Labels, Lies and Libel: Words and Weapons

April 7, 2014

10 min read


I used to wonder why Chazal (Chachamim Zichronam L’Vracha), the wise sages of Jewish tradition, would spend so much time emphasizing the evils of, Lashon HaRah, a transgression that includes such things as gossip, slander, and a variety of other misuses of speech. It always seemed that relatively speaking, there were so many more terrible ills in the world, horrific tragedies and heinous crimes. Why was it that Lashon HaRah so thoroughly captured the attention of these ancient sages? Why is it that the misuse of language comprises nearly half of the misdeeds that Jews annually confess on the High Holy Days?

The sages undoubtedly took their cue from the great displeasure that G-d showed Miriam for speaking badly about her brother Moses (Numbers 12:1-15). She was punished with the dreaded disease of Tzara’at, often likened to leprosy.

The childhood axiom about sticks and stones comes to mind with its reassurances that the cruel things people say could cause no harm. And, yet, there was Chazal, our “Sages of Blessed Memory,” emphasizing that “the misuse of speech kills three: the speaker, the listener, and the one about whom the slander is being spread.”

The degree of good versus evil in any generation is determined by what good people will tolerate. And these wise sages recognized that it is the language we use that shapes people’s perception of reality; this, in turn, determines what people will allow.

The classic baseball quip illustrates the point.

The first umpire says: “Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as they are.”

The second umpire says: “Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as I see ‘em.”

The third umpire says:”Some are balls and some are strikes, but they ain’t nothin’ ˜til I call ‘em.”

Language shapes reality. Names, labels, and words have a tremendous influence on outcome and environment.

Unfortunately, there is a whole language that has been fabricated that engulfs discussions of the State of Israel. There is an entire array of duplicitous terms that regularly encases the portrayal of the Jewish state.

And so successfully has been this fabrication and subsequent conditioning, that there is often what amounts to a Pavlovian response to any reference to the State of Israel.

Pavlov’s dogs remind us of the power of classical conditioning, as we see the step-by-step process by which dogs are trained to recognize that food is on the way. By the end of this conditioning, the dogs no longer need to even see the food. All they need is to hear the bell ring, and they begin to salivate for their meal.

Similarly, the language and slander about the Jewish State evoke an automatic, manipulated response to Israel; this, in turn, obscures any honest portrayal or understanding of the country.

There are widely orchestrated efforts to malign the State of Israel, such as that facilitated by those who have manufactured “Israel Apartheid Week,” an abomination which is carried out yearly on various college campuses across the country.  “Apartheid” is one of those words that is regularly misappropriated by those who want to criminalize the Jewish State. The only thing criminal here, besides the slander itself, is that these self-proclaimed human rights activists do not raise their voices to take their accusations to where they rightly belong – against the actual perpetrators of apartheid and suffering in the Middle East.

The Reverand Dr. Kenneth Meshoe, a member of the South African Parliament, wrote the following in The San Francisco Examiner.

On my recent trip to San Francisco, I was deeply disturbed to learn about the posters in The City accusing Israel of apartheid… Those who make the accusation expose their ignorance of what apartheid really is…I am shocked by the claim that the free, diverse, democratic state of Israel practices apartheid. This ridiculous accusation trivializes the word apartheid, minimizing and belittling the magnitude of the racism and suffering endured by South Africans of color…The misapplication of the term apartheid makes a mockery of a grievous injustice and threatens to undermine the true meaning of the term. In my view, Israel is a model of democracy, inclusion and pluralism that can be emulated by many nations, particularly in the Middle East.”

So a man who is intimately aware of the evils of apartheid points out that not only is the label of “apartheid,” which is being peddled regularly to our impressionable college youth every year, an absolute lie, but Israel is a country that is to be emulated. In fact, Israel is the country that best protects and promotes the rights of minorities in the entire region.

While the horrific persecution of Christians has become rampant in the Middle East, and the Christian population is dwindling, Israel is a safe haven. As the Vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad Canon Andrew White says of Israel, it is “the only place in the Middle East [where] Christians are really safe.” In fact, the Christian community in Israel is growing.

In a recent demonstration outside of the European Union embassy in Tel Aviv, protestors rallied against the EU’s silence regarding “the ethnic cleansing of Christians throughout the Middle East.”

Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth, called for an end to these attacks, and thanked “the State of Israel for providing a warm home to Christians.”

During the rally, the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, posted on its Facebook page “there is no place but Israel that is safe for Christians in the Middle East!”

Shadi Khalloul, Spokesman for the Israeli Christian Forum, stated, “We constantly receive reports from our Christian brethren throughout the Middle East imploring that they be helped, envious of our status as Israeli citizens.”

The Israeli Christian Lobby sent a letter to the head of the EU Delegation to Israel, citing the ethnic cleansing of Christians throughout the Arab world, as well as, the hypocrisy and inaction of the EU.

We, the members of the Christian Lobby in Israel… that represent different Christian factions inside the Israeli cities and villages, found it appropriate to turn to you and cry out about the human and citizens’ rights condition of our Christian brothers across the Middle East…The lack of taking real steps by the European and Western countries and the continuation of the horrifying condition pales, opposed to the double standards and the hypocrisy of Europe and the West towards the State of Israel, the Jewish and democratic country that provides freedom of religion, human rights and defense to every religious and ethnic minority. There is no doubt that the safest and most free place for Christians, as well as other minorities in the Middle East, is the State of Israel… the double standards and hypocrisy displayed towards Israel, as opposed to the lack of steps taken for the Christians in the Arab countries, in the Middle East, bring into question the sincerity of the declarations and intentions of the European and Western countries regarding human rights and humanism. It seems that the treatment towards Israel is a cover up for the failure of the west in the Middle East, failures that allow the continuing of the crimes and atrocities against Christians… From here, from the State of Israel…we the members of the Israeli Christian lobby are calling out “NO MORE”, we will no longer be silent. No more to the abandonment of Christians in the Middle East. No more to the double standards and hypocrisy. And yes to taking action for the persecuted Christian minority.”

Contrast that reality with the labels, lies, and libel that people regularly hear about the State of Israel.

Since the founding of the modern State of Israel, Israel has built a thriving country that protects the rights of its citizens, protects freedom of religion and ensures that all religions have access to their religious sites – something that was not allowed when Israel was not governing Jerusalem. Israel protects a free press, minority rights, and women’s rights in a part of the world where such rights and protections are alien. Minorities participate in all areas of civic life, serving as professionals in all fields, as justices, and as diplomats.

Last spring, Dr. Mais Ali Saleh, a 27-year-old Muslim-Arab woman from a village in the Galilee near Nazareth, graduated valedictorian of her medical school class at the Technion, “Israel’s MIT,” and oldest university.

The protection and help that Israel extends to others does not stop at Israel’s borders.

MASHAV (Center for International Cooperation), an organization which operates under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for decades has been exporting Israeli innovations and sharing with developing countries knowledge of the technologies that helped in Israel’s own development.

Israel regularly brings children and medical personnel from developing countries as part of their Save a Child’s Heart (SACHS) mission. Thousands of youngsters have received emergency heart care from volunteer doctors in Israel. Cardiac surgery and care is provided in Israeli hospitals, while the medical professionals from the visiting countries are trained so that they can bring this knowledge home.

In 2010, Israel was among those who immediately sent relief and rescue units to Haiti after the earthquake.

In response to the typhoon in the Philippines in 2013, Israel dispatched a 150-member delegation, as well as, 100 tons of humanitarian and medical supplies in aid. The Israeli field hospital became the central medical facility in the area, treating on average over 300 patients a day.

Whether in the Ziv Medical Center in Tzfat, the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, Poriya Hospital in Tiberias,  Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, or the field hospital in the Golan Heights, to date, Israel has given medical care to hundreds of Syrians who have been wounded in the war in Syria.

This is the reality of modern Israel: a nation that has rebuilt her ancestral homeland and which continually reaches out a hand to contribute compassionately the world over.

Occupation” and “Illegal Jewish Settlement”- these, too, are words that are deceitfully applied with regularity to Israel. People see these words in various newspapers, many of which, when it comes to Israel, seem to relinquish any sense of responsibility for checking the accuracy of their statements. People hear this slander from international leaders who, at best, unthinkingly parrot the tired mantras about Israel, and, at worst, are actively aiding in the effort to wrest the Jewish homeland away from the Jewish people by verbally rewriting history and denigrating the Jewish State.

In the Land of Israel, the regions of Samaria and Judea represent the spiritual center of Jewish history. The roots of the Jewish people are found throughout Judea and Samaria, with each city and holy site therein reflecting the history of the people of Israel in the land of Israel. There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the Land of Israel from ancient times until today. This Jewish presence began in Judea and Samaria, the birthplace of the Jewish nation.

In a complete affront to Jewish rights and Jewish history, the Arab armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan (as Jordan was initially called), Syria, and Iraq attacked Israel after Israel declared her independence in 1948. Jordan then illegally occupied Judea and Samaria, expelled all of the Jewish communities from these regions, barred any further Jewish access to these areas and holy sites, and attempted at that time to rename the region the “West Bank,” a generic, geographic label that conveniently obscures all of the Jewish history that took place there.

Under the nineteen years of Jordan’s illegal occupation, the city of Jerusalem was divided in two for the first time in history. The Jews, who had been living as a majority in Jerusalem since the middle of the previous century, were expelled by the Jordanians and barred from those areas that were within the walls of the Old City, where the holiest Jewish sites are found.

In 1967, besieged by hostile Arab armies, Israel liberated and recovered the regions of Samaria and Judea and reunited the city of Jerusalem.

Despite the Jewish roots that go back four millennia, to the very beginning of Jewish history, Jewish towns within Judea and Samaria, this cradle of Jewish civilization, are regularly mischaracterized as “illegal.” Many are trying to ban Jews from these regions, labeling them “occupied.” Many apply these labels, as well, to Judaism’s most sacred city of Jerusalem, to precisely those areas in which the holiest Jewish sites are found.

“Occupation” refers to the holding and control of an area by a foreign force.  Given that the Land of Israel was never the sovereign country of any nation but the Jewish one, and that Jerusalem has served as the capital of only the Jewish nation, Jews cannot be deemed “occupiers” in their own land, a fact affirmed by international law.

The historical and religious rights of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel were affirmed and codified in international law at the San Remo Conference of 1920, a meeting of the Allied Powers of WWI, to decide the future of the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. At this conference, where international agreement was also reached regarding the establishment of other countries in the region, a binding agreement was enacted between these world powers “to reconstitute the ancient Jewish State within its historic borders.”

Recognizing the ancient and continuous historical and spiritual connection between the nation of Israel and the Land of Israel, the San Remo Resolution included the regions of Samaria and Judea as part of the area designated for reestablishing the Jewish National Homeland, along with all the land that is between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, all the land that currently comprises the country of Jordan, as well as, the Golan Heights and Gaza.

This mandate, which was then ratified by a unanimous vote of The League of Nations, affirmed the Jewish right to settle anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which is where these regions of Samaria and Judea are found. This right is enshrined to this day in international law.

Arab national entities were designated for other areas of the former Ottoman Empire. The San Remo Conference, along with various treaties following World War I and World War II, succeeded in establishing independent countries sought by the Arab nationalists; Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan were all established out of what had been provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

Yet, when it came to similarly recognizing the rights of the Jewish nation to the Jewish homeland, there were those who consistently sought to prevent Jewish self-determination and sovereignty in the Jewish ancestral homeland of Israel. This was despite the fact that the world clearly recognized, by international law and treaty, the right of the Jewish nation to reestablish the Jewish National Homeland.

This is the same rejection and subversion of Jewish rights to the Land of Israel that we are seeing today. And a primary tactic of Israel’s detractors is the misuse of language.

Language is powerful. Much of the harm that is being perpetrated against the State of Israel and the Jewish people today is predicated on carefully crafted lies which engulf discussions of Israel, denigrate the Jewish State, and convey a picture of Israel that is at odds with reality.

To so many who suffer at the hands of the true oppressors in the region, Israel is a symbol and place of freedom and a society to emulate. Yet, the current language that surrounds many discussions of the State of Israel deceitfully peddles an alternate, inverse reality wherein Israel is demonized and criminalized, despite all evidence to the contrary.

As rockets rain down upon southern Israel causing a generation of children to grow up playing in underground playgrounds and running for their lives for the 15 seconds after a red alert sounds; as boycotts and sanctions are regularly threatened and implemented in order to isolate, denigrate, and criminalize the Jewish state; as relentless pressure is brought to bear on the Jewish people to forfeit their heartland and homeland where Jews have lived for thousands of years, forfeit the one Jewish state among 21 Arab states; as Israel is repeatedly threatened with annihilation by her neighbors; the prophetic wisdom of those ancient sages, who recognized the mortal danger of libel, is clear.

Reprinted with author’s permission

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