Tomer Persico quoted remarks that MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) made recently at a conference of religious Zionists, where he presented his plan to offer the Palestinians three options: leave the territories, continue to live there with second-class status, or continue resisting, in which case “the Israel Defense Forces will know what to do.” These are chilling words that are liable to lead Israel into committing the horrific crime of genocide.
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It’s hard to believe that an elected representative of a party in the governing coalition could raise the option of genocide if the Palestinians don’t accept the terms he’s willing to offer them: either emigration, or life under an apartheid regime based on principles of Jewish law, which would be even worse than the one that existed in South Africa. Smotrich, a deputy speaker of the Knesset, is the most senior government figure to date to say unabashedly that the option of genocide is on the table if the Palestinians don’t agree to our terms – and it’s clear they won’t agree.
Smotrich relies on the biblical Book of Joshua as his model. Researchers of genocide in the ancient world have already determined that the Book of Joshua is an important document for examining the characteristics of genocide in the ancient world. Some of its components differed from the genocides of the 20th century, but the Book of Joshua describes actions that were explicitly defined as genocide in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The convention defines anyone who commits such acts as someone who committed crimes against humanity and must therefore be put on trial.
This is how the Book of Joshua describes the conquest of the city of Ai (Joshua 8:24-29): “And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, even in the wilderness wherein they pursued them, and they were all fallen by the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all Israel returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. ... So Joshua burnt Ai, and made it a heap forever, even a desolation, unto this day. And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until the eventide; and at the going down of the sun Joshua commanded, and they took his carcass down from the tree, and cast it at the entrance of the gate of the city, and raised thereon a great heap of stones, unto this day.”
The 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, an atrocity slightly less terrible than the biblical one, was defined as genocide by the United Nations. Article 2 of the genocide convention states that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” These acts include “killing members of the group”; “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”; “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”; and “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”
Had the conquest of Ai taken place today, Joshua bin Nun would have been brought to court in handcuffs and tried on charges of genocide. And that’s Smotrich’s model.
Article 3 of the convention states that punishable actions related to genocide include genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” and “complicity in genocide.” It would be interesting to hear what an expert in international law would say about Smotrich’s remarks.
Smotrich’s admiration for the biblical genocidaire Joshua bin Nun leads him to adopt values that resemble those of the German SS. Naturally, he didn’t take the trouble to make such comparisons, since someone who supports genocide doesn’t try to understand the worldview of the genocidaires who preceded him.
From God's mouth to Himmler's ears
This is how God explains to Joshua why Israel was defeated in one of its battles against the enemy (Joshua 7:11-12): “Israel hath sinned; yea, they have even transgressed My covenant which I commanded them; yea, they have even taken of the devoted thing; and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have even put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel cannot stand before their enemies, they turn their backs before their enemies, because they are become accursed; I will not be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.”
Or in other words, conquest and annihilation must be carried out according to precise instructions from God. When Israel violates these instructions by seizing property and looting without permission, they are punished.
The similarity between the biblical text and what Heinrich Himmler said to senior SS officers in Poznan in October 1943 is chilling. Here is what Himmler said: “I am referring here to the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. ... The wealth they possessed we took from them. I gave a strict order ... that this wealth will of course be turned over to the Reich in its entirety. We have taken none of it for ourselves. Individuals who have erred will be punished in accordance with the order given by me at the start, threatening that anyone who takes as much as a single Mark of this money is a dead man.”
In every genocide, the supreme authority insists on order and discipline from those responsible for carrying it out, in accordance with criteria which he sets. Members of the SS were convinced they were men of integrity, with clean hands, who didn’t loot their victims’ property. Does Smotrich believe the ethics of the Book of Joshua could serve as an example for how the Palestinians should be treated today?
Smotrich has a reputation as a racist and a homophobe. Now it turns out that he also potentially supports mass murder. In any enlightened society, one can find people like this in dubious pubs, in Munich or Mississippi, that are frequented by skinheads tattooed with swastikas. But in Israel, the person saying this is a representative of the state.
One obviously can’t expect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do anything about this. But the real danger to Israel comes from the hundreds of Knesset members and public figures from other parties – including Likud, Yesh Atid and even Zionist Union – who understand quite well where Smotrich and his colleagues in the Habayit Hayehudi party are dragging the state, but are afraid to stand up, form a united front with the Israeli left and tell the public the truth: Smotrichism, like Hitlerism, Stalinism and Maoism before them, is an ideology that leads to the perpetration of genocide.
If those who understand this don’t rise up and eliminate this danger now, this will be the tragic end of the Palestinian people. But it will also be the end of the vision of a sovereign Jewish existence in Israel.
Prof. Blatman is a historian of the Holocaust and genocide at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.