What we call people matters.
After making aliya in November 2009, one of the first news articles I recall reading was a Jerusalem Post report titled “90 Fatah terrorists ‘pardoned’ to bolster Abbas.” The prime minister then was Binyamin Netanyahu, who went on to further incentivize terrorism with the Shalit deal.
On the latest 104 terrorists to be freed by Netanyahu, I have seen some shocked reactions along the lines of “This isn’t the man we elected.” Seriously? This would be like a tennis fan in the 1980s acting surprised to see Stefan Edberg go to the net or John McEnroe throw a tantrum.
The vileness of Netanyahu’s latest action was matched only by its predictability. There’s a point where being clueless becomes obnoxious, particularly when it results in nationally suicidal electoral behavior.
Some bloggers who have condemned the terrorist releases display a different problematic habit. Here are three examples:
- “Bibi is making a mockery of our justice system.”
- “Nothing exemplifies Israel’s looming civic disaster quite like Bibi’s recent announcement to free terrorists.”
- “Shame on you Bibi Netanyahu. Shame on you for your fecklessness and lack of courage and backbone.”
I agree with all of the above, but the informal reference to Netanyahu undermines the writers’ intention. When you call someone by a nickname, how offensive and damaging can his acts really be?
By contrast, this informality doesn’t appear in Frimet Roth’s assessment of the latest releases. I don’t think that is coincidental. A mother doesn’t tend to call the man who freed the murderer of her child “Bibi.”
Years ago I wrote extensively about human rights abuses and anti-Semitism in Cuba, my work being cited by people including a National Book Award winner and a multi-Grammy Award winner. The apologists for Cuba’s despotic regime often refer to Fidel Castro by his first name. Several opponents of the regime have done likewise, unwittingly perpetuating the sympathetic attitudes they seek to reduce.
Like Cuba, Israel is a small country with an informal culture, and over time nicknames in Israel have become widespread—thus for example “Bogie” Ya’alon, “Buji” Herzog, “Arik” Sharon, and the prime minister. This implies endearing social warmth on the one hand, but excessive informality can also beget coarseness and cloud moral clarity—like using a man’s nickname in the context of him freeing our brothers and sisters’ murderers.
The man who expelled 8,600 Jews from Gush Katif and empowered Hamas is no Arik to me.
The man who tramples on justice and tells the world that Jewish blood is cheap is no Bibi to me.
The next time you’re about to call the prime minister by his nickname, consider the bereaved families whose pain he has increased. Consider how you would feel if you were one of them. Does “Bibi” still seem appropriate?