Westchester County Executive George Latimer

Westchester County Executive George Latimer is photographed in White Plains, New York on December 12, 2023.

(Photo: Jeenah Moon for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

AIPAC-Funded Challenger to Jamaal Bowman Has a Very Narrow Definition of Genocide

"Latimer should try listening to survivors and descendants of genocide—from Native communities here to Rwanda to Bosnia to Cambodia to Jews," said one advocacy group.

Jewish progressives on Friday condemned comments by Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who was recruited by the pro-Israel lobby to challenge progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman, and who was quoted as saying genocide is defined only as one notorious method that was used by Nazis to kill Jewish people during the Holocaust.

"Genocide is when you create gas chambers and you force people into them to kill them," Latimer said in a recent interview, according to Gothamist. "You cannot put that on an equal equivalent with the military action [in Gaza]."

Latimer's comments came as the death toll in Gaza, which Israel has been bombarding since October, reached at least 32,623 people. At least 17 children are among those who have died of starvation so far, as a near-total blockade of humanitarian aid imposed by Israel has pushed parts of northern Gaza into a famine, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification global initiative.

The United Nations' top expert on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories is among those who have documented numerous statements by high-level Israeli officials demonstrating genocidal intent, and said in a report this week that "the overwhelming nature and scale" of Israel's assault shows the country is trying to "physically destroy Palestinians as a group." The International Court of Justice said in January that South Africa's claim that Israel is committing a genocide is "plausible."

Latimer's comments amount to "straight-up genocide denial (using some of the dumbest logic I've seen in a while)," said Naftali Ehrenkranz, digital director for youth-led advocacy group Get Free.

The Jewish-led Palestinian rights group IfNotNow said Latimer had erased with his comments not only "the millions of victims and survivors of genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, [and] Bosnia," but also 2 million Jewish people who were killed in mass shootings during the Holocaust, up to 1 million who died of starvation and disease in ghettos and concentration camps, and at least 250,000 who were killed in other acts of violence by the Nazi regime.

Roughly 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, around 1.8 million non-Jewish Polish people, and as many as 500,000 Romani people were also among those who were killed via various methods during the Holocaust.

"The Genocide Convention was created to describe and prevent the intentional destruction of a group of people. Atrocities too awful to fathom," said Jewish Voice for Peace. "To say otherwise denies the horrors of genocide inflicted upon peoples across the world."

Bowman is one of four members of Congress from New York who have demanded a permanent cease-fire in Gaza, and he has condemned Israel's U.S.-backed military action as an unfolding genocide.

The Intercept reported in February that 42% of Latimer's campaign contributions had come from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), with the pro-Zionist lobbying group donating more than $600,000 to the effort to unseat Bowman.

Latimer "has repeatedly called his opponent's calls unrealistic and out of step with the party," Gothamist reported on Friday, but a poll released late last month by Data for Progress found that 77% of Democratic voters support a permanent cease-fire.

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