Makdisi on the Language of Israel and Palestine
Saree Makdisi, a professor of comparative literature at UCLA and an old friend from the literature program at Duke, has a superb editorial in today’s Los Angeles Times about the media’s — and thus our — use of language concerning Israel and Palestine. Here’s a taste:
In the U.S., discussion of Palestinian politicians and political movements often relies on a spectrum running from “extreme” to “moderate.” The latter sounds appealing; the former clearly applies to those who must be — must they not? — beyond the pale. But hardly anyone relying on such terms pauses to ask what they mean. According to whose standard are these manifestly subjective labels assigned?
Meanwhile, Israeli politicians are labeled according to an altogether different standard: They are “doves” or “hawks.” Unlike the terms reserved for Palestinians, there’s nothing inherently negative about either of those avian terms.
So why is no Palestinian leader referred to here as a “hawk”? Why are Israeli politicians rarely labeled “extremists”? Or, for that matter, “militants”?
There are countless other examples of these linguistic double standards. American media outlets routinely use the deracinating and deliberately obfuscating term “Israeli Arabs” to refer to the Palestinian citizens of Israel, despite the fact that they call themselves — and are — Palestinian.
Similarly, Israeli housing units built in the occupied territories in contravention of international law are always called “settlements” or even “neighborhoods” rather than what they are: “colonies.” That word may be harsh on the ears, but it’s far more accurate (“a body of people who settle in a new locality, forming a community subject to or connected with their parent state”).
These subtle distinctions make a huge difference.
Go read the whole thing.