The debate as to whether anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism has been used to pummel Israel supporters into submission by claiming that criticism towards Israel is merely the former, even when the criticism transgresses all parameters of acceptable critique and veers into the territory of bigotry.
Likewise, the phenomenon of “intersectionality” has been used to silence supporters of Israel by claiming that they are privileged oppressors, and therefore have no right to participate in the discourse. However, I believe that postmodernism serves as a far deadlier weapon against Israel than even the former two, albeit far less obviously.
Defining postmodernism is nigh impossible since defining it goes against its view that there are no objective definitions. Put simply, postmodernism is a multidisciplinary movement characterized by skepticism, relativism, and subjectivism. It rejects reason, objective reality, and, more broadly, modern Western philosophy as built upon the foundations of the Enlightenment.
Distorting the Truth
Postmodernism has been weaponized against supporters of Israel through its assertion that language itself is not rigid, but malleable. In other words, any word can have an assortment of different meanings, and no definition is more correct than the other.
Through postmodernism, certain keywords are used in a fluid manner in order to delegitimize Israel, even though they bear no relevance to Israel whatsoever. These keywords are essentially redefined, or the conditions for the word to apply are drastically lowered, solely for the sake of permeating society’s collective consciousness and distorting Israel’s image.
That is how the word “apartheid” has become associated with Israel, despite Israeli Arabs, Druze, and Ethiopians serving in the highest echelons of the Israeli government, parliament, and judiciary. Sure, racism and discrimination are endemic to every society, and always will be, but labeling Israel an apartheid state is woefully inaccurate.
Then there is the oft-heard contention that Israel is committing a Palestinian “genocide,” even though the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip continues to grow at a rapid pace.
One of the most egregious perversions of language came courtesy of the United Nation’s 1975 resolution declaring that Zionism is racism. Although this resolution was subsequently nullified, its idea took root, and for many, Zionism will forever be synonymous with racism.
A prime example of this trend is the redefinition of the word “refugee,” whereby every refugee in the world sheds this status once they resettle in another country, and their descendants do not receive refugee status either. Only Palestinians are considered refugees even after resettling, and their descendants inherit this status indefinitely.
[Postmodernism] rejects reason, objective reality, and, more broadly, modern Western philosophy as built upon the foundations of the Enlightenment.
Another example is the erroneous characterization of Israel as undemocratic. True, Israel has some controversial laws. However, it has also institutionalized human dignity and liberty, has frequent and fair elections, holds its leaders accountable by law, and its LGBTQ citizens enjoy more rights than anywhere else in the Middle East. Any country with similar laws to Israel would be considered democratic, yet only for Israel has democracy’s definition been altered.
Needless to say, numerous other examples of redefinition are available. This fluidity of words has real-world implications. It has prevented the adoption of universal definitions for words like “terrorism” and “antisemitism.” This allows organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace to invite convicted terrorists like Rasmea Odeh to speak at their events, actors like John Cusack to either foolishly or maliciously tweet anti-Semitic drivel, and terrorist organizations like Hamas to operate relatively unobstructed on the international stage, since, as the old adage goes: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
Likewise, time is wasted debating whether Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn are antisemitic or not, instead of simply relying on a definition, and then fighting the wretched antisemites wherever they rear their ugly heads.
Speaking of Omar, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi perfectly epitomized the postmodernism problem when she remarked that Omar “has a different experience in the use of words.” What does “different experience in the use of words” even mean? This ridiculous ambiguity of language has hijacked Western political discourse, which allows comments like these to be excused by the U.S. Speaker of the House and the public at large.
None of the above is meant to absolve Israel of criticism, which it often deserves. Rather, it is meant to reaffirm the notion that although conflicting narratives and opinions may exist, there is still an objective reality. Israel took too long to understand the power of language to influence the collective consciousness and international law, and it is now paying the price. This phenomenon must be fought tooth and nail.
Overcoming this challenge will be difficult. Words define the rules of the game, and the words are already stacked against us. However, we cannot win if we do not play. We need to start playing, and the restoration of objective language is as good a starting point as any.
A slightly different version of this piece was originally published in jns.org.
Contributed by 2019-2020 IDC Herzliya CAMERA Fellow Eitan Fischberger.