Terminological warfare. Word choice affects how one views events. When it comes to Israel, the distortion is rampant, a concerted effort to create an anti-Israel bias and resentment.
In 2007, the BBC released an opinion poll conducted in 27 countries, in which the respondents were asked to rate 13 pre-selected countries as having either a positive or a negative role in the world. Israel topped the list as the most negatively viewed country, followed by Iran and North Korea. In fact, out of all the countries in the poll, only the respondents from United States and Nigeria had a positive view of Israel (Nigerians, bizarrely, also viewed North Korea positively).
Not surprisingly, large majorities within Muslim countries saw Israel as having a negative influence in the world. More surprising, however, was that also in Europe (including Israel’s supposed allies, such as the UK or Germany), Israel was viewed negatively by a large margin, with only 17% of Britons, 10% of Germans, 7% of Poles and 6% of Hungarians viewing it in a positive light.
Obviously, the vast majority of respondents had no first-hand knowledge of Israel, its people, land or history. So what is the reason for such a strong anti-Israel sentiment? The answer offered by the pollsters themselves was that the poll was conducted just six months following the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, the pollster added, there was no evidence showing that the result was “any better or worse than other historical ratings.” The pollsters did not elaborate why this would be the case, but it is not far-fetched to assume that these attitudes were shaped by the continued exposure to mainstream Western media’s anti-Israel bias and distorted coverage.
The question, however, is why there would be such a strong anti-Israel bias especially in countries where the media is not government-controlled and there is a presumption of the freedom of speech and free access to information (assuming anti-Semitism is not a sine qua non the formation of the anti-Israel bias).
In order to answer this question we need to address the ideological dogma of post-Modernism, which has come to dominate the Western media and academic circles in the last several decades.
Post-Modernism rejects the existence of an objective truth (“no one has the monopoly on truth”), thus emancipating mutually-exclusive narratives (“one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”). In particular, post-Modernism attempts to deconstruct traditional narratives and social order, often in order subvert them. Although, according to post-Modernism, no narrative can be more valid than another, nevertheless, the void left by the deconstruction is often filled by the “victimhood” narrative or the original narrative’s semantic inversion.
In other words, once the former heroes are turned into villains, the former villains immediately become heroes by virtue of their victimhood status. In its most radical form, this kind of moral relativism amounts to intellectual dishonesty, which purposely turns all traditional values on its head. (Michael Walsh in his book “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” refers to this phenomenon as the “Satanic” leftism.) One of the primary tools in achieving this end, is the terminological warfare.
In linguistics, there is a concept of the semantic field, i.e. a concept or an object referred to by a group of terms or expressions. Within the semantic field, there may be terms which have negative, neutral or favourable connotations, yet these words aren’t exactly synonymous, since various connotations link them with other semantic fields.
Over time, various semantic shifts may occur which add new connotations to the term.
These shifts may involve pejoration (i.e. making the term taboo, offensive or biased) or amelioration (i.e. making a previously unacceptable term into a positive one).
For instance, an originally neutral term Negro had been pejorated and consequently replaced with black, which had not previously been used in reference to race; the term homosexual is in the process of being replaced by gay, virtually supplanting the original meaning of the word (except in the phrase “happy and gay”).A pupil is now likely to be referred to as a student, a stewardess is a flight assistant, and a chairman is a chair.
Some of these changes were euphemistic, when the term was perceived to have accrued negative overtones; others, perhaps the majority, were driven by the left-liberal and feminist agenda.
The semantic shift also took place vis-à-vis the terminology and rhetoric associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict. At the time of Israel’s War of Independence, most Western countries viewed Israel positively, and the anti-Israel sentiment did not dominate the public discourse.
The anti-Israel pejorative semantic shift began in the mid-1950s, coming to dominate mainstream media and academic institutions by the early 1970s. The liberal media and public institutions began engaging in post-colonial mea culpa, viewing Israel as one of the last outposts of colonialism, and giving Israel’s enemies a free pass as noble savages who could do no wrong. This is how Arab Moslems became Arabs, Arab Palestinians, and finally just Palestinians.
This semantic shift was facilitated by the fact that the Israel/Judea had been dubbed “Palestine” for centuries prior to anyone other than Jews claiming it a homeland. It was the 2nd century Roman Emperor Hadrian, who, following the genocidal suppression of the Bar-Kochba Revolt, replaced Judea with “Palestine” (named after the Philistines, a proto-Hellenic people that inhabited the Gaza-Ashkelon coastal strip between 12-5 cent. BCE), in order to erase all mention of Jews from their land and end their hopes for independence. He exiled and sold into slavery the majority of vanquished Jews, while Jerusalem was leveled and rebuilt as “Aelia Capitolina” with the pagan temple of Jupiter towering over the ruins of the two Biblical Temples.
While the land was conquered and ruled by many powers, including the Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans and the British, none of them considered it a separate entity; Arabs in particular, despite numerous efforts to settle the area, saw it as a barren and unattractive part of the Caliphate, the periphery of the province of a-Sham (Syria-Levant) with the regional centre of Ramle, not Jerusalem.
Jews, on the other hand, while dispersed in the four corners of the earth, never forgot their land, yet could not return to it due to lack of political and military power. Only following the first major waves of Jewish immigration did the local Arabs begin having national aspirations, although those aspirations were primarily focused on preventing the formation of a Jewish polity and creating a pan-Arab state that included the land of Israel, but not limited to it.
Despite historical facts, the liberal media continues to advance the twisted narrative, according to which it wasn’t the Jewish polity and the Jewish people that had been ethnically cleansed from their land by the Romans and replaced by pagan, Christian and subsequently Islamic invaders and migrants; but rather the Arab Palestinians that were the victimized natives ethnically cleansed from Palestine by the European “Zionist settlers”, who then turned it into Israel or, even worse, into Greater Israel (a sinister, if ludicrous, dysphemism, for a territory smaller than Lesotho or Armenia, that is supposed to invoke Nazis’ Lebensraum).
The subtext of the term “Palestinian” in the anti-Israel discourse came to mean that “Palestinians” are innocent even if proven guilty, while “Israelis” are guilty even if proven innocent. The dissemination of this prejudice has been so successful, it is virtually taken for granted.
The Western media routinely describes machete-wielding Muslims who ram lorries into pedestrian passers-by and then go on stabbing sprees to the cries of “Allahu akbar” as “militants”, “youths” or “refugees”, rather than jihadists, Islamists or simply terrorists.
While some of these terms are part of the same semantic field, the word choice affects greatly how one views the event. That the mainstream media routinely obscures the killers’ motives and euphemize their identities is bad enough, yet when it comes to Israel the distortion does not stop there.
Whereas when such attacks take place in Europe and America, the media is usually at a loss to find a cause, yet should the attacker be described as Palestinian and the victims as Israeli or Jewish, and the attack’s location described as being in the “Israeli-occupied territories”, the acts of terror is always “understood” as an outcome of “frustration” or “the lack of hope”, while the victims of terror are left faceless, nameless or demonized as “settlers”. There is neither outrage nor major headlines; rather, it is the response from either Israeli civilians or the IDF that would generate headlines, with the original attack pushed to article’s end, which great number of readers will not reach.
Furthermore, when Israel pre-empts attacks, it is the aggressor, when it responds to attacks, its response is disproportionate, when it is attacked, it deserves little sympathy because of the occupation. In effect, the liberal media whitewashes the disproportionality of the Islamic terror onslaught on Israeli Jews as a “natural response” to “settlement growth” or “glimmering hopes of peace”, while requiring Israel to adhere to artificial under-proportionality “norms” when dealing with the homicidal national security threats.
This is not neutral reporting, this a concerted effort to create an anti-Israel bias and resentment, bordering on incitement.
Then there are false clichés and expressions that are used left and right. Take the “peace process”, for example. No sane person would choose war over peace, yet if the “peace process” is in fact a cynical euphemism for Israeli land surrender without enforceable long-term security guarantees, no sane person would support it, unless, like many Western liberals, he believes that the land is stolen in the first place.
Despite the obvious falsity of this claim, it is impossible to fully rebut it as long as one continues to call the land “Palestine” and the Arabs “Palestinians”. The same goes for other liberal mantras, such as the “two-state solution” rather than proposal, the “cycle of violence”, which is equates terrorism with self-defense and security measures, or the “land-for-peace” formula, which has the accuracy of a Russian roulette.
The unravelling of these false myths will not come about until the false terminology is unravelled together with them. All those who value truth and integrity must call these terms for what they are: false euphemisms, misnomers or canards.
Once the anti-Israel jargon is replaced with the historically accurate, logical and balanced terminology, the demonization and delegitimisation of Israel would lose its appeal for the decent but largely ignorant majority, and the unique story of Israel as a nation risen from the ashes of the Holocaust and the two thousand years of exile would give inspiration and hope to people around the world.
Dr Eliyahu Shoot is a Harvard-educated academic and researcher. He lives in Israel with his wife and five children.
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