A version of this article appeared on the N-12 website in Hebrew in July 8, 2021.
It has become customary for Israel’s adversaries to launch political warfare against it by charging in the court of public opinion that it was responsible for various war crimes during its recent conflicts with Hamas. In 2009, the UN Human Rights Council accused Israel of killing innocent civilians in Operation Cast Lead, so that charges about Israeli war crimes became the central theme with which it had to deal.
Ultimately, the head of the UN panel, Justice Richard Goldstone, renounced the main conclusions contained in his own report, but that did not diminish the severity of the charges with which Israel had to deal.
In 2021, the most frequent charge against Israel that was heard was the accusation that it was engaging in “ethnic cleansing.” Thus, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D- Minn.) led the charge, saying that Israeli policy was best characterized as “ethnic cleansing.” The student council at Yale University picked up this theme, stating, “We condemn the injustice, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.” The idea continued to spread.
The National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the U.S., considered a resolution at the end of June condemning Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. Even in the art world, one of the most important art journals, Art Forum, published claims that Israel was engaging in ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in its summer 2021 edition.
The expression “ethnic cleansing” is relatively new. The late Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian War, wrote in his memoirs that in the summer of 1992, ethnic cleansing became “a new euphemism that entered the English language.” It had not been recognized as a crime under international law.
The UN Security Council appointed a commission of experts to look into possible violations of international humanitarian law in the former territory of Yugoslavia. For the first time, the commission defined ethnic cleansing as “rendering an area as ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation.”
Ilhan Omar was primarily responding in 2021 to the controversy over Shaikh Jarrah in Jerusalem. But the charge of Israeli ethnic cleansing in that instance led to a number of articles that asserted Israel’s leading historian on this subject is, who wrote a number of articles that asserted that Israel “conducted no ethnic cleansing in 1948.”
Morris quotes from the Haganah’s Plan Dalet, which was not a master plan for expelling the Palestinians as some hostile writers contend. The document did not call for the expulsion of the Arab residents from the country but only called for the expulsion of the inhabitants of Arab villages that actually attacked and fought the Jews. The fact of the matter was that hundreds of thousands of Arabs remained in the Jewish state because it was not Israeli policy to produce an ethnically homogenous state, like the Bosnian Serbs years later.
Unfortunately, recent cases of ethnic cleansing in the Middle East are completely ignored by many of the same states and organizations that are presently focusing on Israel. In the recent war in Syria, Iranian troops and their surrogate forces have been moving into Sunni villages and expelling their residents. In many cases, they are bringing in the families of Shiite troops from Afghanistan and Pakistan and giving them the abandoned homes. No one is saying anything. These actions are vile and make those who are silently complicit.
It is important to recall that Israel is facing two kinds of warfare at present: the terror attacks of Hamas and its political warfare as well. Accepting the terminology of ethnic cleansing is like raising a white flag in a political campaign. Israel must remain strong on the political front as it is on the military side. There is no reason to believe that Israel cannot win the political war against it if it marshals its capabilities in this area as well.