The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

Musings about politics, religion, law, art and marriage - what else is there?

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Saturday, January 18, 2003
Sixth Street soliloquy

Naomi and I have a friend over this weekend; I'm currently taking a break from my duties as host, but we're about to take her to a show and then to eat at Rose of India on 308 East Sixth Street.

Yes, I've heard all the jokes about Sixth Street, and about how all the Indian restaurants on the block between First and Second Avenue share one long kitchen. I've been going to Rose of India since I was sixteen, though, and I keep bringing people back. In part, this is for sentimental reasons - it's where my first real girlfriend took me on our first date - but the place is also fun.

The recipes are the old standards, with none of the twists of newer and more sophisticated Indian restaurants, but Rose of India does them well. The mulligatawny soup, in particular, is better than anyplace else I've been thus far, even in London where such things are supposed to be done right. And there's something intangible about the Bollywood-meets-Christmas lights and mirrors decor, and the 1980s Indian disco that plays every time someone announces a birthday (which is usually three or four times a night).

From time to time, I've seen speculation that the growth of more authentic Indian cuisine in New York will kill Sixth Street - but it won't, any more than regional Chinese food has killed Chinese take-out. There'll always be room for something inexpensive, familiar and fun.

State of the stalemate

Amos Harel discusses the strategic situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

Friday, January 17, 2003
I've seen the future, and it speaks English

Zack Ajmal (whose blog you should be reading, if you aren't already) links to an interesting Pakistani op-ed article about the effect of "bin Ladenism" on the Islamic world. One of the most interesting things about the article, though, wasn't its content but the fact that Zack didn't have to translate it - it appeared in Dawn, Pakistan's largest English-language newspaper.

Recent years have seen a profusion of English-language media throughout the world; it's no longer even unusual to see English-language newspapers and magazines published in countries where English is not an official language. Possibly the greatest concentration of these, paradoxically, is in the region that is commonly stereotyped as being the most resistant to American and Western culture: the Arab world. Egypt has several, including such venerable publications as Al-Ahram and the Cairo Times. In the Levant, there's the Jordan Times, the Palestine Chronicle and the Daily Star of Lebanon. Other English-language Arab publications include the Arab News of Saudi Arabia, the Times of Oman, the Gulf News and Khaleej Times in the UAE, and the Yemen Times - and this probably isn't a complete list.

In some respects, the concentration of English-language media in Arab countries is a legacy of British colonialism. With the exception of the Daily Star and the Arab News, each of these papers is published in a country that was once under British domination and where English has persisted as a semi-official language. English-language Arab media, however, are not only a remnant of the British Empire but a connection with the worldwide Arab diaspora, many of whose members reside in English-speaking countries. The Daily Star, in particular - which is published in a country where the first language is Arabic and the second is French - is targeted at members of the Lebanese diaspora, which is the largest in the Arab world and may number five times the population of Lebanon itself. The other two great Arab diasporas - the Coptic and Palestinian - also reside disproportionately in countries where English is spoken and maintain a connection to the homeland through English media, particularly as the second and third generations lose the Arabic language.

It is likely that diaspora connections also account for Dawn itself, along with the Iran Daily and Tehran Times of Iran. In Israel, the connection is two ways. Not only do half a million Israelis reside in the United States and Canada, but there is also a large English-speaking immigrant population in Israel - and the British colonial legacy also plays a part. The Jerusalem Post was founded during the Mandatory period by American immigrant Gershon Agron, and the country's oldest daily, Ha'aretz, has subsequently instituted an English edition.

In the other primary concentration of English-language newspapers, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, likely owes less to diaspora ties than to the presence of large expatriate communities in the countries of publication. The Sofia Echo, the Warsaw Voice, the Baltic Times, the Budapest Sun, the St. Petersburg Times and the Moscow Times are all published in cities with significant populations of expatriate businessmen and technocrats - most of whom, even if they do not come from English-speaking countries, are likely to speak English as the default international language. There are also large expatriate populations who read the Taipei Times, the Korea Herald, the Japan Times, the Bangkok Post and the Pattaya Mail - and, in the case of Taiwan and South Korea, the influence of English is enhanced by long-standing political and military ties with the United States. Likewise the Santiago Times of Chile and the Buenos Aires Herald.

One unusual case of English media becoming popular in a French-speaking country has occurred in Rwanda, where two English-language newspapers, the New Times and the Rwanda Herald, have been founded since 1994. The growing popularity of English in Rwanda has its roots in a genocide, but the genocide of 1959 rather than 1994. In this episode, which was in many ways a precursor to the events of 1994, more than 20,000 Tutsi were killed and hundreds of thousands exiled to Uganda and Tanzania. During the 35 years that the Tutsi diaspora existed in those countries, English became its preferred language; the army that fought first the Habyarimana government and then the interahamwe was heavily English-speaking, and the "fifty-niners" who returned after the fall of the Hutu Power government have continued to prefer English. By some accounts, English is starting to replace French as Rwanda's language of wider communication.

It's a good time to be an English speaker. It's possible to get the news from almost any region of the world, published locally and written by informed local journalists - all in your native language.

ADDENDUM: Another reason for the popularity of English in the Persian Gulf states might be the presence of a large Indian community. Both the Khaleej Times in the UAE and the Times of Oman have regular Indian columnists; the Khaleej Times is especially India-oriented in its news coverage and, at a guess, is targeted at the UAE's Indian diaspora.

And you don't even get special sauce

Steve Cuozzo in the New York Post reports on the latest in haute cuisine: DB Bistro Moderne's $50 hamburger. It ain't your mother's Mickey D's:

Standing 4 inches tall, spanning 4 inches across, it is the Elephant King of burgers, compared with which all others are pygmies.

The elements stacked and inserted between halves of a crunchy parmesan and black onion-seed roll could stock a small gourmet shop: braised short ribs and foie gras tucked into the burger, made from first-class beef and pan-seared to a crusty finish; ground horseradish and French mustard; crackling, curly chicory and tomato confit on top and fresh tomato underneath; and, of course, layers of freshly shaved black Provencal truffles - top, bottom and in between.

Those without $50 to burn shouldn't fear; it's still possible to get DB Bistro's "original" burger for only $29.

We're Jews, Jews in space...

Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, blasted off from Cape Canaveral yesterday aboard a 16-day space shuttle mission. This is a momentous event for Israel, but the halachically minded - which may or may not include Col. Ramon - will instantly see the difficulty: a sixteen-day period includes at least two Saturdays. When, exactly, does Shabbat begin in space - and is the picture complicated by the fact that "sunset" on the Space Shuttle will occur approximately every ninety minutes?

As luck would have it, this question was answered last June by Rabbi David Golinkin of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. (At the time, Ramon was scheduled to blast off in July, so the issue was a timely one.) In his Responsum Regarding Space Travel, Rabbi Golinkin noted the lack of prior authority on the subject:

In 1982, Rabbi Bezalel Stern of Vienna published a brief responsum regarding the proper time for prayer, Shabbat and festivals on a spaceship. He concluded by saying that "this is not currently an issue of halakhah l'ma'aseh (practical halakhah) but only of research for the sake of knowledge. Therefore, this brief note is sufficient for now." In 1980, Rabbi Solomon Freehof (1892-1990) also thought that this was a theoretical question. Twenty years have passed and this is now a question of halakhah l'ma'aseh.

Before he could get to Shabbat and festival times, however, Rabbi Golinkin had to determine whether space travel itself was permissible. He concluded that it was, "as long as the motive is research and investigation and not to challenge God's authority in the universe." (Prior discussion, not surprisingly, had centered on the fall of the Tower of Babel, which represented mankind's first attempt to "ascend to the heavens." Interestingly enough, though, there doesn't seem to have been any discussion of the significance of Genesis 1:28, which gives human beings dominion over the earth. I suppose that won't come into play until people start thinking about establishing space colonies, although the "research and investigation" requirement would also seem to rule out permanent habitations. Orthodox Jewish science fiction authors, take note.)

Rabbi Golinkin then made two conclusions: that kashruth was required in space (an obligation which, he noted, was made possible by the use of pre-packaged kosher foods in the military), and that Jewish astronauts are required to observe Shabbat and the festivals. But when?

The rabbi rejected the two most extreme positions - that space travel was entirely forbidden because of uncertainty about festival times, or that observance should be excused entirely. He also discounted the idea that each orbit should be counted as a day: "an astronaut who prays three times every ninety minutes and observes Shabbat every nine hours will indeed be exhausted... and unable to perform any of his duties [and] the purpose of Shabbat is to rest after six 24-hour days of work and not every nine hours!" His ruling, instead, was that "Jewish astronauts should observe Shabbat, festivals and daily prayer according to local time in Houston." His reasons:

1. Simple logic. All astronauts set their watches by Houston time. Otherwise they would spend all of their time in space changing the time on their watches as Rabbi Sheloosh would require.

2. Secondly, we have a classic source for dealing with a similar situation. We have learned in Shabbat 69b: "A person lost in the desert who doesn't know when it is Shabbat, counts six days and rests on the seventh". In other words, when you are in a place where normal time divisions don't exist, you arbitrarily adopt a method for observing Shabbat after six 24-hour days.

3. Finally, we have a clear precedent for Shabbat in space, as already hinted above. Since the eighteenth century, rabbis have discussed how to observe Shabbat in "inner America", Norway, Sweden, Alaska, Iceland and other areas where the sun does not rise or set for months on end. Polar days are unusually long; space days are unusually short – but the general problem is similar.

Curiously enough, Rabbi Golinkin's ruling was somewhat inconsistent with the advice of an earlier and no less eminent authority: Sol the Answer Man of the Baltimore Jewish Times. In Do They Keep Kosher on Mars?, a collection of columns published in 1990, he discussed candle-lighting time on the moon:

Shabbat starts for Jewish tourists on the moon at the same earth time as it would start at their point of origin - Cape Canaveral, no doubt, since until recently, the Soviets have tended to fling their Jews into jail, not into space.

Rabbi Golinkin accepted the idea that Jewish astronauts should be guided by earth time, but used the Houston home base rather than Cape Canaveral as the point of reference. So the Answer Man didn't have the right answer about the halacha of space travel - but he should still get points for correctly guessing Col. Ramon's point of takeoff.

(Suggested by QS)

Thursday, January 16, 2003
Sometimes I can't resist the urge to fisk...

... especially when the victim is Professor Michael Neumann of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. (No, not the Michael Neumann who's treasurer of Temple Israel of Akron, Ohio.) Neumann, who "grew up in Jewish culture and... [came] to dislike it", is very probably the worst offender at Counterpunch, a publication that is to Israel what Arutz Sheva is to Hamas. Not only does Neumann make Alexander Cockburn look like Meir Kahane, but the sheer smugness and snideness of his commentary makes me want to throw a brick through my computer screen.

At times, he crosses the line into outright anti-Semitism - although, given his caution that "we should almost never take antisemitism seriously, and maybe we should have some fun with it," that may only be a bit of whimsy. He also claims to have "benefitted" from the writings of Israel Shamir - an anti-Semite of the blood-libel variety who even Hussein Ibish regards as beyond the pale.

And in case you haven't figured out his views on terrorism by now, he's stated that "Palestinian terrorism is justified and something we are morally obligated to support." Those who don't support terrorism - not only those who condemn it, but those who don't support it - are, to Neumann's mind, "semi-racists" who fail to acknowledge "what millions of reasonable and well-informed people in the non-Western world don't fear to say." The reason for this is, naturally, that "every single Israeli Jew, down to and including the children, are instruments wielded against the Palestinian people."

(Anyone who thinks these quotes are taken out of context is welcome to read the original articles, although even the most pro-Palestinian among you might find them hard to take.)

I ran across his latest while doing background research for my essay on language use; I expected a bravura performance, and I was not disappointed. The article masquerades as a debunking of the myth that Jews control America - and he debunks it. Sort of. He coyly repeats the accusation that American Jewish support of Israel "raises questions about the ultimate loyalties" of Jews in public life, but concludes that, well, those Jews don't run everything after all. He also gives the lie to the notion that pro-Palestinian activists are "silenced" by Jewish power, telling them to "ask a Chinese or Iraqi or former Chilean dissident what 'silenced' means."

That's not so bad, is it? Maybe not - until you get to the reason he thinks that Jewish control is exaggerated. Neumann's argument, in a nutshell, is that the United States just isn't bloodthirsty enough to be Jewish-controlled:

Were Jewish media influence as important as many would have us believe, the Jews have had done with it a long time ago. Israel would already have wiped out or expelled every single Palestinian. A Zionist US government would have suppressed all anti-Israel material as 'hate literature' or terrorist propaganda, overthrown every pro-Palestinian Arab government, and used American troops to deal with the consequences. That this hasn't happened is symptomatic of a deep incoherence within the view that Jews don't control everything, but only the crucial things. If the things were really crucial, Jews really would control everything after all.

All right. The usual way to test theories like this is to use a control, and there happens to be a convenient one available - a country where there is a Zionist government, and where Jews not only run the media but everything else. Neumann may have heard of it - it's called "Israel."

Out of 120 sitting members of the Israeli Knesset, there are precisely none who favor "wiping out every single Palestinian," and support for expulsion is confined to the far right. Despite all that Jewish bloodlust running through Israeli veins, every political party from Likud on left, and all the credible candidates for prime minister, accepts the notion of Palestinian self-determination. But I suppose that's all a shanda for the goyim, and all the Avoda and Meretz voters are really closet Kahanists who would support Herut if only the American Jews could cover their backs.

Well, what about the other charge? Does the Zionist government of Israel suppress all criticism or anti-Zionist material as "'hate literature?' or terrorist propaganda?" Read the Weekly Review of the Israeli Arab press - or, for that matter, Ha'aretz - and find out. But American Jews, evidently, are a different sort, and wouldn't stand for any of that nonsense.

So why aren't American Jews lobbying for all those things, right this minute? America is a democracy, after all. There's a free press and an open political system here. If American Jews want Israel to wipe out every Palestinian (against the wishes of the Israelis, but we'll let that pass), where are the letters to the editor and the political action committees?

Silly me. It's because Jews have to play to their audience, of course:

... that's why you don't see Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the widowed, retired Israeli paratrooper, raining fire and death on the leering Palestinian thugs who killed his children and gang-raped Selma Hayek, their beloved Israeli Arab nanny.

Funny. There's plenty of media in the United States that's by and for Jews, and targeted specifically to Jewish interests. There are lots of Jewish newspapers out there - I've written for several of them. There are Jewish cable access shows, which I've covered a time or two. Not many non-Jews read or see them, and it's a safe bet that the opinions expressed there are the real thing. In all the time I've monitored the Jewish media, I've never seen a movie like that - although Salma Hayek can be my nanny any time she wants - and this week's opinion columns in my alma mater, the Jewish Week, show a notable lack of clamoring for genocide.

The main thrust of Neumann's message, however, isn't really addressed to the Jews at all. Having concluded that Jews don't run America, he reasons that the "real culprits" of American foreign policy are "the Americans" - which appears to be a category that doesn't include American Jews. And the crime of the Americans? "Letting the Jews have their way."

Yes, he uses those words. "The Americans have let the Jews have their way."

Wait a minute. If American Jews "have their way," then doesn't this contradict what he said earlier about Jews not being in charge, not to mention about Jewish bloodlust? Neumann is ready with a handy answer - that it's "helpful to conceive of Jewish power in America somewhat like eunuch power in the Ottoman Empire." I had the balls to read on:

The Ottoman Empire never looked like some great machine turning out treats for eunuchs. The eunuchs simply took a certain limited advantage of the power vacuums appeared in a decaying, increasingly ignorant and feckless ruling circle. If anyone trembled before these neutered potentates, it was only at the good pleasure of the society that bought or castrated them in the first place.

"Bought or castrated?" I hadn't thought that this was an either-or proposition for eunuchs. At any rate, I have my doubts that an open political system with the checks and balances built into the United States constitution can be meaningfully compared to the Sublime Porte in terms of backdoor influence. Nor can an administration with as much experience and as many advanced degrees as the current one be called "ignorant." (Feckless, maybe.) The American government isn't a collection of seraglio-spoiled sultans to be manipulated by Jews, at least not outside the conspiracy theories to which Neumann says he doesn't subscribe.

Not that Jewish "eunuch power" is a problem without a solution. If the crime of "the Americans" is to "let the Jews have their way," then the obvious solution is not to let the Jews have their way. Jewish eunuch power must be emasculated, and the answer is more "reporting on Jewish activities in America:"

But what is needed is not yet another list of the Jewish court jesters hired by the American establishment, or the groups that lobby for policies the US government anyway wants to promote. Nor do we need more dark hints based on collections of scattered facts rather than serious comparative data. Far more revealing and just as damning would be the story of how ordinary Jews either applaud the worst Israeli crimes, or deplore them and support Israel anyway, or denounce them with rhetoric that somehow never gets around to advocating anything that would stop them. It is a story that just lies there, ready and waiting to be told.

You may have seen paragraphs like this before, coming from the right. If the above doesn't look familiar, substitute "Muslims" for "Jews." If Neumann came across one of the right-wing screeds about how "ordinary Muslims" should be watched, and how they are obligated to support everything the Bush administration does at the risk of being labeled traitors, I'd bet the rent that he'd condemn it - rightly - as racist. But "ordinary Jews" who refuse to denounce Israel are evidently legitimate targets.

It's enough to make me doubt what Professor Neumann said about growing up in Jewish culture and coming to dislike it. He dislikes it, certainly, but I can't imagine how anyone who grew up with Jewish culture could have such a warped idea of what it is.

For those who didn't catch it on the comment board

Letter from Gotham is back, with a cracking good debunking of the myth that "transfer" of Palestinian Arabs is a humane option.

The language of the Israeli-Arab conflict, part 4

When Ikram Saeed gave me the inspiration for this series, I intended it to be a single article. Even after years of reading Middle East coverage - and taking most of it with a grain of salt - I hadn't quite realized how mutable language could be, and how much could be conveyed through choice of words alone.

Although I believe I have analyzed some of the most common politically loaded terms, the extraordinary polarization of the Middle East conflict means that nearly any word can be subject to political interpretation. I have not discussed, for instance, the use of titles or epithets to describe political leaders, although a great deal can sometimes be implied from whether Yasir Arafat is addressed as "Chairman Arafat," "President Arafat," "the arch-terrorist Arafat" or simply "Arafat." (Likewise, if someone uses the title "war criminal Sharon" rather than "Prime Minister Sharon," he probably isn't a supporter of Israel, and if he says "Arik," he's probably William Safire.) I haven't addressed explicit ethnic or political slurs (e.g., "Zionazi" or "Paleosimian"), or intramural uses of language such as the labels the Israeli left and right give each other or Hamas' take on Sari Nusseibeh.

I also haven't discussed the political manipulation of history (with the single exception of "apartheid," where historical context is part of the definition of the term). The focus of this series of articles has been on language, and the way the meanings of words have been changed or political usages have been adopted in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The accuracy of history and the accuracy of words are two different things. Barry Meislin, for instance, commented (here, here, here and here) that excessive focus on the occupation without discussion of its historical context and root causes is misleading. (He also coined the word "rebuffal.") To a great extent, I agree. However, the term "occupation" remains equally accurate whether the occupation is discussed in or out of context. Any omission of issues like the Six Day War, the intifada and current terror attacks when discussing the occupation is one of history, not language.

It is also important to keep in mind that not every political use of language is a misuse of language. In some cases, politically significant terms are accurate, giving writers a choice of terms they can use to express political sympathies without sacrificing meaning. For instance, a 16-year-old Israeli killed in a terror attack or a 16-year-old Palestinian killed in a crossfire can be described with equal accuracy as a "child," a "teenager" or a "youth." Other terms may be accurate from the point of view of the speaker - it's justifiable for a Palestinian to refer to the Israeli War of Independence as the "Nakba," because, for the Palestinians, that's exactly what it was. These are not improper uses of language, although even those who use accurate terms should be aware of the potential political implications of their choice of words.

Misuse of language occurs when a term is used to mean something it does not mean, or when an inaccurate or less accurate term is used in preference to an accurate one for political reasons. "Homicide bomber" is a misuse of language, as is referring to Israel as "genocidal" or an "apartheid state." These are words that inherently mislead rather than clarify or explain.

As is apparent from the discussion in parts 1 through 3 of this essay, both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have abused language. I've noticed, however, that more misuse appears to come from the pro-Palestinian side than the pro-Israeli side. In part, this is due to sheer weight of numbers - the Palestinians have the support of more media outlets and activists (especially in the Arab world) than the Israelis, so they have had more opportunities to change the meaning of words. There is also, however, a greater nihilism and radicalism in Palestinian society, and a more Manichaean view of the conflict, than in Israel - call it either the fruits of desperation or radicalism, as you will - and this has extended to the use of language.

This would be the end of the matter, except that I am blessed with an extraordinarily intelligent and active readership, who weighed in with a number of comments and additional suggestions. Several people disagreed with Paul Pillar's definition of "terrorism." Gavin Weaire, for instance, had:

... an issue with part 3 of the terrorism definition. It excludes the majority of IRA activity - and I'd tend to think that there's something wrong with a definition of "terrorism" that would suggest that one of the world's best-known terrorist organizations was for the most part, not "terrorist."

I'm not sure that terrorism can be defined very precisely (beyond political violence) but one element in the definition should perhaps be that the act of political violence frequently has as its aim communication (sending a message of continued defiance, drawing attention to a cause, inspiring fear etc.) rather than something more concrete.

Ikram Saeed had a different disagreement, with part 4 of the definition:

[S]houldn't the piece of rhetoric (otherwise known as a "word") attached to an act be related to the nature of the act itself, rather than the nature of the party that carried it out.

In practice, state actors would still mostly not be terrorist, as they do not generally use the same anti-civilian tactics. But is a state does something anti-civilian, shouldn't it be branded with the T-word just like everyone else.

To which Gavin answered:

I'd prefer not to call state atrocities terrorism. This is basically a matter of keeping the terminology clear for me: "terrorist organization" would tend to become a very fuzzy, not very useful term if it were not confined to non-state actors.


I'd agree with you that equivalent state acts of violence are just as bad: worse, in some ways. But terminologically speaking, I'd prefer that they be in another category.

I'm partly reacting to the definitional creep of "terrorist" to mean simply "bad killing"; I'd like it defined narrowly, technically, and with the acceptance that there's plenty of immoral killing out there that isn't terrorism.

8opus also argues that state action should be excluded from the definition of terrorism, and makes the point that "one man's freedom fighter" is still a terrorist if he satisfies the applicable criteria.

Many of Gavin's, Ikram's and 8opus' points are cogent; I also have reservations about a definition of terrorism that does not include state actors. Ultimately, however, I believe that there are enough differences between state and non-state terrorism, both in methods and goals - state actors generally seek to prevent rather than cause political change - that they should be classified separately. Classifying direct state actions as terrorism also raises the possibility of confusion with state sponsorship of foreign, non-governmental terrorist groups.

I agree with Ikram, though, that terrorism should be confined to actions against civilian rather than military targets. Attacks against military targets are designed to cause political change in a more direct manner - through weakening of military strength and morale rather than through causing fear in the general population. The IRA, which attacked both military and civilian targets, is arguably an example of a group that combined the tactics of guerrilla warfare and terrorism. It's possible for a group to be more than one thing at the same time.

Miranda had a different objection to the terrorism discussion:

The important thing to understand about terrorism is the difference between the "legal" and the "academic" definitions: While the former needn't bother the general public - sorry, Jonathan - all too much, it is the latter ("practical definition" would describe it better) that should cause serious concern to everyone.

The gist of the "academic" definition is that terrorism is:

an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.

This is, I think, an overly broad definition of terrorism. By including actions undertaken for criminal purposes, it encompasses, for instance, a hit on a member of a Mafia don's family. (I'm not sure the "idiosyncratic" qualification needs to be there either - most "idiosyncratic reasons" can probably be shoehorned into the "political" category.) It's arguably a step along the slippery slope that Gavin mentioned toward equating terrorism with "bad killing." I'd prefer to confine it to the political realm and - for the reasons mentioned above - to non-state actors.

Also, the legal definition remains important on a day-to-day basis because that is what triggers the rights and responsibilities of nations under international law. Unfortunately - as is evident from the number of differing views on the subject of terrorism - there is neither a clear legal definition of terrorist acts nor a clear understanding of the scope of governments' right to fight terrorism. Formulating a new convention to deal with this method of warfare is among the urgent tasks of the international community in the twenty-first century.

Al-Muhajabah responded to my comment on the capitalization of "occupation" by arguing that it was an acceptable usage if the occupation in question was previously identified:

In a previous sentence... I had mentioned that I was talking about an occupation in the context of Israel and Palestine. By the normal rules of usage, any subsequent reference to "the Occupation" should be understood in that context. It's true that some people don't like capitalization in this type of usage, but it's fairly standard as far as I can see (an example being "the president of the United States" and later "the President").

This is a good point. If the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is identified by name at the beginning of an article, then subsequent references to "the Occupation" (such as al-Muhajabah's) are not political. However, many sources simply refer to "the Occupation" without prior identification, as if the occupation in question is readily apparent. This does imply, at least to my mind, that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the only one or that it is qualitatively different from other occupations. I'll keep in mind, though, that capitalizations after an initial identification are another story.

Miranda also raised a question with respect to the term "occupation" - does it have a definition in international law at all? Throughout my discussion of "occupation" as used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I assumed that it had a commonly understood definition and that this definition could be accurately applied to the Israeli military presence in the West Bank and Gaza.

The only attempt to define "occupation" in international law exists in Article 42 of the Hague Convention of 1907, which states that "[t]erritory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army." This definition, however, appears to have been conceived in the context of a wartime occupation rather than a prolonged peacetime military presence. A broader definition might be derived from Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which defines the class of protected persons to include those who find themselves in the hands of "an Occupying Power of which they are not nationals." Professor Eyal Benvenisti has advocated an even broader conception under which "the definition of occupation is effective control."

A synthesis of these definitions, and one which I think comes close to the generally accepted understanding of "occupation," is that an occupation exists when a state maintains military control of territory outside its internationally recognized borders. By this measure, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza qualifies, as do the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus and, until recently, the Libyan occupation of the Central African Republic. The Chinese military presence in Tibet, on the other hand, probably does not qualify, because Tibet is internationally recognized as part of China; that, like the Turkish military actions against the Kurds that Miranda mentioned, is probably best classified as a response to domestic unrest. Indonesian military presence in Irian Jaya is in a gray area given the dubious legality of the 1969 "Act of Free Choice" that led to the province's annexation. In any event, my original point stands: Israel's military presence in the West Bank and Gaza is an occupation, but it is not the only one.

A number of other people also commented or suggested political terms. Errol Cavit noted that the word "holocaust," like "genocide," is often misused in the Israeli-Arab context - an abuse that is particularly poignant given that the word is usually used to refer to the murder of six million Jews. Andrew Lazarus pointed out that the acronym "Yesha" for Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria) has a meaning independent of the words from which it is derived, and also distinguished between Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem's Old City and subsequently-annexed Arab villages with respect to pre-1947 demographics.

Finally, while I've concentrated on those words that are commonly understood to have political meaning, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that some extremists consider the very terms "Israeli" and "Palestinian" to be political. Haggai Elitzur, in his first-hand account of a divestment conference at the University of Michigan, described the way South African journalist Na'eem Jeenah "said that he regretted referring to 'the political entity called Israel' and apologized up front to 'those who are uncomfortable with that.'" In a like vein, there are those on the Israeli far right who use terms such as "so-called Palestinians" and charging Palestinians with being an "artificial" ethnic group - terms that ignore the fact that all ethnic groups are created and that, regardless of whether Palestinians existed in 1900, they exist now.

In a way, these may be the most fundamental linguistic abuses of all. If Middle East dialogue does not begin with a recognition of the other side's existence, there isn't much to talk about.

Man bites dog, yet again

Courtesy of Stefan Sharkansky: Saeed and Nasser Salameh, two Palestinians who converted from Islam to Christianity, escaped from a Palestinian Authority prison and have asked for asylum from Israel. The two, one of whom was an active member of Fatah, claim to have been tortured and accused of being Israeli collaborators. Thus far, Israel has issued them a 30-day residency permit, but Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) has requested that they be granted full asylum. The two eventually hope to emigrate to France.

Token reminders

The New York City Transit Authority has decided to hold hearings on eliminating the subway token. For more than half a century, tokens have been the coin of the realm in the New York subways, but in the five years since the entire transit system began accepting Metrocards, token use has declined to the point where the transit barons no longer believe them necessary. Eliminating tokens will allow the Transit Authority to cut costs by closing 177 token booths and replacing them with farecard machines.

Count me as one of those against it. Aside from the fact that Metrocards don't always work - and that they usually act up when you're running to catch a train - tokens are currency. In my starving student days, when I had a token but no money in my pocket, it was usually good for a cup of soup at the diner and twenty cents' change. I had to walk to work those days, but I got fed - tokens were New York City money.

You can't buy a cup of soup with a Metrocard, no matter how many times you swipe it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003
The language of the Israeli-Arab conflict, part 3

This is the third part of my analysis of the use and misuse of words and phrases in discussion of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The fourth and final part will sum up and address issues raised in the comments to the first three.


The use of "transfer" to mean expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza is an almost unique phenomenon in modern discourse about the Middle East conflict. There are numerous instances in which mainstream media, particularly in Europe, have adopted the terminology used by Palestinians, particularly in their substitution of "militant" or "activist" for "terrorist" (q.v.) and the geographic terms used to describe the West Bank and Gaza. The terminology of the Israeli far right has not gained similar acceptance, with the single exception of "transfer." Some right-wing American newspapers such as the New York Post have used the term "homicide bomber" (q.v.), but "transfer" is used widely even among pro-Palestinian media, both in addition to and instead of alternative terms such as "deportation," "expulsion" and "ethnic cleansing."

I'm not sure why this is the case. To some extent, the use of "transfer" by left-wing media appears to be an attempt to make the public aware of the lexicon of the far right, so that they will understand what is meant if they encounter a far-right document advocating deportation. In addition, the word "transfer" is a term of art used in international law; specifically, Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that:

Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.

Thus, in addition to being a far-right euphemism, "transfer" is a legal term that is particularly relevant when citing the Geneva

The word "transfer" has also, to some extent, been appropriated by the far right in Israel as a term for evacuation of the West Bank and Gaza settlements. The lexicon published by Arutz Sheva explains the following use of terminology in its broadcasts:

The codeword "evacuation" is designed to calm the pangs of conscience of those who know that the issue is really one of "expulsion." It furthermore serves to get the public used to the concept of uprooting Jewish settlements. No politician has the courage to recommend an "expulsion order," for it simply sounds illegal and immoral. Instead, the airy term "evacuation" was conceived. Arutz-7 will punctually use the true terms: "expulsion," "uprooting," and even "transfer."

Interestingly enough, the lexicon does not mention "transfer" in any other place, and does not discuss the term as it relates to expulsion of the Arab population from the West Bank and Gaza.


Like "genocide" (q.v.), the term "apartheid" has been defined down in the context of Israeli-Palestinian discourse. This is, to some extent, a function of the defining-down of apartheid by the international community. Apartheid, like genocide, has a definition in international law. Article 7(2)(h) of the Rome Statute defines "the crime of apartheid" as:

inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1, committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

The inhumane acts listed in paragraph 1 include murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment in violation of international law, torture, rape and similar humanitarian violations.

This is a somewhat more expansive definition of "apartheid" than the common understanding of the term, and could conceivably be applied to international conflicts as well as purely domestic forms of oppression such as existed in South Africa. However, as with the legal definition of genocide, the mens rea is important. Moreover, the definition itself requires examination of the "context" of the alleged oppression. Thus, the use of "apartheid" to describe Israel or Israeli policies, even more than "genocide," carries implied connotations of historical fact and context, because it necessarily implies that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a racial conflict and that the purpose of the military occupation of the West Bank is to perpetuate the dominance of one race over another.

As such, it is an inaccurate term. There are endless grounds upon which the morality of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and Israeli policies toward Palestinians, can be debated, but one thing that is clear is that the conflict is not a racial one. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are a racial group; both are nationalities that include a number of ethnic groups and races.

The multiethnicity of Israel, which is a classic nation of immigrants and includes more than a million non-Jewish citizens, is widely recognized, but the Palestinians are also not a monoethnic group. The population of the West Bank and Gaza includes Druze, Circassians and Samaritans as well as the ethnic group normally identified as "Palestinian." The multiethnicity of the Palestinian national concept is further demonstrated by Article 6 of the Palestine National Charter, which states that "Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians." The idea of "Palestinian-ness," as defined by what is currently a governing Palestinian document, is a national rather than a racial one. And, needless to say, Zionism is also a form of nationalism rather than an ideology of racial supremacy or exclusivity.

It's easy to simplify the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into one between Jews and Arabs, but that doesn't quite hold in a world where a Neturei Karta rabbi can serve as a minister in Arafat's government and where the IDF soldiers patrolling the West Bank and Gaza include Druze, Bedouins and even some Palestinian Arabs. Nor, if the conflict were a racial one, would the legal position of Palestinian Arabs within the Green Line be different from the position of those outside it. Finally, the required mens rea - that Israeli policies toward Palestinians be "committed with the intention of maintaining" an institutionalized system of racial oppression - is called into question by the broad support for an eventual Palestinian state across the Israeli political spectrum and security concerns that underlie the maintenance of the occupation. In the current election campaign, all but the furthest-right parties discuss the occupation in terms of security rather than in terms of establishing a "Greater Israel."

Nor does Israel resemble the more conventional understanding of an apartheid state - i.e., one that practices domestic oppression along racial lines. Ian Buruma, despite being a frequent critic of Israel, explains why the apartheid analogy is not

[T]he comparison with South Africa is intellectually lazy, morally questionable, and possibly even mendacious... Inside the state of Israel, there is no apartheid. In proportion to its population, Israel has the largest minority within its borders of any country in the Middle East. The official figure for Copts in Egypt is 10%. Non-Jews, mostly Arab Muslims, make up 20% of the Israeli population, and they enjoy full citizen's rights. Israel is one of the few Middle Eastern states where Muslim women are allowed to vote.

Certainly, Israeli Arabs are not always treated well, though not nearly as badly as the Egyptian Copts, or the few Jews left in the Muslim world. Israeli Arab towns are neglected and, particularly since the latest intifada, public suspicion has led to social discrimination. To make things worse, some politicians make no secret of their desire to remove the Arabs from Israel altogether. But apartheid, however satisfying it is for the morally outraged to think so, it is not.

In sum, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one between nations rather than races. Those who use the term "apartheid" to describe it are sacrificing accuracy in order to make a convenient, one-word political and historical statement and to associate Israel with the universally despised South African apartheid regime. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to question Israeli policies, but apartheid is not one of them.


Many combatants, whether victorious or defeated, rename their wars. In the former Soviet Union, World War II was known as "the Great Patriotic War." Many southern Americans continue to refer to the American Civil War as "the War Between the States." The Palestinians, as well, have their own name for the Israeli War of Independence - al-Nakba, or "the Catastrophe."

Unlike many other Palestinian terms, "al-Nakba" is not widely used in the Western mainstream press. Ironically, most uses of "Nakba" outside Palestinian or Arab media or Palestinian-solidarity groups have occurred at Israeli or Jewish events designed to promote mutual understanding.

"Nakba" would seem to be a natural, politically-significant term to be used by pro-Palestinian media. That it has not become standard among such media outlets is probably due to the fact that it is in a language that is not readily accessible to Western readers, and thus cannot be used without explanation. In any event, the term "Israeli War of Independence" is both readily accessible and politically neutral, as it does not connote any implied judgment as to the validity of either Israeli or Palestinian claims.

Geographic terms.

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the various terms used to describe the West Bank and Gaza. The disputed territories, however, are not the only areas in which geography
can be a political exercise.

There is a notable difference, for instance, between the terms used by pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli media for the mountain upon which the Dome of the Rock stands. Pro-Israeli sources refer to the area as the Temple Mount, while pro-Palestinian sources invariably call it Haram el-Sharif.

Each usage has political implications. The use of "Temple Mount," which is a reference to the two Jewish Temples that stood on the mountain prior to the year 70, calls to mind the ancient historical presence of the Jews in Israel. "Haram el-Sharif" is an implicit denial of those ties, combined with an emphasis that a Muslim mosque stands there now.

Use of Hebrew or Arabic names to connote political or historical claims extends throughout Israel, Palestine and, in some cases, Jordan. For instance, the Arutz Sheva lexicon quoted above states as follows:

Sites with a Hebrew name will be thus cited on Arutz-7. Other media sources may say Amman, while our [Hebrew broadcasts will call it Rabbat Ammon. We will even insist on saying Mt. of Olives, and not Ras el-Amud; Kfar HaShilo'ach [adjacent to the Old City] instead of Silwan; the Mashbir Junction [in northern Jerusalem] and not the A-Ram junction; etc.

A similar process also occurs from the opposite side, through the use of Arab names for villages that have since been annexed to the Jerusalem municipality and become Jewish neighborhoods. Holding onto a name, or changing it, is a time-honored way to stake a political claim, and this is no different in the Israeli-Palestinian context than elsewhere.


On a number of occasions, media outlets - particularly Reuters - have been cited for using the terms "militant" or "activist" to describe terrorists (q.v.) or irregular combatants in the Palestinian territories. Like the term "homicide bomber" (q.v.), these usages replace a specific term with a more general and less meaningful phrase.

The term "militant" is one that can describe both violent and nonviolent actors, and "activist" is still more so. The connotations of "militant" relate more to the strength of the actor's opinions than to the methods by which those opinions are expressed; the term "militant" can refer to people who hand out flyers or attend peaceful demonstrations as well as those who engage in armed clashes. A similar distinction is lost when terms such as "incidents" and "disturbances" are used to describe terror attacks or riots.

Words such as "activist" or "militant" are generally used in an attempt to avoid political terminology and to prevent causing offense to either party in the conflict. In doing so, however, they sacrifice precision and accuracy and - by refusing to call violence by its proper name - themselves convey an implicit political judgment.

To be continued.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Who's bugging Likud?

The Jerusalem Post reports that "senior Likud party politicians" have filed a complaint with police after discovering listening devices in their offices. A Ha'aretz report identifies the complainant as Lior Harev, an aide to Sharon, and speculates that the national police may have been involved, although the police have described the allegations as totally imaginary. My bet is that it will turn out to be a red herring - although, if the surveillance has been taking place and Avoda is the culprit, then the current political scandals will take on an entirely new dimension.

The language of the Israeli-Arab conflict, part 2

Continuing my analysis of the terms that are used and misused in discussing the Middle East conflict:

Suicide bombers.

"Suicide bomber" and "suicide bombing" are straightforward enough terms, especially when compared to terrorist (q.v.) euphemisms like "martyrdom operations." Some pro-Israeli media, however, believe that the term does not convey sufficient moral condemnation, because it emphasizes the suicide bomber's sacrifice of life rather than the killing of his victims. Such media have increasingly used the term "homicide bomber" (or, in extreme cases, "genocide (q.v.) bomber").

The term "homicide bomber" is a technically accurate description of what suicide bombers do, but it is also a replacement of a specific term with a more general and less meaningful one. All bombers are homicide bombers, or at least attempted homicide bombers. People generally do not plant bombs in populated areas for purposes of urban renewal.

The thing that sets suicide bombers apart from other bombers who kill is their willingness to blow themselves up in the process. Any attempt to understand them - or to develop a strategy to fight them - has to begin with the fact that they are not deterred by death, and the term "homicide bomber" blurs this distinction. Describing suicide bombers as "homicide bombers" is ultimately a subordination of meaning to politics.


The term "settler" is generally used to describe Israelis living in settlements built in the West Bank and Gaza subsequent to the Six Day War. There are, however, two other meanings that are sometimes given to the word "settler" in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

The first of these meanings includes Israeli Jews who live, not only in the West Bank and Gaza settlements, but East Jerusalem. This is a political usage which challenges Israeli claims to East Jerusalem and doubles the number of "settlers" at a stroke. In purely legal terms, this usage can perhaps be justified, as Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem has not been recognized under international law. Describing East Jerusalem as a "settlement," however, ignores crucial historical differences between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Specifically, unlike the West Bank, East Jerusalem was historically Jewish and was the site of the Old City's "Jewish Quarter." East Jerusalem was the one location where major ethnic cleansing of Jews took place during the Israeli War of Independence, and where historic synagogues were destroyed. In at least a few cases, Jews who moved to East Jerusalem after the Six Day War were returning to their pre-1948 homes - a right that many of the people who refer to these Jews as "settlers" claim for the Palestinian refugees of the War of Independence.

The second "non-standard" use of the term "settler" is when it is used to refer to all Israelis, whether inside or outside the Green Line. This usage is generally confined to Palestinian organizations and the Arab media, and is far from universal even there, although it has been taken up to some extent by the far left in Europe and the United States. The political significance of this usage is obvious - it amounts to a statement that Israel within the Green Line is as illegitimate as the West Bank and Gaza settlements.

A phrase often used to convey similar political meaning is the description of Israel as a "settler state." This is a factually accurate description; Israel is a settler state in the same sense as the United States or Australia, in that the majority of its population is descended from immigrants. When used by the political left, however - particularly in combination with "colonial" - the phrase "settler state" implies political illegitimacy. Moreover, the term "settler" in the Israeli- Palestinian context carries connotations of the West Bank and Gaza settlements, and the use of the term "settler state" is frequently an attempt to take advantage of those connotations. The nature of the Israeli population can be conveyed in a more politically neutral fashion through the phrase "nation of immigrants."

Tel Aviv.

Another political usage derived from the uncertain legal status of Jerusalem is the use of "Tel Aviv" as a shorthand for Israel. The name of a nation's capital or seat of government is often used, particularly in political stories, as a means of referring to the country itself. With all countries but one, this is a purely pro forma shorthand, but the identity of Israel's capital is a controversial matter in international law.

The use of "Tel Aviv" instead of "Jerusalem" to indicate Israel's capital is primarily confined to Muslim countries and "alternative" media rather than mainstream Western media. Even pro-Palestinian media outlets in Europe tend to use "Jerusalem" when referring to the Israeli government. This is, most likely, a function of the fact that the Israeli government buildings in Jerusalem are on the west side of the Green Line, in territory taken during the War of Independence rather than the Six Day War. Among those nations that envision a Middle East peace settlement on the basis of Resolution 242, even the majority that maintain embassies in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem, Israel's possession of West Jerusalem is relatively non-controversial.

The uncertainty about the legal status of West Jerusalem derives from the initial partition plan embodied in Resolution 181. This resolution designated Jerusalem and its environs as an international area outside Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty. The Israeli position is that this resolution has been superseded, at least with respect to national boundaries, by the "secure borders" provision of Resolution 242, but this position is widely rejected in the Muslim world. The use of "Tel Aviv" as shorthand for Israel carries the implicit political statement that Israel's sovereignty over West Jerusalem is also in controversy and that Resolution 181 rather than Resolution 242 should form the basis of a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.


In a conflict that is neither war nor peace, it can sometimes be difficult to determine who the civilians are. In Israel, an internationally recognized state with a regular army, the line between civilians and soldiers is clearly drawn. In some cases, however, the Palestinian side has attempted to carve out exceptions to the civilian status of Israelis who reside in the West Bank and Gaza settlements, or who are military reservists. As explained by Human Rights Watch, these interpretations are contrary to the generally accepted interpretation of the Additional Protocol to the Fourth Geneva Convention, under which only those participating in an actual combatant force lose their civilian status.

The status of Palestinians taking part in the armed conflict with Israel is less clear. There is some doubt, for instance, about whether the members of Palestinian militias, or the shebab (young men) who sometimes take part in gun battles with Israeli soldiers, are civilians or members of irregular military forces. Article 50(1) of the Additional Protocol takes a broad view of the definition of "civilian," providing that "[i]n case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian." The Palestinians themselves have frequently claimed, however, that they are a nationality fighting "colonial domination and alien occupation" whose right to self-determination has been recognized by the international community, and whose combatants are therefore protected by Article 1(4) of the Additional Protocol. This would indicate that Palestinian combatants - particularly those who are members of organized groups - are more akin to irregular soldiers than civilians.

This distinction is relevant, among other situations, when a leader or agent of a terrorist (q.v.) organization is killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank or Gaza. If such a person is a civilian, then the killing is an extrajudicial execution in violation of international law. If he is the equivalent of an enemy officer, however, then the illegality of the killing is much less certain.

Both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have applied mutable definitions of "civilian" to the Palestinian population. Israel, for instance, has generally refused to grant prisoner-of- war status to captured Palestinian combatants, and has reserved the right to try them in the criminal courts for attacks on soldiers. The Palestinians, as well, have justified suicide bombings and terror attacks as acts of war, but have claimed civilian status when members of combatant organizations are killed in Israeli reprisals.

Civilian casualty figures are also part of both sides' political propaganda, and have resulted in the compilation of elaborate statistics detailing the proportion of civilian casualties among Israelis and Palestinians. Naturally, these statistics - particularly those regarding Palestinian casualties, where the distinction between civilian and soldier is less clear - vary widely depending on whether the compilers have an interest in minimizing or increasing the number of civilian victims.

The bottom line is that "civilian," when used in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict, is often a political term. Whenever the word is encountered, it's probably best to determine the definition being used before taking it at face value.


One fairly reliable barometer of a media outlet's slant on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is when and how it uses the word "child" or "teenager" rather than "youth" to describe casualties under 18 years of age. Some pro-Israeli media often describe Israelis killed in terror (q.v.) attacks as "children," while describing Palestinian casualties - even if younger - as "youths." Pro-Palestinian media sometimes take precisely the opposite approach, describing underage Palestinian casualties - even if armed - as "children" or "teenagers." In some cases, the fact that the "child" was armed and involved in a clash with Israeli soldiers is buried in the closing paragraphs of the story.

Reporters' ability to make moral judgments through labeling of victims is enhanced by the fact that "child," "teenager" and "youth" are all accurate terms, and that the choice of words belongs entirely to the reporter. My personal preference - which probably reflects my biases as much as either of the other approaches - is to use "child" to describe unarmed casualties and "youth" to describe those who were armed.

Implicit moral judgments are also made in reporting of adult casualties, particularly in pro-Palestinian media. One common pattern, which has been noted with respect to Reuters, is to describe Israeli terror victims in the West Bank as "settlers" rather than "Israelis," and to describe Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers simply as "Palestinians" even if they were killed in battle. This method of reporting is, again, technically accurate, but by omitting a critical fact, it makes a judgment about the moral positions of the parties to the conflict.

To be continued.

ADDENDUM: Arutz Sheva has yet another definition of "child," this one theological:

4. Boy: According to the authoritative [Hebrew] Even-Shushan dictionary, "boy" means "a male from the time he is born until the age of Bar Mitzvah [13]". Accordingly, when our forces harm a 16-year old Arab, we need not be dragged under by the Arab propagandists and report, "An Arab boy was wounded by IDF fire." Similarly, the words "youth" or "youngster" need not be bestowed upon everyone under the age of 120.

Arutz Sheva has not always followed this convention when Israeli teenagers have been killed in terror attacks.

Monday, January 13, 2003
The language of the Israeli-Arab conflict, part 1

Ikram Saeed posted an interesting analysis of Canadian media magnate Izzy Asper's response to allegations, made by the Lebanese ambassador to Canada, that the Canadian media was controlled by Zionists. Apparently, Asper answered the Lebanese ambassador's accusations by saying:

Who is this 'Zionist party' that, according to Baaklini, owns 90% of the Canadian mass media and takes instructions from abroad? It is certainly not CanWest...

Ikram explains why this was the wrong answer:

Izzy is right that Canwest's competitors are not Zionist (e.g. CBC, CTV, G&M, Star, Le Devoir, and La Presse). But is Israel Asper not a Zionist? Does he no longer believe in Jewish nationalism? Or the need for a Jewish state?

Izzy ought not to have run away from the term "Zionist" like Micheal Dukakis ran from the word "liberal". Izzy is a Zionist, and he should say it loud and proud. What he should have said is "The Ambassador is a nut. There is no conspiracy. But I am a Zionist, just like I am a democrat and a Canadian, and all media I own will always have a resolutely Zionist editorial stance. If the Ambassador has a problem with that, he can go back to Lebanon."

Izzy didn't say that, and I doubt he has renounced Zionism . I think Izzy is contributing to the idea that "Zionism" is a dirty word.

Ikram's article, in addition to reminding us that the meaning of "Zionism" needs to be reclaimed, is a timely reminder that public discourse on the Middle East conflict increasingly operates according to Lewis Carroll rules - words mean what the speaker chooses them to mean, and neither more nor less. It isn't only the term "Zionism" that functions according to those rules, either; it's possible to tell a great deal about someone's Middle East politics by the words he uses and the way he uses them. In the interest of restoring clarity - or possibly muddying the waters further - the following is my attempt at a Middle East political glossary.


I've previously commented on the definitional creep that the term "Zionism" has undergone in recent years. Like "feminism," the word "Zionism" is increasingly used to mean its most extreme form, to the point - as Ikram noted - where people who meet the dictionary definition of Zionism refuse to call themselves Zionists.

This definitional shift is due, in large part, to the rhetoric of the pro-Palestinian camp, which consistently and exclusively juxtaposes the word "Zionist" with descriptions of brutality. Although many on the pro-Palestinian side acknowledge the existence of the Israeli peace camp, they hardly ever recognize that this camp is composed of Zionists. Arab media, and left- leaning European and American media, do not highlight Herzl's insistence that a Zionist state include Arabs as equal partners, nor do they give time to the Israeli Jews who protect Palestinian olive growers from settler attacks because that is "the Zionist thing to do." Instead, the term "Zionism" is used entirely in reference to the excesses of the occupation (q.v.), with the strong implication that Jews and Israelis who oppose those excesses are not Zionist.

In this, as in other things, the international left has found itself in a strange alliance with the far right in Israel. The nationalist and national-religious camps have increasingly sought to define the term "Zionism" to include only themselves, and have questioned the Zionist commitment of left-wing parties such as Meretz and Avoda. In doing so, they feed the public perception that Zionism is confined to the extreme right.

As Ikram points out, however, the change in the popular usage of "Zionism" has also been fueled by the reluctance of moderate Zionists to identify themselves as such. This is often done in order to take the path of least resistance; identifying oneself as a Zionist in certain left-wing circles will often end the conversation, while use of less politically polarized language will allow the discussion to continue. "Zionist" is often seen as more confrontational than "supporter of Israel's right to exist." The end result of avoiding confrontation in this way, though, will be to effectively concede that the dictionary definition of Zionism has been superseded.

Curiously enough, Ikram's post shows that he too has succumbed to definitional creep, at least to an extent, by denying that CBC and other Canadian media are Zionist. CBC and La Devoir are often critical of Israeli policies and the Sharon government, certainly, but neither has an editorial policy of denying Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.

Of course, the term "Jewish state" is itself subject to varying interpretation. In defining the term "Jewish state," it's important to keep in mind that the slogan "state of all citizens" appears in the platform of Meretz, a Zionist party. In the eyes of many Zionists, it's possible to be both a Jewish state and a state of all citizens. Others see varying degrees of tension between the two concepts - but the debate between the two viewpoints is one within Zionism, not one between Zionists and non-Zionists.

Some may ask whether it's really important that Zionism not become a dirty word - after all, those who support Israel's right to exist will still support it even if they aren't called Zionists. The difference is that Zionism is Israel's founding philosophy, and that the foundation of Israel will be misunderstood if Zionism is incorrectly defined. If Zionism becomes identified exclusively with extreme nationalist ideology, then Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann, and Israel itself, will be tainted by the association. In the minds of many people who have heard the term "Zionism" exclusively in the context of racism and brutality, they are tainted already. The term must be reclaimed in order to understand the past as well as to chart the future.


If the word "Zionism" has been defined to its extreme, then the term "genocide," in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has undergone exactly the opposite metamorphosis. The definition of genocide is well established in international law. Article 6 of the Rome Statute defines it as follows:

... any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The key phrase is the one defining the mens rea - that, in order to constitute genocide, an act must be undertaken "with intent to destroy" a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. There is a notable lack of intent among Israelis to destroy the Palestinian ethnic/national group as such. Even the far-right Herut does not advocate the physical or cultural destruction of the Palestinians. Instead, Herut advocates mass deportation, which is arguably a crime against humanity but is not genocide. And the mainstream of Israeli politics, which rejects transfer and recognizes the inevitability of a Palestinian state, is devoid of any desire to destroy the Palestinian people.

The term "genocide" was never intended to encompass killings in battle or anti-terrorist curfews. It is possible to question the legality of such things, but calling them "genocide" is an unconscionable trivialization of the term. It is an insult to the 800,000 Tutsi killed in Rwanda, or the millions who now face starvation in Matabeleland as a result of the Zimbabwe government's food distribution policies.

The West Bank and Gaza.

The territories currently in dispute between Israelis and Palestinians have no fewer than four names. The name preferred by the settlers, "Judea and Samaria," is one, but it has found little use outside the settler community and official documents.

"The West Bank and Gaza" is probably the most politically neutral term; it is purely geographical and does not implicitly endorse the claims of one side or the other. "The occupied territories" is a more political term, but in the past decade, it has also come to have independent geographical significance. Not all the disputed territories are currently occupied by Israel, and the term "occupied territories" serves to distinguish between the parts of the West Bank and Gaza that are occupied by Israeli troops and those that are not.

"Palestine" is another term that is partly geographical and partly political. Use of the term "Palestine" implies endorsement of a Palestinian state, or at least acknowledgment that such a state is inevitable. However, the term "Palestine" is a potential minefield, because its geographical significance varies depending on the speaker. To some, "Palestine" consists of the territories that will eventually form a Palestinian state under a final status agreement; others use it to refer to the entire West Bank and Gaza, and still others use it to refer to the entire Mandate of Palestine, including Israel. "Palestine" is a legitimate term when used to describe the current Palestinian heartland or a future Palestinian state, but it's best to define the term before using it in order to avoid misunderstanding.

The occupation.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is the subject of one of the most subtle yet meaningful distinctions in Middle East discourse. Specifically, it is common on the pro- Palestinian side to refer to it as "the Occupation," with a capital O. The implication of this is either that it is the "only occupation that remains in the world today" and therefore needs no qualification, or that there is a major qualitative difference between it and other military occupations.

Neither of these implications is correct. Notwithstanding the frequent claim by Palestinian solidarity organizations that the Israeli occupation is the only remaining occupation - a claim that has been endorsed by the United Nations - there are a considerable number of military occupations currently taking place with varying degrees of legality and acquiescence by the occupied population. Syria in Lebanon. Turkey in Northern Cyprus. Morocco in Western Sahara. China in Tibet. Indonesia in Irian Jaya. In the eye of the right beholder, India in Kashmir.

Nor is there a glaring qualitative difference that makes Israel stand out from these other occupations. The occupations of Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus have been condemned as contrary to international law, and the legality of Indonesia's seizure of Irian Jaya is highly dubious. Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, Irian Jaya and Tibet have seen the large-scale importation of settlers from the occupying power, some of them to a degree that dwarfs Israeli settlement of the West Bank. The Chinese authorities in Tibet have not been noted for their respect for international humanitarian law, nor are the Indonesian or Moroccan armies renowned for their commitment to human rights.

In other words, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is an occupation. It is not the only one, the longest-lasting or the most brutal. There are many aspects of Israeli occupation policy that are subject to legitimate criticism, but terminology that suggests that this occupation is in a category by itself is misleading.


The phrase "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" has never been as true as in modern Middle East discourse. Some far-right have spread the term "terrorist" wide to include nearly anyone who sympathizes with the Palestinians, while left-wing media have pointedly refused to describe Palestinian attacks on Israelis as terrorist attacks. The reluctance to apply the word "terrorist" to Palestinians is, in fact, not confined to the left; Reuters has frequently been cited for its refusal to use the word (a practice it explains as a desire "to avoid using emotional terms").

The confusion about the proper use of the term "terrorist" is only increased by the fact that terrorism has never been defined in international law. However, Terrorism Answers, a terrorism database maintained by the Council for Foreign Relations, has a good working definition:

The State Department defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience." In another useful attempt to produce a definition, Paul Pillar, a former deputy chief of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, argues that there are four key elements of terrorism:

1. It is premeditated—planned in advance, rather than an impulsive act of rage.
2. It is political—not criminal, like the violence that groups such as the mafia use to get money, but designed to change the existing political order.
3. It is aimed at civilians—not at military targets or combat-ready troops.
4. It is carried out by subnational groups—not by the army of a country.

It's possible to argue that this definition doesn't sweep broadly enough; for one thing, its fourth prong removes what is often called "state terrorism" from the realm of terrorist activity. Nevertheless, suicide bombing attacks or shooting attacks on Israeli civilians fall within this and nearly all other definitions of terrorism, as do attacks by groups of settlers on Palestinian villages or olive growers. It should not be controversial that these incidents are terrorist attacks, nor should it be controversial that the great majority of terrorist incidents in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are perpetrated by Palestinians. It is important to remember, however, that the morality of a cause and the morality of the methods used to prosecute that cause are two different issues.

To be continued.

Africa roundup

According to an Associated Press report, representatives of Zimbabwe's governing party and opposition are discussing a plan to replace Robert Mugabe in an effort to end international sanctions. The agreement, if implemented, calls for Mugabe to step down in return for immunity from prosecution, and for a multi-party government to take over pending elections. The one obvious stumbling block is Mugabe, who is currently out of the country and has not commented on the plan. The negotiators are said to "fear allegations of treason if the deal collapses" - a prospect that will inconvenience members of the governing ZANU party more than the opposition, since many of the latter have already been charged with treason and will go on trial February 3.

The government and opposition have both denied that any negotiations are taking place, but this may be one of the situations where nothing should be believed until it's officially denied. If the deal works out, then Mugabe can write his memoirs and have drinks with another Zimbabwean leader who has long outlived his time - Ian Smith.

The rule of law in Zimbabwe took another hit as a judge ignored the order of his own court and moved onto a confiscated commercial farm. Judge Ben Hlatshwayo, a High Court judge, moved into a farm that he claimed had been allocated to him under Mugabe's land reform program despite the fact that the owner had obtained a High Court order vacating the eviction notice due to technical deficiencies. The farmer, Vernon Nicolle, has stated that he will "take [Hlatshwayo] to the High Court," a measure that might not get him much satisfaction.

Aside from the questions raised by the fact that judges stand to benefit personally from the land confiscations that come before them, this incident is a sad commentary on the state to which the Zimbabwean courts have fallen. The courts were once the most independent institution in Zimbabwe, capable of ruling against the government on electoral and human rights issues. As the political situation has worsened and Mugabe has become increasingly dictatorial, however, judges have been subject to a well-orchestrated campaign of intimidation, including death threats and denunciations by government officials. These threats have caused several Supreme Court justices to resign and be replaced by Mugabe cronies, and the same process has occurred in the lower courts. At the High Court level - roughly equivalent to a Federal district court in the United States - many of the judges are now politicians who, like the ZANU hacks in the legislature, are in the land confiscation game for the money.

In the meantime, members of all three rebel factions in Côte d'Ivoire arrived in Togo to sign a cease-fire in advance of peace talks scheduled for January 28 in Paris. The western rebels, who have hitherto resisted attempts at negotiations, recently agreed to take part after a number of losing battles with French peacekeepers. This means that the primary obstacle to peace is now the Ivoirian government, which is suspected of cease-fire breaches and which has refused to discuss the resignation of President Laurent Gbagbo. The negotiations will be a test of France's willingness to apply pressure to its Ivoirian client.

In Djibouti, the first multiparty elections in the country's history have resulted in the governing party winning all 65 parliamentary seats although 36.9 percent of the vote went to the opposition. Djibouti's electoral laws divide the country into five 13-member districts, and the party winning the majority in each district gets all 13 seats. The opposition apparently failed to win a majority in any of the five districts, coming closest in the capital city where it won 44.9 percent of the vote. If I were a cynical person, I might suspect that the electoral system had been designed with exactly this result in mind.

In Kenya, however, where the opposition was successful in recent elections, the new president has promised to restructure the government to end 40 years of corruption as well as abolishing the death penalty. It's a little early to tell whether the opposition is for real about its reforms - opposition parties in Africa, as elsewhere, have often succumbed to the temptation to be corrupt after taking power - but it's certainly saying the right things.

Sunday, January 12, 2003
Immigration to resume

The Prime Minister's office has approved the continued immigration of Falashmura from Ethiopia to Israel. This decision apparently affects only those who have previously been given clearance to immigrate, though, as the Cabinet did not take up Interior Minister Eli Yishai's proposal to allow the entire Falashmura community to make aliyah.

Move over, Mr. Zagat

Naomi and I just came back from helping a friend celebrate her birthday at S.O.B.s (Sounds of Brazil). Take my advice and don't go on a Saturday night; the place is way too crowded, the kitchens are seriously slow, and the waiters treat you like a red-headed stepchild. The food is good and the music is excellent, though, so it's worth the trip on a less busy night, and the dance floor's big enough to accommodate a party.