Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest as they take part in the "Biden: stop supporting genocide!" rally in New York City on January 20, 2024 [Reuters/Jeenah Moon]

Read the full opinion at Al Jazeera 

It is interesting that it was Israeli leaders and their allies in Washington who first brought the term "genocide" into the Gaza conflict. In the aftermath of Hamas's attack on October 7, they repeatedly brought up references to the Holocaust.

A number of Holocaust and genocide scholars and centres followed suit in condemning Hamas. This included a group of more than 150 Holocaust scholars, who signed a statement released in November condemning Hamas's "atrocities … [which] unavoidably bring to mind the mindset and the methods of the perpetrators of the pogroms that paved the way to the Final Solution".

This prompted another group of more than 50 Holocaust and genocide scholars to publish a statement on December 9, condemning Hamas, but adding a warning about "the danger of genocide in Israel's attack on Gaza".

An endless stream of interventions in the media accompanied and followed these initiatives, exhibiting mounting polarisation and politicisation. A number of prominent intellectuals –  from Germany's "left-wing" philosopher Jurgen Habermas and French intellectual-activist Bernard-Henri Levy to American political theorist Michael Walzer and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek – also joined the fray.

This public split among scholars prompted the Journal of Genocide Research, the leading and oldest periodical in the field, to organise a forum on the topic "Israel-Palestine: Atrocity Crimes and the Crisis of Holocaust and Genocide Studies". It invited a small number of leading figures in the field to put forward their contributions with the goal of injecting more restraint and judiciousness into the debate. I was one of the scholars asked to join.

Like all fields in the social sciences, Holocaust and Genocide Studies has a paradoxical relationship to its subject. As a "science", it must distance itself sufficiently from it to gain "objectivity" and authority. But it also needs to be sufficiently engaged to achieve relevance and impact. Another dilemma stems from its subfield, Holocaust Studies, insisting on its singularity and uniqueness. If these characteristics are accepted, this hinders the drawing of lessons relating to prevention and the "never again" determination.

These two paradoxes converged in the current Gaza conflagration, as academics readily abandoned their authoritative ivory towers in the direction of partisanship. The unique significance of the Holocaust was affirmed and simultaneously denied to condemn Hamas's October 7 attacks as a repetition of it. It was also used to shield Israel as a self-declared symbol for Holocaust survivors from condemnation of its indiscriminate retaliation on Gaza and characterisations of its actions as genocidal.

The challenge for participants in the forum was to be sufficiently non-partisan in their writing to project authority while staying relevant to address the question of the day. With that challenge in mind, the organisers invited scholars who represented a broad spectrum of positions....

Read the full opinion at Al Jazeera