Harvard Weatherhead fellow Martin Kramer’s recent remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have created some controversy in the blogosphere. Media Matters’ M.J. Rosenberg insinuated in blog posts on The Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo that Kramer was “advocating Palestinian genocide” when he suggested that “the West [should stop] providing pro-natal subsidies for Palestinians with refugee status.” Rosenberg concluded, “This is right out of Jonathan Swift.”

Kramer’s remarks were not softly worded, and there are plenty of good reasons to reject his conclusions, but to call his proposal genocidal is, quite simply, absurd. This is not merely a semantic question of hyperbole gone awry. When Rosenberg, and others, label legitimate ideas as morally repugnant without rationally refuting them, it creates an environment of hyper-political correctness where people become afraid to share new–sometimes controversial– ideas for fear of being branded “radicals.”

But first, let’s look at what Kramer actually proposed.  He said that Palestinians’ low median age is a major factor perpetuating the violence in Israel and that a decrease in the Palestinian birthrate may ease tensions in the region. (For a more thorough explanation of Kramer’s logic, readers can view his speech in its entirety). He, thus, suggested that western nations should consider halting pro-natal subsidies–promises of indefinite financial aid to future generations of Palestinian refugees–in an attempt to slow the population growth. In essence, Kramer said that western nations should consider reducing (or eliminating) aid to future generations of Palestinians.

One can reasonably (and passionately!) disagree with Kramer’s proposal. Indeed, there is a legitimate question whether or not Palestinian population growth is even contributing to the conflict. Even if we suppose that it is, it’s certainly not clear that reducing humanitarian aid would slow the birthrate. An end to pro-natal subsidies would provide economic incentives to have fewer children, but Palestinians also have a strong cultural tradition of large families that this policy may not be able to deter. Most importantly, there are obvious humanitarian concerns to Kramer’s conclusions that would have to be weighed heavily before his proposal could be given serious consideration.

All these are legitimate criticisms of Kramer, but to suggest that reducing financial aid can constitute an act of genocide is nonsense. Also, as Kramer noted in his response to his critics, the idea was popularized by German economist Gunnar Heinsohn, who actually heads an institute on comparative genocide research.

Still, Rosenberg cites the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of Genocide, Article 2, Section D, which states: Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

There are two major problems with Rosenberg’s claim that, under this clause, Kramer’s suggestion constitutes genocide. First, under Kramer’s proposal, no measures would be “imposed” on Palestinians; aid would simply be withheld.  Again, one can disagree with such a decision for plenty of good reasons, but no policy being discussed would affect any person’s right to reproduce. Second, if we accept Rosenberg’s definition of genocide, then any policy that seeks to lower the birthrate of any demographic of any nation, for whatever reason, should also be considered genocide. This would include calls for African women to have fewer babies (and–much more trivially–sex-education programs in the United States). Indeed, economists often encourage developing nations to lower their birthrates in order to promote economic growth, yet they are hardly labeled purveyors of genocide.

It’s good that Kramer’s remarks have caused controversy. If people disagree with him, they ought to make their opinions known, and Kramer should, in turn, defend the ideas he put forth. Much of what Kramer said deserves to be rejected, but there are also parts that can contribute to the ongoing dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps ending pro-natal subsidies is morally unpalatable, but that doesn’t mean a discussion of how Palestinian population growth affects the conflict shouldn’t enter into the picture. Rosenberg does this important topic a disservice by irrationally branding ideas he doesn’t like “genocide.” Political correctness serves its role in society, but when it’s taken too far, it inhibits creative thinking.

Photo Credit: MartinKramer.org

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