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Why the field of genocide studies is idiotic?



Because genocide scholars inhabit an academic field erected around a conceptual shrine to the shoah and then quibble over the semantics of mass-murder. From the Forward:

“My only concern is that we have a debate in which the tone is between civilized academics, discussing things in an appropriate way,” Schabas, a professor of international law at the National University of Ireland in Galway, told the Forward. “Charny’s comments were too intemperate. So we apologized to Shaw and let the debate continue.”

But to Charny, this was one more sign that a field that was started as “a civilizational response to the horror of the Holocaust” has been turned against the Jewish state. “This is ultimately a story of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, including among genocide scholars,” Charny told the Forward.

Charny makes it clear that he does think Jews committed what he calls “genocidal massacres” during the war of 1948, like the infamous shooting of civilians in the village of Deir Yassin, in which more than 100 unarmed people were killed in a brutal raid. But he does not consider the “ethnic cleansing” that took place as constituting genocide, nor does he think, as Shaw contends, that the Zionists had any genocidal objective.

“I do not believe the war was undertaken by us with a genocidal intent at all — it was in self-defense for the establishment of Israel per the U.N. mandate and our cherished Zionist dream,” Charny said. “And I do not at all believe that we had any grand genocidal plan in our warfare or in the collective mind-culture in which the Yishuv [pre-state government] was operating.”

According to the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted at the end of 1948, genocide is legally defined as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Nowhere does it specifically mention what we would think of today as ethnic cleansing, but there are those scholars, like Shaw, who believe that ethnic cleansing does indeed fall within the convention’s initial meaning.

Shaw thinks Charny’s reaction is indicative of those scholars he calls “pro-Israel,” those who he thinks are incapable of applying the same critical eye to Israel and its past that they do to other peoples’ histories.

“He’s an American Jew who’s gone to Israel, and he has invested a lot of his identity in Israel — whereas criticisms of the recent attack on Gaza don’t necessarily bring the whole existence of the state into question, this seems to him as an argument that strikes at the foundations,” Shaw said, speaking of Charny. “The other issue is that there is a problem with the language of genocide with anything having to do with Jews. For some Israeli and pro-Israeli scholars, genocide is something that happened to the Jews; it’s not something that Jews could ever really be involved in.”

This current conflict between the scholars in some ways cements what was already an ideological rift.

In 2005, a group of genocide researchers, many of whom had been part of IAGS, decided to start their own rival organization, calling it the International Network of Genocide Scholars. The reason they say they broke away was twofold: They felt that IAGS had become too American in its perspective, and that it had become too politically activist. Unofficially, according to Shaw, the feeling was that the association was “overtly pro-Israel.” Shaw cites the example of a resolution that the association issued in reaction to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments about destroying Israel. The resolution condemned this as a threat of genocide. Shaw did not believe it was the place of genocide scholars to make such a pronouncement.

Israel Charny is a tribalist idiot, there’s no question about that, and there’s no question of the “legitimacy” of the Zionist state. It has none. But what a bizarre academic field in which one engages in debates over whether the massacre at Deir Yassin was “genocidal,” or not (Not. So what? Are we supposed to shrug at body counts less than 11 million? Sorry, folks, a couple more have to bite the dust and then we’ll talk genocide) Massacres don’t need to be the twin of the massacres committed by the Nazis in order to be massacres and in order to be intolerable. Charny may even have the better arguments here, because the game is fixed: Shaw claims that “genocide is a general sociological concept which can be applied to many historical cases, and does not imply a comparison to any other specific case,” which is precisely the problem because it was the shoah that prompted the concept’s creation. Shaw thinks you can fix the cultural disease called Holocaust Sacralization by cramming other massacres into the mausoleum without changing its name and structure. I have a simpler idea: take it apart or rebuild it to accommodate the massacres that led up to the shoah, too.
Omer Bartov (he who spazzed out on Norman Finkelstein in the 90s) is also a bit funny, contesting (!) “the idea that there is a link between assertions of the Holocaust’s centrality and uniqueness and the legitimization of the State of Israel as a colonial entity with its own history of ethnic cleansing and genocidal potential.” He should read Idith Zertal. If pressed for time, he could scan Gideon Levy’s column yesterday in Haaretz. The first line reads,
More than half of Jewish school children in Israel have visited Auschwitz; each year more than 10,000 go on a trip to Poland or on the March of the Living, a pilgrimage to the death camps. They come back shocked and nationalist. These tours mislead the weeping students for a moment as they wrap themselves in the national flag, before and after downing a Vodka Red Bull in their rooms.
That is Israel Omer. Deal with it — not that you live there anyway.

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