The G-Word and Palestinian “National” Ambitions

By • Richard Landes, Boston University
Published in: Exclusive to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East Faculty Forum March 16, 2008

Just after the murderous attack on the Seminary students in Jerusalem, SPME issued a statement to which it attached the names of the board members. The key passage runs as follows:

The deliberate attack on this venerable institution of Jewish learning, a sacred seminary, cannot be interpreted as anything but an overt act of premeditated, genocidal anti-Semitism not dissimilar from the acts of pogroms in Eastern Europe and Nazi SS raids on Jewish communities in Western Europe. Jews were killed simply because they were Jewish.

In no way can this be interpreted as an act of political liberation or of Palestinian self-determination and if the Palestinians insist that it is, then it must be interpreted as nothing less than an act of war against Jews and not just Israel.

Almost immediately board members received email objecting to this language as exaggerated and inappropriate. What follows are some of the objections that writers have made to us, and a response of sorts that both acknowledges their rebuke and raises a more fundamental question that this controversy reveals in stark colors.

I received the following from a colleague whose work I greatly respect and whose pronouncements on the Middle East conflict I had previously criticized.

I see that you and Efraim Karsh are among the signatories of the below call for a condemnation of the attack on the Mercaz Harav. Fine. But why this rhetoric? Why bring out the big guns (genocide, the SS, warcrimes) on the occasion of the mad actions of what seems to have been an isolated gunman who went “postal”? Did you protest in the same way when Baruch Goldstein shot worshippers at the mosque in Hebron? What is the point of this exaggerated rhetoric?

Wrote another colleague to a board member:

My general support for your efforts notwithstanding, I must object to this memo. Despicable. Deplorable. Criminal. Yes. But “genocidal?” No. Not by any reasonable definition of genocide. Hyperbole does not make the case stronger, just louder.

Wrote still another in the same vein:

I was saddened by the attack, by the loss of life, the injury, and the myriad of its implications. But your summary of the meaning of the event is badly discrediting your hasbara.

It would be easy to list many essential differences between the attack on Yeshivat Mercaz Harav and the pogroms in East Europe and Nazi SS raids. For one, as far as I know the Nazis and the kozacks did not undertake much risk, and certainly did not go on suicide missions. The Yeshiva, like the madrasas on the other side, is not just about scholarship but also indoctrination, to a perspective which does not leave much room for compromise. If this is the only choice, I certainly wish that the Yeshiva boys win over the madrasas, but hysterical self pity by the strong should not be our style.

Finally, an extensive rebuke from Alan Weisbard:

Words have meaning.

It is important that words associated with extremes of human conduct be used judiciously so that they retain their distinctive meanings, and so that proper uses of those words (and the experiences properly described by them) are not diminished through gratuitous overuse and dilution of meaning.

One such word is “genocide.” A second such word, one less extreme but nonetheless powerful and distinctive, particularly in Jewish historical context, is “pogrom.”

My own view is that the invocation of these terms to describe the clearly wanton and evil murder of religious students and scholars at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav by a single individual (perhaps – it is not known at this point – supported by one or another terrorist gang) is inexact and unhelpful. So are invocations of these terms (and of the term “holocaust”) employed by enemies of the State of Israel to describe deaths (including those of civilian women and children, so-called “collateral damage”) caused by targeted Israeli attacks on Palestinian militants/terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank.

I am making no claims regarding moral equivalence here, except to say that none of these acts, in my view, constitutes activity meaningfully or usefully described as genocidal. Certainly, if one applies such labels to the murders at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, one must do so equally for the slaughter at the Cave of Machpelah by a deranged co-religionist, whose name I decline to mention, at Purim time some years back.

Further, given the current and foreseeable composition and proclivities of most international institutions in a position to apply such terminology with legal force, I do not think it serves the interests of Israel, or of the worldwide Jewish community, to encourage the indiscriminate use of these incendiary terms in the context of today’s Middle East-at least short of the use (or threat) of weapons of mass destruction.

The attack on the Yeshiva merits moral condemnation in strong terms. I also join your expression of sympathy and condolences to its victims, their families and communities. But the rhetorical escalation of language serves little good purpose here, andI would urge you to reconsider how best to express your justifiable outrage at this heinous act.

In sum, SPME’s statement struck many thoughtful people who are by no means hostile to the State of Israel as loose talk that both discredits the organization and debases the language in ways that do not serve to benefit either a responsible and free society or the Jews.

I must confess that I too, upon first reading the statement found it excessive in its rhetoric, unnecessarily insistent that the reader share the writer’s indignation at this wanton slaughter, but that they also assent to a “reading” of the conflict that drew sides in black and white. But as I read the objections, in particular the comparison with Baruch Goldstein – whose name Alan Weisbard is justifiably loath even to mention – I became increasingly convinced that the statement, rather than immoderate in its rhetoric, had only missed a critical step of reasoning that many of us on the board of SPME have already made, even if reluctantly and with much regret.

The missing piece here lies in the culture that produced this deed. Anyone who doubts that Palestinian culture, both “secular” (i.e., Fatah, Palestinian Authority) and religious (Hamas, Jihad Islami) has terrifying genocidal tendencies must visit the site of Palestinian Media Watch. There one finds documented in every aspect of public culture, from sermons on TV and educational programs to crosswords, sports, and children’s programs, a culture steeped in genocidal hatreds.

Read the rest.

11 Responses to The G-Word and Palestinian “National” Ambitions

  1. […] to do is rid himself of this curse, until a wacky psycologist played to perfection by Bmovie.pri.eeThe G-Word and Palestinian ???National??? Ambitions MERCAZ HARAV AND THE G-WORD By ??? Richard Landes, Boston University Published in: Exclusive to […]

  2. AT says:

    Yes, but SPME did not make clear this missing step … they took the middle road, trying to make a statement but not to insense, and, as such, they were wrong on both accounts.

  3. fp says:


    It wouldn’t have made one bit of difference.


    you are documenting the very reasons I am a realist which you call a pessimist.

    the nazis were much more circumspect about their hatred and they were not blood-orgiastic. the arabs are openly blood-thirsty. so they allowed for deniability, as shaky as that was.

    if these “intellectuals” are silent about THIS, they are already gone, lost, finished. there is nothing they can do to salvage themselves.

    finita la comedia.


  4. Much in the comments was erudite. At the same time, two of the commentators reinforced their arguments falsely by invoking or alluding to the MacPhelah shootings and attributing them to Dr. Baruch Goldstein. The evidence has overwhelmingly accumulated that he was not only innocent but he was premeditatedly used as a patsy. As one comment, respected readers of the Shamgar report shredded it. Israelis did not kill al Durah – but they well may have killed Dr. Baruch Goldstein.


  5. Sorry, I well may have misled some with my last comment. Physically, Dr. Goldstein may have been killed by arabs. But how he got there as was exposed to die was not their doing.

  6. Michael B says:

    “The Hamas charter (7), cites this hadith, along with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (32), which they apparently believe describes a genuine Jewish conspiracy to enslave mankind. But this hadith is so common, so often heard on PATV, it so permeates the culture that many, even the journalists familiar with it, do not know that it derives from an apocalyptic hadith, or that the hatreds fomented in the Palestinian territories and beyond are the product of an apocalyptic world-view.

    “To anyone with the stomach to look, the parallels and links between the Nazis and the kind of apocalyptic -hence exterminationist – anti-Semitism one encounters on every corner of the Palestinian “street” are truly terrifying.” from the extended piece, emphasis added

    Precisely. If your interlocutors, sincere as they appear to be, would have also taken the thought and time to bracket their commentaries with open, unambiguous acknowledgements of the genocidal longing that variously, does in fact pervade Palestinian and much of Arab Muslim and Persian Muslim society, they would therein retain far more credibility.

    Much of what they have to say is true – but much of what they omit, what they refrain from commenting upon, is both true and pregnant with critical import.

    And this:

    “… one might interpret the entire fabric of public Palestinian life – especially since the autonomy acquired during the Oslo process – as an implementation of the belief that now is the time to prepare this slaughter. Hence we find the “culture of death” which so many Muslims openly espouse, the brainwashing of children, the graduation ceremonies where kindergarten girls dip their hands in red paint to show solidarity with the men who tore two Israeli reservists apart with their bare hands, the constant instilling of paranoia and hatred of the Israelis and the West. As a result the most dastardly acts of aggression against Jewish civilians become occasions for public celebration and gory “exhibits” where Palestinians can come and savor the moment when the explosion ripped through the bodies of Jews – Yahud, not Israeli. What sane culture ever worshipped Schadenfreude so openly?”

    Yep. And Oslo, what a ripe piece of work that was.

  7. Eliyahu says:

    noting the quotation marks around the word “national” in your headline, I repeat my conviction that there never was a palestinian “nation,” nor do their ostensible leading bodies even make that claim. The PLO charter [Article One] says that the Palestinian Arabs are part of the Arab nation and “palestine” is a part of the great Arab fatherland.

    The Hamas charter mainly sees these people as a sub-set of Muslims.

  8. fp says:


    that’s incontrovertible.

    however, arab unity is BS. about the ONLY thing that unites them is hatred of israel. take that away and they’ll be at each other’s throats.

    look at the damascus conference. even a few million palestinians fight among themselves and kill each other.

    it’s a failed civilization and the only reason it has not collapsed is because the west props it up and pumps it full of oil money and jiziyah.

  9. Eliyahu says:

    fp, to a great extent you’re right. Indeed, Western money pumps up and sustains Arab-Muslim society. Do you know that the US, UK, & France all have special provisions to allow their national oil companies tax breaks so that they can pay more to Arab oil states, such as Saudi Arabia. This provision began in the US under Pres Truman, a Democrat, back in 1951, although the Republican Dulles brothers seem to have been involved too. See link:

  10. Eliyahu says:

    fp, to a great extent you’re right. Indeed, Western money pumps up and sustains Arab-Muslim society. Do you know that the US, UK, & France all have special provisions to allow their national oil companies tax breaks so that they can pay more to Arab oil states, such as Saudi Arabia? This provision began in the US under Pres Truman, a Democrat, back in 1951, although the Republican Dulles brothers seem to have been involved too. See link:

  11. Rich Rostrom says:

    The free West has some advantages, but we have one colossal disadvantage, one that is part of the foundation of our strength. In the free West, it is forbidden for state resources to be used in the sphere of ideas.

    Saudi Arabia may give billions to Islamic missionaries, but no Western government may spend a penny to oppose Islam or promote other religions (with minor and insignificant exceptions). Arab dictators and gangsters subsidize (or bribe) news media, but no Western government must ever do so, and even state-owned media must be “impartial”.

    They subsidize their pet “public intellectuals”, who swarm to every conference and congress; they also recruit support among neutrals with grants and expense money.

    It was much the same in the early days of the Cold War. Communist representatives and their “fellow-travelers” dominated allegedly impartial forums by sheer numbers, thanks to Soviet subsidies. (As Woody Allen said, “80% of life is just showing up.”) The CIA had to fund the “Congress for Cultural Freedom” to counter the Soviet campaign, and when the CIA’s backing was revealed, it was considered a great scandal.

    And that in a way was correct, because it is very dangerous to freedom for the state to be the selective paymaster of scholars and journalists and authors and clerics. That way lies dictatorship.

    I don’t know what the answer is.

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