As a journalist, I believe that words matter. Words drive a narrative; words paint a picture and words create or enhance perceptions.
For that reason, I refuse to describe the conflict in the Middle East as anything other than “the Arab-Israel conflict”. Although many people – including many Jews and Zionists – refer to it now as the Israel-Palestine conflict (or just “Israel-Palestine”) I refuse to do so. Even though Google confirms that “Israel-Palestine” is becoming more common, offering 14.7 million search results for that compared to 16.5m for “Israel-Arab conflict,” I still refuse.
Before you dismiss this as trivial nonsense, shake your head sadly and think “she’s lost it,” let me explain why sticking with the old-school “Arab-Israel conflict” is about more than mere semantics or language.
If the conflict is reduced to one that seems to be between Israel and the Palestinians then that dramatically alters perceptions. More than that, it helps build a new perception that is damaging to Israel.
And perception matters. If we didn’t know that already, a comment from the new Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer confirms it. Interviewed by Radio 4’s Nick Robinson, Starmer recalled why he had tirelessly aided two British environmental activists being sued by fast-food giant McDonald’s in the decade-long “McLibel” case of the 1990s. “It was a classic David and Goliath situation,” said Starmer.
If we employ the same enduring metaphor for an uneven contest between a small, vulnerable entity pitched against a strong, powerful enemy, it is clear that Israel and the Arabs are also a classic “David and Goliath” situation.
But, in 2020, who is David and who is Goliath?
I know the answer. Even today, despite its economic advances and its defence superiority, Israel remains the real “David” of the region and continues to face – as it has, since its earliest pre-State days – the real Goliath, the combined Arab/Islamic states and well-funded terror groups, implacably hostile to its existence.
Thus, the term “Arab-Israel conflict” reflects the reality of that massively asymmetric conflict. On the other hand, “Israel-Palestine” creates a wholly fake perception. It doesn’t just eclipse the reality but actually reverses the roles, recasting “David” as the powerful combatant and “Goliath” as the underdog…Yeah, my brain hurts, too.
I have no idea if anyone actively set out to change “Arab-Israel conflict” to “Israel-Palestine conflict.” The switch probably happened by chance. But now that it has changed and so many refer to it that way (but not me, obviously), Israel’s enemies must be delighted.
Not only does it heighten the impression of Israel as the more powerful combatant and the “aggressor” but it makes full use of millennia of anti-Semitism as well as that handy propaganda weapon, the Palestinian Refugees who not only sprang from a situation created by Arab and Palestinian leaders but whose plight has been cynically perpetuated and exploited for precisely this purpose.
For those reasons, I will continue to reject “Israel-Palestine.” I encourage you to reject it, too and stick with “Arab-Israel conflict” which doesn’t skew perceptions. It may even lead, ultimately, to Sir Keir joining Labour Friends of Israel to balance his membership of Labour Friends of the Combined Arab Enemies of Israel. Oops, sorry, Labour Friends of Palestine.