Many of us are convinced that language has been a weapon of mass destruction during Israel’s four years of war. But wait a second –– what’s the name of that war, anyway? Israelis can’t figure it out. For a while HaMatzav, or the situation, was the Hebrew euphemism of choice. Last month, the Jerusalem Post actually ran a name-that-war item, with the headline, “rename the intifada,” indicating that even the J-Post editors couldn’t think of an English or Hebrew word that matched the perfect branding of the Arabic word. Some Jews call this war “the terror,” and cringe when euphemisms are found for that as well.Daniel Okrent, the New York Times ombudsman, monitor of internal critique and public complaint, wrote in his Sunday column on March 6, that he’s found that “nothing provokes as much rage as what many perceive to be The Times’ policy on the use of ‘terrorist,’ ‘terrorism’ and ‘terror.’ There is no policy, actually,” and except in direct quotations, or regarding al Qaeda, these words “show up very rarely.”
For many pro-Israel readers, writes Okrent, “variants of the T-word have become the stand-in for the Israel-Palestine conflict itself,” while pro-Palestinian readers argue that any Israeli response is terror too.And, Okrent asks, what about the value judgments inherent in “pro-Israeli” and “pro-Palestinian”? He recognizes that “targeted assassinations,” and “settlers” are also loaded words.Some on the right have complained that “settlement” implies something more easily uprooted than a “town.” Jewish neighborhoods in Hebron and Samaria are always referred to as “settlements,” even though Jews are every bit as native to those places as Native Americans are to the prairie.Okrent quotes Ethan Bronner, the Times’ deputy foreign editor, “We use ‘terrorist’ sparingly because it is a loaded word.
Describing the goals or acts of a group often serves readers better than repeating the term ‘terrorist.’ We make clear that Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel through violence but that it is also a significant political and social force among Palestinians, fielding candidates and running clinics and day-care centers.”But, says Okrent, the Times’ “earnest effort to avoid bias can desiccate language and dilute meaning.” He quotes former Jerusalem bureau chief James Bennet, “The calculated bombing of students in a university cafeteria, or of families gathered in an ice cream parlor, cries out to be called what it is. I wanted to avoid the political meaning that comes with ‘terrorism,’ but I couldn’t pretend that the word had no usage at all in plain English.”Bennet, writes Okrent, came to believe that “not to use the term began to seem like a political act in itself,” and Okrent adds, “I agree… there’s something uncomfortably fearful, and inevitably self-defeating, about struggling so hard to avoid it.”
The New York Times Magazine on March 13, Bennet, in a solid look at the Palestinians in the post-Arafat era, describes Palestine as a place where the rules are “those of a place that is not wholly real, that is dreamlike and a little scary — an Oz at once remembered and mythic with a small number, yet more than its share, of flying monkeys.”He writes, “I was impressed by the absence of passion about Arafat’s death. … Visitors came to the grave, but by the handful. Their mood tended to be reflective.” They were fatherless but not leaderless; Arafat was gone when still alive.New Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas “may look like the one-eyed man in the land of the blind,” pushing the idea that that violence has failed. Many Israeli and Jewish papers have been trumpeting Israel’s “victory” in this war, but Bennet, by contrast, observes that “violence is likely to remain at hand. … Although the outside world sees the intifada as purely a disaster for the Palestinians,” violence “seems to have succeeded, at a high cost. It has resulted in something… the actual evacuation of Israeli settlements.” And so Palestinians are referring to the halt in violence not as simply “a tahdiyah — a ‘lull.’ ” Abbas’ best ally, observes Bennet, is “the exhaustion of his people.”In U.S. News & World Report on March 14, Mort Zuckerman is more anxious for the once and future Jewish dead. “How long is Israel willing to bleed for Abu Mazen [Abbas]?”
The recent bombing in Tel Aviv “highlights the price Israel is paying by reducing its military operations in order to give [Abbas] time to build up his strength.” He cites the anti-Semitic rhetoric “that spews endlessly from [Palestinian] TV… Listen to the words of hate, and you’d never guess there’s a cease-fire.”
James Taranto, The Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web” online columnist (reprinted in abridged form in The New York Sun) is intelligent, scathing and flat-out funny, consistently skewering Arab hypocrisy and anti-Semitism. Like Zev Chafets, who has left the Daily News to write a book and freelance, Taranto is one of those rare supporters of Israel who has kept his sense of humor and his confidence despite wartime, convinced that current events will eventually have a happy ending, so why not have fun and tweak the bad guys?
Taranto will be participating in two free media workshops for college students, sponsored by CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, at Columbia University on April 3 and New York University on April 4. For information call (888) 736-3672 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.Taranto cares more about being right than being fair, as opposed to C-SPAN, which in its zeal to be fair teaches us that fairness can be fraudulent if pursued too piously.
For example, columnist Richard Cohen, writing in The Washington Post on March 15, reports that C-SPAN recently decided it ought to balance a broadcast of a lecture by Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust scholar, with a broadcast of a lecture by David Irving, the Holocaust denier. Several years ago, Irving tried to silence Lipstadt’s attacks on his scholarship by filing a libel case that he lost.Cohen quotes a C-SPAN executive, “You know how important fairness and balance is at C-SPAN. We work very, very hard at this. We ask ourselves, ‘Is there an opposing view of this?’ ” Hence the “view” that Auschwitz didn’t happen.Cohen writes, “C-SPAN’s cockeyed version of fairness … is so mindless that I thought for a moment its producers and I could not be talking about the same thing. … For a book on the evils of slavery, would it counter with someone who thinks it was a benign institution?” This is “a victory for ‘balance’ that only the truly unbalanced could applaud.”