A note from the Director, regarding statements (and Israeli-Palestinian violence in May 2021)

May 23, 2021

In the wake of the violence that once again erupted in Israel and in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, many academic organizations have taken it upon themselves to issue statements.  The Genocide Studies Program has generally refrained from issuing statements, although I and other affiliates of the program have signed on to others’ statements in our respective individual capacities with some regularity.  (It is only on the “meta” issue of academic freedom that can I imagine the issuing of a statement on behalf of the program as being appropriate.)

The reason for not issuing statements is that within the GSP we seek to approach very situation that comes within our purview – whether it involves a possibility of genocide or any other mass atrocity or gross human rights violation – in a non-prejudicial manner.  Yet statements that merely serve to re-emphasize that non-prejudicial stance would be uninteresting.  Statements that seek to do otherwise may offer subtle signals of bias, casting unwanted aspersions on the integrity of our work.  Moreover, there is often pressure on a genocide studies program like our own to render a definitive judgment on whether some incident or situation amounts to genocide, or not.  These are difficult determinations, requiring familiarity with international law as well as the specific histories of the incident or situation in question.  Often, we can claim to possess that familiarity, and thus do express judgments through our own respective writing as scholars and as individuals.  As a Program, however, we do not pretend to have all the necessary information about all of the cases that might come before us, and we do not want our silence on a given issue to be interpreted as a default judgment in one direction or another.

To return to the subject of reactions to the recent spate of conflict in the Middle East: I am writing this in part because a faculty to which I belong – that of the Ethnicity, Race, and Migration program at Yale – did produce a statement and released it on behalf of the faculty of the program (i.e., including me).  I have three things to say about the statement: 

  • First, I find the statement powerful and agree with what is said within it. Some of the phrasing is forceful in challenging what it sees as a conventional wisdom, but it does not call for a counter-orthodoxy of some sort.  For example, I do not believe it condemns the idea of Zionism (indeed, some of the statement’s authors have assured me that is not the case), even though it calls into question the way Zionism has been expressed or pursued over the course of post-War/post-Holocaust history.  
  • Second, I do wish the statement addressed at least two additional issues that for me are glaringly problematic elements of the situation (beyond those that are mentioned in the statement): the potential culpability of war crimes on the part of both Hamas and the leadership of the Israeli Defense Forces, and the surge of anti-Semitic rhetoric throughout the world in response to the conflict.  From a Genocide Studies perspective, both trends are particularly troubling and certainly merit examination by engaged scholars. 
  • Third, I read the statement as specifically addressing the concerns of an ethnic studies program, and it is in solidarity with that program that I have not sought to remove my affiliation with the statement, even if my own views diverge to some extent (particularly in terms of what is not addressed), personally.  Genocide Studies is fundamentally multi-disciplinary.  It draws strength and insight itself from a variety of perspectives and has the potential to serve academia by fomenting cross-pollination between various disciplines.

It remains the mission of this Genocide Studies Program to support a better understanding of how genocides and other mass atrocities come to be perpetrated, how they might be prosecuted ex post, and they might be anticipated and prevented, ex ante.