Israel's Debasement of Words

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Aviv Kochavi are trying to spin attack on Hamas's Gaza tunnels as an Israeli victory. But the fighting is far from over

Judging by the level of public interest, Israelis weren’t bothered by the fact that the Israel Defense Forces used the foreign media as undercover agents in a military operation. On Thursday night two weeks ago, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit “informed” foreign reporters that Israeli ground forces had entered the Gaza Strip.

I put “informed” in quotes because the unit didn’t actually inform foreign correspondents of anything; it simply put one over on them. Prima facie, of course.

Following this “briefing,” media outlets around the world published headlines about a ground operation in Gaza, and millions of people believed them. Meanwhile, in Israel, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit briefed the local media that no ground operation was underway in Gaza.

If you request an explanation for this discrepancy, you’ll get a pile of synonymous phrases, from a “human error” made amid “the fog of battle” (the unit’s international media department) to “there may have been a mistake in the briefings published in English” (IDF Spokesman Hidai Zilberman).

But the fact that the Israeli media applauded the IDF’s brilliant trick, designed to get Hamas fighters scurrying to the movement’s tunnels to be buried alive by Israeli bombs, merely bolsters the hypothesis that this was a camouflage operation conducted through deception.

IDF chief Aviv Kochavi’s general approach also hints that this wasn’t a mistake but an interpretation in the spirit of his “inverse geometry.” Back in 2002, during Operation Defensive Shield against the second intifada, Kochavi used that term in explaining his decision to take control of the West Bank’s Balata refugee camp by entering Palestinian homes through walls destroyed by army bulldozers.

“The space you’re looking at, the room you’re looking at, is your interpretation,” he said, as if he were Morpheus trying to disconnect Neo from the Matrix in that movie. “Now, you can stretch the boundaries of your interpretation. The enemy interprets this space in the classic manner .... I’m not interested in obeying this interpretation and falling into his trap ... I want to surprise him! That’s the essence of war.”

In the same way, Kochavi could say that the media’s neutrality and its role as a means of communication for informing, not disinforming, are our interpretations. If so, why accept the classic interpretations? If we want to surprise the enemy, why not stretch the interpretative boundaries? The worst that can happen is that foreign journalists will get angry.

Kochavi and the IDF aren’t alone. Last week, the High Court of Justice concluded that the cabinet and Knesset deviated from the classic interpretation of the Basic Laws and turned them into “game pieces.” The court’s president, Esther Hayut, meant that the cabinet and Knesset enacted laws that remained in force for anywhere from five minutes to at most a single term but still gave them the status of Basic Laws.

President Reuven Rivlin, who conceived the idea of our current “parity” government, also sought to rise above the classic interpretation of a single prime minister and “solved” our political impasse by changing our system of government after the election results were already in. And of course, we can’t omit our greatest interpreter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for whom the system of government, the election results, the state budget, coalition agreements, Basic Laws and other laws are all merely recommendations, wands in the hands of the magician.

The question that must be asked: After we blur the meaning of all our words, destroy the foundations of all our institutions, deceive the media, violate agreements, change the Basic Laws and the rules of the game and stretch the interpretation of every aspect of our lives, what will be left?

If the word “media” no longer has its classic meaning, if the red cross no longer means anything to us, if there’s nothing basic about the Basic Laws, if promises can be broken and agreements are binding only on the other side and it’s impossible to believe a word anyone says, what will our lives look like once words have completely lost their value?

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