Julian Schvindlerman

The Lemkin Institute Betrays its Name

Photo: Detail of Gravestone of Raphael Lemkin at Mount Hebron Cemetery --Queens, NY.  (Source: Creative Commons).
Photo: Detail of Gravestone of Raphael Lemkin at Mount Hebron Cemetery --Queens, NY. (Source: Creative Commons).

Is it even conceivable that an institute named after Raphael Lemkin would accuse Israel of committing genocide? If one lives in the Orwellian world of what passes today as a human rights NGO, the answer will be in the affirmative. Quite the opposite, if one believes that Raphael Lemkin’s good name and legacy deserve to be honored.

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention (LIGP) is a registered non-profit organization in the United States, it apparently has no physical offices. It was established a few years ago and has already accumulated a few accusations of genocide against the Jewish state. On May 8, 2021 it said that Israel’s violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem was “genocidal.” On May 26, 2022, it accused the Israelis of acting with “impunity” and perpetrating “mass atrocities.” On October 27, 2023 it accused Israel (and the US) of “committing genocide in Gaza.” Between October 14 and November 13, 2023, it issued four “SOS Alerts for Genocide in Gaza.” Last January 12 it noted “the overwhelming evidence of genocidal rhetoric from senior Israeli officials, journalists, and Israeli military and society.” When South Africa launched its malicious political attack on Israel at the International Court of Justice last week, the LIGP celebrated it as a “historic” day in a tweet which included a banner titled “8 genocidal acts committed by Israel against the Palestinian people.” It also took the infamous quote from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (“the attack by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum”) and dedicated a timeline to it that provides the “much-needed context” to understand the reasons why savage jihadists invaded Israel by surprise to murder, rape, torture, burn and kidnap civilians and soldiers.

To get an idea of the level of bias with which the LIGP operates, it will suffice to read a tweet by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that is offered as proof of “genocidal intent.” Netanyahu wrote on October 16: “This is a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle.” Two days later, the LIGP urged that the Israeli premier be indicted by the International Criminal Court “for the crime of genocide.” Truly, one must stretch the language to interpret those words as a call to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” as the 1948 Genocide Convention defines genocide. Genocide experts will presumably be judicious about using such an emotionally-charged term, but this is what happens when humanitarian law is blatantly politicized.

Although the LIGP characterized Hamas’s recent actions as having a “genocidal dimension,” and quotes a violent fragment of its Charter of Allah on its website, it does not denounce the multiple and regular Arab, Islamic and Palestinian calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jews, which do constitute flagrant cases of “genocidal intent.” You will not find on the Institute´s website this quote from Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar: “We support the eradication of Israel through armed jihad and struggle”; nor this call to the Palestinian diaspora from senior Hamas member Fathi Hamad: “You should attack every Jew possible in all the world and kill them;” nor this one from Iranian official Ali Aghamohammadi: “The only way to save humanity is to annihilate Israel.” We can reasonably say that these hateful statements are more explicit than Netanyahu’s tweet. Still, they do not seem to have been detected by the Institute’s radar. Perhaps its web’s search engine is not working properly, or perhaps what is not working well is the LIGP team’s moral compass.

To make matters worse, its co-founder and CEO, Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, is introduced as an “Expert on genocide, gender, prevention, and the history of colonialism,” as well as a “Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton University, NJ.” Unlike other well-known NGOs, largely made up of lawyers specialized in human rights, the LIGP is led by an expert on genocides and the Holocaust per se; who should know better. For a politician, an activist or a journalist to make an arbitrary use of the term genocide is already a bad thing. That an expert on genocides would do so, is disconcerting.

The point is not, however, to debate the merits -or lack of thereof- of claims that Israel might be a genocidal state. Thanks to Pretoria, the International Court of Justice is already dealing with the matter and Israel’s lawyers are presenting their arguments. The point is also not whether those who raise these accusations have the right to do so, of course they do. The point is whether it is legitimate that they do so from an institute dedicated to educating about genocides and abusing the name of the Polish-Jewish jurist who coined the term –after fleeing Nazi Europe and based on a genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people. They will argue that they are doing justice to both Lemkin’s name and the applicability of the concept of genocide. In reality, they are betraying the former and degrading the latter. That Germany has decided to join the legal debate in The Hague on Israel’s side to refute the wild South African accusation helps clarify things.

Let’s be clear, the board and staff of the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention can freely accuse the state of Israel of being genocidal from here to eternity. They should simply stop doing so under the reputational coverage that Raphael Lemkin’s name provides and the aura of respect that surrounds his important legacy. Having lost 49 members of his family during the Holocaust, Lemkin dedicated his life to raising international awareness about genocides and to legally codify the concept in order to consolidate its prevention. He died in 1959 with his mission accomplished, but exhausted and impoverished. Surely he did not do this so that 65 years later an anti-Zionist African country would turn his life’s work into a political campaign against the Jewish state, nor so that an NGO from the country that welcomed him would have the chutzpah to support this legal pogrom on his behalf.

About the Author
Julian Schvindlerman is an Argentine writer and journalist specializing in Middle East affairs. He lectures on World Politics at the University of Palermo (in Buenos Aires) and is a regular contributor to Infobae and Perfil. He is the editor of Coloquio, the flagship publication of the Latin American Jewish Congress. He is the author of Escape to Utopia: Mao's Red Book and Gaddafi's Green Book; The Hidden Letter: A History of an Arab-Jewish Family; Triangle of Infamy: Richard Wagner, the Nazis and Israel; Rome and Jerusalem: Vatican policy toward the Jewish state; and Land for Peace, Land for War.