This article by Dr.Gerstenfeld was originally published at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) and republished here with the author’s consent.
Language as an anti-Israeli Tool
Successive Israeli governments have never had comprehensive policies to systematically fight all multiple fronts of attacks against the country. Prime ministers and their ministerial colleagues never seemed to understand what any beginning strategist would comprehend: the fight against the Israeli state has many weapons and tools. Israel must combat them all.
Nobody can ignore open warfare and terrorism attacks. The Israeli government thus gave that aspect of the battlefront much attention. The bodies created for this, the Israel Defense Forces and the intelligence agencies perform rather well. A few years ago, the Israeli government also understood that cyber-warfare was dangerous to the country and set up an agency to deal with this.
In other areas of the battlefield, Israel has been performing less effectively and is often negligent. In confronting boycotts, Israel was and is less remarkable. The initial Arab boycott existed for decades.1 Israel tried to circumvent it in many ways, some successful, many others less.
At the beginning of the 21st century, another form of boycott emerged now known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). BDS started in the university world with an open letter in the Guardian on April 6, 2002, signed by more than 100 academics.2 It called for a moratorium on all cultural and research links with Israel at European or national levels until the Israeli government abided by UN resolutions and opened “serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians, along the lines proposed in many peace plans including most recently that sponsored by the Saudis and the Arab League.” The open letter was followed by other somewhat similar initiatives. Friends of Israel came out against it. The Israeli government took very little action for many years.
Israel has largely ignored the huge war of words against it. Some nations are masters of the verbal combat. Nazi Germany was near the top and invented an almost entirely new language for the extreme criminal actions it was undertaking. Many synonyms for murder were developed.3
The Soviet Union was a competent second. Before it started to promote the term “anti-Zionism” this term didn’t exist in the dictionaries.4 Millennia earlier — in the first book of the Bible –the language issue was already present in a dramatic way. God destroyed the common language of those building the Tower of Babel. Thus, major confusion in communication was created.
George Orwell understood the role language plays very well. In his book,1984 – published in 1949 — he invented Newspeak, which was characterized by the interchangeability of the meaning of words. This replaced traditional English. Frequently quoted are the expressions: “freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength” and very relevant to the Palestinians, “war is peace.”5
The Israeli left and even a number of mainstream Israelis have often promoted the fundamentally mistaken notion of “land for peace.” It radically misjudged how much the Palestinians have to gain from peace. This has now partly been replaced by “peace for peace.”
The Israeli government may react from time to time – but far from always — if somebody prominent accuses Israel of ‘apartheid.’ Former German socialist foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, for instance used that expression and apologized afterwards for it.6
One of the most frequent distortions used against Israel is that it is an ‘occupier’ of the West Bank.7 Yet Israel is at most an occupier of part of the Golan, which formerly belonged to the Syrian state. The West Bank was in the hands of Jordan. Its sovereignty there was only recognized by the UK and Pakistan.8 There was never a Palestinian state so it could not be occupied. Dore Gold explained in detail that the status of the West Bank is “disputed territory.” He made this statement shortly after he became president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in 2000.9
A ‘two-state solution’ is another deeply embedded term. It is difficult to deal with because US President Barack Obama exerted much pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept this concept. Netanyahu did so in his 2009 Bar Ilan speech, when he said: “If we receive this guarantee regarding demilitarization and Israel’s security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.”10 A Palestinian state had already been accepted earlier by Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in their peace proposals to the Palestinians.11 12
In this context Israeli officials hardly ever mention that there are already two states on the former land of the Palestinian mandate: The first one was the Palestinian state of Jordan which occupies 75% of that territory and Israel. Another Palestinian state – assuming that Hamas and Fatah can agree on it – in the West Bank and in Gaza, would thus be a third state. Also, the Trump plan which Israel has accepted is based on a Palestinian state next to Israel.13
Several authors have stressed the dangerous use of semantics against Jews and Israel. Much work on this has been done by French linguist Georges-Elia Sarfati. He undertook a detailed analysis of the phenomenon. Sarfati pointed out that discourse is formulated on the basis of the ideological use of those who engage it. He said, “Rather than words being neutral, they serve to introduce a certain vision of the question they address.”14
This expression ‘two state solution’ is so deeply entrenched in the West that it will require an enormous effort to spread doubt about it. That is not because the message isn’t simple. Why would one upgrade the criminal Palestinian entity — which leaders glorify genocide, reward the murder of civilians and is permeated with a death cult — into a state?
Isreal’s battle against the UN abuse of the word ‘Palestinian refugees’ has been fought only in a lukewarm way by Israel. There is a general definition of refugees, which says “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”15
Specifically for the Palestinians, the U.N. has expanded this definition to include descendants of refugees.16 This has undermined the meaning of the word and multiplied resulting problems. Almost all Palestinian “refugees” are not true refugees according to the original definition. They did not flee from Israel, though their surviving parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents may have done so and are genuine refugees. Yet not a single international journalist points this out or uses the expression “UN fake refugees” for them.
Another abuse of language is to call Israelis “colonists.” That word was exclusively used for people who went to lands usually thousand of kilometers from their homeland. The 1967 partition lines which separated Israel from the Palestinian territories were armistice lines, yet they are frequently and mistakenly called 1967 ‘borders.’17 18
There are also many examples of the abuse of language in the antisemitism discourse. The French government often used to speak about “tension between communities.” It suggested that two communities, the Muslim and Jewish communities, were aggressive toward each other. The reality was one sided aggression and hatred toward the Jewish community originating in parts of the Muslim community.19
The Palestinians will probably wait to see if Biden will be elected president of the United States and whether he will abolish the Trump plan. It may well be that the Palestinians will then decide on trying to arrange a peace conference. That will deal with concrete issues such as final borders, the status of the Temple Mount, the demilitarization of a Palestinian state and so on. It is unlikely to address a crucial issue: how do the Palestinians intend to rid themselves of their cult of glorification of genocide and death, which permeates their society?
This issue should be prominently put on the international agenda by Israel. Otherwise, if a Palestinian state is established it will be the upgrading of a criminal entity into a criminal nation state.
1 Dan S. Chill, The Arab Boycott of Israel: Economic Aggression and World Reaction (New York: Praeger, 1976)
2 www.euroisrael.huji.ac.il/original.html, “Protest against Call for European Boycott of Academic and Cultural Ties with Israel,” The Guardian, Original Press Release, 6 April 2002.
14 Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Georges-Elia Sarfati, “Language as a Tool against Jews and Israel,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 17, February 1, 2004.
19 See, e.g., Paul Ceaux, “Manif pro-palestinienne autorisée: les organisateurs critiquent Hollande,” L’Express, July 22, 2014 (French) ; Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Dutch Jews Wonder About Their Future,” Israel National News, August 8, 2014; Reuters and AP, “France vows harsh hand on anti-Semitic violence after Paris riots,” Haaretz, July 21, 2014.