US ignores silence of Netanyahu on ethnic cleansing

Benjamin Netanyahu and Brian Mast meet with an injured Israeli soldier at a hospital as an additional person looks on

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Congressman Brian Mast (right), who called Palestinians “Arab Nazis,” have dehumanized Palestinians and pushed violence against civilians.

Amos Ben Gershom GPO

Recent calls for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza by Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich and national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir were met with a statement of concern on 2 January from State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

“The United States rejects recent statements from Israeli Ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir advocating for the resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza. This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible. We have been told repeatedly and consistently by the Government of Israel, including by the Prime Minister, that such statements do not reflect the policy of the Israeli government. They should stop immediately.”

But that is not, in fact, the case with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has reportedly asked Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs and a member of the country’s war cabinet, to design a plan to “thin” Gaza’s population.

Michelle Goldberg noted in The New York Times, “By acting as if Ben-Gvir and Smotrich can be hived off from the government in which they serve, US policymakers are fostering denial about the character of Netanyahu’s rule.”

This denial is very real. Mainstream media have time and again made clear that Israel’s practice of apartheid will not be broached at this juncture. This is the “character” not just of Netanyahu’s government but its predecessors. Netanyahu is just clearer than most in his practice of anti-Palestinian racism and apartheid.

The Israeli prime minister, according to The Times of Israel, reportedly told a recent Likud faction meeting that “our problem is [finding] countries that are willing to absorb Gazans, and we are working on it.”

Goldberg cited a different paragraph in the same Times of Israel article: “The ‘voluntary’ resettlement of Palestinians from Gaza is slowly becoming a key official policy of the government, with a senior official saying that Israel has held talks with several countries for their potential absorption.”

Sara Roy, an associate of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, wrote last month in The New Yorker that “in November a USAID official approached a colleague of mine and asked about the feasibility of building a tent city in the Sinai, which would be followed by a more permanent arrangement somewhere in the northern part of the peninsula.”

Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, expressed the reservations of many who fear that Miller’s words are empty as the USAID question suggests.

“This is what the US has done for more than 40 years on Israel-Palestine: Enable and fund Israeli policies that ultimately lead to Israel’s annexation of Palestinian lands, while publicly opposing and condemning the logical outcome of the very policies the US funds and enables.”

This is precisely what the Biden administration is doing: funding and enabling.

Twice in December alone this administration bypassed Congress to rush 155 mm projectile shells and ancillaries (fuzes, primers and charges) to Israel.

No change

Notably, Miller’s statement didn’t slow Ben-Gvir at all.

Within an hour of Miller’s tweet condemning the two ministers, Ben-Gvir was already punching back, tweeting that Israel isn’t just “another star” on the American flag.

“The United States is our best friend, but before everything else, we will do what is good for the State of Israel: The emigration of hundreds of thousands from Gaza will allow residents [of the border area] to return home and live in security and protect IDF soldiers.”

Netanyahu isn’t contradicting Ben-Gvir on his claim that ethnic cleansing is good for Israel.

Goldberg points to a telling quote from Israeli intelligence minister Gila Gamliel in a Jerusalem Post op-ed in mid-November.

“Instead of funneling money to rebuild Gaza or to the failed UNRWA, the international community can assist in the costs of resettlement, helping the people of Gaza build new lives in their new host countries.”

This is ethnic cleansing. More than six weeks have passed and Gamliel is still in her position as intelligence minister. Netanyahu certainly hasn’t disagreed publicly with her plan for “the day after.”

More recently, early this year, she asserted in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament: “At the end of the war Hamas rule will collapse, there are no municipal authorities, the civilian population will be entirely dependent on humanitarian aid. There will be no work, and 60 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land will become security buffer zones.”

This flies in the face of Miller’s claim on behalf of the State Department that “we have been clear, consistent, and unequivocal that Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian land, with Hamas no longer in control of its future and with no terror groups able to threaten Israel.”

Finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, meanwhile, says that 70 percent of Israel’s population is with him in supporting “voluntary immigration” – a euphemism for ethnic cleansing – to other countries.

Genocide case

South Africa has carefully documented the case that Israel is carrying out genocide in Gaza, including a large number of quotes from Israeli officials pointing to intent all the way up to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Nevertheless, the State Department claims that is not the case with Miller saying on 3 January that “we are not seeing any acts that constitute genocide.”

Miller added of the case that “we don’t think it’s a productive step at this time.”

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby termed the case “meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever.”

Asked if Israel is abiding by the laws of war, however, Kirby responded, “I’m not aware of any kind of formal assessment being done by the United States government to analyze the compliance with international law by our partner Israel.”

Matt Duss, executive vice president at the Center for International Policy, highlighted the shortcomings of the US position.

“The Biden administration issued an assessment of Russian war crimes within a month of the Ukraine invasion. The US has far more visibility into Israeli operations, so the claim that they’ve not been able to make such an assessment about Gaza after 3 months really strains credulity.”

John Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, calls the genocide case South Africa is pursuing at the International Court of Justice “a truly important document.”

Mearsheimer raises several important points, but two are worth particular attention.

He writes, “I never imagined I would see the day when Israel, a country filled with Holocaust survivors and their descendants, would face a serious charge of genocide. Regardless of how this case plays out in the ICJ – and here I am fully aware of the maneuvers that the United States and Israel will employ to avoid a fair trial – in the future Israel will be widely regarded as principally responsible for one of the canonical cases of genocide.”

If the case gets underway this week, as expected, the attacks on South Africa will be brutal. As Mearsheimer notes, already South Africa is being accused of a “blood libel.”

The criticism will ignore that South Africa is a country that overcame apartheid rule and is, in turn, bringing a case of genocide against a country that credible Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups have accused of practicing apartheid.

The accusation could be a painful one for those who have supported Israel – believing it to be a “light unto nations” – yet ignored or downplayed its apartheid policies for decades. And for those with open minds, the case also has the potential to shift long-held views as the realization dawns that whatever older supporters of Israel thought years ago, it is time for a rethink as Israel lays waste to Gaza and kills Palestinian children at a staggering pace.

More importantly, it is a remarkable example of how quickly Israel has lost international support after 7 October by unleashing politicians and a “religious ideology” promoting both “genocidal rhetoric” and an assault on Gaza with few rivals in recent history.

Younger people will associate Israel with waging horrific warfare against a civilian population while entrenching occupation and apartheid over Palestinians for decades. For students, even suppressed as they will likely be on college campuses in the months ahead, Israel will occupy the same morally unacceptable position as apartheid South Africa 40 years ago.

Europe and the US coddled and funded Israel’s apartheid and deadly violence for decades. This genocide case is one result, though it comes at a terrible human cost.

Whether Israel “wins” or loses at the ICJ, fair-minded observers are likely to agree the apartheid state engaged in numerous war crimes, thoroughly undercutting Israel’s already suspect standing and energizing young people to continue pushing for freedom and equal rights for Palestinians.

Mearsheimer also notes: “In the case of Israel’s genocide … most of the human rights mavens in the liberal [US] mainstream have said little about Israel’s savage actions in Gaza or the genocidal rhetoric of its leaders. Hopefully, they will explain their disturbing silence at some point. Regardless, history will not be kind to them, as they said hardly a word while their country was complicit in a horrible crime, perpetrated right out in the open for all to see.”

The Democratic Party’s terrible silence on Palestinian rights, a long-standing problem, is also there for all to see. This will likely have profound implications on the presidential election in November, particularly after President Joe Biden admitted last month that Israel is engaged in “indiscriminate bombing.” Nonetheless, he decided to keep sending weapons for the ongoing slaughter and maiming of tens of thousands of innocent Palestinian men, women and children.

Perhaps there will be a reckoning for his own complicity in war crimes. At the very least, significant numbers of Democratic voters will let their outrage be heard in November if “Genocide Joe” is still on the ballot.

The ICJ will be asked to render a provisional decision to “protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the Genocide Convention.”

Such a decision could come within a week or weeks.


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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.