The World’s Nastiest Genocide Scholar

On Monday, the Electronic Intifada (EI) website published a report on a speech that right-wing Middle East scholar Martin Kramer gave at Israel’s Herzliya security conference earlier this month. In the speech, Kramer called for a cut-off of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees, and endorsed Israel’s ongoing siege of the territory, on the grounds that these measures would help curb the allegedly excessive Palestinian birth rate. “Israel’s present sanctions on Gaza have a political aim—undermine the Hamas regime—but if they also break Gaza’s runaway population growth—and there is some evidence that they have—that might begin to crack the culture of martyrdom which demands a constant supply of superfluous young men,” Kramer said. The EI report argues that Kramer’s statement “appears to meet the international legal definition of a call for genocide,” since the 1948 UN Genocide Convention defines the term to include “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” that is targeted. Kramer has responded to the charges here, although he does not help his case by accusing his critics of being “death-to-Israel” types who “daily call for Israel to be wiped off the map.”

However, as Kramer admits, the idea of slashing the Palestinian birthrate by ending UNRWA aid does not originate with him, and he “credit[s] Gunnar Heinsohn for making a much more detailed case for it,” as well as for coining the term “superfluous young men.” Heinsohn, a German academic at the University of Bremen, made the case in more depth in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published in January 2009, at the height of the Gaza war. I meant to write about Heinsohn’s article at the time, but the Kramer controversy is as good a time as any to revisit it. (The New Left Review has more background on Heinsohn and his politics.)

Heinsohn argued that by providing humanitarian relief to the population of Gaza, UNRWA (and by extension its western funders) are fueling a “youth bulge” that provided a steady supply of violent and superfluous young men, and thus the West is “unintentionally financ[ing] a war by proxy against the Jews of Israel.” He called for UNRWA to end assistance to Gazans born from now on, although (perhaps to avoid the grim implications of his argument) he refrained from calling for a cut-off of aid to already living Gazans. Still, the UNRWA humanitarian aid has been virtually the only thing keeping the population of Gaza alive since the imposition of the blockade, and it is not clear what Heinsohn imagines will happen to Gazan children born under the siege who are denied UNRWA aid. (Or perhaps it is clear, but not terribly pleasant to think about.) Whether or not Heinsohn’s proposed policies meet a legal definition of genocide, these sorts of population-control measures targeting “undesirable” ethnic groups have a revolting history, and have been a hallmark of fascist regimes in particular; such ideas, as Leon Wieseltier recently wrote in a very different context, have “a provenance that should disgust all thinking people.”

What’s the punch line? According to his bio, Heinsohn is the head of something called the “Raphael Lemkin Institute” at the University of Bremen, which bills itself as “Europe’s first institute devoted to comparative genocide research.” Lemkin, of course, was the Polish-Jewish lawyer who fled the Nazis, coined the word “genocide,” and figured as one of the heroes in Samantha Power’s book A Problem From Hell.

The fact that the head of an institute bearing Raphael Lemkin’s name is calling for these frankly fascistic population control measures against the Palestinians is among the most revealing signs of the way that the memory of the Holocaust has been abused by a particular strand of militarist and virulently racist right-wing politics.

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Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. Apparently Kramer and Heinsohn don’t mince their words! I’m waiting for someone of this ilk to propose a “final solution” to the Palestinian question.

  2. I just read the interesting New Left Review article you highlighted. Heinsohn appears to be rather a crankish figure. Still, the “youth bulge” in the Muslim world remains a problem for Europe in particular, despite the technological superiority of the advanced countries. This is why I’ve pointed out that the maintenance of cultural identity is a real concern (and a legitimate one) in Europe and elsewhere.

    A question from the article: are “prime adults” still an “asset” in an economy experiencing 16-17% real unemployment, with millions of jobs perhaps lost forever?

  3. Canada is already taking an active role in this genocide project, having cut its funding to UNRWA a few weeks ago citing “Canadian values.” It’s been a long slide down this slippery slope for us Canadians, from enlightened social democracy to nazi state.

  4. Jon Harrison
    February 24, 2010 @ 7:17 am

    Actually the final solution has been chugging along on for some time.

    Got to the Library of Congress or and stick Palestine into the search function and sit back. It’s gonna split out dozens upon dozens of bills from the house to cut aid, eliminate aid, control aid, ad nauseam for the Palestine refugees in refugee camps….look at the sponsors names and you get the drift. Also a bills, a particularly bad one, to “dissolve” the Palestine refugees…simply declare them not refugees. In the expectation I suppose that then Egypt or Jordon would have to take them in as citizens. The goal of congressman like Ackerman, a bigot if there ever was one, and his fellow travelers who propose this stuff is of course to head off or kill any of the right of return stuff and to prevent them even returning to Palestine itself….gotta keep those numbers down.

    Then visit (online) a little org called The Jerusalem Summit ..rummage around and you will come across their “humane plan” for peace. Which is to ‘transfer” the Palestinians to Jordon. You know the claim that there is no Palestine so Palestinians must belong to Jordon…. gawd!
    But they are willing to give each Palestine a small nest egg to take to their new country…if the US pays for it. Take note of the US politicians and other US notables who belong to this insane group. They also want to destroy the UN and start a new one in ..guess where…Jerusalem. Because they say..thru a bunch of religious mumjumbo I can’t describe…the Jewish state and people are suppose to be the moral leaders of the universe.

    Beam me Scotty!

  5. Jordan as the Palestinian homeland is an old song . . . George Will was singing it 30 years ago.
    I’d gladly foot the bill to move the Palestinians elsewhere if it would resolve the problem. But of course the Palestinians want their land back. And why shouldn’t they have it back? On the other hand, the Israelis are there . . . what’s to be done with them? The only just solution is a united Palestine where Arabs, Jews and everybody else are all citizens with equal rights. We can’t turn back the clock — as much as I deplore the creation of Israel, one can’t just “get rid of” the Israelis. They aren’t going anywhere unless they’re forced to. And that would mean a bloodbath. Maybe the day will come when all will realize that cooperation and equal rights benefit all. We can only hope.

    Canada a Nazi state? Getting a little carried away, aren’t you, Delia? On the other hand, you folks did do a pretty thorough job of eliminating the aboriginal peoples, eh? But I can’t help myself, I have several Canadian friends — I like Canadians.

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