Israel’s Linguistic Acrobatics [Book Review]

Sam Bahour
9 min readJun 28, 2022

No amount of Israeltalk can whitewash Israeli crimes.

How I Learned to Speak Israel: An American’s Guide to a Foreign Policy Language, By Alex McDonald, 426 pp. Great Tree Publishing (2021), $24.95 | When They Speak Israel: A Guide to Clarity In Conversations About Israel, By Alex McDonald, 156 pp. Great Tree Publishing (2021), $12.95

I am careful about recommending books. Everyone’s time is precious. My commending two books to your attention in a single review, then, means I found them to be beyond impressive.

Both books are authored by Alex McDonald: How I Learned to Speak Israel: An American’s Guide to a Foreign Policy Language, and its sequel, When They Speak Israel: A Guide to Clarity In Conversations About Israel.

Both of these books demand a fundamental rethinking of our entire perspective on Palestine and Israel.

McDonald writes, “Language has consequences.” Then, as Mr. McDonald skillfully dissects the discourse on Israel and Palestine, that statement begins to seem wildly understated. McDonald’s analysis explains in detail how Israel and the West have used language, discourse, and narrative framing to camouflage a never-ending stream of the dispossession of Palestinians, including institutionalized discrimination, human rights abuses, military occupation, and so much more.

As I turned every page, I could hear George Orwell, laughing uproariously in his grave, crying out, “I told you so.” But as to the rest of us, especially Palestinians everywhere, no one is laughing; we are engaged in a fierce battle for our very existence and for our right to struggle for freedom, equality, and independence in Palestine, Israel, and throughout the world.

What these books so intelligently reveal is how the English language has been hijacked to serve those who perpetrate war crimes against us. It makes a powerful case for what many of us have long advocated: that Palestinians must pay closer attention to articulating the justice of our case so that those abroad can understand accurately. We must present our narrative compellingly, in plain English. We must avoid the temptation of “UN Speak” — the temptation to recite the names, dates and numbers of UN resolutions that are squarely on the side of Palestinians yet, when presented in that manner, largely fail to enlighten decision-makers who have succumbed entirely to Israeli hasbara.

McDonald’s books were brought to my attention by an amazing UK-based Palestinian couple, Dr. Ali and Sana Dabbagh, when they visited Palestine this…

--

--