Word of the Day Ruah Gabit: The Tailwind, Terrorism's Little Helper

Once upon a time the innocent term referred to sailing or flying conditions. It has expanded.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Ruah gabit literally means tailwind, as in sailing conditions; but it has takne on broader contexts in modern newspeak.
Ruah gabit literally means tailwind, as in sailing conditions; but it has takne on broader contexts in modern newspeak.Credit: AP
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

When tailwinds blow into newspeak, whether in English or Hebrew, the association isn't limited to sailing or flying conditions. Meaning "boost" or "support," the Israeli tailwind – ruah gabit, with ROO-akh meaning “wind” or “spirit” and ga-BEET coming from gav, meaning “back” – has turned into a helpmeet of terrorism.

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In response to a European Union statement hailing the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal, Habayit Hayehudi MK Shuli Moalem was one of the latest in a long line of Israeli public figures to classify something as a ruah gabit lateror, literally "tailwind for terrorism."

"Somebody needs to remind the European Union's foreign policy chief that there are still some who do not recognize the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jews," Moalem said last week, in response to an EU statement hailing the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal. "The European Union is giving a ruah gabit to the agreement of the terrorists from Gaza and Ramallah and their dream of returning the Jewish people of the State of Israel to the European diaspora."

The cliche tends to be used by public figures on the right side of the political spectrum, as can be seen by some of the other actions that have been designated as tailwinds for terrorism, including Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners, its 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the United Nation’s Goldstone report on the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2009.

But sometimes it comes up in expected contexts. An article on the Israeli website Go Gay headlined “Ruah gabit for homophobic terror” uses the term to refer to gay-bashing comments like that of a rabbi who said the ramifications of holding a gay pride parade in Jerusalem “are liable to be worse than those of a third intifada.”

The term became popular in Israel around 1960, although it was used more literally at the outset, as in a 1962 article about the ruah gabit that assisted a Kenyan runner and a 1970 Maariv article about running speeds headlined "The records shifted with the winds."

The tailwinds may be stronger in these parts, especially when terrorism of any sort comes into the picture, but one can find politicians in any country who are constantly checking which way the wind is blowing. In Israel, they are well advised to look behind them.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

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