In the classic Australian movie Crocodile Dundee, one of the most memorable scenes is where the protagonist Mick Dundee and his companion Sue Charlton are confronted by a mugger in New York City. Dundee hails from the Australian Outback, and isn’t about to roll over in the face of the thug. With palpable fear in her voice, Charlton urges him: “give him your wallet; he has a knife”, upon which Dundee draws his twelve inch hunting knife and declares with a smile “that’s not a knife, this is a knife!”
When we misuse a label, we err in two ways: by wrongly describing something, and by weakening the value of the label when it really should be used. For example, labelling intolerant behaviour with the term ‘Nazi’ is not just wrong, but an insult to the actual victims of Nazism. Similarly, crying ‘antisemitism’ at the slightest offence only weakens it when it should genuinely apply.
And so it is with the labels being thrown about in the Arab-Israeli conflict:
- People say that Israel is “murdering children” in Gaza. It is a tragedy that children are dying as a result of the campaign against Hamas. But that’s not murdering children, this is murdering children: the wholesale massacre of children in the civil wars taking place in Syria, parts of Africa, and Ukraine. That is murdering children.
- People say Israel is responding “disproportionately” in seeking to eliminate a terrorist threat in Gaza. The media focuses on the numbers game as apparent evidence of this. That’s not disproportionality, this is disproportionality: the ratio of civilians to military targets in the USA’s drone campaign against terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the disproportionate coverage of Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank, compared to those in Syria and Jordan. That is disproportionate.
- People accuse Israel of committing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. If Israel actually wanted to do this, there would be no Palestinians left in the West Bank or Gaza (the IDF is nothing if not efficient). That’s not ethnic cleansing, this is ethnic cleansing: the murder of Sunnis in Syria by the Assad regime, and the killing of hundreds of ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. That is ethnic cleansing.
- People call Gaza one of the most densely populated places in the world, and suggest it is an “open-air prison” for 1.8 million residents “under siege”. That’s not densely populated, this is densely populated: large cities like Athens and Tokyo, and don’t forget Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where residents have been running into bomb shelters in the face of thousands of Hamas rockets. That is a dense population under siege.
Using these terms and others frivolously when seeking to be critical of Israel is not only incorrect, it’s a gross insult to victims of civilian massacres, disproportionate killing, and ethnic cleansing elsewhere in the world. Examples of those are easy to find, but alas, there are none so blind as those who will not see.