|"Palestinians evacuate the village of Zenin in 1948. Some scholars say that what is now called 'ethnic cleansing' constitutes a form of genocide." (Getty Images)|
By Gal Beckerman
Forward.com, February 16, 2011
"Did Jews commit genocide in 1948? The question is provocative, and the answer for most people is an unequivocal no. But a debate over this idea has formed the crux of a heated argument among the most eminent genocide scholars in the world, and led recently to the censure of an Israeli professor by the field’s leading academic association. It's also one more reminder of the growing divide between European scholars and their American and Israeli counterparts when it comes to how they view Israel, both historically and in the present moment. The debate began in the pages of a scholarly publication, the Winter 2010 issue of the Journal of Genocide Research. Two specialists in genocide, Omer Bartov of Brown University and Martin Shaw of Roehampton University, in London, engaged in a back-and-forth exchange about whether the word 'genocide' could be applied to the expulsion and killing of Arabs in Palestine during Israel's War of Independence. During the course of the war, more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes and were later prevented from returning, creating what would become one of the world’s most enduring refugee crises. Both Bartov and Shaw agreed that some form of what is now called 'ethnic cleansing' did occur. But where Bartov was not willing to think of this as genocide, Shaw confidently argued that any policies meant to destroy a group, even if not outright murder, should be seen as genocide.
With this more expansive reading, he sees genocide victims everywhere, from the Aborigines in Australia to the Albanians uprooted from Kosovo. And Shaw goes further, claiming that the entire Zionist enterprise had 'an incipiently genocidal mentality' toward the Arabs. Due to what he views as Israel's original sin, Shaw argues that the state's policies toward Palestinians and its Arab citizens since 'can be seen as a "slow-motion" extension and consolidation of the genocide of 1948.' In the exchange, Bartov described Shaw’s ultimate purpose as 'delegitimizing' Israel, and offered plenty of evidence for why calling what Jews did in 1948 'genocide' would only serve to render the term 'meaningless.' But it didn't end there. Israel Charny, an American-born scholar who immigrated to Israel and who directs the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem and edited the Encyclopedia of Genocide, was offended by the exchange. He wrote a response that was posted on the discussion board of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, a 16-year-old organization that is considered the pre-eminent association of its kind. Charny did not mince words. He referred to Shaw's argument as the 'delusional projection of an angry soul,' and accused Shaw of attacks on Israel and Zionism that were 'blind and rampaging.' Shaw complained that Charny's criticism amounted to an ad hominem assault, and the president of IAGS, William Schabas, apologized to Shaw, admitting that the offending message shouldn't have been posted. Schabas then took the unprecedented step of formally censuring Charny. 'My only concern is that we have a debate in which the tone is between civilized academics, discussing things in an appropriate way,' Schabas, a professor of international law at the National University of Ireland in Galway, told the Forward. 'Charny's comments were too intemperate. So we apologized to Shaw and let the debate continue.' But to Charny, this was one more sign that a field that was started as 'a civilizational response to the horror of the Holocaust' has been turned against the Jewish state. 'This is ultimately a story of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, including among genocide scholars,' Charny told the Forward. [...]"