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On the Honest Use of Language, Part 1

by Carlos

October 25, 2010 - This article is bound to make me unpopular with my colleagues as well as with my opposition, but some things need to be said.

Language has power, and is often used as a political tool. But that power cuts both ways, and sometimes the intention backfires. One example is the political slogan Judenrein

Judenrein literally means "cleansed of Jews." Cleansing Europe - and ultimately the world - of Jews was a key part of the Nazis' Aryanization program. The term Judenrein implies the eradication of every trace of Jewish blood from the land, the elimination of all impurity. It is a profoundly racist idea.

Today the use of Judenrein is meant to stir up strong feelings. It evokes the era of the Nazis. It is often coupled with "Never again!" - "Never again will we allow any place on earth to become Judenrein - a place forbidden to Jews, cleansed of Jews, purified of Jews."

Those who defend placing Israeli settlements anywhere in the Palestinian territories want to elicit these strong emotions when they make their case. They want people to think of the Nazis when contemplating any attempt, even by the Israeli government, to restrict or remove any settlement. We heard much of this rhetoric during the disengagement from Gaza. Israeli soldiers were likened to Nazis - by other Israelis!

So the argument goes like this: "Israelis have not only the right but the duty and the moral obligation to maintain Jewish settlements anywhere in the disputed territories. Not to allow these settlements would be once again to declare territory Judenrein - something the Nazis did and which we can absolutely never permit."

One can find no clearer example of this reasoning then the following statement by former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Moshe Arens strongly criticizing the policies of his political rivals:

The removal of the settlers from their homes in Gaza was part of a policy, or if you like an ideology, that cannot be called by any other name but Judenrein Palestine. In other words, certain parts of western Palestine, or using the generally accepted terminology in Israel, certain parts of the Land of Israel, need to be cleared of all Jews. This is the declared policy of the Olmert government, and it presumably is part of Tzipi Livni's negotiating position in her talks with her Palestinian counterparts....

The concept of removing all Jews from a certain region is surely repugnant to any person not prepared to deny somebody's rights on the grounds of his ethnic or religious origin. It brings back the worst memories of the tragedy that befell the Jewish people in World War II. When it is applied to a part of the Land of Israel it is also contrary to the very foundations of Zionism, a movement based on the right of Jews to settle and live in their land, a right that has received international recognition. (1)

Here we have it all: the strong emotion, the flawed logic, the evocation of the Nazis. The logical flaw is this: a settlement is not a Jew. Disallowing settlements, admitting they were a mistake, is not tantamount to exterminating Jews. Jews live in many countries as citizens of those countries and not in autonomous settlements. That does not make those countries Judenrein.

Palestinians have never said they would bar Jews from living in their state. They just don't want autonomous Jewish enclaves, which amount to extensions of Israeli territory, laced throughout it. This is how one Palestinian preacher and PA employee put it in a Friday sermon:

We welcome, as we did in the past, any Jew who wants to live in this land as a dhimmi, just as the Jews have lived in our countries, as dhimmis, and have earned appreciation, and some of them have even reached the positions of counselor or minister here and there. We welcome the Jews to live as dhimmis, but the rule in this land and in all the Muslim countries must be the rule of Allah.... Those from amongst the Jews and from amongst those who are not Jews who came to this land as plunderers, must return humiliated and disrespected to their countries. (2)

Dhimmis were Christian and Jewish minorities in Muslim lands who, though not forced to convert to Islam, were treated as second class. They were frequently humiliated (for example by being forced to wear distinctive dress and to keep to the side of the street, as prescribed by Sharia law), subject to special taxes, and their rights and liberties were severely restricted. Unlike the situation of Arab Israeli citizens today, this was truly a system of apartheid. So Palestinian intentions toward any Jewish minority within their state are hardly benign. Were Israel to make similar statements about its Arab citizens, there would be demonstrations and a deafening uproar all over the world. Palestinian plans for their prospective Jewish subjects cannot be defended.

Still, it is not a policy of Judenrein. It is not Jews who are barred from the Palestinian state, but only autonomous Jewish entities under Israeli control. I have asked the following question of many who claim that opposing these settlements means supporting Judenrein: "If Jewish villages, towns, and cities subject to Israeli authority must be permitted in a Palestinian state, would you then permit within Israel the formation of Arab villages, towns, and cities subject not to Israeli law but to the Palestinian Authority?" No one has yet answered that question and I'm still waiting.

Use of the term Judenrein has nothing to do with defending Jewish rights in a Palestinian state. It has everything to do with defending Israel's ill-advised settlements policy. If it were not for that policy the West Bank would today still be part of Jordan - the "Jordanian option" now so beloved among many on the Jewish right - and Gaza would be under Egyptian administration. We would not be facing the specter of a Palestinian terror base on Israel's borders.

There is simply no evidence that Palestinians are demanding a Judenrein state. Yes, they have said no Israeli citizens, but they have not said no Jews. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas did say "I will never allow a single Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land" (3). One cannot assume, however, that he meant "no Jews." He said "no Israelis"; i.e., no citizens of Israel. Abbas has been careful to make a distinction between Jews and Israeli citizens. Contrary to previous reports, he has said he will accept Jewish soldiers in a NATO peacekeeping force in Palestine, but no Israeli soldiers even if they are not Jewish (4).

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was even more explicit. He said very clearly that Jews will be permitted to live in the state of Palestine:

Jews, to the extent they choose to stay and live in the state of Palestine, will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel. (5)

Can one really trust this promise that Jews in Palestine will enjoy the same rights as Arabs in Israel? Ever since the so-called "Golden Age" of Muslim Spain (which was not so golden if you were not Muslim), there has been a tendency toward greatly exaggerating the status of Jews in Muslim lands. That status has always been dhimmi status. As for today, let's be honest: Why should Jews living in an Islamic state expect any better treatment than Christians, gays, Bahais, or even women? Why should Jews expect better treatment in Palestine than they received in the numerous Arab countries from which they were forced to flee? Nevertheless, whether Jews living in the Palestinian state fare well or ill, under no stretch of the imagination can such a policy be called Judenrein.

Criticizing the misuse of Judenrein is in no way a defense of Palestinian policies. It is simply an insistence on honest language and valid argument. The Judenrein fallacy has been terrible for Israel's image and has been used against Israel by anti-Israel web sites. We do not need it and should finally drop it.


(1) Arens, Moshe. "Judenrein Palestine." Haaretz, April 8, 2008.

(2) Stalinsky, Steven. "Palestinian Authority Sermons 2000-2003." Middle East Media Research Institute, December 26, 2003.

(3) Miskin, Maayana and R. Sylvetsky. "Arab League Tries to Score Points for Abbas, 'Endorses' Talks." Israel National News, July 29, 2010.

(4) Haaretz Service. "Abbas: Jewish NATO Soldiers Could Defend Future Palestinian State." Haaretz, August 7, 2010.

(5) Haaretz Service. "Fayyad: Jews Can Be Equal Citizens in Palestinian State ." Haaretz, July 5, 2009.

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