Just when you think the Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric has reached rock bottom one side or the other surprises you with the utter and much lower depravity to which they can sink. The award today goes to deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai (a Labor minister by the way, proving that even the supposedly liberal politicians can behave like utterly depraved beasts) who warned Palestinians of the fate they have in store if they continue raining down rockets on Ashkelon:
Israeli air strikes on the coastal territory…have killed at least 32 Palestinians, including five children, in the past two days.
Israel said it was responding to rocket fire by Gaza militants, which killed one Israeli in the southern border town of Sderot on Wednesday, and it threatened to launch a larger-scale offensive unless the barrage stopped.
“The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves,” Vilnai told Army Radio.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said of Vilnai’s comments: “We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people.”
Can someone tell me what purpose any of this serves? All of it. Not just the genocidal rhetoric, which is bad enough, but the just plain bad policy which does nothing to resolve the problem. If Hamas has imported Katyushas that can reach Ashkelon is the way to defend Israel killing children and other civilians? And even if Israel has killed the rocket launching personnel themselves what will this stop when there are scores waiting in line to take their place once they are “martyred?”
This Reuters story contains another instructive discussion of the role that the word Holocaust (Shoah in Hebrew) plays in Israeli discourse:
“Holocaust” is a term rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi genocide during World War Two. Many Israelis are loathe to countenance using the word to describe other contemporary events.
Clearly Vilnai’s usage is a rhetorical, political and moral transgression. Another irony for Jews and Israelis to consider in Vilnai’s repulsive abuse of the term is whether the term “Never Again” was only meant to refer to Jews. Palestinians aren’t included apparently. Abe Foxman, defender of the Holocaust and arbiter of anti-Semitism: will you be chewing Vilnai out as you have Ted Turner and Mel Gibson, among others?
Hasan Bateson has done some interesting media research into the ways in which this story has been reported in the UK and either misreported or not reported in the U.S.:
I didn’t find any mention [of the story] on CNN or The Los Angeles Times.
The New York Times buried the reference in an article on their ‘world news’ page titled ‘Violence Dips, but Israel and Hamas Sharpen Words’. First referring to Vilnai’s statement as follows ‘… they are bringing onto themselves a worse catastrophe’, they at least had the honesty to go on to say ‘Mr. Vilnai used the Hebrew word “shoah,” meaning catastrophe or Holocaust, and rarely used for anything other than the Nazi extermination of the Jews.’
The Washington Post headline read ‘Israel warns of disaster in Gaza’. Compare that to the UK papers consistent headline preference for the term ‘holocaust’, which appears to reflect more accurately the significance to Israelis (and to Jews outside Israel) of the word ‘shoah’. Well down in the story, WP mentions the Holocaust significance of the word but claims it equally or even more commonly means merely ‘disaster’ in Israel (inaccurately, if we believe the other references I discovered).
So based on this superficial survey of UK and US sources, we can generalise that the US and a few UK sources are either ignoring or attempting to minimise this appalling call for genocide by an Israeli government minister, and the governments of both nations are silent.
NOTE: The right-wing pro-Israel crowd has pounced on this story as further evidence of the media’s perfidy toward Israel since, so they allege, the word shoah, while it refers to the Holocaust, can also refer to a more generic catastrophe. While I concede this to be true, I also note that shoah is MUCH MORE COMMONLY used to denote the Holocaust than any generic connotation. In this way, it is somewhat like the term Holocaust in English, which can mean The Holocaust or simply “holocaust” in the sense of a phrase like “nuclear holocaust.”
Regardless of any of this, it is important to note that there are many other Hebrew words that denote “catastrophe” or “disaster.” The fact that Vilnai chose this specific one is no accident. One might argue that his choice was unconscious and not deliberate. But I believe the fact that he chose shoah as opposed to ason, katastropha, hitmotetut, or hafeycha, meant that he was pointing to an enormous calamity that Israel plans for the Gazans if and when it invades.
In an e-mail, Israeli journalist Shraga Elam suggests that no matter what the intent of the term shoah, the IDF plans something “very sinister” for the Gazans; an operation that could cause many Palestinian casualties. Elam believes the army plans something along the lines of what it did in Lebanon with a massive bombardment of both military and civilian infrastructure, such that hundreds of thousands of Gazans would again flee across the Egyptian border as they did a few weeks ago. Except that this time they would be war refugees instead of temporary tourists. By emptying much of Gaza’s civilian population, Israel could then enter and eliminate opposition and militant hideouts. It could also prevent refugees from returning if it wished in order to end the ability of militants to hide among civilians as they can now.
This may be an overly alarmist projection. But who is to say? Could any of us have predicted the enormity of the Israeli devastation wrought against Lebanon in 2006? And who would be willing to split hairs in terms of arguing whether such destruction was genocide, “merely” a war crime, or a just plain nasty military invasion which cracked a few eggs in order to make an omelette?