Death from US bombs, planes and missiles

Playing word games

‘It’s only genocide when we say so’ - Daniel Lazare contrasts US grandstanding over Serbia and Xinjiang with its complicity in Israel’s war crimes in Gaza

Benjamin Netanyahu may be a mass murderer, as far as growing portions of the globe are concerned, but he is still a swell guy in Washington. Hence, Mike Johnson, the ultra-conservative speaker of the House of Representatives, is inviting him to address a joint session of Congress and daring the opposition to disagree.

Democrats, deeply split over the Gaza war, are writhing in agony. Charges of hyper-partisanship are flying, along with complaints that Republicans are trying to make them look bad, put them on the spot, take advantage of their internal differences, etc, etc.

But, once the hand-wringing is over, it is a safe bet that Democrats will go along with it, because that is what Democrats do: ie, vacillate and temporise before ultimately caving in. They are afraid to embrace Netanyahu, because important Democratic constituencies, such as blacks, Arab-Americans and a growing number of Jews, are appalled by what he is doing in Gaza and threatening to stay home in November. But they are also afraid not to embrace him, because failing to support a war criminal might make them look like wimps in the middle of a fierce political campaign, in which they are desperate to project an image of strength.

So, while Bernie Sanders says he will boycott in the Senate and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and a few other left-leaning Dems may follow suit in the House, there is little question that the rest of the party will fall into line. After all, how can they not invite Netanyahu after lionising him for decades on end?

Chuck Schumer is a case in point. A born-and-bred New Yorker, he is the top Democrat in the Senate and a prime example of the kind of American neocon for whom Israel can do no wrong. In 2010, he told an orthodox Jewish gathering that “the Palestinian people ... don’t believe in the Torah, they don’t believe in king David, so they don’t think it’s our land”. Consequently, “you have to force them to say Israel is here to stay”. Because Gazans had committed a cardinal sin by voting for Hamas, he went on, “to strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go makes sense”.1

He cheered on a seven-week Hamas-Israel war in 2014 that resulted in more than 2,000 Palestinian deaths, he co-sponsored a 2017 bill making it a federal crime to boycott Israel, and he assured AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - the powerful, pro-Israel lobbying group) in 2018 that Zionist land grabs on the occupied West Bank were no problem as far as peace negotiations were concerned.2

He even praised Donald Trump for transferring America’s Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “I sponsored legislation to do this two decades ago, and I applaud president Trump for doing it,” Schumer said the same year.3 Dems have repeatedly labelled Trump a Russian dupe. But being a Zionist dupe is apparently A-OK.

Which is why Washington was astonished just two or three months ago, when Schumer did an about-face and declared that Netanyahu was an “obstacle to peace” after all, by virtue of being “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows”. For that reason, he called for new elections on the grounds that it was “the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel”.

It was a call for regime change that left the political establishment reeling, which is why Schumer issued a clarification a week later, explaining that he had “called only for there to be an election after the hostilities had declined, after Hamas was defeated”.4 Netanyahu was wrong for killing too many Palestinians now. But he was free to go on killing them until the job, in his opinion, was done.

Which suggests that, if Netanyahu accepts Mike Johnson’s invitation, the ever-slippery Schumer will come up with some excuse or other to welcome a man he had previously condemned. Netanyahu is used to standing ovations. He got dozens the last three times he addressed Congress, so he will undoubtedly expect the same if he makes it a fourth. Schumer will no doubt hop up and down just like all the rest.

Key support

But why roll out a red carpet for someone who may soon face an arrest warrant for genocide, courtesy of the International Criminal Court? One reason is that, genocide or no genocide, Israel serves as a key support for US policy in the Middle East, where control of Persian Gulf energy resources has been a top Washington priority since the 1980s.

Another reason is the politics of genocide. One of the nice things about being a global hegemon is that you get to decide what is genocide and what is not.

The slaughter of six million Jews obviously falls into the ‘yes’ category, which is why Ronald Reagan supported the construction of a vast US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington that now draws a million-plus visits per year. (Winning Zionist approval for the sale of advanced flying radar detectors to Saudi Arabia was another reason, but that is rarely discussed.)

But Gaza falls into the ‘no’ category, even though Israeli forces have killed some 36,000 people and wounded 80,600 more - roughly five percent of the population, according to the latest tally - and are making conditions unlivable for the remainder. Why? Because invoking the g-word would not only alienate a major ally, but would create legal complications for the US, since it is providing weaponry that enables Israel to carry out the slaughter to begin with.

Xinjiang, on the other hand, is a ‘yes’, because charging China with genocide leads to legal difficulties that the United States is delighted to exploit. The process of tarring and feathering the People’s Republic began during the 2020 presidential campaign, when the Biden team announced that “the unspeakable oppression that Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of China’s authoritarian government is genocide”. After much dithering, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, confirmed that genocide was underway just before leaving office the following January. Then Anthony Blinken reconfirmed that the PRC was guilty as charged shortly after being sworn in as Joe Biden’s secretary of state a few days later. Since Republicans and Democrats were now on the same page as far as genocide was concerned, it had to be true.

Except that it was not. The charges were yet another example of egregious political manipulation based on the flimsiest of evidence - as anyone who carefully examined the data could tell. Much of the evidence about concentration camps, political persecution and the destruction of mosques, for example, came from a far-right German anthropologist named Adrian Zenz - a Christian fundamentalist, turned anti-communist zealot, who said he was “led by god” to take charge of an anti-China crusade.

In 2018, Zenz published an article charging that the Chinese were holding more than a million Uyghurs in government detention centres - a number he subsequently bumped up to 1.5 million and then 1.8. Yet his only source was an article in the Japanese edition of Newsweek, which had picked up the story from a Turkish-based Uyghur media outlet with strong Islamist ties. One far-right source thus passed along a rumour to another far-right source, which passed it on to reporters who eagerly lapped it up. Zenz also accused Beijing of forcibly suppressing Uyghur birth rates, even though his own data showed Uyghur population growth outstripping that of Han Chinese between 2005 and 2015 by a factor of two and a half to one. A more respectable China scholar named Perry Link put out a report stating that 12.8% of the Xinjiang population had disappeared inside Chinese detention centres - a figure that would be shocking if true. Yet Link’s data - based on interviews with just eight people scattered in separate villages across the vast Xinjiang countryside - was disturbingly thin.5

While no-one will accuse Stalinist China of using kid gloves to put down a bloody Islamist terror offensive that began in the 1990s, the charge of genocide is ludicrously overdrawn. Yet it was used to mobilise liberal opinion on behalf of a growing anti-China campaign. If references to Xinjiang have fallen by more than 90% in The New York Times since the peak year of 2021, it is because the campaign has done its work and it is now time to move on to other things, such as China’s supposed ‘overcapacity’ in terms of electric-vehicle production.

Light bulb

Then there is Serbia. While Republicans and Democrats shadow-boxed in Washington, the United States eagerly backed a UN resolution in New York designating July 11 as an international day of commemoration for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. The resolution “condemn[ed] without reservation any denial of the Srebrenica genocide as a historical event” and said that the purpose of an annual commemoration was to prevent “denial and distortion and occurrence of genocides in the future”.6

How high-minded! Except that the resolution, introduced on May 20, created a furore in the General Assembly because it was obviously one-sided and because the events in Srebrenica, in which 8,372 Bosniak Muslims died just a few miles from the Serbian border, are still murky and disputed.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, who said he had “already bowed my head and laid a flower” at a memorial for the victims, nonetheless urged “everyone in this room to vote against this resolution” on the grounds that it is “highly politicised”. With Serbia high up on the US ‘enemies list’ because of its refusal to go along with anti-Russian sanctions - The New York Times refers to Vucic as “little Putin” - the Serbian president said the US and Germany were pushing it, because “someone needed it politically”, even though it “will just open an old wound and will create a complete political havoc”.

China agreed. So did Namibia, where German colonists killed as many as 110,000 Herero and Nama people between 1904 and 1908. Namibia’s delegate complained that selective amnesia “is fast becoming the norm”, since “what our designated foes do is genocide, but when we or our allies do the same, it’s not genocide”. Iran deplored the obvious double standard with regard to Palestine, while Indonesia declared that “before our eyes a genocide is unfolding in Gaza”.

“If there is one thing that we must learn from Srebrenica,” it added, “it is that inaction is not an option.”7

In the end, the resolution passed with 84 votes in favour - although a majority (87 states in all) either voted no or abstained. As Vučić noted, it was the first time a UN genocide resolution had passed less than unanimously. Needless to say, Nato members voted yes, as did Australia and New Zealand, while Nato targets - ie, Russia, China, Cuba, Syria and Belarus - voted no. Most of Latin America and Africa abstained, as did India and the Philippines.

It was an example of how America and its allies think they can switch genocide charges on or off like a light bulb in order to advance their international agenda, how China and Russia are leading the charge against such practices, and how US hypocrisy fills growing portions of the neo-colonial world with disgust. Mass murder is genocide only when Washington says it is. Otherwise, it is one of those unfortunate incidents that happen when anonymous third world masses get in the way of the imperial steamroller.

  1. www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBliz7wSCrw.↩︎

  2. www.timesofisrael.com/schumer-settlements-not-an-obstacle-to-peace.↩︎

  3. thehill.com/homenews/senate/387566-schumer-applauds-trump-on-moving-us-embassy-to-jerusalem.↩︎

  4. www.usatoday.com/videos/news/world/israel-hamas/2024/03/21/leader-chuck-schumer-clarifies-israel-netanyahu-rebuke/73050886007.↩︎

  5. See ‘Uyghurs: why now?’ Weekly Worker March 18 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1339/uyghurs-why-now.↩︎

  6. documents.un.org/symbol-explorer?s=A/78/L.67/REV.1.↩︎

  7. press.un.org/en/2024/ga12601.doc.htm.↩︎