Gaffes

As Uri Avnery pointed out in an article entitled Kill A Hundred Turks And Rest earlier this month, a retired Israeli general recently committed a gaffe by saying the Palestinians would face a Shoah if they didn’t stop their attacks on Israel:

A warning by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i to the Palestinians that they face a bigger “Shoah” if they increase rocket attacks from Gaza set off a diplomatic and public relations maelstrom, Israeli officials said Sunday. … “As the rocket fire grows, and the range increases… they are bringing upon themselves a greater ‘Shoah’ because we will use all our strength in every way we deem appropriate,” Vilna’i told Army Radio. … Vilna’i’s spokesman, Eitan Ginzburg, subsequently clarified that the deputy defense minister had used the Hebrew word only to mean “disaster, ruin or destruction.” … “It could be that he should have picked another word,” Vilna’i’s spokesman conceded Sunday.

‘Shoah’ remark sparks uproar, Jerusalem Post, March 2, 2008

It’s clumsy phrasing, to be sure, and highly reminiscent of GW Bush’s remark about fighting a crusade against al Qaida in the early days after 9-11:

On Sunday, Bush warned Americans that “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.” … His use of the word “crusade,” said Soheib Bensheikh, Grand Mufti of the mosque in Marseille, France, “was most unfortunate”, “It recalled the barbarous and unjust military operations against the Muslim world,” by Christian knights, who launched repeated attempts to capture Jerusalem over the course of several hundred years.

Europe cringes at Bush ‘crusade’ against terrorists, Christian Science Monitor, September 19, 2001

You know, I googled the word “crusade” shortly after Bush used it, because I suspect he wasn’t intending to fan the flames of interfaith hatred any higher just at that moment, and the first use of “crusade” that Google offered me was something along the lines of a crusade for dental hygiene. So Bush used a word that has, shall we say, less inflammatory meanings, but which was liable to be highly inflammatory in Arab or Muslim ears.

I believe the same is true of Vilna’i. I think he intended “Shoah” in a milder sense, but should have been sensitive enough to avoid the term, given its close association with the Nazi Holocaust.

*

But then neither Bush nor Vilna’i was mistaking Shi’ite for Sunni — as McCain did more than once this week…

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