Commentary: Cognitive Dissonance from the Wagner College Holocaust Center

As time passes, the focus of community institutions such as Wagner College's Holocaust Center remains affixed to the acts of slaughter within the 24-hour window of October 7. Grassroots activists, by contrast, point to a context that led up to that day, and the horrors committed since then.

Commentary: Cognitive Dissonance from the Wagner College Holocaust Center
Statements on Palestinians and Gaza from the current Israeli Cabinet (Plea for the Fifth, 2023)
For additional background on the humanitarian catastrophe in Palestine, see our previous commentary.

The Wagner College Holocaust Center's mission professes “to empower future generations in empathy, courage, and ethical decision-making in order to combat antisemitism, racism & all forms of prejudice,” but their rhetoric since October 7 disguises the ongoing Israeli genocide upon Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by falling victim to long-standing settler-colonial portrayals of Black & Brown people as brutes.

Gen·o·cide noun
- Deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.
Hol·o·caust noun
- Destruction or slaughter on a mass scale

Readers who bristle at comparisons between this war and World War Two with terminology such as ‘genocide’ or ‘holocaust’ fail to consider the intentionality and impact of Israel's military and government leaders.

Intentionality towards Palestinians

The current Israeli cabinet under the regime of Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured above, openly declare their deliberate aim to destroy the Palestinian people.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister
    • You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible — we do remember.” Referring to the ancient enemy of the Israelites. 28 Oct 2023
  • Isaac Herzog, President
    • It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. This rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved, it’s absolutely not true. They could’ve risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime.15 Oct 2023
  • Yoav Gallant, Minister of Defense
    • “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly.” 9 Oct 2023
  • Bezalel Smotrich, Minister of Finance
    • “The Palestinian people are an invention from the past century. There is no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people." 20 Mar 2023
  • Galit Distel-Atbaryan, Minister of Information
    • Erase “all of Gaza from the face of the earth. That the Gazan monsters will fly to the southern fence and try to enter Egyptian territory, or they will die, and their death is evil. Gaza should be erased.1 Nov 2023
  • Amihai Eliyahu, Minister of Heritage
    • Captioned a video of an armored bulldozer downing a telephone pole “Gaza Strip, more beautiful than ever, blow up and flatten everything, delightful. After we are done, we allocate the lands of Gaza to the soldiers fighting and the settlers who lived in Gush Katif.1 Nov 2023
  • Itamar Ben-Gvir, Minister of National Security
    • Convicted of Incitement to Racism on 25 Jun 2007 in Israel for carrying signs that read ‘Expel the Arab enemy.
  • Eli Cohen, Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • “Israel will continue the war against Hamas, with or without international support.” 13 Oct 2023
  • Nir Barakat, Minister of the Economy
    • Hostages and civilian casualties will be secondary to destroying Hamas, Economy Minister Nir Barakat told ABC News, "even if it takes a year.19 Oct 2023

Intentions are clear with calls for collective punishment upon Palestinians, and the erasure of all who live in Gaza.

Impact on Palestinians

Consequences of Israel's continued war in Gaza. (Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, 2023)

There are 2.3 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the entirety of whom are under threat of famine for the killing of 1,200 Israelis 85 days ago. Estimates by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor based in Geneva, Switzerland as of December 30 are hair-raising.

  • More than 1 in 100 of Gaza’s inhabitants have been killed.
    • 20% of the Palestinians killed were women
    • 40% of the Palestinians killed were children
    • 92% of the Palestinians killed were civilians
  • More than 1 in 50 of Gaza’s inhabitants have been injured.
  • More than 8 in 10 of Gaza’s inhabitants are displaced from their homes.

“Gaza is one of the most intense civilian punishment campaigns in history,” said United States military historian Robert Pape in an interview with The Associated Press. “It now sits comfortably in the top quartile of the most devastating bombing campaigns ever” [emphasis added].

The Response to Destruction & Slaughter

The Holocaust Center released three statements on their website since October 7, including one in the immediate aftermath in solidarity with Israeli victims. On day 39, the Holocaust Center released a second statement urging the Israeli military and “government leaders to continue to do all it can to prevent further suffering and death among non-combatant Palestinians,” despite the casualty count then standing at 11,180 killed by Israel - 41% of which were children. On day 61 as the casualty toll climbed further to 15,899 Palestinians killed - 38% of which were children, the Center released an update to their statement simply quoting an Israeli blog, that alleged sexual assault of Israeli victims on October 7.

The Brute Caricature

Claims that appeal to racist notions of inherently violent and cruel Palestinians draw on racist notions that have previously manipulated emotions in the United States. The infamous lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 was in response to the accusation of offending a White Mississippi woman. These claims fit "in with a long history of colonizers portraying colonized or enslaved people as savage brutes predisposed to sexual violence against White or settler women," as the Electronic Intifada (EI) writes.

The brute caricature as seen in How Sleeps the Beast (Jim Crow Museum)

As the Jim Crow Museum observes, the longstanding "brute caricature portrays Black men as innately savage, animalistic, destructive and criminal – deserving punishment, maybe death." The crime most often mentioned in connection with the Black brute was rape, specifically the rape of a White woman. The Museum adds, "at the beginning of the 20th century, much of the virulent, anti-Black propaganda that found its way into scientific journals, local newspapers and best-selling novels focused on the stereotype of the Black rapist." These stereotypes justified state violence against, and control of, Black people and "soothed White consciences."

Local institutions dusting off brutish characterizations scant with evidence that paint an entire people broadly, whether wittingly or unwittingly ultimately serve one purpose. "Its purpose is to demonize [Palestinians] and soften up public opinion to tolerate or support Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza,” observes EI.

As time passes, the focus of community institutions such as Wagner College's Holocaust Center remains affixed to the acts of slaughter within the 24-hour window of October 7. Grassroots activists, by contrast, point to a context that led up to that day, and the horrors committed since then, through actions in solidarity with Palestinians such as the recent Staten Island car caravan.