There doesn’t seem to be one universally recognized definition of “ethnic cleansing,” but the definition the U.N. used while investigating alleged war crimes in Yugoslavia seems as good as any: a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.
Increasingly, anti-Israel activists in the United States, including in metropolitan Chicago, have been publicly calling for the ethnic cleansing of Israel.
On May 16, anti-Israel protestors gathered in Skokie, IL, across the street from a synagogue and chanted: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”
On May 21, the Undergraduate Student Government at the University of Chicago put out a joint statement with Students for Justice in Palestine, an international anti-Israel activist group, which included this chilling statement: “From the river to the sea, USG supports a Palestine that is free.”
On May 27-28, anti-Israel activists painted “The Rock,” the symbolic center of Northwestern University, with the following call to arms: “Free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea.”
For the uninitiated, the “river” in this battle cry is the Jordan River, which is Israel’s eastern border, and the “sea” is the Mediterranean Sea, which makes up roughly half of Israel’s western border (the rest of Israel’s west shares a border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula). The vast majority of Israel’s population is concentrated between the river and the sea, including all of Israel’s 20 largest cities and towns. So, to be clear, when anti-Israel activists call for freeing Palestine from the river to the sea, they are calling for the forced removal of at least 4 million people, including Israeli Arabs.
Some will argue that the slogan is hyperbolic and intended only to rally people to the Palestinian cause. Others will twist themselves in knots to say that this is a call for a “one-state” solution where Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Israelis will live with Palestinians in peace and harmony in a single democratic state. Sounds dreamy, right? Well, it should, because with the exception of Israel, there is no other nation in the Middle East that is committed to democracy and protecting individual rights.
As the philosopher William of Ockham taught via his theory now named “Occam’s Razor,” which can be paraphrased as “the simplest answer is usually the best one,” I don’t think it’s necessary to struggle to find the meaning of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Jews have reason to instinctively take the threats of our adversaries at face value. Violence directed at Jews, a phenomenon that has followed Jews for thousands of years, is often preceded by a seemingly innocuous rationale, that eventually morphs into violence. For example, from the millions of Jews killed or displaced in the 1800s and 1900s in Russian and Ukrainian pogroms, inspired by the teachings of their religious and civic leaders; to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their allies, following the teachings of white nationalism rooted in Mein Kampf; to the approximately 850,000 Jews expelled from their ancestral homes across northern Africa and the Middle East, when their home countries responded to the founding of the modern State of Israel; to the 11 Jews slaughtered while in prayer in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA in 2018 after the murderer had spent countless hours in hate-filled chat rooms and social media platforms.
A two-state solution, whereby Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, lives side-by-side in peace, security, and prosperity with an equally secure, peaceful, and prosperous Palestine is the best solution to the current state of affairs between Israel and the Palestinians. On at least four occasions, Israeli Prime Ministers Barak, Olmert, and Netanyahu proposed such a plan to the Palestinians, any one of which could have ended this conflict and resulted in Palestinians having their own nation for the first time in history. However, the Palestinian leadership failed to substantively answer any one of those proposals.
We must also not forget that the Palestinians — and the entire Arab world — rejected the first proposed two-state solution in 1947 in the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, then governed by the British Mandate.
So let’s be crystal clear on what it means when Israel’s adversaries chant, print, or proclaim “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This is a call to end peace negotiations. This is a call to violence. This is a call to eradicate Israel, a member of the United Nations whose very existence was authorized and legitimized by the U.N. Never has the aforementioned U.N. definition of ethnic cleansing received such a warm embrace in front of our very eyes.