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‘From the river to the sea’ is a call for genocide

Those making excuses for anti-Semitic Islamists ought to be ashamed.

Daniel Ben-Ami

Topics Identity Politics Politics World

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The debate over the meaning of the anti-Israel slogan, ‘From the river to the sea’, has been ferocious. Many of Israel’s opponents claim it is a call for freedom and peaceful co-existence, while Israel’s supporters tend to argue that it is a coded call for genocide.

What is not in question is the literal meaning of the slogan. It refers to the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. That covers Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza strip. No doubt a significant number of the more naïve anti-Israel marchers chant it without knowing its meaning. It is a fair bet that many of them could not even name the river and the sea to which it refers.

It is also a deliberately ambiguous slogan. In the abstract, it sounds innocuous. It is not an overt call for genocide or a clear demand for a Palestinian state. It could be interpreted as such, but it could be interpreted in other ways, too. Some say it’s a call for an Islamised Palestine, while others say it’s a call for a potential bi-national state of Israelis and Palestinians. It is this ambiguity which fuels the debate about exactly what the slogan means.

But for Islamists, its meaning is not in question. Its intent is avowedly genocidal. Time and again, Islamist organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah have openly stated that their goal is to slaughter Jews. This is why Hezbollah hailed Hamas’s pogrom in southern Israel on 7 October as a spectacular success. Indeed, that pogrom was welcomed by Islamist groups around the world, including the most important of all – the Muslim Brotherhood, based in Egypt. Salah Abdel-Haq, its acting leader, said: ‘We congratulate our Palestinian people and our Arab and Islamic nation for this crowning victory in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood [the 7 October pogrom] by the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades [the armed units of Hamas] and Palestinian factions.’

From an Islamist perspective, the creation of an Islamised Palestine is a precondition for the ultimate goal of an international Islamist order. This transitional goal necessarily entails the slaughter and subjugation of Jews living in the area. Indeed, the idea of Jews as a form of cosmic evil is central to Islamist doctrine. A genocidal anti-Semitism is at the core of this ideology.

So what about the protesters in Britain? Significant numbers of those in attendance are Islamists who clearly hold anti-Semitic views. At least some of them have openly chanted ‘death to the Jews’. Others prefer to express their views in a more coded way, so as to keep on the right side of the law. Chanting ‘From the river to the sea’ fits the bill perfectly.

Many others who go on the pro-Palestine marches, such as veteran leftists, either support the abolition of Israel or ignore the chant’s murderous subtext. When challenged about its meaning, they typically insist it is entirely innocent.

Some leftists and progressives have recently tried to put forward alternative interpretations of the chant. For example, Rashida Tlaib, an American congresswoman of Palestinian descent, has argued that it ‘is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction or hate’. Meanwhile, Andy McDonald, a Labour MP for Middlesbrough, modified the slogan at a recent protest, saying: ‘All people, Israelis and Palestinians between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty.’

Such defences are disingenuous at best. Of course, in the abstract, the chant really could mean all sorts of things. It could even refer to the area between the Thames and the English Channel. But when it is being chanted in the context of these anti-Israel protests, when Islamists are on the march, to deny its genocidal intent is an act of self-delusion.

Others have tried to implicitly remove the chant from this Islamist context. They point to the fact that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), a nationalist movement, called for a single state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean as far back as its original 1964 charter. However, the PLO, although it called for the destruction of Israel, it never called for the annihilation of Jews, as Hamas does in its official statements. Its original charter stated that ‘Jews of Palestinian origin are considered Palestinians if they are willing to live peacefully and loyally in Palestine’. Later, in 1969, the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s legislative body, called for ‘a Palestinian democratic state… free of all forms of religious and social discrimination’. Whatever one thought of the PLO, it was a nationalist movement that did not share the murderous intentions of today’s Islamists. Although there are still those who support Palestinian nationalism today, it is the Islamists who are leading these anti-Israel protests.

Some have also attempted to defend the chant on the grounds that Israel has its own version of ‘From the river to the sea’. In particular, critics point to the 1977 platform of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, in which it claimed that ‘between the sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty’. This call was undoubtedly problematic, but it was not a call for genocide. And in any case, the proposal was never fully implemented, with Israel withdrawing unilaterally from the Gaza strip in 2005. Besides, pro-Israel protesters do not chant ‘From the river to the sea’ or anything similar on their own demonstrations.

It is true that some influential Israeli political figures have made appalling statements calling for Israel to wipe out Palestine. For example, Amichai Eliyahu, Israel’s heritage minister, said in a recent interview that one of Israel’s current options was to drop a nuclear bomb on the Gaza strip. Shortly afterwards, he was suspended – although not sacked – from his role. Such pronouncements should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. But they are not Israeli policy. And, mercifully, these views are not held by the Israeli mainstream.

In contrast, support for the genocide of Jews is central to the Islamist ideology that drives Hamas. This is openly and frequently stated by its leading figures. And so, when Islamists chant ‘From the river to the sea’ on anti-Israel protests, there should be no doubt what this means.

What is so troubling about this debate is that far too many Western fellow travellers know precisely what is meant by the slogan, but they still refuse to challenge it. They are rehabilitating anti-Semitism, whether they will admit it or not.

Daniel Ben-Ami is an author and journalist. He runs the website Radicalism of Fools, dedicated to rethinking anti-Semitism. Follow him on Twitter: @danielbenami

Picture By: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics World

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