Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

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.

  • Israeli:
    This relates to citizenship. An Israeli is a citizen of the state of Israel.  Israeli Arabs exist.
  • Jewish:
    This relates to matrilinearity and Judaic Law.  Jews have Jewish mothers. Ethiopic (black) Jews exist.  Atheist blond-haired blue-eyed Jews exist.
  • Zionist:
    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.
  • Judaism:
    This is a matter of religion.  Many Jews are atheist.  Some followers of Judaism are not Jewish.
  • Semitic:
    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.


5 Responses to “Middle East conflict and use of language”

  1. I’ve always thought it is silly of some Islamists to give the time of day to Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites. The Arabs are Semites, and Islam has many similar beliefs to Judaism…to give anti-Semites any validation is in essence, validating views that can be logically extended to wiping out ALL of the Middle East.

  2. Dave Bath said

    LE: “Similar???” I’d say theologically Islam is far closer to Judaism than either is to (post-Nicea) Christianity, especially on the fundamentals of “No graven images” (e.g. madonnas and occupied crucifixes are OUT) and “One not three”.

    The real difference between Judaism and Islam is not an iota (the main debate at Nicea), but a bitch-fight that should have been sorted out in a Family Court with maintenance orders, as West Wing fans will recognize from Ep 1, Series 3.

    The Israel/Palestine dispute is also not helped by the ignorance of most Christians about the Islamic views of Jesus (virgin birth, miracles, etc, etc) and that Mohammed is a prophet rather than a divinity. If they did, Islam would be viewed as closer to Christianity than Judaism, and the political dynamic would be very different.

  3. Dave Bath said

    I’ve always thought it is silly of some IslamistsANYONE to give the time of day to Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites.

  4. Indeed, Islam and Judaism have a great deal in common, which makes it all the sadder that they are in conflict.

    Personally, I find the idea of Jesus as Prophet less problematic than Jesus as incarnation of God. The Holy Trinity has always confused and troubled me. I suspect that if I was a Christian I would be a Unitarian, and reject the Nicean Creed.

    But on the other hand, one of the attractions of Christianity to worshippers is the concept of a corporeal God who interacts with other humans (more in common with Indo-European religions than Semitic religions). A totally abstract God could seem more distant – how does He/She know what it is to face the trials of humanity? Whereas if God has had a human incarnation, He does understand. It’s no surprise that many saints were imported in from previous Indo-European religions either. Not to mention the worship of the Virgin in Catholicism.

    I’ve always thought it is silly of some IslamistsANYONE to give the time of day to Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites.

    Amen to that, brother.

  5. Dave Bath said

    Actually, this thread of comments is veering into a post I’m planning on Origen (unitarian) v Athanasios (trinitarian).

    It’s good to see there are other non-Christians who are well versed in Christian theology!

    ’til next time, sister.

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