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Posted by on Mar 24, 2011 in Breaking News, International, Places, Politics, Religion, Society, War | 0 comments

Phraseology, Politics, and History

If only Jeffrey Goldberg et al. became this exercised when major U.S. news organizations refer to the C.I.A.’s torture program as “what some call torture.”

BooMan puts Reuters’ phraseology and Goldberg’s reaction to it in its historical and political context:

There was a time in the early part of the last decade when terrorist attacks in Jerusalem were so commonplace that they hardly constituted news. But that strategy was abandoned seven years ago. To me, that’s the main take-away from the Reuters article. Does this attack mean that a new campaign is starting? If so, neither Hamas nor Fatah were willing to take ownership of the new campaign.

So, why is it important to Goldberg that any deadly bombing in Israel be reported as a “terrorist attack”?

The answer is that “terrorist attacks” are seen as “illegitimate.” Any side in a political conflict that resorts to targeting innocent civilians loses sympathy and undermines their moral case for victory. If news agencies treat indiscriminate bombings as a legitimate part of a legitimate struggle then terrorists don’t pay the full price of their barbarism.

Why, then, does Reuters refuse to reflexively call all indiscriminate bombings in Israel “terrorist attacks”? In part, it’s because a very large percentage of their readership sees terrorism as the one tool the Palestinians have to fight back against their more powerful enemy. In part, it is because a large percentage of their readership thinks that many Israeli policies and tactics work to “terrorize” the Palestinian population, so it’s really an eye for an eye. The Reuters policy, in other words, reflects how deeply unpopular Israel has become, and demonstrates that global opinion is not likely to react with reflexive sympathy when Israel suffers attacks.

In other words, Goldberg is attacking the symptom rather than the disease. Rather than trying to police the news wires, he should contemplate a different set of facts. In the seven years since the Palestinians called off the Second Intifada, what gains have they made? When people like me counsel the Palestinians to eschew terrorism and follow non-violence, our case is undermined if non-violence brings no gains but only a steadily deteriorating status quo.

Can anyone objectively argue that either the Israelis or the Palestinians are better off than they were seven years ago? The Palestinians largely swore off terrorism, if not all armed resistance, and have nothing to show for it. The Israelis have enjoyed relatively improved security, but at the cost of an ever-diminishing standing in the world. Meanwhile, the political system of the Middle East is crumbling all around them, bringing tremendous uncertainty.

It’s in this context that people can begin to respond to a terrorist attack in Jerusalem as the “venting of certain frustrations,” or as “an understandable reaction to Jewish perfidy.” Shouting down anyone who would prefer to report “deadly bombings” rather than “terrorist attacks” is basically a rearguard action and a distraction.

For those of us who support the State of Israel as an entity that deserves to exist and exist with security, we can only ask that Israel’s defenders focus less on how they’ve been delegitimized and more on why they’ve been delegitimized. Israel is building settlements on Palestinian land, not as a bargaining chip, but with every intention of keeping the land in perpetuity. That’s what is killing Israel’s legitimacy. Nothing else. Until that changes, Israel’s position and support will continue to erode.

Superb, and bull’s-eye true.