Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system (left) intercepts rockets fired by Hamas toward southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Anas Baba-AFP via Getty Images)
Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system (left) intercepts rockets fired by Hamas toward southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, May 14, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Anas Baba-AFP via Getty Images)

Conversation about Israel requires clear, accurate language

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The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas offers temporary peace at best. An agreement leading to permanent peace remains a long way off. But it is no dream — particularly if both observers and supporters of the Palestinians help nudge the parties along by not abusing words blindly targeting Israel.

Proportionality. Hamas sent toward Israel 4,000 unguided missiles. Some landed in Gaza. Many were destroyed. Others struck Israeli civilians. Israel targeted Hamas military, intelligence and/or communications facilities to stop those attacks and delay the next wave. Tit for tat would have enabled thousands more rockets to strike Israel.

Apartheid. Israeli Arabs often do not enjoy equal protection under the law, but South Africa Israel is not. Israeli Arabs serve in the Knesset, have served on the Supreme Court, occupy positions in medicine, law and the arts. Israeli security measures against West Bank attacks often are heavy-handed but, sadly, necessary. Note that Palestinians in the West Bank remain in limbo status; they are not Israeli citizens.

Nazi. Calling out discrimination is always appropriate. Equating Israelis with Nazis denies any understanding of history and inflames a difficult situation.

Holocaust. What Jews — also Roma and gays — experienced during World War II stuns the imagination. Yet Holocaust, bandied about in reference to the Palestinians, has become so devalued that Marjorie Taylor Greene, the House of Representatives Republican from Georgia, equated wearing masks during the Covid-19 pandemic to “a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens — so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany.” She followed up that “I think any rational Jewish person didn’t like what happened in Nazi Germany, and any rational Jewish person doesn’t like what’s happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policies.”

As a rational Jewish person, I find such references nonsensical and offensive.

Genocide. About 250 Palestinians died when Israel responded to Hamas’ rocket attacks. Civilian deaths are to be mourned. But Tutsis killed in Rwanda in 1994: up to 800,000. Armenians killed by Turkey during World War I: 1 million. Jews killed by the Nazis and their sympathizers: 6 million.

If Israel wished to commit genocide, tens of thousands of Palestinians would be dead. Recently, the actor Mark Ruffalo, who opposes Israeli policy, apologized for using genocide. “It’s not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful & is being used to justify antisemitism here & abroad,” he tweeted. Inflammatory? Note numerous attacks on Jews in the United States and Europe are by supporters of the Palestinians.

Justice. Rabbi Reuven Firestone, a scholar of medieval Islam, has written that justice means different things to different people. In the West, it generally equates to an agreed-upon solution that ends hostilities. In the Middle East, it most often represents vengeance. Care must be taken with this word, since two sides may use it to express opposing ideas.

Only a Palestinian state alongside Israel can ultimately achieve peace. Meanwhile, Israeli Arabs, along with Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, must be treated with dignity. But Israel cannot be called upon to commit national suicide.

TV host–comedian John Oliver condemned Israel while acknowledging Hamas rockets, but noted that most missed their targets. There were no targets, John. A 10-year-old Israeli girl responded with a realistic approach:

“Just so you know, my army is strong. However, this does not protect me from being afraid. Since I was born, I live in fear. Since I was 6, I’ve been going to therapy.”

Clear, accurate language can at least protect the invaluable concept of perspective.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

David Perlstein
David Perlstein

David Perlstein is a San Francisco writer. His new novel “2084” portrays a future white-Christian America from the perspective of a Jewish stand-up comic. He also authored the nonfiction “God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible.”