Let’s Talk About Genocide: The State of Israel Vs. William A. Schabas

William A. Schabas
William A. Schabas

Since Israel’s latest attack on the besieged Gaza Strip, last summer, I’ve been researching the issue of Israel’s genocide [1,2,3,4]. I quickly found out that I’m not the only one, and although the subject has been addressed by scholars, politicians, UN bodies, and Palestinian civil society since 1982, this attack has prompted an unprecedented amount of criticism and study.

The sudden popular resurgence of the term, especially coming from President Mahmoud Abbas, has already prompted many independent articles, rejecting not only the terminology, but mostly the users of the term. From Liberal Zionists calling those who charge genocide “the loony left” and “antisemitic”; to hard-core right-wingers like government- funded StandWithUs with the help of fox news, with the tried-and-true “what about Syria, Iran, Iraq” and anything else that isn’t the issue of discussion and furthers Islamophobia; to AIPAC with the ironic claim that naming the crime hinders peace, and quotations from none other than Benjamin Netanyahu that “we warned them” and after we bombed the hell out of them, we gave them “tons of humanitarian aid.” That said, I’ve yet to see an organised government initiative on the subject. Until now.

Never Again Unless We Did It

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, two weeks ago, Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, addressed the United Nations  calling “to define red lines beyond which an intervention would be necessary to stop acts of genocide.” This call was made in the following context:

Cynical accusations of genocide and war crimes against Israel harm the UN’s ability to fight the real thing… at the same time we must remember that the setting of red lines requires us to stop diluting and cynically exploiting them in the name of pseudo objectivity, as is done in the rhetoric of human rights with the use of terms such as ‘genocide’ for political purposes… Citing the “shameful” UN resolution 3379, that equated Zionism with “its greatest enemy” racism, Rivlin said that “nonetheless, absurd comparisons such as this one, which we as Israelis are exposed to constantly… not only confuse the ally with the enemy, but they undermine this house’s ability to effectively fight the phenomenon of genocide.”

Simply put, Rivlin is calling for the restriction of the definition of genocide, so that Israel may be excused.

Israel’s New Propaganda Front: The Armenian Genocide

Other issues raised by Rivlin were the Armenian genocide and a two-pronged defence of Islam while reasserting the justification of “The War on Terror”. Though the latter is seemingly self-explanatory, you’d be surprised at the politics, quietly emerging from the mix of the two, as we near the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide:

In the case of the Jews, the urgency of guaranteeing non-recurrence of the Holocaust is conditioned by the unremitting mortal attacks against the Jewish people since the establishment of the State of Israel, and at present accompanied by the terrorism of the radical Islam. Direct intersection of security interests of the Armenians and Jews in terms of the threat of recurrence of genocides in the Middle East has recently been reflected in the destruction of the 1915 Armenian Genocide Martyrs’ Memorial Church of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia in the Syrian desert Deir ez-Zor by the vandals of the Islamic State.

Armenia’s understanding of The State of Israel as the representative of people of the Jewish faith is a problem, but not so much as Israel’s own assertion that that is the case and the genocide-denial politics it creates. Rivlin is, in fact, five years late to the party. In 2010, AIPAC and the ADL was so deeply concerned about the recognition of another people’s genocide that it did what it does best- interfere in American foreign affairs on Israel’s behalf:

Yesterday the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the Armenian genocide resolution… The Obama administration lobbied against the resolution because it believed that enacting it would disrupt our relations with Turkey… It also argued that passing the bill now would disrupt negotiations now underway between Turkey and Armenia. It passed anyway and the Turks immediately called its ambassador home…

The [Israel] lobby has always opposed deeming the Armenian slaughter a genocide largely because Turkey has (or had) good relations with Israel. And the lobby, and its Congressional acolytes, did not want to harm those relations.

But, since the Gaza war, Turkish-Israeli relations have deteriorated. The Turks, like pretty much every other nation on the planet, were appalled by the Israeli onslaught against the Gazans. And said so.

That battle is now being carried to Washington. The Israelis are trying to teach the Turks a lesson. If the Armenian resolution passes both houses and goes into effect, it will not be out of some newfound compassion for the victims of the Armenian genocide and their descendants, but to send a message to Turkey: if you mess with Israel, its lobby will make Turkey pay a price in Washington. And, just maybe, the United States will pay it too.

These American-Zionist moves back in 2010 may explain the European-Zionist moves happening at the end of 2014:

Following their session, the World Armenian Congress and the European Jewish Parliament issued a joint statement launching a cooperation at European level on topics of mutual interest, including fighting Holocaust denial and the denial of the Armenian genocide.

“We call on heads of states, national and other leaders to avoid mistakes of the past, to abandon the policy of confrontation, inflaming new “phobias”, to seek a common path to a peaceful, harmonious and civilized world,” reads the statement. A working group is expected to meet in May 2015 in France where large Jewish and Armenian communities live and an international conference will be organized in Brussels. “In Armenia, representatives from various European countries have begun the practice of “peace platforms” – a dialogue with the representatives of the countries where the problems of war and peace, fighting terrorism and phobias are particularly acute.”

Rivlin may be late to the party, but he’s cordially invited:

In conclusion, I feel genuinely obliged to speak about the appropriateness of the invitation of His Excellency the President of Israel Dear Mr. Reuven Rivlin to Yerevan in April, 2015, to take part in events marking the 100th  Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. This visit, reflecting the national security interests of the State of Israel and the Republic of Armenia, and I am sure of it, may become a high performance act of moral duty for all the states and peoples of the world – in relation to the memory of the victims of crimes against humanity and mankind.

Israel’s Old Propaganda Front: Userping Investigation

Though there’s ample reason for Rivlin to try and spin “Never Again”, the accusations of genocide are still far and in between. In fact, In my last article in this series, I tried to unravel the realpolitik which leads the United Nations to serial inaction in the case of Palestine. In the last week however, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in events, subtle as they may seem.

In mid December, Israel has officially refused to corporate with the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the events in Gaza. Israel’s hostility was apparent, and isn’t new when it comes to UN investigations of its more obvious war crimes. Netanyahu even went so far as saying:

[Head of the commission] Prof. William Schabas “was biased against Israel” and that the commission of inquiry’s as yet unpublished report was written at the behest of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which the Prime Minister described as “an anti-Israel body.”

Last week, to much media fanfare, Schabas resigned from the commission. The reason apparently being Israel providing the Human Rights Council with “incriminating” information:

On Tuesday afternoon, acting president of the UN Human Rights Council, German Ambassador Joachim Ruecker, issued a statement saying that on Friday, January 30, he received an official letter of complaint from the Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Eviatar Manor regarding William Schabas. The letter contained previously unreported information that in 2012, Professor Schabas authored a legal opinion on behalf of the PLO, for which he was paid $1,300.

After the Human Rights Council received this information it sought legal advice from the United Nations headquarters. Schabas, on his own accord, decided on the resignation:

In a letter to the commission, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, Schabas said he would step down immediately to prevent the issue from overshadowing the preparation of the report and its findings, which are due to be published in March… “I believe that it is difficult for the work to continue while a procedure is underway to consider whether the chair of the commission should be removed,” he wrote.

Netanyahu in turn, continued trying to get the report scratched:

The resignation prompted Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu early Tuesday to renew his calls to disband the inquiry.

“This is the same body that only in 2014 passed more resolutions against Israel than against Iran, Syria and North Korea combined,” said Netanyahu. “Hamas, other terrorist organizations and the terror regimes around us are the ones who need to be investigated, and not Israel.”

On a side note, a quick look through the archive of UN Human Rights Council resolutions for 2014 finds that this widely quoted statement is patently false.

The Real Threat of William A. Schabas

Unconvinced of the proposed “conflict of interest” that Israel attributes to Schabas, I did a little digging of my own, and found out that Israel actually probably should fear the appointment of Schabas by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Wikipedia describes William A. Schabas as follows:

a Canadian academic in the field of international criminal and human rights law, and has been called ‘the world expert on the law of genocide and international law’ [attributed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum]… an internationally respected expert on human rights law, genocide and the death penalty. He has written over 18 monographs and 200 articles. In 2009 he was elected President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

Although further reading of the article might explain why Netanyahu might have a personal score to settle with Schabas we also find that the world-renowned genocide expert usually doesn’t attribute the Crime of Genocide to the state of Israel. That said, I found that as early as the year 2000, in his book “Genocide in International Law: The Crime of Crimes”, Schabas cited the UN in saying that

The General Assembly appears to have addressed the issue of genocide for the first time in 1982, when it qualified the massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon as genocide. On 18 September 1982, hundreds of Palestinian refugees in those camps were massacred. Israel, which had invaded much of southern Lebanon during the summer months of 1982, was blamed for the atrocity. Its security forces had taken control of the camps, leaving Christian militias with a free hand to carry out the carnage.

All this, of course, makes William Schabas a very threatening figure to Israel, when it comes to criminal accountability for the arch of its human rights violations against the Palestinian people. But it didn’t fully register in my mind until I happened across the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide page in the United Nations official Audiovisual Library of International Law, which’s introduction was written by Schabas. And while the introduction to the Historic Archives presents a disclaimer that “the views of the authors of introductory notes do not necessarily represent the views of the United Nations”, I find it hard to believe that such a project would publish comments it disagrees with in principle. In the introduction the authors are described as an “eminent international law scholar or practitioner with special expertise on the subject, information on its procedural history and related documents, as well as the text and status of the instrument.”

This is when I realised that William A. Schabas isn’t just President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars; or a world renowned expert on genocide; not even “the world expert on the law of genocide”, as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum described him. He is the United Nations legal expert of choice on the Crime of Genocide. And he’s the man that the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed to lead the inquiry on Israel’s latest attack on Gaza.


UPDATE Feb 9, 2015: As I was publishing this article, “Israel Today” reported that the Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention (JCGP) had published a report which’s conclusion is that “the last military operation in Gaza and its consequences was a direct result of Hamas’ incitement against Israel.” It goes further in blaming the victim by stating:

The report argues that the dreadful death toll in Gaza – 2,127 Gazans and 72 Israelis – is the direct result of increasing incitement against Israel manifested in the form rockets and terror tunnels designed to ultimately bring about Israel’s demise. Using an epidemiological timeline, the JCGP report points to a direct correlation between rocket attacks (incitement) and the number of deaths, which stopped mounting the moment Hamas accepted the last in a series of six ceasefire proposals.

copy of the report can be found on the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website, which is basically an Islamophobic, fear-mongering- and dare I say- incitement think tank. Regardless, all red lights should already be flashing in our minds when the most simple concepts are confused. For example, I doubt that in any legal capacity, launching a rocket amounts to mere incitement; not to mention the Naftali-Bennet-esque line of argumentation that Palestinians are at fault for being bombed to death by Israeli bombes; or the fallacy that Palestinians stopped being killed by Israel’s army once they accepted the last agreed upon ceasefire. Of course one could also marvel at why Prof. Elihu D. Richter, head of the Genocide Prevention Program in the city of Jerusalem, isn’t preoccupied with the Zionist gangs running around, looking for Palestinians to beat up, while chanting “Death to the Arabs”.

The Israel Today article adds that the JCGP submitted a report to the UN commission, all the while literally blaming the UN for incitement:

Given growing anti-Israel sentiment around the world, Schabas’ resignation will not change anything, and another report blaming Israel for war crimes in Gaza will be used to further defame the Jewish state. The approaching diplomatic assault shows how the UN is part and parcel of the campaign of incitement against Israel that can only lead to more violence and bloodshed.

UPDATE Feb 11, 2015: An article from today’s New York times revealed, that while Schabas was on the committee, he was sent death threats and harassment from people who opposed his nomination.

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