How not to be pro-Palestinian
Language matters

How not to be pro-Palestinian

Intifada, literally “shaking off” in Arabic, is a euphemism for violence and terrorism against Israelis

The pro-Palestinian demonstration in Melbourne. Photo: AAP Image/Luis Ascui
A pro-Palestinian demonstration in Melbourne. Photo: AAP Image/Luis Ascui

It is entirely possible to advocate for Palestinian rights and a Palestinian state without also being antisemitic and advocating terrorism or genocide, but you would not know this from the most common slogans and phrases heard at pro-Palestinian rallies.

These certainly violate the spirit, if not the letter, of multiple federal and state laws prohibiting racial vilification and the advocacy of terrorism and genocide and are severely undermining the core values necessary to sustain Australian multiculturalism.

Legitimate pro-Palestinian activists, including Jews and Israelis, use the term “occupation” to refer to the West Bank when calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The broader Arab and Muslim community and their far-left associates do not use the word “occupation” to refer to the West Bank, but to the existence of Israel.

Every Muslim community organisation of note in Australia signed a truly outrageous four-page statement following the October 7 massacre – which not even one of them publicly condemned, and which some openly celebrated – calling for an end to “75 years of occupation”; that is, the date of the establishment of the State of Israel. Dating the occupation to the establishment of Israel, and then calling for its end, as is also explicitly done at most of these rallies, is a call for ethnic cleansing.

Even more egregious are calls for “intifada” and “resistance”. Intifada, literally “shaking off” in Arabic, is a euphemism for violence and terrorism against Israelis. Chants like “There is only one solution: Intifada, Revolution!” or “Globalise the Intifada”, often heard at pro-Palestinian rallies, are open calls for violence against Jews.

“Resistance”, meanwhile, is a euphemism for what the rest of the civilised world would call “terrorism” and war crimes, such as indiscriminate rocket fire at Israeli cities or the various shooting, stabbing, car-ramming and bombing attacks throughout the years targeting Jews. Note that the October 7 pogrom is also widely referred to as “resistance”, while designated terrorist organisations are called “resistance groups”.

When masses of people start chanting “resistance is justified when Palestine is occupied” – and remember, they use this word to mean any Jewish presence anywhere in what was once Mandatory Palestine – they are glorifying and advocating terrorism and ethnic cleansing. When they say they support “the Palestinian resistance”, they mean they support Hamas and its sister terrorist groups.

The most famous, or infamous, of the English slogans at pro-Palestinian rallies is “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free.” This, too, is a fairly open call for the ethnic cleansing of the Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The phrase, also employed by Hamas, has always meant the destruction of Israel and the denial of Jewish right to self-determination since it first came into use decades ago. Its more innocuous-sounding abridged variant, “Free Palestine”, has precisely the same meaning. Anyone who is actually advocating for a Palestinian state alongside Israel needs to find a new slogan.

Aside from this English-language antisemitism, there are also two antisemitic Arabic slogans often associated with pro-Palestinian rallies.

The first is “Khaybar Khaybar Ya Yahud, Jaish Muhammad Sauf Ya’ud”, which translates to “Khaybar Khaybar oh Jews, the army of Muhammad will return”. This is a reference to the massacre, expulsion or subjugation of the Jewish tribes in 628 CE in the Khaybar Oasis in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Little more need be said about this blatant theological incitement to genocide.

The second phrase is “Birruh Biddam Nafdika, Ya Aqsa”, which means “By our spirits, by our blood, we will redeem you, O Al-Aqsa”. Almost every single violent massacre of Jews in Israel, both long before and since the establishment of the state, is directly tied to conspiracy theories and lies about Jews plotting against the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the need to protect it from them. This includes the October 7 massacre, an operation Hamas dubbed “Al-Aqsa Flood” and which its leader said was primarily aimed at “the criminal Zionist aggression against the sacred al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The same goes for the Al-Aqsa Intifada, also known as the Second Intifada, a hideous campaign of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks aimed at Israeli civilians, as well as the so-called 2015-2016 “Knife Intifada”. Historical context renders the meaning of this phrase quite clear: commit mass violence against Jews to “protect” Al-Aqsa.

While governments can’t stop people being antisemitic, they absolutely can combat the open ethnic and religious vilification of Jews and Israelis. The adoption by state governments and Australian institutions of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism would help in this regard, as it emphasises, inter alia, that the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination is antisemitic. Aside from being either implicitly or explicitly genocidal or advocating terrorism, this is exactly what all of these phrases do.

Oved Lobel is a policy analyst with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).

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