Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the New Use of the Word “Prejudice”

David Hazony

When I was a kid, there was a public-service ad on TV with an old man sitting on a pier with his grandson, fishing. The boy mentions one of his classmates as being “one of my Jewish friends.” His grandfather corrects him: “That is prejudice. He’s not one of your Jewish friends, but one of your friends.” The point was astute and sensitive: When you look at someone as being one of your “Jewish friends,” you withhold something of true, human friendship because of the label you’ve added.

Odd how the word prejudice today has shifted from noun to verb without losing any of its heavy moral connotations. Today we hear that State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has called on Israel to stop building in Eastern Jerusalem, calling on Israel to refrain from “unilateral actions” that might prejudice “the outcome of negotiations.” (Crowley actually uses the word prejudge, but it basically means the same thing, and the much more common rendering of the same argument today is prejudice.)

Yet only a tiny amount of thought, really little more than a blink of the brain, reveals how mendacious the use of the word is in this context. What does it mean to refrain from any action that might prejudice the outcome? We can imagine two neighbors struggling over a bit of land, and finally they agree to stop the conflict and sit down and talk things through. It is as though everyone has agreed to put the entire struggle between Jews and Arabs on hold so that we can finally get down to negotiations.

The problem is: The struggle is not on hold. At no point have the Palestinians, be it their official Palestinian Authority leaders or their no-less-powerful Hamas overlords, declared a suspension of the “struggle.” Every day, Palestinian terrorists plan and attempt to carry out attacks on Jews for the sole purpose of “prejudicing” the outcome of negotiations. Hezbollah continues to arm, Hamas continues to smuggle weapons in through tunnels, Syria and Iran make plans for the next war.

Not only this: The Palestinians in particular and the Arab world in general are constantly furthering this struggle, undertaking unilateral steps with no aim other than prejudicing the outcome of negotiations — a euphemism for pursing their struggle to maximize any outcome in their favor. Today we learn that Jordan has begun stripping its Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship in order to minimize the likelihood that they will be asked to stay in Jordan as part of the final decisions on refugees. But the prejudicing runs far deeper: Palestinian schools continue to teach their children that Israel is their enemy, that their true homes are west of the Green Line, and that only through resistance, jihad, and martyrdom can their lives really acquire meaning.

Yet on all these fronts, the American government is silent.

So, in looking at the U.S. thoughts on prejudice as a verb, we are again led to wonder about its original meaning as a noun. Maybe the administration should look back at that old ad and ask themselves: Is Israel one of America’s Jewish friends, or one of its friends?

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