Opinion: Never again to anyone

Students and protesters look over the fence as crews disassemble the pro-Palestinian encampment in the quad at DePaul University's Lincoln Park campus in Chicago on Thursday.

Students and protesters look over the fence as crews disassemble the pro-Palestinian encampment in the quad at DePaul University's Lincoln Park campus in Chicago on Thursday. Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times via AP


Published: 05-20-2024 6:00 AM

Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot.

May 6 was Holocaust Remembrance Day. The world failed the Jewish people both before and during the years of World War II, with catastrophic consequences. Six million Jews ended up dying in the concentration camps. As early as 1933, the Western press had reported on a national boycott of Jews in Germany carried out by Nazis. In November 1938, mobs of Nazis attacked hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish-owned stores in events that came to be known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass.

In December 1942, the New Republic ran a feature story entitled “The Massacre of the Jews.” The article by Varian Fry depicted the Nazis’ genocidal project as well as how it was being carried out. News of the genocide got out but the United States and the other allied powers didn’t take it seriously, denied it, and largely looked the other way. There was minimal accountability for this most massive human rights cataclysm.

After the war, the scale of the industrialized killing became more widely known. The phrase “Never again” became a popular response to the Holocaust.

But “Never again” has not been equally applied to everyone. You might think “Never again” would mean “Never again to anyone.” That is not the case.

There is no denying the traumatic and despicable Hamas attack of Oct. 7, but we all have been witness to Israel’s disproportionate counterattack. Whether you call it ethnic cleansing or genocide, Israel, in its military operations, has utterly failed to safeguard the civilian population in Gaza.

Since Oct. 7, at least 34,943 Palestinians have been killed and 78,572 have been injured. The death toll in Israel from the Hamas attack is 1,139 with an estimated 132 hostages still being held by Hamas. Over 14,500 of the Gaza victims are children and 9,500 are women. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described Gaza as a “graveyard for children.” More than 1,000 children in Gaza have lost one or both of their legs, often undergoing amputation without anesthesia.

Vast swaths of Gaza have been devastated and lay in ruins. An unknown number lay under the rubble. According to the UN, 69,000 housing units have been destroyed and another 290,000 damaged. 75 percent of the Gaza population have been displaced.

Israel has enforced a blockade of food, clean water and medicine. The UN says there’s a full-blown famine in northern Gaza. Human Rights Watch says Israel has used starvation as a weapon of war. Many hospitals in Gaza have been blown up and only 10 of 36 hospitals are even partially functional. All 12 Gaza universities have also been bombed by the Israelis and destroyed and 80 percent of Gaza schools have been either damaged or reduced to ruin.

Israel’s military actions have forced Gaza civilians south. Now one million civilian refugees are in Rafah and they are being told they must leave due to Israel’s imminent military action. There would appear to be no safe place for civilians to go. It is not clear if Israel’s end game is removing and forcing out all Palestinians in Gaza.

On the West Bank, messianic far-right Jewish settlers have been carrying out pogroms against Palestinians, forcing people out of their homes. These settler Jews, like National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich are both ideologically racist and fascist. They follow in the tradition of Meir Kahane.

The world is a complicated place and not all Israeli governments are the same. The Netanyahu government is, far and way, the worst government in Israel’s history. Its leaders deserve to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court for the war crimes the Israeli state has carried out against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. This has nothing to do with antisemitism. Tragically, any state, Israel included, can commit war crimes. Conflating criticism of war crimes and antisemitism is a dishonest dodge.

Under international law, Israel has a duty to mitigate civilian harm in its military operations. This it has obviously failed to do. Saying that Hamas is hiding behind civilians in no way justifies the extreme brutality in how Israel has conducted this war. Dropping 2000-pound bombs combined with relentless artillery fire in densely populated areas is guaranteed to cause high casualty events, and it has.

Usually, perpetrators of genocide don’t express their intentions explicitly but Israelis with command authority have repeatedly made genocidal statements. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has described Palestinians as “human animals.” Netanyahu has compared the Palestinians to the Biblical people of Amalek. Smotrich has called for “total annihilation” of Gaza.

A Palestinian lawyer living in Haifa, Diana Buttu, describes a genocide fever in Israel. She writes, “For seven months, Israeli politicians and pundits have spewed genocidal statements on Israeli television and social media on a daily basis. Israeli far-right heritage minister, a man who early in the war called nuking Gaza an option, recently said that Israel “must find ways [to deal with] Gazans that are more painful than death.”

Words precede actions and a culture of dehumanization of Palestinians laid the basis for this war. Israelis have proven that they are not exempt from vicious racism. Being the victim of a genocide in one historical period doesn’t preclude transformation into being a perpetrator in another historical period. To modify the words of Albert Camus, “Neither victims nor executioners,” victims can become executioners.

Protesting Israeli war crimes is most certainly not antisemitism. I would submit that college students protesting this war are continuing an honorable anti-war tradition pioneered by my 1960s generation. Blaming students for protesting is just a way to deflect attention from the horrible crimes the state of Israel is currently committing. The need for an immediate ceasefire has never been more apparent.