Israel lobby groups recently reacted with outrage against the Movement for Black Lives policy platform which refers to US complicity in Israel’s “genocide” and “apartheid” against the Palestinian people.
Other pro-Israel Jewish organizations claimed that using the term to describe Israel’s policies is “anti-Semitic” and libelous. By contrast, Jewish Voice for Peace offered an unqualified endorsement of the Movement for Black Lives platform.
Despite the outrage of many pro-Israel groups, there is a long history of human rights scholarship and legal analysis that supports the assertion Israel is committing genocide, according to a statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“Genocide can be applied to the destruction of a people or a national group as a viable group, and that can be both with their being driven from a land or the rendering of their language no longer legal, or just the destruction of their national identity,” Katherine Franke, board chair at CCR, told The Electronic Intifada.
Palestinians have claimed “that what the state of Israel has done is try to deny the very existence or presence of Palestinians in the area that was mandate Palestine before 1947,” she added.
Franke, a professor at Columbia University Law School, authored the statement in response to the “enormous, ugly backlash” against the Movement for Black Lives, which represents more than 50 Black organizations.
“As human rights lawyers, [we felt] it might be appropriate to just clarify the record that this was nothing new – that the term genocide had been applied by human rights activists, lawyers, scholars both inside law and inside other disciplines for many, many years,” she said.
Franke dismissed the claims by Israel lobby groups that using such terms to describe Israel’s policies against Palestinians is a form of anti-Jewish bigotry.
“Even the suggestion that the state of Israel may be committing a human rights violation is almost always taken in a somewhat reactionary way as a form of anti-Semitism,” she remarked.
“And of course, a criticism of a state is not the same thing as a criticism of an ethnic or religious group.”
Israel’s systematic targeting of Palestinians since 1947 has been referred to as “incremental genocide” – a term used by historian Ilan Pappe and echoed by Michael Ratner, a human rights lawyer and CCR’s former president, who died earlier this year.
“It’s been going on for a long time, the killings, the incredibly awful conditions of life,” Ratner said during Israel’s assault on Gaza in July 2014, referring to the expulsions of Palestinians from hundreds of towns and villages starting in 1947.
“It’s correct and important to label it for what it is,” he added. Ratner asserted that such crimes can be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Franke told The Electronic Intifada that Palestinians “are pursuing a number of avenues” through the ICC to raise international legal violations that Israel has committed against them.
For example, the ICC has been conducting preliminary examinations of possible war crimes Israel committed during the summer of 2014 in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
However, charges of genocide have not been brought to the court yet, Franke said.