Who’s Afraid of Naomi Wolf? An open response to her allegation that Israel is guilty of genocide in Gaza.


Dear Naomi Wolf

When I met the man I was to eventually marry I clearly remember one of our discussions early on in the relationship, in which I outlined the arguments that you make in your book The Beauty Myth. How compelling I found them to be! When I consider it more deeply, what really had me smitten was your iconoclasm, your championing of the hidden, the minor discourse. And this despite your own obvious beauty and how easily you could benefit from the very mold you sought to destroy. I confess to not having read any of your other books as life has taken me on a different trajectory, to the study of clinical psychology and more recently to a second masters degree in conflict resolution.

Yesterday I came across your Facebook page by chance and noticed that you have many thousands of followers. This reminded me of your charisma and influence. I was dismayed to discover some of the language that you have been using to comment on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presently raging in Gaza and Israel. Hefty, emotive words such as ‘genocide’ and ‘holocaust’ are not in short supply in your commentaries on the situation. I then looked up your wiki page to ‘catch up’ on your activities. I noticed that your critics are far less enthused with you than in the earlier career part of your career, and though I admit that looking someone up in this fashion caricatures them, it seems resonant of your take on the war in our region.

I am not sure what your agenda is with regard to this conflict. I do not know your ideology. If you believe that Israel does not have a right to exist and that all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea should be Palestine, then you can stop reading now. There is nothing to talk about. If, on the other hand, you believe that ultimately the aim in the region should be for Israel and Palestine to co-exist peacefully then I must respectfully ask you to reconsider your rhetoric which, as I browsed through the rabid comments on your talkback, is counterproductive to put it mildly.

What is happening in Gaza is an armed conflict, an asymmetrical one in the sense that Israel is militarily far stronger than Hamas. To call it genocide or a holocaust is simply wrong. Permit me to elaborate as the level of understanding your remarks portray demands that I do. In Rwanda in 1994, eight hundred thousand Tutsis were murdered, most of them hacked to death, in one hundred days. That is genocide. In the Darfur region of Sudan four hundred thousand African Sudanese were murdered by the Janjaweed, an Arab Sudanese militia. That is genocide. Starting in April 1992 Serbia set out to rid the Bosnian area of Serbia of Muslims. Eight thousand fighting age men, unarmed non-combatants, were detained and slaughtered, while 23000 women, children and elderly people were put on buses and transferred to Muslim controlled areas. This became known as ‘ethnic cleansing’ but is also a form of genocide since it aims to destroy a particular group. There are other examples of course but you get the point.

In Gaza the Israeli Air Force has been targeting rocket launching and storing sites which are embedded in the local civilian population. At the same time, the Israeli Defense Force has sent in ground troops to a limited area of the strip in order to discover and destroy tunnels. Many Israeli soldiers have been killed – 56 at the time of writing. You object to the air strikes. They are taking place in civilian areas and have led to a large number of civilian deaths. The exact number of civilian versus combatant deaths is in dispute but according to an analysis of the numbers posted by Al Jazeera two weeks into the conflict, two thirds of those killed were males aged 18-60. Only 20% of the population in Gaza is male and aged between 18 and 60. I wager that at least 90% of Hamas fighters fit that description.

It is perfectly acceptable to be outraged by the death of children and women; it is perfectly acceptable to demonstrate and object and post furiously on Facebook. What is not acceptable, however, is to inflame and incite, by calling what is happening in Gaza genocide or a holocaust. In the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent decades, five million people died, most of them civilians. A well-known expert on this war, Turner, aware of the weight of the term, has referred to it as “half a holocaust”. As Dennis Prager so wisely points out:

“Though Israel is charged with genocide against Palestinians, in the last 20 years the number of Palestinians has doubled; and since Israel’s founding in 1948, the Palestinian population has grown fivefold. It must surely rank as the least effective genocide in world history.”

So to join up with the genocide accusers is misleading. But worse than that it is darkly subversive. It does nothing but contribute to the hatred, fear and vengefulness that has fueled this conflict for way too long. To characterize this conflict as genocide is to insult and denigrate the memory of those who died in real genocides – a profound lack of respect. To call the deaths of hundreds of civilians in airstrikes that are specifically targeting the thousands of rockets that have been launched into Israel and the many thousands that have yet to be launched a holocaust is outrageous. Thousands of Palestinian civilians have died in Yarmouk in Syria. Did you furiously post about that as genocide? Are the deaths of thousands in Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan to be called genocide?

You have also hypothesized that the Israelis are engaging in a slow, protracted form of genocide by ‘imprisoning’ the people of Gaza by means of the blockade, by not allowing them access to food and medicine and water. Untrue! Israel has today agreed to the fourth humanitarian ceasefire in order to ensure that supplies can reach the people of Gaza. The three previous humanitarian ceasefires were all broken by Hamas, not by Israel. In addition, the IDF, in co-operation with the Red Crescent, has opened a field hospital near the Erez crossing on the Gaza border to treat wounded and sick residents of Gaza. Medical professionals who live in my street have volunteered their services. Many have been treated there, and some referred for immediate hospital care in Israel. Sadly there have been reports of Hamas fighters preventing patients from arriving for care at the field hospital. In addition, Israel sends trucks loaded with fuel, water, food and medicine through the Kerem Shalom crossing. Two children, one needing heart surgery and one in need of specialized medical attention, were taken to hospitals inside Israel. A Hamas rocket damaged the electrical lines leading from Israel into Gaza, the lines were repaired, restoring electricity to 110 000 residents. I ask you as an educated, thinking and caring person: does this sound like genocide? Is this a holocaust?

In an even more tragicomic misstep, the people you are marching with could not have more transparent intent to annihilate Israel. Their protractors and allies genitally mutilate women and make gruesome examples of homosexuals as well as all other ‘infidels’. In the past these were minorities whose liberties you have defended. I shudder to think of how the world would look if the underdog you have in this fight was armed with Israel’s military capability. Then those with the real genocidal intention would be in control. Level with me, Naomi, what am I not getting?

Anger, sadness, grief – you are free to express all or any of these with regards to Operation Protective Edge. Women and children have been killed while sleeping. Who would not be outraged and devastated by that? All I urge is that you choose your words cautiously, check all your facts and sources, and try to educate and inform rather than incite and inflame.

Or more worryingly, have you become blindly addicted to your own mythology – that of the champion, speaker for the dead, a modern day Thor wielding her Mjolnir, crushing cosy notions to dust? If this is the case, turn your trusty hammer inward, for the monolith that may be in most desperate need of demolition is your own distorted ego.

This conflict is not the same as the other ones I have mentioned. Nor is it deserving of treatment even remotely similar to projects and issues you have addressed before. Words like ‘genocide’ and ‘holocaust’ while they are certainly crowd-pleasers, have no place here. There is enough hatred and anger and fear and rage – believe me! Don’t add fuel to a fire already raging out of control. Israel has been urged to act proportionately. In the interest of holding on to what’s left of your own diminishing credibility, I suggest you do the same.


About the Author
Lisa Ohayon is a South African born clinical psychologist with a Masters in Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. She is a mother of four and has been living in Israel for the past seventeen years.
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