Middle East conflict and use of language
Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-01-05
Here is an expanded and extensively hyperlinked version of a letter I wrote, published in the Melbourne Age in June 2006 during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon under the heading "Categorical Errors".
Too many discussions about the current Israeli incursions into Lebanon and an increase in anti-Israeli sentiment make categorical errors that prevent an accurate understanding of what commentators actually mean.
This relates to citizenship. An Israeli is a citizen of the state of Israel. Israeli Arabs exist.
This relates to matrilinearity and Judaic Law. Jews have Jewish mothers. Ethiopic (black) Jews exist. Atheist blond-haired blue-eyed Jews exist.
This is a political stance associated with the rights and priviliges of a Judaic state in relation to other nations. The ultra-orthodox and right-wing political movements in Israel are very Zionist, while the left-wing parties are not so extreme. Many WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) neoconservatives in the USA take a Zionist position.
This is a matter of religion. Many Jews are atheist. Some followers of Judaism are not Jewish.
This is a matter of language and/or race.
Arabic and Hebrew are both semitic languages (“peace” in Hebrew is “shalom”, in Arabic is “salaam”), in the same way that French is a romance language and Dutch is germanic.
Because of a long diaspora in Europe, the semitic heritage of many modern-day Israeli Jews is much diluted by interbreeding with Caucasians. An extreme semitic appearance is exhibited in the characters Shylock and Fagin. Who would need more makeup to play such parts: Israeli PM Olmert or Osama Bin Laden? Who would be the more semitic, a red-haired fair-skinned member of the Israeli Defence Forces, or a dark-haired swarthy arab member of Hezbollah?
An example of an anti-semitic remark would be "All arabs are terrorists"
As killing semites is the most anti-semitic act possible, and the USA’s foreign policy has led to their military killing so many semites over the last few years, the USA should be considered the most anti-semitic nation on the planet. The displacement of one million semites (so far) in the Lebanese conflict is an anti-semitic act by the state of Israel.
How many comments on the politics of the Middle East have categorical errors, if not a priori falsities? Does this advance rational debate and movement towards a resolution of conflicts in the Middle East and racial tolerance the world over?
It is worth noting that my daughter is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Anglo-Saxon Jew, so do not accuse me of anti-Jewish sentiment, even though I’m not Jewish.
Since writing that piece, I now have a grandson who is also a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Anglo-Saxon Jew.