Who's really "pro-Israel"?

Science, evolution, and politics explained.
May 1 2002 5:45 PM

Anti-Safirism

(Continued from Page 1)

What is clear is that this convention is a public-relations godsend for Sharon's supporters. The day after that front-page New York Times story appeared, William Safire published a Times column noting that some prominent Democrats oppose Sharon's policies while most Republicans support them. The column was titled "Democrats vs. Israel."

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On the one hand, this is obvious nonsense. Does Safire really believe that Tom Daschle and Joe Biden, whom he mentions by name, are anti-Israel—that they actually want harm to befall Israel? I doubt it. Does Safire want to intimidate them into silence by threatening to stigmatize them in the eyes of Jewish voters? I don't doubt it. (And, as if this scare tactic weren't by itself scary enough, "anti-Israel" is, as Richard Cohen of the Washington Post recently noted, often taken to mean "anti-Semitic." Of course, most people who truly are anti-Israel probably are anti-Semitic—which is all the more reason to be careful about who we say or imply is anti-Israel.)

Yet, however transparently nonsensical Safire's thesis, it follows logically from usage of the term "pro-Israel" in the Times' own news pages—and in the Post's and pretty much every other American newspaper's.

Rules of usage evolve. Presumably the usage czars at leading newspapers have criteria for deciding when it's time to revise a rule. Here's my nomination for a criterion: When blatant propaganda follows logically from standard usage, it's time to make the usage nonstandard.

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