Bethan Staton writes: Just over a week ago, a young Long Islander called Yochanan Gordon published a blog in the Times of Israel. It argued – poorly – that the only way to deal with the “enemy” facing the Israeli people was to “obliterate them completely.” The headline – “When genocide is permissible” – left little doubt over precisely what this meant.
The outcry that followed the publication – and the Times’ swift removal and apology – showed the sentiment was far from representative of wider society. Because the paper operates an open blog policy the piece hadn’t been seen by any editors before being uploaded. Gordon was a total unknown who in his pompous bio listed a family connection to journalism as his only professional qualification. For many reasons, Yochanan’s argument looked a lot like an aberration.
Except it wasn’t. In the heightened tension following the abduction and murder of three settler teenagers in the West Bank and the Gaza war that followed, Gordon’s blog was merely the crudest note in a chorus of calls for war crimes, of the grimmest hue, against the Palestinian people.
After the bodies of missing teens Gilad, Naftali and Eyal were found, the secretary general of the world’s largest youth Zionist movement, Rabbi Noam Perel, called for a murderous revenge that would “not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins.” At the end of July, Chief Rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement Dov Lior used religious texts to justify the potential “destruction of Gaza,” writing that in wartime a “nation under attack” could punish its adversaries in any way, including “taking crushing deterring steps to exterminate the enemy.”
Such words demand a response. “When it comes to language that incites to hatred and violence, it’s a human rights obligation on the state to take action,” explains Michael Kearney, a law lecturer at Sussex University who researches propaganda and incitement in international law. “Direct and public incitement to genocide is, in itself, what we’d call a crime in customary international law. Basically it’s binding on all states to live up to that obligation to prevent genocide and to deal with people who do explicitly incite to genocide.”
Precisely how that obligation might manifest itself is up to the state in question: often symbolic steps to demonstrate that such incitement is not acceptable, Kearney says, might be appropriate.
There has been much outcry among Israeli, Jewish and American communities over statements like these: After widespread condemnation, indeed, Rabbi Perel retracted his statements and apologized. But few measures have been taken against the writers and commentators in question here. Worse, incitement from Israeli politicians hasn’t resulted in serious consequences. At the beginning of July, Knesset member Ayelet Shaked posted an extract from an article by Uri Elitzur on her Facebook page. It defined the “enemy” as the “entire Palestinian people,” and wrote that the “mothers of terrorists” should be destroyed, “as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes.” Aside from the condemnation of commentators, Shaked received no official censure: a day after, three Israeli men kidnapped 16-year-old Mohamed Abu Khdeir and burned him to death. [Continue reading…]