Toronto Star Columnist Rick Salutin Says South Africa’s Genocide Accusation Valuable For “The Discussion It Evokes”

January 30, 2024

In his January 19 opinion column in The Toronto Star entitled: “Genocide: A short history of a word with a short history,” contributing columnist Rick Salutin wrote that “The Gaza plotline has shifted somewhat, after South Africa’s charge in a UN court that Israel is guilty of genocide.”

That statement is hardly undeniable, to a large degree. Since South Africa accused Jerusalem of carrying out genocide in the Gaza Strip, and subsequently brought a case against the Jewish State to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, there has been a flurry of media coverage, including repeated commentaries just in The Toronto Star, accusing Israel of genocide.

While Salutin does not explicitly accuse Israel of such a crime, he wrote that “the purpose of South Africa’s accusation, or at least its value, may lie less in the verdict it receives than the discussion it evokes.”

But whatever value South Africa’s decision to bring Israel to the ICJ is entirely based on the merits of the case. Under no circumstances is Israel guilty of the crimes that Pretoria is alleging; even in the face of Hamas, a genocidal Islamic terrorist organization that not only massacres Israelis, but uses its own people as human shields, Israel has taken extraordinary steps to minimize the impact on Palestinian civilians, going so far as to even provide warnings before it carries out air strikes against Hamas targets.

In short, accusing Israel, and not Hamas, which is genocidal both in intent and in action, of deliberately targeting innocent Palestinian civilians for murder, is not only factually baseless, it is a moral outrage and represents a total inversion of reality.

Evoking “discussion,” as Salutin put it, is of limited value when the assumptions are faulty to begin with. The same circular logic could be used by any bad actor, from racists to misogynists, to beat the drum of an issue, even without basis, simply because the very discussion of it will amplify the message and give it oxygen.

As anti-Israel activists have known for decades, simply accusing Israel of crimes is often enough to harm the country’s reputation in the international arena. Jerusalem’s detractors have repulsively accused the country of illegally occupying the Jewish People’s own ancestral lands, of committing war crimes in Gaza, despite extensive precautions, and simultaneously starving Gaza’s population despite coordinating the entry of hundreds of trucks filled with humanitarian aid every single day.

Salutin’s column appeared to be a cynical attempt to have his cake and eat it too. Because he does not explicitly accuse Israel of genocide, he does not therefore have to defend that claim against the mountain of evidence showing it to be utterly nonsensical. But simply by raising the issue, he can convey the same message, all without having to defend an actual accusation.

On January 26, the ICJ issued a provisional ruling, rejecting South Africa’s request that it demand an immediate halt to Israel’s counter-terrorism operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. While it does not represent a final decision, it serves as an important rebuke to the irresponsible charges leveled against Israel by those who seek to weaponize the serious crime of genocide, and use it for their own gain.

With his January 19 column in The Toronto Star, Rick Salutin contributed to this moral morass and confusion. There is simply no justification or basis for allegations of genocide, but in circular reasoning, that does not stop him from praising the discussion that has followed South Africa’s accusations.

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