When Israel launched a retaliatory attack against Hamas targets in Gaza, killing about 50 people, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas described the attack as “genocide against the Palestinian people.” The comment prompted swift denunciation by the Anti-Defamation League.
It’s not hard to see why.
The word “genocide” came about because no existing vocabulary could describe the crime perpetrated by the Nazi during the holocaust. Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer of Polish nationality, coined the word in 1944 and used it in the Nuremburg trials. It means the deliberate, systematic extermination of an entire race of people.
Moral philosophers disagree as to whether genocide is morally worse than indiscriminate mass murder on the same scale, just as they disagree over whether hate crimes targeting marginalized groups are categorically worse than indiscriminate murders. However that debate is decided, the word clearly should be reserved for murder carried out on a horrifying scale.
By using the word “genocide” to describe a few scores of deaths of a defensive military campaign, Abbas dilutes the significance of the word, trivializing the Holocaust and the suffering of those it victimized. Compare using the word “rape” to describe an unwelcome sexual advance of a purely verbal nature.
Nor is this the first time Abbas has made a dubious statement on the subject of genocide. His doctoral dissertation claimed that only about 890,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust. He also laid much of the blame on Zionists who collaborated with the Nazis in order to encourage Jewish immigration to Palestine. The New York Times reported that Abbas had shifted in his position on the Holocaust when he denounced it “the most heinous crime of the modern era,” but the Jewish publication Tablet noted that he never repudiated his claim about Jewish responsibility.
Now Abbas is partnered with Hamas, whose 1988 charter looks forward to future, divinely aided killing of Jews:
Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim).
One must admit that, by Hamas standards, the exception for the Jewish tree is pretty considerate.
By calling the Israeli response “genocide” Abbas doing more than misstating facts. He is using moral outrage over the Holocaust as a tool to bring about what could turn into a real genocide, worthy of the name.