An Al Jazeera reporter seems to have gotten a clever idea for a story: do a report on the crimes and outrages being committed against the Rohingya people by the authorities in Myanmar, then take it to some prestigious legal scholars in the US and the UK and get their opinions on whether it meets the definition of genocide.
The video above includes comments from scholars at Yale University and the University of London, all of whom agree, after examining documents and videos, that Myanmar’s policies toward the Rohingya probably do constitute genocide under the terms defined by the international Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
But of course criticizing Myanmar doesn’t carry quite the price that criticizing Israel can have, now does it? And if the Yale scholars have any opinions on the other genocide (you know, the one being carried out by “the most moral army in the world,” with the star of David waving overhead), they don’t seem to be sharing them publicly. But then maybe there’s a reason for that.
Assaults on academic freedom, particularly in the US, have been such that university professors have been fired from their jobs and/or denied tenure for daring to criticize the Jewish state. Perhaps the most recent example of this is Professor Steven Salaita, a University of Illinois professor who was fired for posting tweets critical of Israel during the summer of 2014 assault upon Gaza. One of his tweets read, “Why would Hamas even try to use children as human shields? #Israel has proved for decades that it has no problem shooting them. #Gaza”
Salaita lost his job and is now pressing ahead with a lawsuit against the university.
But let’s get back to the Al Jazeera report. If the information presented is accurate, Myanmar most likely is guilty of genocide. But suppose, just suppose, the same reporter had gone to the same academics at the same universities and, rather than querying them on Myanmar, had instead solicited their views on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and whether or not that constitutes genocide. What do you suppose their responses would have been? Or would there have been any response at all?
Of course it’s pertinent to ask whether or not the comparison is valid. How do the Palestinian and Rohingyan genocides stack up against each other? Suppose we took out the words “Rohingya people” from the above report, and substituted it instead with “Palestinians”? How much of what’s there would still apply? Quite a bit.
No, we don’t have a cache of leaked documents or video footage of Israeli settlers hacking Palestinians to death with machetes. But we do have footage of Israel dropping white phosphorous bombs on a school in Gaza, and we do have public statements on record of Israeli officials referring to Palestinians as “snakes,” “beasts on two legs,” “drugged cockroaches in a bottle,” etc. (You can go here to see a catalog of such racist comments from Israeli officials, including former prime ministers.)
No, we don’t have video footage of Israeli settlers burning 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir alive in the summer of 2014, or footage of the arson attack on the Dawabsha home in the summer of 2015, but we do know both incidents happened. And we know no one has been punished for them. We even have a public statement by an Israeli official saying the attackers who killed three members of the Dawabsha family would not be prosecuted.
Let us also not forget past statements about putting the Palestinians “on a diet,” made by an Israeli official in 2006, the infamous blocked shipment of pasta reported in 2009, the restrictions Israel imposes to this day (along with Egypt as well) on building materials and other goods into Gaza, hampering rebuilding efforts in the wake of last year’s bloody conflict–a 51-day air and ground assault which destroyed some 19,000 homes and killed more than 2,200 people, roughly 500 of which were children.
Watching the Yale scholars offer their “learned opinions” on the Myanmar situation is likely to give you a case of indigestion. It did me. And this is not because what’s happening to the Rohingyas isn’t tragic. It certainly is. But what does it say about the current state of academic freedom when it’s acceptable to talk about one genocide, but not the other?
I would find it far easier to look upon the Yale scholars with the appropriate measure of esteem and respect were they to summon their courage to hold a similar discussion on Palestine. But somehow I don’t think we’ll be seeing that anytime soon.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide puts forth, in article II, a five-point definition of genocide. These are the same points discussed by the scholars above in the video. Parties carrying out “any” of the actions specified here are presumed to have engaged in an act of genocide. You don’t have to carry out all five. I am not a lawyer, of course, and this is just my personal opinion, but the way I read and interpret Israel’s actions in light of what the article says, the Jewish state would be guilty of four of the five. The only one that doesn’t seem to apply is the fifth one regarding transferring children (unless you count putting Palestinian children in prison).
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
“Genocide is self defense.” The words, of course, have a distinctly Orwellian ring to them. But this is what it has come down to. This is now the only acceptable position one may take in US academic discourse on the Palestine-Israel conflict, the only one that won’t jeopardize your career.