A Holocaust Studies professor has rejected accusations by some world leaders that Israel is committing "genocide" against Palestinians in Gaza during the ongoing military conflict.
"It seems as if every time Israel defends itself, somebody points an accusing finger and yells 'Genocide!' Raphael Lemkin, who coined that term 70 years ago this autumn, would have been appalled by such abuse of his life's work," Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, wrote in a JNS.org article on Monday.
"For the term 'genocide' to have any meaning, it must be used strictly in situations that indisputably warrant such a determination, according to the legal definition. Applying it or withholding it based on political considerations will render the term useless," he added.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made such accusations during a meeting of Islamic scholars in Istanbul, AFP reported last week.
"This is not the first time we have been confronted by such situations," Erdogan said.
"Since (the creation of the state of Israel) in 1948 we have been witnessing this attempt at systematic genocide every day and every month. But above all we are witnessing this attempt at systematic genocide every Ramadan."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has also reportedly accused Israel of committing genocide, and the PA's newspaper has called the current war "Israel's Holocaust."
Over 500 Palestinians have been killed in the two-week long conflict between Israel's army and militant group Hamas.
Israel's government has said that it had no choice but to carry out a ground invasion into Gaza, which began late last week, in order to directly confront terrorist tunnels and the constant rockets being fired from Hamas into Israel.
"We're sad for every civilian casualty. They're not intended. This is the difference between us. The Hamas deliberately targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians. They embed their rocketeers, their rocket caches, their - their other weaponry from where - which they fire - which they use to fire on us in civilian areas," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview on Sunday.
"What choice do we have? We have to protect ourselves. So we try to target the rocketeers. We do. And all civilian casualties are unintended by us, but intended by Hamas. They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can, because somebody said they use - it's gruesome. They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead the better."
The U.N. and a number of world leaders have called for a ceasefire in Gaza. Hamas rejected an Egyptian-brokered truce last week, saying that it wants further border restrictions to be lifted.
As for the accusations of genocide, Medoff reminded readers of the history of the word, and noted cases where use of the term would be appropriate, such as the mass killings of one million Armenians between 1914 and 1918 by the Ottoman Empire, now present-day Turkey; as well as Nazi Germany's holocaust of close to six million Jewish people between 1941 and 1945.
"In December 1948, Lemkin's campaign was crowned with success when the United Nations adopted the Genocide Convention. It defined genocide as 'acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical [sic], racial or religious group, as such,'" Medoff wrote.
"Obviously, no reasonable person can believe Israel's actions in Gaza fit that definition. Then again, the world is filled with unreasonable people."