Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but Words Cause Permanent Damage


Barry Shaw is a special consultant on delegitimization issues to the Strategic Dialogue center at Netanya Academic sticks1College. He is also the author of Israel Reclaiming the Narrative and a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.
In his most recent piece, entitled Original thinking: When Israel supporters use the language of delegitimization, we read:

We increasingly see well-intentioned, powerful and influential people, who have the close attention of the media, make misplaced statements that feed into the adoption of a viewpoint that Israel has no legitimate right to be where it is. The misuse of language and deed is an indicator not only of the general public’s views, it also displays how pro-Israel influential voices are chasing a narrative that is driven by the Palestinian side of the conflict.

One perfect example of terminology drift can be seen with the area once known as Judea and Samaria becoming “disputed territory,” then the “West Bank,” and now “illegally occupied Palestinian land.” Any staunch Israeli, or dispassionate neutral, would argue that it is neither illegal, nor occupied, and certainly not Palestinian land according to international law and binding resolutions going back as far as the League of Nations Mandate of 1922. All this has not stopped the flow of terminology becoming accepted language.

I have been making precisely this same argument for years, now.

The language that pro-Israel people often use to describe the aggression against us is the very language that our enemies use to delegitimize Israel for the purpose of its eventual dissolution.  When we erase 3,500 years of Jewish history through the casual usage of “West Bank” we are playing directly into the hands BDS and anti-Semitic anti-Zionism.

By normalizing usage such as “Occupation” – with the “Big O” to suggest that it is the Big Mama of All Other Occupations or the Uber-Occupation or the perfect Platonic Occupation – sends a signal to the world community that even most Jews consider a Jewish-Israeli presence on the historical heartland of the Jewish people to constitute theft.

We not only rob ourselves of our own history through veiling that history under a misnomer like “West Bank” but we essentially tell the rest of the world that historically Jewish land is not historically Jewish land and that, therefore, we are thieves.

We validate the so-called “Palestinian narrative” of pure victim-hood and then wonder why so many people despise the Jewish State and consider her supporters to be morally bankrupt.  Of course, many people consider Israel, and her supporters, to be a morally bankrupt.  How could they think otherwise when even so many Jewish supporters of Israel speak about the conflict in terms specifically designed to suggest Jewish guilt and Palestinian-Arab innocence.

As I wrote in a piece back in March 2011 for Israel Thrives:

These things are important to keep in mind, because the language that we use often predetermines the conclusions that we draw. If, for example, we think of Israel as “an apartheid state” then it goes without saying that Israel is an institutionally racist country, much like the former apartheid South Africa, and it must therefore be eliminated as a Jewish state. The word “apartheid” predetermines the conclusion.

What I recommend to all my fellow Jews, if I may be so bold, is to rid oneself of all elements of the Palestinian narrative. Just root it out entirely and examine the elements. Remember, those who project the Palestinian narrative do not have an interest in Jewish well-being and the narrative, itself, is largely an ideological construct, a fantasy. It certainly doesn’t hold up to historical scrutiny, not unless you think that Jews fleeing the pogroms of late 19th century Russia came to Palestine as the vanguard of some expanding empire, which of course they did not.

This being the case, it is worthwhile to reexamine the language that we use in regards I-P and the assumptions that we may bring to the table. The question to ask when we examine that language and those assumptions is whether or not they form a part of the Palestinian narrative? If so, it should be held up to serious inquiry and deleted if found to be just more anti-Israel propaganda that has snuck into the minds of well-meaning liberal Jews.

I couldn’t agree with myself more.

You’ll notice, by the way, that in early 2011 I was still referring to the Arab-Israel conflict (or the Long Arab War Against the Jews of the Middle East) as the “Israel-Palestine” conflict.  I was wrong then because even as I wrote a piece concerning ridding ourselves of the faux “Palestinian narrative” I was using terminology derived from that narrative.  It is not an Israel / “Palestine” conflict because the aggressors against the Jews are not limited to the Palestinian-Arabs.  It is the Arab Middle East as a whole that is seeking to eliminate Jewish sovereignty and self-defense on Jewish land.

Goliath was not a Jew, but a Philistine.

David was a Jew.


Michael Lumish is the editor of Israel Thrives.

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  1. Fred Weisinger

    I do agree with this article. The terminologies are a frightening indictment of word being more effective than the sword. The Jewish intellectuals must consider well what they are saying, as every nuance of the word is picked up into weapon against Israel. Sadly there is little realisation of the damage.

  2. 1. “Goliath was not a Jew, but a Philistine.
    David was a Jew.”

    ^^^ that simple (and elegantly phrased) truth proves the dictum: “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

    2. As to words and language: “They” have gang raped so many words e.g. “Human Rights”, “Refugee”, “Honour”, “Truth”, “Peace”, “Racism”, “United Nations”, “Victim” and many more… some people should have to wash out their mouths with soap after they use them.

    3. Barry Shaw’s book: “Israel reclaiming the narrative” which I read shortly after it came out was a total eye opener for me: A non-apologetic, frank, powerful narrative which, among other things made me understand what “that Wall” was really about. It’s been quite a long while since I read it, and I still feel marked by it.

    4. Just bought Caroline Glick’s “The Israeli Solution” and look very much forward to read about “a one-state plan for peace in the middle east”, because a) I am a great admirer of Caroline Glick and b) this much talked about “2 state solution” never sounded quite right to me.

    • Hi Rita,

      I’m glad that you liked the piece.

      Y’know, I always favored the two-state solution under the theory that Israel can be a Jewish State or a democratic state or a state from the river to the sea, but it cannot be all three at once.

      So, for a long time I just wanted to see a reasonable negotiated conclusion of hostilities. It was only when the toxic and bigoted intransigence of Arab positions finally sunk into my head that I started advocating for unilateral withdrawal, but even then I wasn’t thinking full annexation of Judea and Samaria.

      Now, however, I am open to the possibility, although with considerable reservations.

      • Hi Michael,

        A quaint little saying goes something like this: “always ask for double of what you want because you usually get only half of what you ask for”.

        From where I am looking (pretty much from the outside) I see your people’s generosity and readiness to compromise rewarded with increasingly blatant calls for the annihilation of your people.

        Give Intransigence a chance, while there is still time, your survival is worth it !

        • Thankyou for all the support you give us and Israel Rita. People raise our hopes and spirits.

          I don’t know if you are back in Oz. If you are then I am sure you must have watched the Bolt Report and seen the bagging Carr got.

          They sure gave the Muslim lobby a bashing.

      • I favour Bennett’s plan Mike, even though in my heart I think we should enforce resolution 242.

        Areas B & C should be part of Israel. They can have area A, where the bulk of the Arab population lives and it must be demilitarised.

        Somewhere on YouTube there is video with Naftali Bennett.

      • Rita,

        I agree with Shirlee when she says that non-Jewish friends to the Jewish people, such as yourself, raise our hopes

        Y’know, it was only a short while ago that I was speaking with an editor from PJ Media who told me that he thought that my subject matter was too limited. He felt that I needed to write about things other than Israeli-related issues because only speaking to the Jewish community is too narrow to gain a significant readership.

        I thought it was rather odd, because we are not trying to speak only to one another, but to the world. Israel and it’s relationship to the Middle East and the West should not be of interest only to Jews – and it isn’t, of course – but sometimes I am left with that false impression.

        You are what is sometimes referred to as a “righteous gentile” and I thank you for it.

  3. Thank you Shirlee 🙂 Yes, first thing I saw on my return (suitcase not unpacked yet) was this Sunday’s Bolt report – I also kept in contact with OZ by listening (via the net) to his nightly spot on Radio 2GB (8 pm Monday to Thursday Sydney time) . But a very B-moll note was introduced on the ABC’s “Insider” program, a quasi advertisement for his book and quasi “approval” of his Jew-hatred. YUK.

  4. PS: Shirlee – just in case I have never said it : Congratulations on a great blog, elegant in looks, rich in information !

    • Thanks Rita. Very shortly, thanks to a generous donor, it will be a website. About two weeks I think.

      Once Pesuch is over we can catch up for a coffee.

  5. Shirlee,

    the Netanyahu government is still making noises like they might release additional criminals and murderers and Bennet is saying that if it does so Jewish Home is going to walk out of the coalition.

    This is someone to clearly keep an eye on and who might very well end up the next PM… maybe. Some on the right, like Caroline G. and Martin Sherman do not look favorably upon Bennet’s incrementalism. Sherman has an entire laundry list of why Bennet’s notion of annexing only Area C is a poor idea.

    For my part, I think that you and I are pretty close on this issue. What I think is that Israel should annex as much of Judea and Samaria as it needs for the purpose of ensuring Israeli security and the rights and well-being of the Jewish people in that part of the world.

    Since I am not an Israeli, I do not weigh-in on what the contours of the country should look like, however. If they want to annex only C, that’s fine with me. If they want to annex, as per your suggestion, C and B, that’s fine with me, also. If they want to follow Glick and Sherman and annex the entire area from the river to the sea, that is up to them. I do not know that I would recommend it, but given Palestinian-Arab intransigence and malice it may be the way to go in order to suppress ongoing, centuries-long, Arab attempts at murdering Jews.

    In any case, Israel needs to declare its final borders and remove the IDF to behind those borders.

  6. Just noticed your comment Mike.

    Yes I say annex the lot according to UN. Res.242 and Article 80 of the UN charter, which laid down the Jewish legal right to settle anywhere in Judaea and Samaria.

    I say that with reservation though. Area A is the worry. Area A has close to a million Arabs. Many of whom, I know from a report I have received, who want Israel to annex the area.

    Part of it
    “I spent three days interviewing people from all casts of life in the de facto capital of the PA in Ramallah and let me assure you that 90% of the working class poor want Israel too annex Judea Samaria and retake the PA run city’s and expel the Parasite Authority. ”

    This guy by the way is an Arab.