Just to frame what I'll quote below--I think a lot of English speakers, and certainly many Jews, find the word "genocide" particularly offensive as applied to a Jewish state because they associate the word with the Holocaust.It might surprise you (it surprised me) to learn that the word was created in response to the Ottoman Empire's massacre of the Armenians starting in April 1915. The term was coined by a Polish Jewish lawyer, Rafael Lemkin, in 1943, to refer to a phenomenon that he had been steadily pushing the international community to recognize since the 1930s. This was essentially his life's work, even his obsession. Tragically, while he was traveling around the world lobbying for governments to recognize genocide as a crime, most of his family back in Poland were killed by the Nazis(1).
Since Lemkin was the one who created this word, I think we have to turn to his writings to find out what it means. And here's what he wrote in 1944, emphasis mine (2):
"...the term does not necessarily signify mass killings, although it may mean that.
More often it refers to a coordinated plan aimed at destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups so that these groups wither and die like plants that have suffered a blight. The end may be accomplished by the forced disintegration of political and social institutions, of the culture of the people, of their language, their national feelings and their religion. It may be accomplished by wiping out all basis of personal security, liberty, health and dignity. When these means fail, the machine gun can always be utilized as a last resort."In 1948, Lemkin got the UN General Assembly to ratify the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. He'd earlier put similar ideas before the League of Nations--his main idea was that genocide hurts all countries, and that therefore it should be punished internationally. Here is how the UN Convention (still in effect) defines genocide (again, emphasis is mine):
"In the present convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:
(a)killing members of the group,
(b)causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,
(c)deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,
(d)imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,
(e)forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."It's also worth noting that the UN Convention criminalizes not only these acts (actual genocide) but also "[d]irect and public incitement to genocide." You'll notice that the definition of genocide here is more limited than Lemkin's original (it doesn't include what he said about the destruction of political and social institutions), but still more expansive than the way I think most Jews are using it now, to mean "physically killing people en masse so that their group will be exterminated."
"But, but," I can hear some saying, "what if the Palestinians are committing genocide against the Israelis?? Ever think of that?" I have. But more importantly, Lemkin did too. Here he is again, writing in 1944-parens and bolding mine(4):
"Minorities of one sort or another exist in all countries, protected by the constitutional order of the state [this was largely the case in European countries pre-WWII, although not always today--usually it meant that minorities like the Jews did have protected, although second class, status]. If persecution of any minority by any country is tolerated anywhere, the very moral and legal foundations of constitutional government may be shaken."Lemkin could not have been more clear. Genocide is something majority populations do to minorities. It does not work the other way around. You can say a lot of things about Jews in the state of Israel, but one thing you can't say is that they're the minority population. Numerically and in terms of political power, it's just not true.
If you're a person who either doesn't acknowledge that Israel perpetrates human rights abuses against Palestinians, or if you're a person who thinks they're justified in doing so, then I don't think this linguistic history will matter to you (and you probably also do not read my blog). But if you're one of those people who's been saying, like many progressive Jews are,"I know Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is bad, but I just don't think it rises to the level of genocide," then I'd ask you to take a long look at these quotes, particularly the one's I've bolded, and be real with yourself about whether these are parts of Israeli policy towards Palestinians. Not even whether they've always been, but whether they are right now. I think most people who already recognize that bad stuff is going on there will recognize that they are. And in that case, I think you'll see that Black Lives Matter has used the term genocide correctly as applied to the state of Israel. And when you consider that the US is funding a lot of this activity, you'll probably also see that mentioning this has less to do with anti-Semitism and more to do with a feeling of American culpability.
Maybe you're still uncomfortable with that--maybe it'll turn out that your objection to that term was really more about objection to criticism of Israel than to the term itself. In that case, at least you'll know that, and you'll be able to think it through in whatever way seems appropriate to you. I don't say this to say that balancing Jewishness and progressiveness and attachment to Zionism or the state of Israel is simple. But I think it's worth considering what Lemkin believed--that once you allow people to be killed based on their group identity in one place, you make that acceptable in other places too. In other words, you can't be against it in one place but for it in another. If he can see Jews turning away from Black Lives Matter because of his word, genocide, I can only imagine he's rolling over in his grave.
(1)Power, Samantha (2002) A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Harper Collins.
(2) Lemkin, Rafael (1945) Genocide - A Modern Crime. Free World, Vol. 4, pp. 39-43.
(3)UN General Assembly, 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.