Monday, March 10, 2008

A Response to a Statement on "Genocidal Acts"

Scholars for Peace In the Middle East Condemns Genocidal Acts At Yeshivas Mercaz Harav and Calls For War Crimes Trials For Genocidal Acts
By Edward S. Beck, President, SPME
March 6, 2008 For Immediate Release

In response to the cold-blooded murders at the Yeshiva Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem, the Board of Directors of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, on behalf of its nearly 20,000 participant faculty network at over 1500 colleges and universities around the world, wishes to express its condolences to the mourners of the victims and to the community of educators in which we are all bound together in the common goals to to both educate and enlighten.

The deliberate attack on this venerable institution of Jewish learning, a sacred seminary, cannot be interpreted as anything but an over act of premeditated, genocidal anti-Semitism not dissimilar from the acts of pogroms in Eastern Europe and Nazi SS raids on Jewish communities in Western Europe. Jews were killed simply because they were Jewish.

In no way can this be interpreted as an act of political liberation or of Palestinian self-determination and if the Palestinians insist that it is, then it must be interpreted as nothing less than an act of war against Jews and not just Israel.

Seminaries, synagogues and schools are meant to be solemn sanctuaries where scholarship, knowledge and learning is conducted in a safe and secure environment. When any school is violated with violence, there can be no justification for such actions and when those who attend a house of spiritual learning are violently violated in their sanctuary, such an action must be condemned in the strongest of terms.

We urge those who read this statement to urge their governments, especially those who are members states of the United Nations Security Council to call for an immediate pressing of war crimes charges of genocide against those who continue to perpetuate these genocidal acts upon innocent civilians.

Furthermore, we support the efforts of the Israeli and Palestinian Authority to work harder and more productively to bring an end to the long-standing conflict, but understand that Israel continues to maintain the right protect its civilians from genocidal attacks.

For more information on Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, visit or contact

Edward S. Beck Ed.D., CCMHC, NCC, LPC
Walden University; President, SPME

My response:

To signers of this statement:

Words have meaning.

It is important that words associated with extremes of human
conduct be used judiciously so that they retain their distinctive meanings, and so that proper uses of those words (and the experiences properly described by them) are not diminished through gratuitous overuse and dilution of meaning.

One such word is "genocide."

A second such word, one less extreme but nonetheless powerful and distinctive, particularly in Jewish historical context, is "pogrom."

My own view is that the invocation of these terms to describe the
clearly wanton and evil murder of religious students and scholars at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav by a single individual (perhaps--it is not known at this point-- supported by one or another terrorist gang) is inexact and unhelpful. So are invocations of these terms (and of the term "holocaust") employed by enemies of the State of Israel to describe deaths (including those of civilian women and children, so-called "collateral damage") caused by targeted Israeli attacks on Palestinian militants/terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank.

I am making no claims regarding moral equivalence here, except to say that none of these acts, in my view, constitutes activity meaningfully or usefully described as genocidal. Certainly, if one applies such labels to the murders at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, one must do so equally for the slaughter at the Cave of Machpelah by a deranged co-religionist, whose name I decline to mention, at Purim time some years back.

Further, given the current and foreseeable composition and
proclivities of most international institutions in a position to apply such terminology with legal force, I do not think it serves the
interests of Israel, or of the worldwide Jewish community, to encourage the indiscriminate use of these incendiary terms in the context of today's Middle East—at least short of the use (or threat) of weapons of mass destruction.

The attack on the Yeshiva merits moral condemnation in strong terms. I also join your expression of sympathy and condolences to its victims, their families and communities. But the rhetorical escalation of language serves little good purpose here, and I would urge you to reconsider how best to express your justifiable outrage at this heinous act.

Sincerely, (Prof.) Alan J. Weisbard, University of Wisconsin

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