WHILE YOU STAND ON ONE LEG: BESA published a good paper this week on fighting anti-Israel misleading terms. But we have to fight all of them, including the most deeply entrenched, however fanatic that seems.
This Week: “Language As an Anti-Israel Tool”
The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) issued a paper by Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld Thursday, 10/15/20, titled “Language As an Anti-Israel Tool.” It accuses Israel of having “largely ignored the war of words against it,” citing not just the usual suspects, e.g., “apartheid” and “occupation,” but some others not generally considered anti-Israel, such as “Palestinian refugees” and “two-state solution.” These latter terms aren’t pejorative on their face, but are imbalanced in what they purport to describe or seek.
Dr. Gerstenfeld’s point regarding “two-state solution” is that this expression ignores “that there are already two states on the former land of mandatory Palestine: the Palestinian state of Jordan, which occupies 75% of that territory, and Israel,” and he criticizes Israel because its officials “hardly ever mention” this. “Palestinian refugees” is misleading in that, unlike all other refugees in the world, it includes multiple generations of those who actually left their country of residence. He says that this unique definition of “Palestinian refugees” should be pointed out.
These weekly emails of mine, now up to #1030, have been one long crusade against misuse of language against the Jewish homeland of Israel. The motto on our related website, www.factsonIsrael.com, is “If you forfeit the language, you forfeit our heritage and history.” We have sections on it titled “Toxic Terms” and “Dirty Words.” Challenging anti-Israel pejoratives in Israel reporting and common discourse is one meaningful thing we grassroots American Jews can do to counter delegitimization of our people’s homeland.
How fanatical am I at this? I even find anti-Israel misleading language in articles I quote as fighting anti-Israel misleading language. To wit:
This BESA article states: “One of the most frequent distortions used against Israel is that it is an ‘occupier’ of the West Bank.” The article objects to “occupier,” as of course do I, but I object as well to “West Bank.” The name “West Bank” was coined after the 1948 war by Jordan for what had been known for thousands of years as Judea-Samaria, including by the UN itself in 1947, for the very purpose of making formerly Transjordan not seeming to be an occupier.
This BESA article rightly calling for contesting misleading anti-Israel terminology frankly acknowledges that the expression “two-state solution” is “so deeply entrenched in the West that it will require an enormous effort to spread doubt about it.” I’ll give you an even tougher one, the mother of all misleading anti-Jewish homeland expressions. The BESA article’s Executive Summary references “descendants of Palestinians who fled during the 1948 war.” That’s an anachronism. The people called “Palestinians” who lived in western Palestine during the Mandate – i.e., during the decades leading up to the 1948 war – weren’t just Arabs. The AP itself recognized, 12/11/11, that during the Mandate “Muslims, Christians and Jews living there were all referred to as Palestinians.” In fact, as David Bar-Illan pointed out repeatedly in his Jerusalem Post “Eye On the Media” columns, “Palestinian” was used more by the land’s Jews than its Arabs.
Throughout this BESA article, the term “the Palestinians” is used over and over in reference to Arabs living in Palestine west of the Jordan River, despite the article’s own reference to “the Palestinian state of Jordan.” Tough as it will be to spread doubt, as this article put it regarding a different term, we should undertake reclaiming the lost Jewish equity, history and heritage in “Palestine” and “Palestinian.” Here’s Begin in his 1977 Foreword to Katz’s Battleground: Fact & Fantasy in Palestine:
“One of the most important services rendered by this book is hinted at in its sub-title: ‘Fact and Fantasy in Palestine.’ The impertinent campaign of the Arab propagandists in appropriating to themselves the name of ‘Palestine’ (as though they owned it) has unfortunately borne a good deal of fruit. The fact that Palestine was simply the name given over the centuries by non-Jews to the country of the Jews; that Palestine as the Jewish heritage is an ineffaceable fact of world history, indeed of the Moslem as well as of the Christian tradition, has been obscured by the weight of heavily-financed and admittedly efficient Arab propaganda. So much so that even many Jews have been drawn into the semantic trap. Battleground provides an incisive corrective to this erosion of the truth.”
I’ve been told that I “tilt with windmills” in opposing American Jewish joinder in pressuring Israelis to accept “the two-state solution.” And so now it’s “the Palestinians’” windmills at that. But I believe we’ve got to do it. As Lee and I used to point out in our Powerpoint talk, it’s tough to make the case that what’s called [western] “Palestine” is all yours [which by history and international treaty it is], when you yourself call the folks contesting your “Palestine” claim “THE Palestinians.”