Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis has denounced “spurious” accusations of genocide against Israel saying they represent “the ultimate demonisation of the Jewish state”.
In a comment piece in the Telegraph on Sunday, he said the misappropriation of the term to describe Israel’s actions in Gaza undermined the memory of the Holocaust as well as of those in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur, which are commemorated next week on Holocaust Memorial Day.
It was a term used “not only to eradicate any notion that Israel has a responsibility to protect its citizens, but also to tear open the still gaping wound of the Holocaust, knowing that it will inflict more pain than any other accusation,” Sir Ephraim wrote.
“It is a moral inversion, which undermines the memory of the worst crimes in human history.”
To misappropriate the term was “an affront” to both victims and survivors of these genocides, he argued.
Defining genocide as the attempted annihilation of a people, he said that if there was a “genocidal force” in the current conflict, it “must surely be Hamas”, whose rape, sexual mutilation and cold-blooded murder of civilians was “clear evidence of its dehumanisation of Jews”.
In contrast, Israel was fighting a defensive war in “what surely must be the most challenging urban context” faced by a modern democracy.
No decent person could be unmoved by the suffering of innocent Palestinians, he said, and it was legitimate to debate how the war might be conducted to minimise that suffering.
But the discourse around the war needed to be “more sober and honest”, he said, warning that “destructive and manufactured hyperbole” could only harm the cause of peace.
Last month the award-winning novelist Howard Jacobson attacked the “scurrilous” vilification of Israel,” dismissing the allegations of genocide against Israel as “upturning the moral universe”.
In an article in the Guardian, he wrote: “There is a sadistic triumphalism in charging Jews with genocide, as though those making it feel they have their man at last. The sadism resides, specifically, in attacking Jews where their memories of pain are keenest.”