Hamas’ barbaric attack on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group gruesomely slaughtered 1,200 Israelis and seized over 200 hostages, most of them civilians, has brought the issue of genocide to the forefront of global attention. The attack, which was the largest massacre of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust, summoned all the old traumas of anti-Jewish hatred and pogroms. President Biden spoke of the “sheer evil” of the Hamas butchery, which included the beheading of infants and small children, the murder of entire families in their homes, the rape and murder of women, and the mowing down of hundreds of young people as they ran screaming from a music festival. At a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly called Hamas “the new Nazis” and compared Israeli children trying to escape Hamas gunmen to Anne Frank and other young Jews who “hid in attics” during the Holocaust.
Shockingly, though, and almost incomprehensibly, there’s been a global eruption of protests charging that it is Israel, not Hamas, that’s guilty of committing genocide. Demonstrations across the United States were organized by a campaign called Stop the Gaza Genocide, and there was even a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol organized by a leftist group shamefully named the Jewish Voice for Peace where the signs read “Jews say stop the genocide of Palestinians.” The U.N. human rights official Craig Mokhiber, known for repeatedly charging Israel with genocide, said he was resigning his position because the U.N. was “once again” showing itself powerless to stop genocide in Gaza, while the congressional “Squad” member Rashida Tlaib attacked President Biden for supporting “the genocide of the Palestinian people.”
The accusation of genocide against Israel serves a number of purposes for Israel’s opponents. Gerard Baker said that what is “especially malignant” about the use of the term genocide against Israel is that those propagating it know full well “its resonance in the history of the Jewish people, and they use it deliberately to equate what happened to the Jews at the hands of the Nazis with a military action today that is justified in self-defense.” He called this a form of Holocaust denial since it is “explicitly reducing the Holocaust to the level of a regrettable byproduct of a legitimate military campaign.” Accusing Israel of genocide is a way to delegitimize that military campaign, thereby denying Israel the right of self-defense.
But most important, turning the charge of genocide against Israel also hides the fact that it is Hamas and not Israel that indisputably stands in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention. The convention defines as genocide “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” (emphasis added). Israel has repeatedly made clear that its intent is to destroy Hamas, not Palestinian civilians. It has called upon civilians to leave the war zone, repeatedly paused its offensive, and opened “humanitarian corridors” that have allowed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in northern Gaza to flee south. It’s true, of course, that thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war, but that is because Hamas has embedded itself deeply into the civilian infrastructure, using civilians as human shields and firing rockets from schools and hospitals. The Al-Shifa Hospital is the most egregious example of a hospital that doubles as a command center sitting atop fuel reserves, and an important part of the vast tunnel network that is used to store weapons and move fighters and resources. The Geneva Conventions regulating the conduct of armed conflict are quite clear that hospitals lose their legal protection if they’re used for military purposes. International law distinguishes between war and war crimes, and it is Hamas that is committing war crimes in ruthlessly using civilians to protect its fighters.
It is also Hamas that demonstrated genocidal intent in the atrocities committed during the slaughter on Oct. 7, which Yossi Klein Halevi has called “a pre-enactment of Hamas’s genocidal vision.” If the jubilation Hamas terrorists displayed in videos of their savage acts that they proudly posted online were not sufficient proof of genocidal intent, the organization’s founding charter (adopted in 1988) stands as the most unequivocal expression of genocidal intent of any government, institution, or political movement in the world.
The Hamas Charter says that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it,” that Hamas “strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine,” and that unceasing holy war (or jihad) is the only way to attain that objective. It declares that “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” The charter embraces the most odious antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories, in particular The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the infamous early-20th-century Russian forgery alleging that Jews have a secret plan to control the world. Article 22 of the charter declares that with their money, the Jews took control of the world media and, using that power, “were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution,” imperialism and colonialism, as well as “World War I when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate” and “World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state.” Article 32 states that “the Zionist plan is limitless,” and that “after Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates” and pursue “further expansion after that.” The Hamas Charter is not only a crazed call for genocide but is itself a violation of the Genocide Convention, which says in Article III that acts punishable under the convention include incitement to commit genocide, which is precisely what the Hamas Charter proclaims.
Israel’s opponents have shown no interest whatsoever in the issue of genocide as such, since for them genocide is little more than a term of abuse in the political war against Israel. But genocide is in fact a gravely serious international problem that urgently needs to be addressed. Israel’s accusers, for example, have been conspicuously silent on the genocide that China has been carrying out against the Uyghurs, a Muslim people no less. Unlike Hamas, which fervently broadcasts its genocidal intent, China has rejected as “slanderous” criticism of its treatment of Uyghurs. But the U.S. government and the parliaments of the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands and Lithuania, along with the special Uyghur Tribunal chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice, the British barrister, have said that Beijing’s persecution of the Uyghur people constitutes genocide under the convention, which designates as genocidal not just killing members of a group but also “deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction” by “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” or “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Numerous reports, among them one by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, have documented acts committed by the Chinese government that are punishable under the Genocide Convention, among them forced sterilization and abortion, the suppression of Uyghur religious practices, the destruction of more than 16,000 mosques since 2017, taking children from their parents and sending them to state orphanages where they are forcibly assimilated, massive internment in state-sponsored concentration camps, forced labor, and repressive practices targeting women that are focused on preventing births.
A report in The Wall Street Journal in 2019 noted that while the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called an assault on Uyghurs in Urumqi a genocide a decade earlier, he and other Muslim leaders, who claim to oppose “Israeli genocide,” remained silent when Beijing stepped up its repression in 2017, interning up to 3 million Uyghurs in “counter-extremism centers” and reeducation camps. The shift, the Journal noted, isn’t hard to explain, since “China is simply too central an actor in the Muslim world … for the cause of the Uyghurs to matter much.”
Muslim leaders have not only failed to speak out against the crackdown on Uyghurs but have actually defended it, as Mohammed bin Salman did during a visit to China in 2019 when he endorsed what he called Beijing’s right to undertake “anti-terrorism” and “de-extremism” measures against the Uyghurs. In addition, Turkey and other Muslim countries, among them Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, have arrested Uyghur refugees, often on trumped-up terrorism charges, and sent them back to China, where they face harsh punishment. With very few exceptions, governments in Islamic countries remained silent on the Uyghur genocide.
Russia is also committing genocide against the people of Ukraine, and unlike China it has been very blunt and explicit in proclaiming its intentions. In a lecture delivered in October 2022, eight months after Russia launched its invasion, Yale historian Timothy Snyder carefully laid out acts Russia had committed that violate the Genocide Convention, among them the deportation of 10% of Ukraine’s population (the equivalent, he said, of deporting the entire population of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania), the systematic bombing of civilian targets, the destruction of entire cities, and the transfer of 700,000 Ukrainian children to Russia, where they are to be forcibly Russified. He demonstrated genocidal intent by detailing the many arguments the Russians have made to justify their invasion, including the denial that Ukraine has ever existed as a real country or nation and the dehumanizing portrait of Ukrainians as deracinated people detached from the soil and representing an alien threat to Russia’s identity and redemptive mission. Since Russian propagandists regularly make clear that the government’s war aims are exterminationist, Snyder was able to cite the following straightforward examples of genocidal speech drawn from broadcasts on Russian state TV in just “the last few days” (Snyder was speaking on Oct. 28, 2022):
They should not exist at all. We should execute them by firing squad. We will kill one million. We will kill five million. We will obliterate them all. We will drown the children in the raging river. We will throw the children into burning wood huts.
Russia’s crimes against humanity are also ignored by those marching against Israeli “genocide.”
The fact that China, Russia, and Iran are all committing or aspiring to commit genocide—Iran, of course, through the agency of Hamas—shows how far the world’s most powerful and aggressive dictatorships are prepared to go to achieve their objectives, and to what extent they’ve already brutalized and degraded the international system. Shortly before Oct. 7, Walter Russell Mead wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “the rules-based international order has not been this imperiled since the 1930s.” It became far more imperiled after Oct. 7, which unleashed a global wave of antisemitism that is toxic to democratic civilization. Speaking to a gathering in the U.S. Congress on Oct. 24, the Canadian human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler called antisemitism “the bloody canary in the mineshaft of global evil,” and warned that it threatens not just Israel and Jews but “our shared humanity and the rule of law as we know it.” This threat comes at a time when the United States remains debilitated by crippling political divisions and rising isolationism. May the stirrings of alarm provoked by the horrible events of Oct. 7 awaken us before it’s too late to respond to the sobering challenges that lie ahead.
Carl Gershman is a Senior Fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights. Previously, he was the founding president of the National Endowment for Democracy (1984-2021) and the Senior Counselor to Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and the Alternate Representative to the U.N. Security Council (1981-84).