Raphael Lemkin, Who Coined the Term “Genocide,” Was an Ardent Zionist

Aug. 24 2017

In the late 1920s, a Polish Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin began developing the idea that international law ought to criminalize attempts to slaughter en masse members of a particular people. He formulated the term “genocide” in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, and his tireless postwar efforts led to the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948. While Lemkin has been the subject of numerous biographies and studies—and was made into something of a hero by Washington’s former UN ambassador Samantha Power—these have uniformly failed to note Lemkin’s enthusiastic involvement in the Zionist movement, depicting him instead either as a cosmopolitan without national loyalties or as having been influenced by such non-Zionist Jewish movements as the Bund. Now James Loeffler explains how Lemkin’s Zionism contributed to his ideas about genocide—and how Lemkin himself participated in covering up this part of his past:

Because their political horizon extended beyond Europe into the global sphere, [many pre-World War II] Zionists turned to international law in search of a middle way that combined [advocating for Jewish rights in both] Palestine and Eastern Europe, nationalism and internationalism, Jewish particularity and cultural pluralism into a vision of international law. . . . [B]y recognizing the Jewish people as a rights-bearing collective, [these] Zionist internationalists argued, international law could help tie together the global Jewish Diaspora into a coherent, legally recognized nation. . . .

[But why] would the man who invented the concept of genocide [based on] his Jewish past deliberately hide the political sources of his legal imagination? The answer is that Lemkin well understood that Zionist advocacy for international law risked accusations of politicization. He had already encountered Polish anti-Semitism, with its ideological fixation on Zionism as an anti-Polish conspiracy. . . .

It was not only Jewish-Polish relations in Eastern Europe but also Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine that followed Lemkin into the UN. . . . Desperate for Arab and Muslim votes, Lemkin evidently feared the politicization that would come if he or his law were publicly identified with Zionism. The disavowal of his past politics formed part of a larger attempt to dodge charges of Jewish nationalist politics that might imperil his project. . . .

Yet there were limits to his distancing from his prewar Zionist career. He freely acknowledged his past to Jewish journalists writing in Hebrew and Yiddish at the time. They, in turn, continued to identify his legal project as both a Jewish self-defense campaign and a contribution to global justice. More strikingly, he apparently maintained a warm friendship with one of the most controversial Jewish political figures of the day. In New York, Lemkin fraternized with Peter Bergson, otherwise known as Hillel Kook, the controversial militant right-wing Zionist activist who had staged a number of dramatic public spectacles during World War II to try to galvanize American Jews and their government to intervene to stop the Holocaust.

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Read more at Journal of Genocide Research

More about: Genocide, Genocide Convention, History & Ideas, Polish Jewry, Raphael Lemkin, Zionism

 

The Attempted Murder of Salman Rushdie Should Render the New Iran Deal Dead in the Water

Aug. 15 2022

On Friday, the Indian-born, Anglo-American novelist Salman Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed and severely wounded while giving a public lecture in western New York. Reports have since emerged—although as yet unverified—that the would-be assassin had been in contact with agents of Iran, whose supreme leaders have repeatedly called on Muslims to murder Rushdie. Meanwhile U.S. and European diplomats are trying to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran. Stephen Daisley comments:

Salman Rushdie’s would-be assassin might have been a lone wolf. He might have had no contact with military or intelligence figures. He might never even have set foot in Tehran. But be in no doubt: he acted, in effect, as an agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the terms of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, Rushdie “and all those involved in [his novel The Satanic Verses’s] publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death.” Khomeini urged “brave Muslims to kill them quickly wherever they find them so that no one ever again would dare to insult the sanctities of Muslims,” adding: “anyone killed while trying to execute Rushdie would, God willing, be a martyr.”

An American citizen has been the victim of an attempted assassination on American soil by, it appears, another American after decades of the Iranian supreme leader agitating for his murder. No country that is serious about its national security, to say nothing of its national self-worth, can pretend this is some everyday stabbing with no broader political implications.

Those implications relate not only to the attack on Rushdie. . . . In July, a man armed with an AK-47 was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian dissident who was also the intended target of an abduction plot last year orchestrated by an Iranian intelligence agent. The cumulative weight of these outrages should render the new Iran deal dead in the water.

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Read more at Spectator

More about: Freedom of Speech, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy