and choked, and simply called it “That Which Happened.”

The Nazis’ propaganda machine was quicker than its victims to name their extermination project, perverting the meaning of words to label it “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.”  The only problem, of course, was the anti-Semites’ burning desire to eradicate the Jews.  And, the Nazis’ solution was to wipe them out with unprecedented methodical cruelty.

Today, we Jews find ourselves yet again under attack by blood-thirsty murderers and their global supporters, bent on eradicating us through a massive criminal enterprise for which we have not yet found a name.

Like the Nazis, our Oppressors, from Gaza to London, have created a false problem, and showed with unmistakable clarity and cruelty on October 7 that they are prepared to exterminate us to solve it.

Like the Nazis, our Oppressors have deployed a powerful propaganda machine, churning out lies broadcast globally through social media, to confuse our moral compass and mask their intentions.

We Jews are colonizers, they tell us.  We are agents of white supremacy’s global oppression.  We have evolved, in a monstrous transformation, from genocidal victims to perpetrators.

Hamas killers are resistance fighters. They thirst for freedom, not our blood.  Those who chant “from the river to the Sea” are respectable “anti-Zionists,” not violent anti-Semites.   They march for justice, not for genocidal ethnic cleansing.

Like the Nazis, Hamas, perverting language once again, has already found a rather glorious name for its project:  “The Al-Aqsa Deluge.”  Deluge of what?  Candies?  Prayers for peace?  Or, as we witnessed on October 7, a deluge of rapes, murders, beheading, baby burning, parading and defiling naked bodies, kidnapping, and other unspeakable atrocities.

For the moment, we must fight and resist these Oppressors without a name.  Language is once again struggling to find words.

What we do have is the intimate knowledge that, to paraphrase Paul Celan, “it is happening.”

What we do have is the historical certainty that, like so many times before, we Jews are the proverbial canary in the global coal mine.

We know that our enemies will, ultimately, be judged and condemned as the enemies of all Humanity.

And we know that countless people of goodwill already recognize their pure evil and are rising up to the fight.

For the time being, we will wage this war without a name but with the faith that, in God’s due time, Good always prevails over Evil.

About the Author
Ari Afilalo ( is a professor of law at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey. He grew up in France, the son of a Jewish Moroccan family, in an ethnically mixed working class neighborhood. He has published extensively in the field of international law. He is the current president of the West Side Sephardic Synagogue in Manhattan.
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