When words cease being words: and become weapons

Apr 28, 2024
Fight with words social issue concept as a person screaming with bullets flying out of the mouth as a metaphor for strong communication and aggressive shouting with 3D illustration elements.

We generally assume words carry the same meaning in the mind of speaker and listener. This enables meaningful communication and common understanding. Sometimes however words are given a specific meaning which completely changes their original intent. The words become weapons. This has happened with the word antisemitism and the word terrorist.

This week the American president, Joe Biden, has called peaceful protests by students at Columbia and other US universities – antisemitic. These protests were not directed at Jewish people. They were protests against the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza and more generally on the West Bank, where crimes against Palestinian people, either by instruments of Israeli government, or by civilians encouraged by the Israeli government, have been escalating since October 7, 2023. The use of the term in this way has three very serious consequences.

Firstly, it diminishes the seriousness of real antisemitism, the demonisation of Jewish people. This demonisation, with an ethnic, cultural, or religious base has centuries of history, culminating in the horrors of the holocaust.

Secondly, it seeks to squash both academic and political debate about issues of power, injustice, and oppression. Zionist lobby groups have sought to pressure universities and other civil institutions into signing what is called the IHR definition of antisemitism. This definition includes criticism of Israeli governmental policy in its examples. The rationale of the argument is that Israel is a Jewish State, therefore criticism of the government is criticism of Jews or Jewishness. Only totalitarian states seek to be absolved from criticism and single out those who dare to do so.

Thirdly, by transferring antisemitism from those who demonise Jews to those who criticise Israel, it diverts attention away from real behaviours of racial discrimination and their possible repetition. What was done to Jewish people under the Third Reich was only possible when such people were considered less than human and therefore their elimination could be ‘justified’. Perhaps not yet on the same scale, but the demonisation of Palestinian people by key elements of the Israeli State has made cruelty to, and oppression of, Palestinians justifiable. Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israeli minister for security, has said those who kill Palestinians are doing Israel a service.

This leads us to an examination of the use of the word ‘terrorist’.

As a result of the recent knife attacks in Sydney, a spotlight has focused on how we use the word terrorist in Australia. Who or what is a terrorist. Strictly speaking a terrorist is one who incites terror. In public western parlance it is used to describe individuals or groups who use violence to achieve religious, ideological, or political ambitions and outcomes. There can be little debate that ISIS and al-Quaeda were terrorist organisations.

However, it is conveniently forgotten that these two organisations were born out of Sunni Islam with roots in Saudi Arabia. They were not born out of Shia Isam and Iran. All Islamic terrorism experienced by the West has come out of Sunni extremism, particularly 9/11.

The Israeli government claims it imprisons and targets Palestinian terrorists. Over the course of their lifetime, most Palestinian men experience time in an Israeli gaol. Are they all terrorists?

No, they are not, the vast majority are people who object to their homes being destroyed, their freedoms denied, and their hopes for any sense of meaningful life being snuffed out. The Tamimi family, whom I personally know, are under constant threat of their home being confiscated in area C. Bassem, his wife, and daughter Ahed, have all been in gaol multiple times, not for any criminal activity but for resisting the crushing of any capacity to live their lives as most would normally expect. They say: ‘all we want is to be able to live as others live’. Bassem has been denied a visa to visit Australia on grounds he is a terrorist. We in Australia, without justification, adopt the use of this word ‘terrorist’ as dictated by the Israeli government.

In relation to Israel, the US has maintained an impossible position both rationally and morally. It claims a two-state solution is the only way forward, yet, supports an Israeli government which vows never to cede any land to Palestinian autonomy. It vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to recognise Palestine, saying a two-state solution must emerge from dialogue between the two parties, while knowing that Israel does not acknowledge the right of the other to exist. In other words, it has no other party to negotiate with. The US says it abhors the ongoing slaughter of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians but has just passed a bill to send further billions of dollars’ worth of armaments which enable Israel to do this very thing.

These rational and moral contradiction are born out of adopting the Israeli misuse of these two words as the baseline from which further judgments are made.

Hamas’ rockets into Israel are terror motivated, as was its October 7 incursion. The word is appropriately used.

However, the back story is that terror instilled in Palestinian people has been a decades long strategy of the Israeli government. Those who resist oppression and injustice are not terrorists, those who inflict it are. Illegal Israeli settlers constantly shout to Palestinians “get out or we will kill you”.

Thankfully the language of the current Australian government is beginning to catch up with reality on the ground, and not be automatically driven by Zionist propaganda. There is still a way to go.

The Israeli government deserves opprobrium from every quarter, including its own domestic population. Peace can come, but only when the real terrorists are named and sanctioned.

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