The Shame of Genocide

Shame as in “בושה” (shamefulness) and not “חבל” (what a pity) – shame on the Free World and shame on us, Israel and the Jews.  The shame is that “never again” rings so hollow.

The shame is so multifaceted that each of its faces must be revealed. The first is most obvious – since the end of the Second World War and the revelation of the extent of the Nazi genocide, we have permitted many more to occur in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi, Bosnia, Sudan, Iraq, Syria and other locations told and untold.

The second shame is the exclusion of Israel from the various Coalitions of the Willing. Since our rise from the ashes and our remarkable transformation from victims to warriors, no one has asked for the help of the IDF to combat the world’s atrocities even on the rare occasions that the West has decided to intervene. An object of pity and admiration until ’67, the Jewish State’s ascension to regional power was answered with a disavowal of our right to the memory of victimhood. Our strength was simply a scapegoat for European self-absolution. The state of the greatest victim of the Holocaust would not even be considered for NATO membership and the protection that would afford us. As no state has ever joined us in our own defense (much the less invited us to do good in the global arena), we Israelis and Jews worldwide internalized the lesson that “never again” for the Jews would have to be ensured by the Jews.  The preoccupation with our own survival has left us hesitant to go out on a limb for anyone else.

In this same line, the West bares shame in allowing for the perversion of the word “genocide”.  That Arab and Muslim leaders around the world accuse Israel of genocide eliciting no outrage in the West is shameful.  The West supports – through its funding of the organization – the United Nations Human Rights Council; a farce in which ninety per cent of resolutions are directed at Israel drafted by the world’s worst violators of human rights.  Unable to cope with the enormity of the crime Europe committed and allowed to be committed against us, they allow the name of that crime to be applied to us; as if there is some sort of parity despite the fact that for all of Israel’s faults, it has never come close to committing or attempting genocide.

But the above mentioned shames can only be called out, as Israelis we are unlikely to change or influence them.  The shame we must tackle is the shame on us – the shame of people like Miri Regev and Meir Kahane.

Let us deal with the latter first.  Kahanists and their ilk who call for either the murder or ethnic cleansing of Palestinians are despicable.  We can be thankful that with the new electoral threshold, Yishai and Marzel’s racist Yahad party didn’t make it into the Knesset.  But they almost did, they were far too close.  We have a duty as Jews, as the inheritors of a legacy of thousands of years of persecution, dehumanization and humiliation to remember what it likes to be thought of as inhuman and undeserving of the rights of humans.  Even in the face of continued rhetoric from our adversaries calling us the descendants of monkeys and pigs, we must be better than them.

The Biblical injunction to destroy the seed of Amalek – the purely evil descendants of Esau who tried to destroy us during the Exodus from Egypt – is commonly invoked today by extreme right-wing Jews as a commandment from G-d to destroy the Palestinians.  Most Rabbis agree that nothing in Judaism, including the aforementioned injunction, permits genocide.  Firstly, we do not live in an age of prophecy where G-d can verify for us that the Palestinians or anyone else are Amalek.  Secondly, the commandment to fight evil is not a call for genocide.  There are mitzvot in the Torah that demand society ostracize persons with a variety of skin disorders (צרעת) as the outwardly appearance of sickliness was supposed to display divine disfavor.  Well we don’t make people with psoriasis cover their lips and live in leper colonies – our understanding of modern medicine has made us reevaluate the appropriateness of literal interpretations of biblical commandments.

The real Amalek – pure evil – is genocide.

As for the shame of MK Miri Regev — the woman who has made it her personal crusade to deny African asylum seekers in Israel any dignity, ensure that no more arrive in our lands and expedite their leaving our land – there is much to be corrected.  This is where we can learn the lessons of the Holocaust differently than the West, where we can truly be a Light Unto the Nations (אור לגוים). In the 1938 Evian Conference, the world’s powers (with very few exceptions) rejected Jewish immigration from the Third Reich.  Millions killed between 1941 and 1945 in Nazi concentration and death camps could have escaped their fate had the world been willing to give them safe harbor a few years earlier. Many say that the Evian conference is what convinced Hitler that nobody would care if he exterminated the Jews, as clearly in 1938, nobody wanted us.

We cannot, for our own safety, absorb the victims of genocide in Syria and Iraq as opening our borders to those persons could allow in far too many of their murders who would happily kill us. Yet the Darfur genocide has been continuing a thousand miles from us for well over a decade. For a while, tens of thousands made their way to Israel through Egypt. On the way they were held for ransom, physically and sexually abused and mutilated. Tens of thousands of Eritreans have made their way here fleeing a one-party state with conscription for life. While these Eritreans are not the victims of genocide, that life long conscription for most spells a life of slavery. They too made their way here through Egypt, suffering the same indignities as the Darfuris.

Two years ago, Israel completed a concrete wall along the Egyptian border that has completely stopped the flow of asylum seekers. Israel completed the wall with almost no international attention, contrary to the separation barrier in the West Bank. Since closing our borders to all African migration, the government led by Likud MK Miri Regev and former MK and Interior Minister Gideon Saar, has put tens of thousands of refugees in a detention center in the most barren part of Israel.  The Holot (Sands) Facility is nothing less than a prison.

We should give the Christian world a lesson in its own golden rule, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. Even if the geopolitical situation makes it nearly impossible to intervene elsewhere, we can choose to be tzadikim at home.  This concerns not only our treatment of those would seek refuge from atrocity in our land, but also our recognition of all genocides for what they are.  For this reason, we have an ethical obligation to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.

While powerless to stop Jew hatred and Israel targeting, we can change our own conversation.  Our focus should not be on the world’s shameful lessons unlearned, but on bringing the world’s attention to real genocide, because it is happening right now and it is shameful.

About the Author
Avi Taranto is a tour guide, chef, translator and photographer based in Tel Aviv. A native of New York City, he has a BA from McGill University in History and an MA from Tel Aviv University in Diplomacy.
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