Follower of Hieronymus Bosch ‘The harrowing of hell’ c1500

Denialism in the circles of hell

America has armed, financed and diplomatically supported Israel throughout the Gaza war. That makes it complicit in genocide, argues Paul Demarty. Yet, as the death toll remorselessly rises, the House of Representatives votes to deny the evidence

American politics is currently rather taken over by Joe Biden’s increasingly obvious dementia, which has led to one of its more discreditable episodes being wiped from present consciousness.

All followers of American politics in recent years will be aware of the strange gridlock in the houses of Congress. It is perhaps not that surprising - after all, the Republicans hold the House of Representatives (and are themselves held hostage by their least sane members, who at least know how to play hardball, unlike the handful of leftwingers in the chamber), while the Democrats - just about - hold the Senate. The only way anything resembling policy sneaks through, most of the time, is in omnibus appropriations bills, which make money available for various executive functions.

On June 27, such a bill - concerning money for the state department - was on the floor of the house. An amendment passed denying money for using the Gaza health ministry’s figures for calculating the death toll from Israel’s onslaught on that beleaguered territory. And it passed handsomely - near unanimously among Republicans, and taking 62 Democrats along for the ride.

I do not, as it happens, believe in the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. At times like this, however, I see the appeal. The health ministry figures have been tested many times over the years, in massacre after massacre, and have generally been found to be accurate. The vote reflects not any plausible concerns about their accuracy, but a naked desire for bloodshed, combined with a refusal of responsibility. Dante, one thinks, would have a stanza or two to spare on that.


So far as the ongoing violence is concerned, the Gaza health ministry’s current running death total of 38,000-ish is extremely likely a lowball figure. Something like 500,000 Gazans are facing acute food insecurity, of the sort that, not long ago, might have occasioned a grand charity concert in some western stadium. Many thousands are likely buried in rubble. Israel has demolished the strip’s entire health infrastructure.

The refusal to fund this activity is likely inoperative (how much money does it cost to visit the Gaza health ministry website, exactly?), but indicates a certain mindset: that these deaths are inconvenient, and thus should be made to, somehow, go away. It has to pass the Senate, but it is hard to see it failing to get through that house.

The refusal to see - the strange magical thinking at work - brings to mind certain other episodes in American history. Dred Scott - though a judicial decision of the Supreme Court rather than a legislative one - jumps out: a last-ditch attempt to assert that slavery is inviolable, whose effect was merely to galvanise slavery’s righteous enemies. But the Gaza amendment is slightly different, since it involves the legislature not in some fatuous redescription of the constitution, but in denying a plain matter of fact. The immediate comparator, though its moral import is trivial, is the infamous bill put before the Indiana General Assembly in 1897, in which the value of pi was to be fixed at 3.2. (In fairness to the Indianans of that day, the bill failed. We cannot expect so much of the 2024 house, it seems.)

This amendment is only the latest outrage on this front. The left, and the wider movement in solidarity with Palestine, has lost no time in affixing the word ‘genocide’ to what is going on. They will find no demurrals in this paper, however many come from the halls of American power. Israel may or may not succeed in its aims, but those aims are comically obvious. The Palestinians are often portrayed by well-meaning liberals as ancestral enemies to Israeli Jews - when will we escape the ‘cycle of violence’?

The greatest expression of this worldview is not a book or a polemic, but John Adams’ beautiful and chilling opera, The death of Klinghoffer. For all its artistic excellence, it is off the point. The Palestinians are not, exactly, the enemies of the Israeli Jews. They are merely in the way - not of those Jews per se, but the ideology that has gathered them there: the settler-colonial ideology of Zionism.

Here we must dispense with a foolish objection from certain Zionists, and also certain people who consider themselves above this dispute. That goes something like this: ‘We have heard it all before. Doesn’t the left constantly go on about colonialism? Isn’t it the case that trivial disputes in academia are given absurd weight by reference to colonialism and decolonisation?’ This is all true enough. Yet much of the world really did labour under the yoke of colonialism, of different sorts, for at least four centuries, and indeed some of it still does. We go on about it, in part, because it is quite real.

A very great deal has gone on under the name of ‘decolonisation’ that is nothing of the sort, but rather mere office politics in universities. Insofar as the left has taken all this at face value, it has played the ‘boy who cried wolf’. Readers of that fable, however, will recall that it ends with the appearance of an actual wolf. In the same way, it matters not that the term has been overused: Israel is a state founded on the idea that the world’s Jews form a nation, that they should congregate in the ‘Holy Land’, and ‘make the desert bloom’. It is thus the paradigmatic case of a work colony. The evidence of previous work colonies - Australia, or those that formed the USA - is that the indigenous population is massacred and its remnants progressively marginalised.

Victor’s justice

A similar story could be told about the word, ‘genocide’, itself. It was coined by the conservative Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, during the late stages of World War II, with the ‘final solution’ in full flow. It would be difficult to deny that some concept was called for to describe that crime and others like it, with the physical extermination of an entire people - indeed, more than one people, in the Nazi case - attempted. In its wider application, however, it has clearly become a weapon of ‘victors’ justice’ - mysteriously, it is always the losing side in some war, or the side more at odds with the global hegemon, that has the charge laid at its door.

We have a striking recent example in the form of the so-called Uyghur ‘genocide’, which in reality amounts to a repressive state policy of the Chinese government against a restive Muslim national minority in its south-western province of Xinjiang. Pro-Chinese ideologues in the west have tended to assert that nothing untoward is going on, which is plainly untrue. Yet it is clear that no meaningful attempt to wipe this population out is in progress. The Chinese leadership is instead subordinating the religious leadership to party diktat, and packing off dissenters to prison camps for ‘re-education’. Some reference is made to restrictions on births - preventing a population from reproducing is one of the five canonical acts of genocide, according to the United Nations convention of 1948 - but the reality is that this is an upper limit, and a higher one than that faced by Han Chinese under the one-child policy. Perhaps they were guilty of genocide against themselves?


So we face the question - which of these descriptions better fits the Israeli state in the present context? The ongoing activity of colonisation before October 7 - slowly stripping Arabs of their land and their rights in the West Bank, restricting the Gazan food supply to just above subsistence, and so forth - has a Xinjiang feel to it (although probably worse). Since that date, in Gaza, we are clearly dealing with the intentional massacre of a meaningful portion of the Palestinian population, by direct violence in the form of indiscriminate bombing, the deliberate destruction of health infrastructure, and restriction of the necessities of life. Lawyers were able to assemble vast dossiers of quotations from Israeli politicians proving intent to the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice. It is pretty cut and dried, even if we want a more restricted definition than that of the UN.

The US Congress, then, has made its stand in this domain. For all it has exploited the charge of genocide over the years, there is a whiff here of something even more chilling. It is something that grew in the years after the September 11 attacks (otherwise known as 9/11): a spirit of vengeance impatient with the very ideology that allowed American power to flourish after the defeat of the USSR.

Campaigns of extermination were not novel to the 1940s; the novelty was the duty to avoid them, even if it has been honoured, more or less, in the breach. The grand gestures of human rights, of which the genocide convention is surely the most morally compelling, supported a world order in which the contestants for global power, in their different ways, were obliged to place themselves on the right side of history.

As American power declines - a decline dramatically illustrated by Joe Biden’s catastrophic outing in Atlanta - we move decisively away from that. We back our imperial proxies because we can, and what are you going to do about it? Congress proposes an entirely useless method of hiding the evidence, but in doing so merely furnishes fresh evidence of the drive towards all-out war.