Israeli Genocide?

The latest critique of Israel is that it is now either committing genocide in Gaza, or very soon will be guilty of such a war crime, as the number of deaths as a result of its bombing continues to climb. Thus, Israel should forthwith cease its present IDF operations, and not pause, nor engage in a truce but cease altogether its attempt to root out Hamas.

How many Palestinian Arabs must die in collateral damage in order to constitute genocide? In the view of some commentators, while to be sure there is a continuum involved here, a specific number must be determined, and Israel duly charged with this crime against humanity when surpassed. The IDF is dangerously approaching such a statistic even now, as they see matters.

An alternative hypothesis might be that genocide is an all or nothing phenomenon, not a variable. No, that is not quite right. Killing one Jew or one Palestinian does not constitute genocide. How about a million or 10 million? Is it a matter of absolute numbers or relative ones? Here, it all depends upon the “context,” a concept very popular at Harvard, MIT and UPenn.

Stipulate then, arguendo, that Israel is entirely justified in eliminating Hamas. Not just reducing their power, but totally conquering them. No more merely “mowing the lawn.” Justice would consist at the very least of compelling them to release all hostages, surrender, and all of them be placed in Israeli prison cells, for their crimes of October 7, 2023. So far, the number of deaths of Palestinian Arabs, let us posit, has been in the tens of thousands. Let us also assume that this carnage does not yet constitute genocide. When will that point be reached? At 50,000? At 100,000? At one million, which would be almost half of the Gazan population before that date of infamy in 2023? This sort of speculation is the methodology employed by some genocide “experts” who really should know better.

For example, consider the views of Omer Bartov, an Israeli-born professor of history at Brown University who has been characterized as “one of the world’s leading authorities on genocide.” In his view, “… while Israel’s military actions in Gaza did not yet constitute a genocide, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had demonstrated ‘genocidal intent, which can easily tip into genocidal action.’” This scholar urges all men of good will to “stand up and raise our voices, before Israel’s leadership plunges it and its neighbors into the (genocidal) abyss.” This Brown professor maintains: “As a historian of genocide, I believe that there is no proof that genocide is currently taking place in Gaza, although it is very likely that war crimes, and even crimes against humanity, are happening.” However, he further avers: “In justifying the(ir) assault, Israeli leaders and generals have made terrifying pronouncements that indicate a genocidal intent.”

How such experts on genocide can determine the exact point at which this charge of genocide has been reached is not the interest of the present column. Rather, we maintain that the entire enterprise is misbegotten. We will not quibble about any specific numbers.

Hamas could surrender tomorrow, and face the imprisonment they so richly deserve for their brutal murders and rapes. If they did so, the supposed “genocide” that Israel is now or soon will be imposing upon the Gazans would cease within minutes. But this terrorist organization refuses to be justly punished. In effect, they are holding as hostages not only some 100 Israelis they have so far captured (they are still a going concern, there might be more in the future), but, also, the entire remaining population of Gaza. According to the marginal or gradual or continuum thesis we are now criticizing, once the number of deaths in this territory reaches a certain point, then and only then will the statistical requirements of “genocide” have been reached. At that point, if Israel does not wish to be guilty of this crime against humanity, it must cease and desist from all military attempts to eradicate Hamas.

Let us try this thesis on for size with regard to Nazi Germany. Suppose the Nazis were as uncaring about the German population as is Hamas about Gazans. The goal of the Allies was to eliminate the Nazis, root and branch. Their aim was to not allow a single one of them escape the justice they so richly deserved. We now also assume that the only way to accomplish this goal was to bomb Germany. And, as with all such situations, innocent people would die as a result of collateral damage. According to the marginal “analysis” of genocide as articulated by Professor Bartov and his ilk, enough would eventually be enough. Once a certain number of Germans were killed, the Allies would have to stop their bombing, lest they become guilty of genocide. They would have to allow the remaining Nazis to roam free, enable them to lick their wounds and, in due course, continue their depredations.

Does this sound judicious? To many people, to all too many people, this is entirely reasonable when it comes to the IDF’s attempt to make sure that “never again” will Hamas be able to do to Israelis what they did on that day of infamy a scant few weeks ago. Hopefully, these professors and others will come to their senses when they contemplate what this would have implied in the Nazi case.

Let us now look at this matter from yet another perspective. Suppose turtles, all of them without exception, suddenly became vicious. They would continually attack human beings. Every last one of them from newborn turtles to elderly turtles and all ages in between. They just would not stop; we could not reason with them, any more than we can now. This murderous behavior of theirs continued, no matter how many of them we killed. Finally, we killed them all. Would this be “turtle-cide.” Well, yes and no. On the one hand, this genetic pool would have been entirely wiped out. Perhaps that counts as genocide for turtles, or turtle-cide. On the other hand, it also counts as a paradigm case of self-defense.


Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans. Read more of his work on his Substack.