There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “Big Lie”—you know, Donald Trump’s rant that his re-election was “stolen” and that he actually won by a “landslide.” He was wrong, but the election did reveal some truths, a legacy we must begin to take more seriously.
Specifically, the dark side of hyperbole. Words used immoderately. Loaded language designed to explode rather than explain. At some point, they become a numbing refrain.
Words are anything but harmless. There are always consequences to choosing them. The stakes can be high—even lethal. A figure of speech is easily weaponized.
For instance, a peaceful march can be one word away from morphing into violence. Many of the January 6th rioters repeated that the election had been “stolen.” A fateful word provoked an unspeakable act of breaking and entering the Capitol.
Everywhere one looks there are words better left unsaid. Elected officials recite talking points even though they have no idea what they are talking about. Children come home from college and mimic their professors with statements that prove how high SAT scores are no inoculant against stupidity.
If the election taught us anything, it’s that words matter. There is grave danger in sweeping labels applied to very deep-seated domestic or global problems.
Meanwhile, “Big Lies” proliferate around us.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the proponents of Critical Race Theory hijacked the books our children read and the ideas that fill their heads. Words like “racist” and “white supremacy” are fast becoming the bread and butter of our educational system—indeed, in some cases, the only items on the menu. The innocence of childhood is now forever subject to racial composition.
In the broader culture, the charge of “racism” is all too common to defend against. No white person is allowed a passing grade in Woke 101. “White privilege” is an indelible sign of depravity. Many low-income, marginalized white people don’t feel privileged in the least, but their skin disqualifies them from raising an objection.
White bread is no longer just a metaphor for Caucasian blandness. It suggests something more sinister than gluten.
“Cancellation” is being employed by employers who have no causal reason to fire anyone. Twitter apparently has carte blanche over human resource departments. All employees who are white are presumed to have served in the Confederacy.
Whether innocuous or accusatory, language is now supercharged. And often misapplied. An entire vocabulary can be adopted to spread confusion, especially among the uninformed, which constitutes nearly everyone.
The purveyors of Big Lies know exactly what they are doing. They are disguising a lie as an idea, peddling a slander, fabricating a prejudice through repetition. They correctly surmise that no one will know the difference. Who is going to take the time to check? The duplicitous always depend on libels. It’s the match that inflames mobs.
Big lies can overwhelm a small country. Israel is an excellent example of a gaslight gone global. The language often used to describe the Jewish state bears virtually no relationship to the truth. But they are widely believed.
The country is very much in the news given yet another deja vu war against terrorists hell-bent on its destruction. A war in Gaza is in its second week—the fourth war against Hamas since 2005. As is true with all warfare, there are human casualties. But the battles Israel is forced to fight are unique among nations. They are known as asymmetrical, Fourth Generation warfare. And they demand agonizing moral choices.
Israel does not meet an opposing army wearing uniforms in an open battlefield. Hamas terrorists are indistinguishable from ordinary Gazans, intentionally so. Hamas specializes in giving Israel a target densely populated with civilians, knowing that the IDF won’t miss. They launch thousands of rockets from schools and hospitals, indiscriminately fired at Israeli civilians. Civilian casualties are Hamas’ war strategy. Why else would they establish command centers in apartments with children on their laps?
Using children as human shields doesn’t quite describe it. The children don’t actually shield anything. They are the main event in an endgame of death. Arouse the sympathy of nations; cause revulsion among the press. Gazans set new lows in unfit parenting, but they have a keen sense of what the world will find unbearable.
So rockets explode prematurely over Tel Aviv all thanks to an Iron Dome that works better than the hand of God. Buildings storing Hamas operatives and weapons, along with underground terror tunnels, collapse from Israeli airstrikes. The casualty count is “disproportionate,” but how could it not be? One side is preternaturally homicidal, declaring victory with each loss of life. They erect tunnels to warehouse weapons rather than shelter their citizens. That’s because their citizens are weapons. “Ceasefires” don’t serve their interests, because they disrupt a war strategy that profits from rubble.
Hamas rockets, 3,000 launched toward Israel so far in this campaign, mostly miss their mark or are intercepted by Iron Dome. But their intended destination is clear. These are not warning shots. Hamas wants its rockets to strike Jews—men, women and children—no matter where they live. For Israel, civilian Palestinian death is accidental; for Hamas, it’s existential.
Must Israel allow Hamas’ rockets to land? Should they instruct Israelis not to hide in bomb shelters in order to make this a fair fight? No moral principle, or rule of engagement, supports such lunacy. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what Israel can’t do in retaliation for the tens of thousands of rockets fired at them since 2006. When it comes to dispensing advice on what they can do . . . silence.
Hamas’ methods renders one speechless, so Israel must fight on.
In the United States Congress, two Muslim elected officials, Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have referred to Israeli airstrikes in this recent battle as “acts of terrorism” by an “apartheid regime” that is guilty of “ethnic cleansing.” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seconded the “apartheid state” charge. Several years ago she referred to Israel’s defense against Gazans trying to breach its border fence as a “massacre.”
Where to begin? That’s a lot of libel to rebut.
Most people can’t find Israel on a map even if you spot them a hemisphere and a longitude. Yet for decades anti-Zionists (See: Jew-Haters) described Israel as both a “settler-colonial enterprise” and “regional superpower.” Surely a nation with such imperial might should have a landmass more in common with Canada than New Jersey.
But it doesn’t. There are 22 colossal but failed Arab states and one phenomenally successful but tiny Jewish one. Attaching “settler” or “colonial” to the Jewish state somehow ignores the history of the Jewish people. According to the Old Testament, Jews and their patriarchs lived on the land of what is today Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Jerusalem is mentioned 677 times in the Bible.
Guess how many times Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran, where the Dome of the Rock is located, where last week’s skirmishes with Israeli police occurred outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, presumably the third holiest site in Islam. Seriously, take a guess.
The answer: not once.
If Jerusalem is so important to Islam, how did it manage to get left out of its holy book? And if Jews are so alien to Jerusalem, so much so that UNESCO disgracefully ruled in 2016 that they have no historic connection to the Temple Mount, why is the Old Testament a testament to Jewish life in Judea?
How about the “Occupation”? Now there’s an often stated word that blurs core facts and guarantees that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians will be widely misunderstood.
First, as for Gaza, not a single Jew or Israeli lives there. Not one. Israel withdrew in 2005, uprooting its own citizens despite deep ties to that ancestral land.
How does one occupy an area by living somewhere else?
Gaza is a coastal enclave with magnificent views of the Mediterranean Sea. Nothing, aside from their own nihilism, prevented Gazans from building their own Monaco or Macau. Vacationers could have been spending these post-pandemic days, and dollars, in hotels all along the strip.
Instead of declaring statehood, however, which today would be in its 16th year, Hamas had a better idea: Turn Gaza into one big launching pad. This forced Israel, in the north, and Egypt, in the south, to impose a naval blockade. The reasons are obvious. Hamas’ main imports have always been artillery, rocketry and concrete with which to erect terror tunnels. Even Egypt realizes that Hamas can’t be trusted to build anything other than bombs.
As for the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, pursuant to the Oslo Accords, controls much of it. But Palestinians loyal to Fatah, also have not kicked the habit of terrorizing Israelis with stabbings, car rammings, and other acts that do not reflect a people ready for statehood.
Palestinians still refuse to recognize Israel’s very existence. Their charters are blueprints for Jewish death. Textbooks teach children to hate Jews. An unofficial national anthem, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is more in line with a genocidal fight song. The area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is Israel. Where are Jews supposed to live if Palestinians are banking on a state that is much larger than the West Bank?
Given all those impediments to co-existence, why shouldn’t Israelis doubt that a future Palestinian state would make for a nice neighbor?
Finally, under any fair reading of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel can’t occupy land to which it has a historical, ancestral connection, and that never once was there a sovereign state called Palestine—with a Palestinian citzenry. The West Bank has never not been unoccupied, as far back as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottoman Turks, British, Jordanians, and now Israel—the only country in that long list that actually has a legitimate claim of title to the land. Ironically, Palestinians are the one people to never have occupied the land that is to become their state. They might have lived there, but it was never theirs.
(During those first 19 years of Israel’s existence, when Jordan captured the West Bank and Egypt seized Gaza, no one mentioned the word “occupation” at all. In fact, drawing distinctions between Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs, or contemplating Palestinian statehood, seemed to be on no one’s mind. That all changed, of course, when Israel recaptured it.)
Because the word “occupation” has been so widely adopted, a concession from the Oslo Accords that Israel should have never conceded, most people believe that Israel is occupying a sovereign country once called Palestine and populated by Arabs who were known as Palestinians. That’s why “stolen land” is so casually repeated and added to Israel’s many crimes.
But the land is not really occupied. It’s simply disputed territory between two peoples that have claims to the land—historic, ancestral, and a very complicated set of colliding truths.
Since 1947 when the United Nations carved a Jewish and Arab homeland out of what is now greater Israel, the Palestinians have rejected five offers of statehood. President Bill Clinton’s memoir acknowledges his stupefaction that the Palestinians spurned his last effort of bringing a final peace to the region, which included 97 percent of what the Palestinians had, purportedly, negotiated for. Did they come back to the table with a counteroffer? No. Instead, they reverted to old tricks of the terrorism trade and responded with the Second Intifada, which included suicide bombings in Israeli pizza shops and Passover Seders.
Does this sound like Israel is stubbornly standing in the way of Palestinian national aspirations? More likely is the conclusion that the Palestinians don’t really want statehood. (The Gulf states that normalized relations with Israel in last summer’s Abraham Accords have no doubt come to that realization.)
What seemingly does interest Palestinians is any outcome where Israel is without statehood and the Jews of the region disappear. In addition to a number of rejected peace and statehood offerings, there is also a more damning truth: the timing of when organized Palestinian terror came into existence. The PLO was created in 1964—three years before Jews lived in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
What does that tell you? It’s not about settlements, territories, Jerusalem, or even the Right of Return. It’s simply about Jewish existence.
Building a Palestinian nation holds far less appeal than blowing up the Jewish one. This is what progressive, liberal Democrats, many of them Jews suffering from a condition I call moral narcissism, seemingly can’t or simply won’t accept. They will call for a “two-state solution” no matter how many times Palestinians show disinterest in being one of those states.
Many Israelis now wonder whether it was a good idea to withdraw from Gaza altogether. It certainly brought no peace and ceded to Hamas a base of operations. And withdrawal earned Israel no global goodwill, either. They are denounced as an occupying power even though their dealings with Gaza are limited to the border.
Meanwhile, Palestinians sit in refugee camps operated by the United Nations instead of being absorbed as permanent citizens of other Arab states. In fact, the Palestinians are the only people allowed refugee status in perpetuity. In all other cases, the UN insists that displaced persons find a new placement within one generation.
The reason is plainly obvious. Anti-Semites holding out hope that time will run out on the Israelis. Meanwhile, Palestinians sitting in misery are a convenient eyesore.
Speaking of “displaced refugees,” that, too, has a meaning obscured from what most people are led to believe. Yes, Israel’s War of Independence scattered 750,000 Arabs from their homes. In some cases, Israelis forcibly evicted them, but mostly Palestinians received assurances that the combined Arab armies would vanquish the Jewish state.
That didn’t work out so well for Palestinians. But after Israel was created and so quickly embarrassed five Arab armies that had expected the Jewish state to be a very short-lived experiment, roughly one million Jews were exiled from Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, Iran, and Jordan, where their families had lived for generations. They immediately became Israelis. Is the world equally interested in granting Jewish refugees from Arab states a Right of Return?
This is where the Big Lie about “colonial” and “racist” is laughable. More than half the population of Israel are dark-skinned Middle Easterners. Add to this Semitic mix Arab Israelis, who represent 20 percent of the country, and who enjoy civil rights and opportunities equal to Jewish Israelis. Further evidence of a multiethnic nation is a former Miss Israel from Ethiopia. “White supremacy?” “Apartheid” with Arabs sitting on the Israeli Supreme Court? Really?
No one should be weeping for terrorists, especially this bunch. Hamas remained an ally of Al-Qaeda after 9/11. Israel erected a 9/11 Memorial in Jerusalem, the first one outside of New York to list the names of the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives to the terrorism on that day.
The special pleading of progressives to condemn Israel is especially galling since none of these people would last five minutes in a Muslim society—liberated women, out-of-the closet homosexuals, artists, journalists, and, of course, Christians.
Beheaded. Lashed. Torched and tossed from rooftops. Jailed.
Perhaps the biggest lie of all is the charge of “ethnic cleansing”—which is so instantly associated with evil. But genocides are measured by mass murder and a drastic loss of a population. Ask the Armenians, Cambodians, Bosnians, Rwandans, Congolese, Sudanese, and, of course, Jews, and they’ll tell you that “cleansing” is a euphemistic way to describe the subtraction of a people. The Palestinian population, however, since the “Occupation,” has more than doubled.
It is true that Gazan casualties are increasing each day. Given Israel’s air defense batteries and civil defense strategies, one can easily lose sight of a different reality for the Jews of the Middle East. Thankfully, some people are not shy in expressing their true desires. They serve as reminders of what Israel has no choice but to do.
On Monday, in capital cities all across Europe, Islamists wrapped in Palestinian flags marched on major boulevards and chanted “Death to Jews.” The story went completely unreported by all mainstream news services. Maybe it’s because “Death to Jews” is not a big lie, but a truthful admission.
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.”