George Orwell understood the power of words, and he understood the power of ideology to utterly corrupt their meaning.
He identified tyranny with expressions such as “war is peace” or “ignorance is strength.” But absolute government is not necessary to experience the corrupted language of power and the abuses it hides. A nasty democratic minority, supported by a population choked with fear or prejudice, or a ruling majority full of hate or bad intentions is perfectly capable of producing them.
We literally see this happening before our eyes, both in the United States and in Israel.
Mr. Bush calls Mr. Sharon a man of peace. Mr. Sharon rockets and bulldozes his way through the West Bank, murders suspects, arrests the families of suspects, threatens to deport whole families guilty of no crime, and calls his dirty work a fight against terrorism. North American defenders of his brutality call any conscientious person questioning these actions an “anti-Semite.”
It is impossible to understand how bulldozing homes of “suspects” and rounding up their families for deportation reflect anything but the most elemental hatred and vengeance. And just so, the many assassinations of “suspects.” And the countless violent arrests. No trials, no proof offered, just outright public murder and improper arrests.
I don’t think it’s possible to imagine what Britain would have unleashed had she followed the same policies in Northern Ireland. American public opinion would have exploded had she done so. It was Americans, after all, who largely financed the IRA’s guns and bombs.
Imagine Spain’s late General Franco, that unapologetic fascist, behaving as Israel does, to the neighbors and families of Basque separatists. The world’s condemnation would have been deafening.
Apartheid South Africa did do the same horrible things. And America with her racist leanings and mindless social-Darwinist ideology never condemned them until the disapproval of decent people everywhere had become overwhelming. Israel, to her shame, did a lot of business with South Africa, sharing many defense interests, including apparently nuclear-weapons technology.
Of course, one understands that hatred often derives from ignorance and fear. This is what we teach our children when we try to have them understand why hatred and prejudice exist.
But not everyone teaches children these things. We hear from defenders of Israel’s abuses that Arabs teach their children only hatred. All Arabs? Only hatred? Now, I have no doubt that is true of some Arabs, but is it any less true of some Israelis?
Judging by what I read, it is scarcely love and peace being taught in a number of Israeli and North American Jewish homes. One finds columns printed by major American newspapers using expressions like “blood-libel,” surely the kind language that would have brought a knowing smile to Dr. Goebbels’ deathly lips (For those unfamiliar, this crude expression has been used many times by right-wing American columnists in respectable, major newspapers).
What of Rabbi Kahane’s violent, racist teachings? Or the teachings of a number of lesser-known extremists both in Israel and the U.S.? What of the Israelis who murdered Mr. Rabin? What of the fundamentalist Jews who not very long ago desecrated the temples of other Jews in Israel who do not share their extremist views? Or the ones who burned some women alive in a Tel Aviv house because they were regarded as prostitutes? (This act wasn’t political, but those who do such things are capable of anything.) Or the Israeli who gunned done dozens of Palestinians in a mosque? Or the settlers from New York or London who swagger around with sub-machine guns in the midst of people they have no respect for?
I am always disturbed by violent, senseless crimes. They tear at the precious, delicate fabric of civilization. But when such events happen, they do not warrant the horrific vengeance Israel routinely inflicts on innocent Palestinians.
The United States holds the record in the advanced world for murder and violent crime. Disgruntled, sick, and frustrated people abound in America. It wasn’t very long ago that the annual murder rate in New York city produced more victims than September 11, every eighteen months. And New York’s rate was modest compared to Houston’s or Washington’s or Atlanta’s. Yet, the world would regard it as savagery were the American government to bulldoze the homes of these violent people, arrest their relatives and threaten them with death or deportation. Imagine the world’s reaction to an attack with F-16s on a neighborhood in which some of these people were suspected of living?
Not that there aren’t a good many Americans who would willingly do such things, but their vicious tendencies are checked by laws and social pressure.
The word anti-Semitism, after the Holocaust, became a terrible epithet imbued with the blood of millions of innocents. Now, less than 60 years later, it is being abused and twisted, even trivialized, by, of all people in the world, some Jews.
This word is carelessly, foolishly thrown around today, particularly in the United States. Write something criticizing policies in Israel, and you are anti-Semitic. Stand up for reason, justice, and decency – applied to all, not just to some – and you are anti-Semitic. Point out the fact that a murderous thug is now the prime minister of Israel, and you are anti-Semitic.
I actually had one individual write me that he knew I was glad Jewish children were being murdered. This was written to someone who gave up the country of his birth rather than murder children in Vietnam. The words are precisely the same kind of filth I receive from true anti-Semites or black-hating racists aroused by other issues.
Let any kind of violent crime be committed anywhere today, and if the victim is Jewish, the crime is, ipso facto, anti-Semitic. The very government of Israel becomes involved, as it did in the recent murder in Los Angeles airport by a distracted, demented man. So too, the murder of a Jewish man with a beard and a yarmulke by a young drugged-up thug in Toronto. Literally teams of people busied themselves trying to prove there was anti-Semitic intent, their acts rendering the victim less important than his identity. (Lest anyone misunderstand how unusual that murder was, the murder rate in Toronto, a city proud of having the most cosmopolitan, diverse population in the world, is a tiny fraction of that for any American city.)
Undoubtedly, thanks to the immensely-heightened anxieties and human misery generated by Mr. Sharon and an endless stream of mind-numbingly dishonest rationalizations in his defense – stuff that tirelessly repeats war is peace – anti-Semitism likely is on the rise in the world. Always such violence and dissonance affect most those on the margins of society. That is the group of people from which the early Nazis recruited SA thugs for their street brawls.
All the more urgent reason for Israel to end her morally-reprehensible practices in the West Bank, which are at the very heart of the matter.
Talk about hideous language and language which loses its meaning to ideology, consider the frightful words casually written recently by an American Jew, a lawyer, advocating the execution of the relatives of suicide-bombers.
This lawyer quotes scripture, the Torah, to justify a repulsive idea. But you cannot hide behind ancient scripture, the stories of people who lived twenty-five centuries years ago, to defend what is plainly barbarism today. Do we quote the Incas on the appropriateness of human sacrifice? Or the writings of the Holy Inquisition on burning heretics alive? And why not? Because civilization’s sense of morality, thank God, develops over time.
Thus we see the kind of intellectual and moral debasement Mr. Sharon’s blood-soaked policies yield. Some using scripture to defend serial murder. Others using epithets like anti-Semitism against those who object. And a president of the United States too intellectually and morally weak to say “stop, enough!”
(Just after this was written, Israeli authorities, under immense international pressure, backed away from deporting, en masse, twenty-one relatives of suicide-bombers. These innocent victims of improper arrest will now have their backgrounds closely searched for any possible legal basis to deport them individually.)