Column: This is what’s wrong with the rush to accuse Israel of committing genocide in Gaza

A protester holds a sign urging Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to "stop supporting genocide."
A protester on Capitol Hill holds a sign urging Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to “stop supporting genocide.”
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

If I were a Palestinian struggling amid the rubble of Gaza, I would probably think Israel is committing genocide. If I had been a German hiding in Dresden or a Japanese civilian near Hiroshima in 1945, I would probably have felt the same way about the United States. But none of these amount to genocide.

Genocide has a specific definition: “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people because of their ethnicity, nationality, religion, or race.” The term was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew, in response to Winston Churchill’s observation about the Holocaust: “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”

In fairness to Israel’s critics, the images of the war lend themselves to claims of genocidal intent. But that is in no small part due to Hamas’ strategy. They cannot win and will not fight a conventional war. And Gaza’s civilians don’t get bomb shelters; only Hamas fighters do.


There’s something deeply troubling about the discussion over Israel’s failure to prevent the attacks. It assumes the terrorists have no agency in choosing not to engage in barbarity.

Oct. 9, 2023

Israel’s adversaries Hamas and Hezbollah have a stated goal of eliminating Israel. Meanwhile, since Israel’s founding, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the Palestinian population has grown more than eightfold, while the population of the Gaza Strip has increased 600% since 1960.

Even denunciations of Israel undermine the genocide claim. Israel is condemned for inadequate warnings about attacks and insufficient humanitarian support to Gaza. But if genocide were the aim, why drop warning leaflets or provide aid at all?

There’s plenty to criticize Israel about without resorting to genocide accusations. And plenty of very negative labels can be defensibly, or at least arguably, used to criticize Israel’s actions in Gaza — slaughter, cruelty, excessive, wanton — without mischaracterizing its intent.

Since Hamas’ attack on Israel, anti-Jewish hate has exploded on Chinese-owned TikTok. But it’s not just on social media — the Chinese state has encouraged antisemitism for years.

Nov. 7, 2023

It’s a sign of the times that absolving Israel of genocide counts as an outrageous defense. It’s a bit like when I tell some of my fellow Trump critics that the former president isn’t Hitler and they think I’m rushing to his defense.

The claim that Israeli policy toward Palestinians is racist and genocidal is very old, with deep roots in Soviet propaganda along with Holocaust denial. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader in the West Bank, wrote his doctoral dissertation on this garbage at Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University. Vladimir Putin, whose war against Ukraine does fit the U.N.’s definition of genocide, has revived this tactic to distract and divide the West.

All this is worth noting, and not just to demonstrate the pretextual nature of the accusation and highlight the double standard applied to Israel at the U.N. and elsewhere. In recent years, American journalists have anguished over the problems of disinformation in general and Russian disinformation in particular. There was a related, robust debate over whether journalists should call Trump’s lies “lies.” But on any given day, politicians, pundits and activists routinely accuse Israel of genocide with little to no pushback from reporters.


In several cases, in fact, the news media have charged Israel with atrocities only to have to backpedal once the facts emerge. In the latest example, dozens of deaths at an aid site were initially blamed on an Israeli strike, but now the reporting includes Israel’s claim that most of the injuries came from stampeding crowds.

Loose assertions of genocide have consequences, none good. First, genocide understandably arouses a sense of total moral authority in its opponents. Any form of resistance can be justified, which is why so many people have bent over backwards to justify or “contextualize” the horror of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

Second, this allegation fosters a sense of collective guilt. Jews around the world, regardless of their attitudes toward Israel or Zionism, are being targeted for abuse and discrimination for their alleged complicity in genocide. Many extremists subscribe to a moral syllogism that says Israel is like Nazi Germany, so therefore if you support Israel, you’re akin to a Nazi. Since Jews support Israel, Jews, or “Zionists,” are fair game for all manner of harassment.

Finally, if Israel is going to be accused of genocide regardless of its actions, it has that much less incentive to show restraint in its effort to defeat an enemy that is avowedly genocidal.

Indeed, it’s worth noting that those loudly calling for a cease-fire to stop Israel’s genocide typically fail to call for Hamas to surrender. That would stop the bloodshed, by any name, immediately.