Language is not math – but it does have limits to “flexibility.” Not for anti-Zionists, though, nor for anti-Semites. In their case, language has become the mathematical equivalent of “imaginary numbers.” Terms are thrown around without any regard to historical or even linguistic truth. The examples abound (in alphabetical order):
Apartheid: A government policy that severely discriminates against a specific racial, ethnic or religious group, segregating it socially and geographically, while also prohibiting that population from many jobs and political participation.
In Israel? Arabs (Moslem, Christian, and other religious minorities), have complete freedom in every respect. Some have even become Supreme Court Justices, high level army officers, and heads of hospitals. Many Israeli Arabs live in “mixed” cities alongside Jews. There are three Arab political parties in the Knesset – one (Raam) was even a member of the governing coalition a bit over a year ago.
Colonialism: A political-military process whereby one national power overwhelms a weaker power in a foreign country and controls that regime’s resources for exploitation.
Israel can hardly be called a “colonial” power for a few reasons. First and foremost, it has a clear historical claim to the Holy Land, in which it maintained national sovereignty for over a millennium. And if one wishes to argue that such a claim goes “too far back in time,” what then about devout Moslems whose ultimate aspiration is to reconquer the entire empire that it ruled a thousand years ago? 1000 is OK, but 2000 years is “long ago”?
In addition, Israel cannot be “colonial” given that it was never a “power” that took over other lands for exploitation; rather, any land that was “taken” (post-1948) was in response to direct attacks on its own territory that was sanctioned by the United Nations. Moreover, Israel has freely returned large swaths of “foreign” land once the attackers (Egypt, Jordan) were willing to sue for peace – hardly a sign of a “colonialist”!
Genocide: A comprehensive attempt by a people or country to exterminate an entire other nation of people (“nation” need not be a recognized country; the Nazis tried to commit genocide against the Roma/”gypsies” as well).
Israel has never tried to exterminate any people; indeed, all of its wars were defensive – even when pre-emptive against an imminent attack (e.g., the Six-Day War). The most hawkish of Israeli politicians at most wish to annex the entire “Holy Land,” but never through exterminating inhabitants. Thus, turning the term “genocide” on its head – when the most serious case in the modern era was directed against the Jews themselves during the Holocaust – is the most egregious sort of Orwellian exercise in which Black is White, and Up is Down. Indeed, in a classic case of the kettle calling the pot black, one need only read Hamas’s constitution to understand that their explicit goal is to kill all the Jews in Israel – and as we have just seen on Oct. 7, it doesn’t matter whether a person is an Israeli citizen; for Hamas (and like-minded ilk), Jews qua Jews must die. A similar trope is heard overseas with the mantra: from the river to the sea, Palestine must be free. Free of whom? Jews!
Occupation: This occurs when an army takes over the running of another country or “land.”
Regarding Israel, there are two quite different situations: 1) Gaza; 2) the “territories” (aka: the West Bank; Judea & Samaria; etc.). Israel cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called an “occupier” of Gaza, as it removed all vestiges (military and civilian) of a footprint from there two decades ago. When matters deteriorated politically in Gaza shortly thereafter and Hamas was elected and then threw out the PLO, Israel decided (as best it could) to block military equipment from entering (the reason? See “Genocide” above) – obviously not altogether successfully as the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis suggests. Thus, there hasn’t been an “occupation” of Gaza for quite a long time.
The PLO-administered territories is a somewhat more complex situation, but here too “occupation” is hardly the correct term given that the Palestinian Administration (PA) signed the Oslo Accords that split this area into three parts, only one of which enables full Israeli control; the other two have some measure of Israeli military freedom to fight terrorism. So here too one can’t use the word “occupation” in any meaningful sense.
Why is all this semantic sleight-of-hand important? Because in the modern world, political struggles are fought not only on the ground militarily but also (and even mostly) in the realm of public opinion and “soft power.” It is in the latter where Orwellian distortions can be just as lethal as a guided missile, given that international support (political and military) is crucial in gaining victory and maintaining its fruits.
Ironically, Orwell finished writing “1984” in 1948 – the year the State of Israel came into being! (It was published in 1949). From the start, Israel has had to deal with the Orwellian nature of its enemies’ disinformation campaigns. But just as Israel’s military might has increased over the decades, so too has its hasbara (publicity) efforts. If the past five weeks is any indication, at the very least Israel is succeeding quite well with democratic governments who have begun to understand the insidious nature of fake news, misinformation, and outright Orwellian propaganda emanating from the enemies not just of Israel but of all nations in the civilized world.