This past May, while Israel defended itself against more than 4,000 unprovoked Hamas missile attacks from Gaza, actor Mark Ruffalo accused Israel of genocide. Several weeks later, Ruffalo wisely retracted his tweet, saying the accusation was “not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful & is being used to justify antisemitism here & abroad. Now is the time to avoid hyperbole.”
Just two months ago, a student at George Mason University told Vice President Kamala Harris that Israel is involved in “ethnic genocide”—to which Harris infamously responded that “your voice, your truth, should not be suppressed and it must be heard.”
Unlike the vice president, Ruffalo responded appropriately and honestly: The accusation of genocide against Israel is indeed “inaccurate.” Ruffalo, however, was wrong when he called such statements “hyperbole”—hyperbole is when you exaggerate the truth.
What is genocide?
Genocide is a legal term defining “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
The Jews of Europe are perhaps the best-known victims of genocide. Germany’s Third Reich intended to eliminate the Jewish people and specifically targeted them—rounded up and killed six million of us—strictly for the “crime” of being Jewish.
Likewise, the Armenian genocide: Ottoman Turks targeted Armenians with the intention of reducing their population in the Ottoman Empire so as to prevent Armenians from ever forming a state. An estimated 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during World War I.
More recently, East Timor, with a population of 650,000, was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. A truth and reconciliation commission concluded that in 25 years—between 1974 and 1999 when East Timor gained independence—approximately 18,600 people were killed and another 84,200 deaths were caused by the Indonesian military’s use of “starvation as a weapon to exterminate the East Timorese.”
Many other modern incidents have been termed genocide, and all have in common the intentional murder or physical displacement of a national, ethnic or religious group.
Since Israel’s founding, an estimated 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in military conflicts—mostly wars or terror attacks initiated by Palestinians against Israel. Of these, an estimated 4,000-5,000 died as non-combatants involuntarily exposed to battle, usually as human shields.
One thing is clear: Combatants killed in attacks that their own side initiates are not examples of genocide. Nor are unintentional civilian casualties resulting from such battles.
So what are Israel’s critics referring to when they accuse the Jewish state of genocide?
These critics can produce zero evidence that Israel has ever had a plan or intent to eliminate the Palestinian people.
Nor do critics produce evidence that Israel has ever intentionally killed innocent Palestinians. To the contrary, Israel assiduously—famously—avoids harming civilians during its battles with Hamas and other terrorists.
In addition, Israel annually donates thousands of tons of medicines, food and other essential goods to sustain the lives of Palestinians in Gaza—despite regular attacks on Israel from Gaza by Hamas. Thousands of Palestinians also travel to Israel every year to receive free medical care.
Critics can cite no instances in the last 70 years in which Palestinians have been forcibly, illegally removed from any private land they owned.
Some Palestinians, however, have been removed by Israeli courts from land seized from rightful Jewish owners, or public lands that individual Palestinians were squatting on. Palestinians also claim to “own” vast tracts of land on which they have never had sovereignty and to which they have no international legal rights.
While it’s true that approximately 750,000 Arabs left Israel during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence—which was initiated by invading Arab armies—at least half of these people fled of their own free will. Others were removed by Israel for their own safety or because they were suspected enemies. (Some 156,000 Arabs chose to remain in Israel during this war, and over the decades, they have thrived.) By way of comparison, an estimated 850,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries in the aftermath of Israel’s War of Independence.
In fact, the dislocation of populations has taken place in all major military conflicts worldwide. In World War II, millions of Europeans were displaced. Between 10 million and 20 million people were displaced when India and Pakistan became independent in 1947.
When dislocation occurs as a side consequence of war, rather than as a goal of the conflict, it’s not considered genocide.
In addition to all this, in the last seven decades, the number of Palestinian Arabs has grown dramatically with no interference from Israel.
The Arab population of the British Mandate of Palestine in 1948 was about 1.3 million. Today, the Palestinian population within the same region is about 6.8 million, of which some 2 million are Israeli-Arab citizens. Such robust population growth alone repudiates accusations of genocide.
Most puzzling, given the preponderance of facts that disprove both any intention or active campaign by Israel to conduct genocide against the Palestinians, is the question of why Israel’s enemies insist on repeating this false and inflammatory accusation.
There are two reasons:
First, anti-Zionists—those who oppose the existence of the Jewish state—cannot convince rational people that Israel is evil by telling the truth. The truth is that Israel has been trying to make peace with the Palestinians ever since the nation’s birth 73 years ago. The truth is, the Palestinians have greeted every peace offer from day one with thousands of terrorist and missile attacks on Israeli civilians, killing some 3,500 innocent Israelis.
So the anti-Zionists tell dramatic lies of apartheid, colonization, the slaughter of children, stealing land, ejecting families from their homes. Though none of the accusations are true, the gullible—and fellow anti-Zionists—are quick to join the chorus.
Second, anti-Zionism is by definition anti-Semitic. Anti-Zionism is a denial of the right of Jews to establish a state in their ancient homeland. False accusations of genocide are attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state and demonize Jews. These tactics—delegitimization and demonization—are cornerstones of anti-Semitism according to the globally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition.
In short, there can be no rational reason to lie about the Jewish people and the world’s only Jewish state. Anti-Semitism is a form of hate. If you hear someone accuse Israel of genocide, you may safely assume that person is either misinformed or anti-Semitic.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.