“Let’s Think About the Words We Use,” by Henry Frank

The following is a Rosh Hashonah talk given this year by U.S. military veteran and ardent Philadelphia area Zionist Henry Frank at an area synagogue.  Its theme – “At this season of introspection, let us think about the words Jews use, including the words we allow others to use about us, and how they destroy us” – fits right in with this website’s mission statement, that if we supporters of Israel, the Jewish homeland, forfeit the language of Arab-Jewish conflict debate, we forfeit the case for our homeland.  We asked Henry to allow us to share his cogent remarks with our site’s visitors.

Let’s Think About the Words We Use

September 2017, by Henry Frank

…. I want to say something non-political about the “slanted” press. Of course, it’s slanted! All media are slanted. They exist to slant. They all pander to their publics. They are each like an army unit: Their mission is to close with and destroy the enemy. Every president has been on the receiving end of press attacks. It started with George Washington. They attacked his integrity, republican principles, and even military reputation (according to Wikipedia). Abraham Lincoln was called “that baboon in the White House.” (And that was by the Northern press. He vexed abolitionists by waiting two years after his election before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, per Carl Sandberg.)  In our own time, well, at least in my time, among certain people, Franklin Roosevelt was called “that man,” never by name. So, when the incumbent complains of the press, he is correct. But, it’s always been that way.

Which leads me to my main topic, “Words.” How can we improve our words in the New Year? I won’t get into my pet peeves, such as split infinitives, inappropriate use of the passive voice, and starting every sentence with “so.” No, today we have other business to discuss. I believe that words have meaning, and that they can hurt. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can destroy me. At this season of introspection, let us think about the words Jews use, including the words we allow others to use about us, and how they destroy us.

Let us start with the Bible. Whenever I encounter an unfamiliar Bible, I immediately turn to Exodus 20. If it states “Thou shalt not kill,” I refuse to use that Bible. It is an inaccurate translation from the Hebrew, and I want nothing to do with it. What the Hebrew says is “Thou shalt not murder.” People say to me “What’s the difference?” I’ll tell you. If a piece of satellite falls from space and falls on me, even if it was from a Russian or Chinese satellite, then I was killed, not murdered. One does not go to court accused of “kill one, or kill two.” It’s always “murder one, or murder two.” Closer to home, my house is on two levels. There is an interior stairwell. Sometimes I go downstairs without turning on the light. My wife says, “If you fall down the stairs and KILL yourself, I’ll MURDER you.”

In the “slanted” press (remember the press?), when they say a “Palestinian” went into a “West Bank” “settlement” and stabbed three “settlers” and “killed them,” they are misusing the English language. That stabber intended to cause the death of some Jews, any Jews, and so the correct word is MURDER.

What about the other misused words in the previous sentence? Palestinian, West Bank, settlement, and settlers? Let’s go back further. What about “anti-Semitic?” Jew-hatred goes back at least to the Biblical book of Esther. Because one Jew refused to bow down to (GRAGGER) HAMAN, every Jew must die. It was hatred of Jews, not anti-Semitism. A German Jew-hater, named (GRAGGER) WILHELM MARR, in 1879 coined the phrase anti-Semitism. He did not care for the German term in use, “Juden haas, that is, Jew hatred.” Therefore, before 1879, there was NO “anti-Semitism.” Repeat, before 1879, there was NO “anti-Semitism.” My 10-year-old elementary school classmate, who told me that I had MURDERED Jesus, was not an “anti-Semite.” He was an average kid who had been “carefully taught” to hate Jews. Therefore, wherever you encounter the term “anti-Semitism,” you might point out that it is really anti-Judaism. Note that the term “Jew hatred” can be misunderstood. Is it hatred OF Jews, or hatred BY Jews? But, why do we let this term go on?

Returning to the misused words Palestinian, West Bank, settlement, and settlers:

  • “The Palestinians”used to be everybody who was occupying the Land of Abraham. It was an on again, off again term for Judea, Israel, the Holy Land, etc. In the modern era, from the 1920s until 1964, it applied to everybody who lived in what was called “the Mandate for Palestine.” Then (GRAGGER) YASSIR ARAFAT created the so-called Palestine Liberation Organization. The Jewish Palestinians LET HIM DO IT! The goal of the PLO in 1964 is the same goal today: the destruction of the State of Israel. They want it all. Therefore, the proper name for the organization is the Israel Destruction Organization. Why did the Jews let him do it?
  • Another term, “occupation.”In 1967, the Jewish Palestinians fought a defensive war, and took over the area west of the Jordan River. Currently, it is being administered by the Government of Israel. It has been going on for over 50 years! It’s because the Jewish Palestinians did not do what EVERY nation has always done. When you conquer, it is yours. The Chinese did it with Tibet. The US did it “from sea to shining sea.” The Jordanians did it in 1948, and they created the term “West Bank” [of their kingdom] to emphasize the point that now, the territory belonged to them. From 1948-1967, nobody protested the illegal occupation of so-called Palestinian land. Now, the term “West Bank” remains in common use. Why do we let them do it?
  • Since there is no occupation, there are no “occupiers.” Since it was always the Land of Abraham, there are no “Jewish settlers.” What is a “settler?” The Han Chinese who invaded Tibet, and who are now sending Han Chinese to overwhelm the Tibetan culture, are “settlers.” The Europeans, who displaced the indigenous peoples from sea to shining sea, were “settlers.” The Jews, returning to their ancestral homeland, are returning residents, NOT settlers. Where they live are communities, not settlements. The GOVERNMENT OF ISRAEL, the media, and we use these pejorative terms. Why do we do it?
  • There is an East St Louis. I know, because there’s a Duke Ellington/Bubber Miley tune “East St Louis Toodle-Oo.” There is a Northeast Philadelphia. I know, because as a Central High School graduate 216 class), I was taught to say BEAT NORTHEAST! But, there never was an “East” Jerusalem. The ONLY possibility is if the Israel Destruction Organization and the Government of Israel agree to a genuine two-state solution. Until then, there is no such place as “East” Jerusalem. But, why do we do it?

Here’s an example of the destructive power of words, ripped from the headlines: In the wake of the terrorist attack on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, in which two Islamist terrorists smuggled firearms into the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount, and then used them to murder two Israeli police officers, UN Secretary General Guterres’ statement called for both sides not to escalate tensions. He singled out Israel to show “restraint.” On 7-26-17, Guterres issued a statement in which he said it was “essential to fully respect the status quo at the holy sites as before 14 July” and urged “all political, religious and community leaders to refrain from provocative action and rhetoric; and call[s] on Israel to demonstrate restraint”

I don’t know whether any other person or organization called out Guterres on this statement. Zionist Organization of America President Klein said, “We are both disappointed and critical of Guterres’ words on this occasion. To call for respecting the pre-14 July status quo is blatantly to side with the absurd [Islamist] demand that Israel remove extra security measures it responsibly put in place to prevent and deter a repetition of the terrorist attack. Terrorism that claims Israeli lives is not ‘provocative’ –– it is murder. Steps to prevent a repetition of such murder are not ‘provocative’ and lacking in ‘restraint,’ even if certain people choose to riot and foment violence over it. … It is both factually and morally false to imply that Israel, instituting responsible security measures, like metal detectors –– which are in use at Mecca, the Vatican, and other sensitive religious sites, is in any way inflammatory, simply because [Islamists] choose to cause riots over the matter, at the instigation and encouragement of (GRAGGER) Mahmoud Abbas’ Islamist Authority. Guterres should have publicly criticized the Islamists for fanning the flames of violence, instead of responsibly calling on its people to avoid violence. Such criticism from the Secretary-General would have sent a powerful message that inciting and supporting violence was unacceptable and worthy of condemnation. Why did he not do so?

Contrast Guterres’ statement with several others he issued in other instances of terrorism elsewhere in the world, which did not engage in similar moral equivalence and bias. Thus, on July 24, Guterres condemned a terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, calling it a ‘grave violation of human rights and international humanitarian law, and may constitute a war crime.’ Why wasn’t the unprovoked murder of two Israeli police officers also described as such? In addition, on the same day, Mr. Guterres issued a statement on the terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan in which he said that he ‘supports the efforts of the Government of Pakistan to fight terrorism and violent extremism.’ Why did he not do so here?

“The answer seems to be because it was Israeli lives that were lost, and because it was Israel whose efforts to fight terrorism had to be supported. “Israel is the Jew among nations” (attributed to Golda Meir). Guterres previously stated that the Temple Mount is the site of the biblical Jewish temples and did not back off this position when criticized by the [Islamist] Authority for the ‘sin’ of saying so. He also speaks incisively of the nature and evils of anti-[Judaism].

Why was the Zionist Organization of America the only organization that stated, “We don’t agree with your anti-Jewish statement?” Why do the rest of our organizations let them do it?

My hope in the coming year is that we will correct ourselves in our language. We won’t say “killed” when we mean “murdered.” We won’t say anti-Semitism when we mean anti-Judaism. We will learn to distinguish among Palestinians, whether Christian, Baha’i, Druze, Muslim, or Jewish. We will learn to distinguish between Muslim and Islam, versus Islamist. We will learn to distinguish between territory that is “administered” and that which is “occupied.” We will learn to distinguish between settlers and residents, and between settlements and communities. We will remember that “West Bank” was an illegal term for an illegal occupation, and that the proper term is Judea & Samaria. We will remember that there is no such place as “East Jerusalem” or “Arab East Jerusalem.” If you don’t know the name of a given neighborhood of Jerusalem, try saying “the eastern part of Jerusalem.”

At this season of introspection, let us think about the words we use, including the words we allow others to use about us, and how they destroy us. Let us use words that accurately describe the person, place or thing.

Let us be kind to each other in our actions and speech, so that a year from now we have one less sin for which to say “ahl chait.”

Henry Frank is a Member of the Executive Board of the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America and an activist and officer in the Jewish War Veterans.  He can be reached at henrynco@comcast.net