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Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Jewish Leaders Criticize Councilor
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
It's not genocide.
That was the frank assessment offered Monday by Jewish leaders dismayed at City Council President Isaac Benton's remarks on the war in Gaza.
Benton, speaking at a weekend rally, described Israel's actions as "oppression and genocide." A day later, he said he regretted using the word "genocide."
The Israeli military has pounded Gaza in recent weeks, killing 910 Palestinians, according to Gaza officials. Israel wants an end to years of rocket attacks into its territory, along with other security improvements.
The United Nations' secretary-general has asked both sides to stop fighting.
"For the record, this is not genocide, and no rational person can justifiably call Israel's actions of self-defense genocide against any people," said Sam Sokolove, executive director of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico.
Webster's New World Dictionary defines genocide as the "systematic killing of a whole people or nation."
Asked Monday whether he believes Israel's actions are, in fact, genocide, Benton referred to the United Nations' definition. A 1948 U.N. convention said genocide involves trying to destroy all or part of a national group and can include "causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group."
Benton said he didn't want to discuss his "genocide" comment further.
"I regret it," he said. "I'll leave it at that."
Rabbi Arthur Flicker of Congregation B'nai Israel said what's happening in Gaza isn't genocide. Israel has dropped leaflets advising people to seek cover and stopped the war for three hours a day to allow humanitarian aid, Flicker said
"If they wanted genocide, Gaza would be gone by now," he said.
Critics have said Israel's response is disproportionately harsh, and there have been international cries for a cease-fire. Aid agencies have said the three-hour window isn't enough time to be effective.
Sokolove and Flicker said they appreciated Benton's Sunday statement of regret.
Flicker said a few people had talked to him about Benton's comments.
"My response is we have freedom of speech," Flicker said. "He can say whatever he wants, and we have freedom of the ballot, so we can vote him out of there."
Ronald Segel, president of Congregation Albert, said Benton "obviously doesn't care or know about the real definition of genocide."