Western silence over Israelis’ genocidal comments speaks volumes
One of the most glaring omissions from the Western political and media debate on Israel’s war on Gaza is the lack of any comment, let alone criticism, of the chilling statements made by the Israeli president, prime minister, defense minister and other key figures. These should never have been ignored.
They indicate an official Israeli intent to willfully commit war crimes. Many of the statements were motivated by revenge, but some were more about long-term, ultranationalist ambitions.
What follows are just some choice lowlights from the maelstrom of quasi-genocidal rhetoric emanating from Israel. There are several trends. The first is that all 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza are guilty. This view has history. In 2018, then-Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman claimed: “There are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month wrote that “this is a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness.”
Even the supposedly centrist Israeli President Isaac Herzog stated: “It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. This rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved, it’s absolutely not true. They could’ve risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime.” The notion that Palestinian civilians in Gaza could have ousted a brutal militant group like Hamas is laughable. The belief that no Palestinians in Gaza are innocent is a dangerous message to be sending to the 300,000 Israeli reservists that have been called up to fight.
Many of the statements were motivated by revenge, but some were more about long-term, ultranationalist ambitions
The second trend is to boast of just how devastating the Israel bombardment of Gaza will be — a threat that has been all too clearly realized. “We will eliminate everything — they will regret it,” said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the man who commands all the military forces that are doing the bombing. The airstrikes would also not be precise or targeted, as demanded by international law, with an Israeli army spokesman stating that “our focus is on (creating) damage, not on precision.” Moshe Feiglin, a former prominent Likud Knesset member, added: “There is one and only (one) solution, which is to completely destroy Gaza before invading it. I mean destruction like what happened in Dresden and Hiroshima, without nuclear weapons.”
The third trend is to portray Palestinians as animals, a stark process of dehumanization that is necessary if you are going to get involved in ethnic cleansing and war crimes. This too has a long history in Israel. In 1983, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan compared Palestinians to “drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” Now, Gallant describes Palestinians as “human animals.” And Sara Netanyahu, the powerful wife of the PM, fumed: “I really hope that our revenge, that of the state of Israel, on the cruel enemy — will be a very big revenge. I don’t call them human animals because that would be insulting to animals.” This is also reflected in the torrent of Israeli videos mocking the suffering of Palestinians.
The fourth trend is to be brazen about denying Palestinians collectively from having any food, water, medicine or power. This was the declaration of the total siege on Oct. 9. Energy Minister Yisrael Katz said that “no electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the kidnapped Israelis return to their homes.” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said the only thing that should enter Gaza until the hostages are released are “hundreds of tons of explosives” from the Israeli Air Force.
Part of this trend is to outright deny that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, neatly forgetting that the Strip has been suffering one for at least 16 years. Israeli Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely said: “There is no humanitarian crisis.” Incredibly, she went on to state that “the humanitarian crisis at the moment is in Israel.”
When Israeli leaders make these comments, not one senior Western political leader says a thing
The fifth trend is to declare the intention to seize land in Gaza. Former Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar stated that the Gaza Strip “must be smaller at the end of the war … Whoever starts a war against Israel must lose territory.” This sentiment was echoed by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. Meanwhile, Ohad Tal, a Religious Zionism lawmaker, called for the return of settlements to Gaza: “We cannot go back to the same conception … we need to exact a territorial price from (Hamas), including returning Jewish settlements at least to the north of Gaza Strip.” Acquiring territory through war is illegal under international law.
The sixth trend is to call for a new Nakba, expelling Palestinians from their land. Nissim Vaturi, the deputy Knesset speaker, threatened: “Nakba? Expel them all. If the Egyptians care so much for them — they are welcome to have them wrapped in cellophane tied with a green ribbon.” This is not new. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has a history of making alarming racist statements about Palestinians. In 2021, he told the Arab members of the Knesset: “You’re here by mistake, it’s a mistake that (first Israeli PM David) Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.”
The seventh trend is openly genocidal, although some of the above are too. Likud MK Amit Halevi stated: “There should be two goals for this victory: One, there is no more Muslim land in the land of Israel … After we make it the land of Israel, Gaza should be left as a monument, like Sodom.”
Most of these trends are replicated in the Israeli media. “Gaza should be wiped off the face of the Earth,” journalist Shimon Riklin wrote on social media. He also asked: “Why exactly do we have an atomic bomb?” Yinan Magal, a journalist and politician, believes “it is time for Nakba 2.”
Crucially, a large number of ordinary Israelis have demonstrated extraordinary humanity toward Palestinians, which has been strangely lacking from Western leaders. It has often been the Israelis who lost loved ones to the Hamas atrocities who have made the most powerful comments. Noi Katzman, whose brother Chaim was killed, said: “The most important thing for me and also for my brother is that his death will not be used as a justification for killing innocent people.” One man, the son of a missing Israeli, stated: “You can’t cure killed babies with more dead babies. We need peace.” Yaakov Argamani, whose daughter was taken hostage, said: “We are two nations from one father … let’s make peace, real peace.”
Of course, Hamas has a long history of making bloodthirsty, antisemitic comments threatening to wipe out Jews. The difference is that they were rightly called out, albeit not often enough. Western powers sanctioned and proscribed Hamas, while refusing to talk to it. However, when Israeli leaders make these comments — and they have been for decades, but more so in recent years — not one senior Western political leader says a thing. The reality is that antisemitism is rightly condemned, while anti-Arab racism of the most extreme variety is ignored or even condoned. This has to be addressed for real peace to take hold.
- Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding. He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first-class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. He has organized and accompanied numerous British parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. X: @Doylech