Changing the Lingo of the National Debate

We the people who hope to change the status quo in Israel should know by now that we haven’t succeeded in convincing those who don’t think the same as we do. It takes smart marketing to get folks to change their minds and, let’s face it, those among us who want to influence the national way of thinking don’t have the knack for it. I propose we adopt a whole new approach that would involve more selective use of the key words in our argument. Here are some examples of common terms and expressions we should kick out of the usual conversation, with suggestions for replacements:

Right, Left and Center – The labels have grown so tiresome that many Israelis say they no longer identify with the old ideologies. It’s more fashionable to call oneself a “centrist.” But in order to flow with the mainstream, one must constantly sway with the collective rhythm and keep in step, i.e. one step right, one step left; otherwise he or she can’t be in the center.

So let’s simplify this linguistic trap to A, B and C (or aleph, bet and gimmel). Those with an “Israel first” attitude belong to the A camp; those who also take into account the interests of the other guys, the Palestinians, fit into the B slot; and those who take the best arguments of A and B and move on to the next level can wave the banner of C, which wouldn’t necessarily stand for “center.” I am assuming that “consensus,” and getting to the right one, is more to the point.

Occupation – We haven’t convinced enough Jewish voters to end the occupation for the simple reason that so many of them deny there even is an occupation. So, let’s call it by a different name, something more tongue in cheek. I would call it “cohabitation.” Stripped of the political stigma entangled with “occupation,” the folksy “cohabitation” portrays the irony of our presence in Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank). We may not be married to the Palestinians, but we sure are cohabitating with them on a small strip of disputed land, and making a much bigger mess out of our bad relationship. Indeed, we are cohabitating as well as we are coexisting.

For Hebrew speakers, I suggest we change the catchphrase “dai lakibush” (end the occupation) to the more whimsical “dai lagibush.” Unlike the confrontational “kibush,” the amicable “gibush” shows in a different light the failure of Israeli settlement policy over the last fifty years: “Gibush” implies “consolidation” and “unification,” the ideal state of the nation envisioned by the settlers’ movement. But in truth, nothing so bitterly divides Israelis as those troublesome settlements in areas heavily populated by the Palestinians. So much for unity – dai lagibush!

For the remaining terms, there is no need to play with words. Simple Hebrew-English translations will do:

Negotiating Partners – Enough with this media fabrication. This isn’t Israeli folk dancing we’re talking about. Every time I hear those heated Israelis on TV talk shows and in the cafes argue passionately, with respect to Abu Mazzen, “hu ken partner-r-r!” against the louder retort “hu lo partner-r-r!” (“he is a partner” – “no he isn’t!”) I am embarrassed. We have turned into a nation of parrots echoing an expression that was probably coined by some two-bit reporter looking for a catchy headline. In the business world, partnership is something you achieve only after a contractual agreement is signed. Let’s think like smart businessmen for a change: A “partner” may be someone you shouldn’t trust after signing a contract, but not someone you already don’t trust before you negotiate.

Yitzhak Rabin got it right when he said “Peace you make with your enemies.”

Peace – Up until that last sentence, I have consistently avoided using the word “peace” in my blogs. Here’s why: That flowery catchword just gives the cynics a chance to say: “Peace, with the Arabs, no way!” So I regularly substitute it with more sober phraseology such as “political settlement” or “permanent borders” or “an understanding we can all live with.” And I’m sure that everyone knows what I’m talking about.

All you peaceniks out there ought to change the tune, you might be surprised by some of the responses. More than once I have come across those intransigent types who out of habit will always avow “there’s no chance for peace” until I mention “just a formal settlement,” at which point they shillyshally and blurt out something like: “oh, that’s something else!”

If achieving peace calls for using a more low-key expression, that’s a small price to pay.

Peace Process – Sounds promising, but again, not convincing, especially not during long periods of stalled negotiations. What’s worse, the key words associated with the so-called peace process aren’t too believable either. There are no real “confidence-building measures” or “good will gestures,” and forget about “trust.” This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Peace has little to do with confidence, trust and good will. It has everything to do with the national interest. When we signed political agreements with Egypt and Jordan, Begin, Sadat and in turn Rabin and King Hussein were all guided by the interests of their respective nations. And they didn’t go through a peace process to get the desired result. They each went through a painstaking diplomatic process, not to mention all the internal politics. Sounds boring as hell, but they succeeded.

With forward-looking perspective, there are currently two peace processes underway in the Middle East involving the very same parties, Israel, Egypt and Jordan. It may take generations until we make the transition from “cold peace” to “real peace.” But with formal agreements in place and normalized relations in effect, we’re off to a good start.

Peace Now – I have been to Peace Now demonstrations, share their world view, support their agenda and wish they would change their name. The moniker was someone’s bad idea which, for all intents and purposes, rules out any chance that mainstream Israelis might take them seriously.

In this Middle East reality, “peace” is suspect and “now” is out of the question. In Israel, you can’t even get an event to start on time, or a plumber to show up for a house call sometime today. “Now” smacks of old world perfectionism and a yekke mentality. It’s a foreign concept for most Israelis.

While the movement’s sense of urgency for a political settlement is justified, advocating an end to our interminable state of war ASAP is bad advertising. The story has it that the movement was originally called Reserve Officers for Negotiations which was switched to Peace Now when scoffers in the A camp started calling them that in derisive fashion. Apparently, many well-meaning folks in the B camp must have thought that Peace Now sounds a whole lot sexier than Reserve Officers for Negotiations, so the name stuck. But in our quarrel with the Palestinians, that honeyed expression has the same chance as “make love not war.”

It’s the wrong brand name and it lost its sex appeal intifadas ago. Change the name. Stick to the plan. Stay in focus: End the cohabitation!

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.