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Joanna Baron: Accusing Israel of genocide is a gross distortion of the facts

Commentary

The point of accusing a Jew of stealing, so the saying goes, is for the pleasure of observing him turning out his pockets to prove the allegation false. So it goes with allegations that Israel is committing genocide in its war against Hamas in Gaza, which have been brought into sharp focus by South Africa’s application against Israel under the Genocide Convention in the International Court of Justice. Israel has pledged to accept the court’s jurisdiction and defend against the allegations, reportedly drawing on eminent retired justice (and Holocaust survivor) Aharon Barak as an ad hoc judge on the International Court of Justice’s Panel.

Genocide is deemed the “crime of all crimes.” Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew and jurist, lobbied for genocide to be named a crime under international law after observing Winston Churchill’s speech describing Nazi atrocities against the Jews (and Poles, Roma, disabled, Russians, and more) as a “crime without a name.”

The definition of genocide is not contested. It is articulated in Article II of the Convention. The crucial aspect of genocide, as the crime of all crimes, is the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Only if that intention is established is the legal test for genocide met in respect of the specified acts, such as killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a national or ethnic group. These acts must serve the intention or the purpose of destroying a specified group.

To be clear, nobody with eyes can deny that a horrifying humanitarian catastrophe is happening in Gaza. This is substantially due to the fact that Israel is fighting an enemy which launches rockets from apartment balconies, holds hostages in hospitals, and establishes command centres out of UN schools. It is Hamas, not Israel, that insists things be so; if the war could be fought along conventional battle lines away from a single civilian, Israel would gladly do so. Hamas, being the weaker actor, insists on the dirtiest possible mode of combat to capitalize on Israel’s moral instinct to minimize civilian loss.

On the question of intent, South Africa’s legal submissions bear the measure of a feeble undergraduate political science paper. The claim highlights statements made by Benjamin Netanyahu, Yoav Gallant, and Isaac Herzog. Some of the statements cited are simply false. For example, the claim quotes one “Danny Neumann,” a “former Israeli Knesset member,” in calling for the complete destruction of Gaza. No such former member exists; the claim appears to originate from a website called the Middle East Eye. (Danny Neumann appears to be a former footballer). 

The other statements are plucked out of context in ways that are so immediate and clear that it is difficult to conclude the claim is anything other than intentionally misleading. The claim cites Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech on October 8th that “We will operate forcefully everywhere.” The full statement, though, makes clear that the objective is against Hamas, and in the very same sentence there is a plea for Gazans to flee from places where Hamas is known to operate: “All of the places which Hamas is deployed, hiding and operating in, that wicked city, we will turn them into rubble. I say to the residents of Gaza: leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere.”

Similarly, President Isaac Herzog’s statement that “It’s an entire nation that’s responsible” refers to the vile antisemitism on display on October 7th when crowds cheered at the bodies of dead civilian women paraded through the streets of Gaza. But at the very same press conference, Herzog explicitly rejected the proposition that Gaza’s civilians are legitimate targets while highlighting the fact that Hamas is known to shoot missiles out of schools, mosques, and even private homes and that this cannot immunize them from military response.

Finally, the claim cites defence minister Yoav Gallant’s October 9th comment that “We are fighting human animals, and acting accordingly.” It’s clear that this was in reference to Hamas, not the Palestinian population. Gallant has tweeted more than 72 times since clarifying this.

The conduct of the IDF shows no nexus with an intent to target Palestinian civilians. The IDF has made over 50,000 phone calls and issued over 14 million text messages and 12 million voice messages warning civilians to leave specified areas. Where possible, they monitor areas to confirm civilians have left before beginning air strikes. They have distributed detailed maps with evacuation routes to relative safety. They have facilitated hundreds of truckloads of humanitarian aid daily. As for Hamas, despite dragging the Gazan population into certain war with Israel on October 7th, they have proudly boasted about their refusal to build a single bomb shelter with the millions of dollars in international aid they receive, asserting this is the “UN’s job.”

The term genocide became a crime against humanity in the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, the most meticulously pre-meditated and evil crime in history. Invoking the crime of genocide against the people whose horrifying fate led the international community to coin the term bears a particularly charged valence. To be sure, not all genocides are as straightforward or explicitly intentional as the Holocaust: the Nazis’ obsession with exterminating Jewry, even at the expense of their own military objectives, has been called “redemptive antisemitism” and, one hopes, remains a high water mark of human cruelty and depravity.

Nonetheless, shoehorning the war in Gaza—a war Israel did not want, did not initiate, and yet must fight for its own existential survival—into the same category as the biggest crime in history constitutes a sort of Holocaust denial via conceptual dilution. It also is the most malicious gaslighting against Jewish people I can imagine.

Why is this happening in 2024? Why the double standard for Israel? For example, one can readily find videos of Islamic genocidaires literally whipping Masalit tribe members in Darfur as they lead them to their slaughter, while news of Pakistan forcibly displacing over 350,000 Afghan refugees came and went with hardly a ripple compared to the worldwide protests and antisemitic attacks in the wake of Israel’s response in Gaza. Then there is the Chinese oppression of the Muslim Uyghurs, which continues apace absent, again, a fraction of the outrage directed toward Israel. In the meantime, the UN General Assembly could not manage to pass a single resolution condemning the October 7th massacre. Let’s not allow the UN’s pathological obsession with the Jewish state to turn its judicial body into a moral horror show.

Sean Speer: Trudeau’s progressive agenda has been tried and found wanting

Commentary

One of the most popular articles that I’ve written for The Hub was published barely a week after we officially launched. In response to the Trudeau government’s 2021 budget, which set out a series of left-wing priorities including universal childcare, a $15 minimum wage, a new luxury tax, and various identity politics measures, I wrote that the government’s ambitious plan “signal[ed] the rise of a new, confident progressivism that has set its sights on the commanding heights of policy and governance.” 

I also warned however that “there are no permanent intellectual victories…because a combination of new generations, new challenges and unexpected events are bound to threaten previous intellectual advances.” My basic point was that although progressivism seemed to be on the ascendancy, the history of political ideas is a dynamic one in which the prevailing intellectual winds can change abruptly. 

What a difference a few years make. Today the Trudeau government is well behind the Conservatives in national polling and its political future is highly in doubt. But even more importantly the progressive intellectual momentum that has undergirded its policy agenda is now itself facing a serious ideological threat. Its biggest challenge isn’t a resurgent conservatism per se. It’s progressivism’s own record that’s the problem. 

On a number of big-picture issues—economic stagnation, global isolation, national attenuation, and urban disorder—the government’s ideological agenda has failed according to its own terms. The promise of progressivism has run into the powerful headwinds of reality. 

The Trudeau government’s overemphasis on equity isn’t a new path to economic growth. Its feminist foreign policy isn’t a substitute for hard power. Disproportionately targeting the country’s richest province isn’t a source of national unity. Decriminalizing drugs and generally adopting a sociological view of criminality isn’t how we secure safe communities. We’ve witnessed the full unfolding of progressive ideas into public policy and Canadians are generally dissatisfied. 

The disappointment was on display this past November in Montreal where leading progressive thinkers and politicians from around the world convened to assess the state of their global political movement. The conference’s message and mood were understandably less assured than in previous years. 

The Global Progress Action Summit, which drew high-profile figures such as current British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and his predecessor Tony Blair, former Obama Administration national security adviser Ben Rhodes, former British and Canadian central banker Mark Carney, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has in past years seen progressives come to Canada in search of ideas and inspiration. This time however felt different. The conference was marked by a tacit sense that the vision of a new, durable political consensus has failed to materialize. Progressive aspirations have instead been met by a powerful combination of uncompromising facts and mounting public opposition. 

Canada has been at the centre of progressive politics for nearly a decade. One may even argue that it has served as a laboratory for the experimentation of progressive ideas in practice. Due to a combination of ideological and institutional factors, the Trudeau government has been the fullest expression of progressives’ ambitions to translate their ideas and values into a governing agenda. 

Justin Trudeau was first elected prime minister in October 2015, just over a year before Donald Trump’s shocking victory over Hilary Clinton. Although it was a destabilizing time for global progressives, the newly-elected Canadian prime minister offered hope. His personal mix of charisma and pedigree, as well as his team of well-connected policy wonks, led progressives around the world to invest a lot in him. He was seen by many as the “progressive heir” to Barack Obama who publicly endorsed him in his two subsequent election campaigns. 

Prime Minister Trudeau was well positioned to go far beyond President Obama’s more constrained progressive agenda. Canada is generally more leftwing than the United States, so he started with a political centre of gravity tilted in his favour. He also had a large parliamentary majority, so he faced far fewer institutional constraints to pass and implement his policy priorities. And after nearly a decade of Conservative government, Canadians wanted change and the then-43-year-old prime minister was keen to give it to them. 

He and his team conceived of their mandate as about more than merely swapping out the incumbent government for a new one that would enact policy changes on the margins. They had a conscious self-image as a realignment government. They sought to challenge many of the prevailing policymaking assumptions in Ottawa, including among Trudeau’s own Liberal Party. As I’ve previously written:  “[The Trudeau government] has a strong theory of the case about the role of markets and the state and the proper goals of government policy…The problem has never been that it lacks ideas.”

This set of conditions can find a historical parallel. As The Hub’s new managing editor, Harrison Lowman, reminded us this week, our current political moment has striking similarities to the early 1980s. The prime minister’s father then led a government that was animated by its own ideological ambitions. He was cool, smart, and determined to do things differently. Progressivism appeared to be on the ascendancy. 

Yet its manifestly poor outcomes—including Canada’s isolation around the world, rising threats to national unity, the onset of a national malaise, and a sustained period of economic stagnation—had the opposite effect. They eventually ushered in a conservative policy revolution led by Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney which included free trade, privatization, and comprehensive tax reform. 

As we enter 2024, one gets the sense that we may be on the cusp of another rightward shift. That the Trudeau government’s failings as a standard bearer for progressivism will itself produce an ideological chain reaction. If so, it could represent a huge opportunity for conservative statecraft. The onus is on the Conservatives therefore to prepare as Mulroney and his team did for it.