Israel’s Genocide, US Assistance, and Consequences Thereof

South Africa has now presented its charge of Israeli genocide in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and Israel has presented its rebuttal. Regardless of the ultimate judgment, a page has been turned. Israel’s actions in Gaza, assisted by the US, have changed the geopolitical landscape. The consequences stand to be dire and lasting.

The case against Israel

The case against Israel is stark and simple. The argument in descending order of import is as follows.

First, and foremost, is Israel’s disproportionate response and application of collective punishment. Hamas is a criminal terrorist organization, not a state. Israel has a right to appropriate self-defense, but it has no right to kill vast swathes of non-combatant Palestinians as it tries to combat a criminal organization. The indiscriminate killing constitutes a war crime and crime against humanity. It becomes genocidal when paired with denial of means of survival.

Second, razing Gaza to the ground and intentionally driving an entire population into the unprotected open guarantees large scale death from lack of shelter, hunger, and sickness. It echoes the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Third, the razing of Gaza fits with an Israeli plan for mass expulsion of Palestinians, a sort of Israeli final solution to the Gaza problem. Such a plan has long been popular in Israel, pre-dates the Hamas attack, and fits with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s October 28th quotation of the Bible whereby God ordered the Israelites to eradicate the Amalekites: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay man and woman, infant and suckling.” That record is suggestive of ethnic cleansing which turned genocidal in the wake of the October 7th attack.

Fourth, during the conflict, dehumanizing videos have emerged of Israelis celebrating the killing of civilian Palestinians, mocking Palestinian suffering, vandalizing Gazan shops, and desecrating mosques. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant described Palestinians as “human animals”. Dehumanization is always part of the story with genocides. Furthermore, Israel’s shooting of Israeli hostages waving a white flag who had escaped from Hamas, shows Israel’s take no prisoners tactics which violate the Geneva conventions. All are part of the mindset informing Israel’s actions.

Some claim every Palestinian is a potential terrorist and legitimate target. Not only is that grotesquely specious, it also tacitly jusifies Hamas’ murders on grounds that every adult Israeli is a soldier. The horror of Hamas’ October 7th attack may explain the Israeli public’s desire for revenge and retribution, but it provides no legal justification for mass murder.

A tragedy long in the making

Israel’s embrace of genocide has been long in the making and runs through the extremist politics of Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanyahu. Their politics fertilized the seed of racist segregationism, which was always present within Zionist ideology even if the 19th century founders of Zionism were unaware thereof.

This is also where the history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict enters. The vicious cycle of violence fueled the triumph of Begin-Netanyahu extremist politics. That politics was further reinforced by Israel’s military success and rise to regional super-power status, which fed a racist trope of Israeli ubermensch (superman).

Consequences for Israel

European Jewry experienced the Holocaust, the worst genocide in history, and Israel was created in response to that evil. Given that, it is shocking so many Jews and Israel have embraced actions that qualify as genocide.

That embrace is a tragedy of extraordinary and historic proportions, and the cost to Israel and world Jewry stands to be enormous. The “special” has gone out of Israel, and it is now just a nation among others. Geopolitically, Israel stands to suffer as its special character has been a source of global support.

Given the history of Israel’s creation, the embrace is also a stain on the memory of the Holocaust which is likely to further encourage antisemitism. The Holocaust’s unique standing was a marker of moral authority. By embracing genocide, Israel and its supporters have weakened that marker.

Consequences for the US

As for the US, the Biden administration has openly and materially assisted Israel in its genocide. In doing so, the US has further lost international credibility re its claim to being exceptional regarding democracy and human rights. That claim was geopolitically beneficial to the US, even if exceptionalism was a myth based on geography which enabled the US to escape conflicts and complications that ensnared others. For decades, the US has been losing credibility owing to its behavior, and support of Israel’s genocide is another nail in the coffin of exceptionalism.

Thomas Palley works for Economics for Democratic & Open Societies in Washington DC. His writings are available on his website