Commentary | Words hurt

Using offensive terminology deflects substantive debate

There were many disappointing aspects of Michael Morgenthau’s Hyde Park “What Will Follow Withdrawal?” (Commentary, September 27), but chief among them was the nagging sense that in his view, there is no nuance to the Arab-Israeli conflict whatsoever. To him, the Israelis have no choice but to occupy the West Bank indefinitely, unless one wants passenger planes attacked by a barrage of rockets and turned the West Bank into a “stepping-stone to kill [his] aunt and uncle.” In his view, the Israelis have been ready to accept a peaceful settlement since 1921, but Arab leaders keep standing in the way. To say that this view is an extreme oversimplification would be generous.

Morgenthau argues that the Arabs have rejected every peace offer that has been proposed to them, but does not bother to ask why this might have been the case. Instead he just assumes that Arabs are too radical or anti-Zionist to ever accept a Jewish state in the Middle East.

One can take almost any of the examples that Morgenthau cites as a case of Arabs standing in the way and show that the actual situation was much more complicated. For example, it is true that the Jews accepted the partition set up by the 1937 British Peel Commission and the Arabs rejected it. However, he also neglects to mention that that Ben-Gurion saw the small Jewish state established by the Peel Commission as an enclave that could be used to facilitate the eventual takeover of the rest of Israel, in his words, “whether through agreement and mutual understanding with our Arab neighbours or in another way.” Another way being a euphemism for armed conflict.

The Arabs had good reason for rejecting the 1937 partition, insofar as it would have given a territorial base to a group of people who by that point were committed to continued expansion. This same ambiguity existed in 1947, 1967, et cetera. Yet Morgenthau still presents a black-and-white narrative.

However, it wasn’t historical inaccuracies and oversimplifications that first caught my attention, but rather the line “Judea and Samaria. (Oops… I mean the “West Bank.”)” To grasp the significance of his word choice, one must look at the reasons why the vast majority of people (including Jews) have stopped calling the West Bank “Judea and Samaria.”

Palestinians have lived in the West Bank for hundreds of years and referring to their homeland as Judea and Samaria gives credence to the anachronistic view that because Jews lived there over two thousand years ago, they have the right to expel Palestinians from their homeland – e.g. by continuing to build settlements. Referring to the West Bank as a part of the land of Zion puts scripture ahead of Palestinian human rights and only serves to further inflame tensions.

Palestinians are understandably infuriated by the use of biblical names and using them makes reaching a peace agreement even harder. Both from a normative and strategic perspective, referring to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria is hard to justify, unless of course one solely aims to provoke Palestinians and those sympathetic to their struggles. Unfortunately, I suspect that this was Morgenthau’s intention.

Instead of engaging in a substantive debate, he opted to repeat the dogmas of right-wing Zionists and dismiss his opponents as a group of radicals indifferent to the deaths of Israeli civilians. His sarcastic tone and fear mongering serve little purpose but to stifle debate and reinforce the deadlock that has hampered peace negotiations for so long. If there is any hope for making progress in increasing our understanding of the conflict, we must stop mindlessly repeating talking points that bear little resemblance to the reality on the ground, and adopt a much higher level of discourse.

Noah Lanard is a U2 Philosophy and Political Science student. Write him at nlanard@gmail.com.


Comments posted on The McGill Daily's website must abide by our comments policy.
A change in our comments policy was enacted on January 23, 2017, closing the comments section of non-editorial posts. Find out more about this change here.