The Resurrection of Hebrew in Israel

A commenter asks about the creation of Hebrew for the modern Israeli state:

You know Robert, I have always wondered about how Hebrew was revived between the 19th and 20th centuries. After all, Yiddish had been such an important language for Jewish folks in Europe for centuries, and it has all but vanished into the bins of history.

Obviously both the holocaust and the creation of Israel played a major role in this. Yet still, how was a language that was basically only used by Rabbis and in religious settings, brought back as the national language of a new nation state, full of people from all over the place?

That seems like an incredible feat to me.

It’s a very interesting story. The language never really died to be honest, because Jews everywhere always had to learn it in their religious studies. But they had to invent a ton of new words for new things. They mostly just invented them out of existing words rather than borrowings. It was a national project, and I guess it involved some linguists.

It was a great success in language revival. Yiddish was considered, but it was tainted as the language of the dead, of the cowards who went to their graves without fighting, etc. The Israelis were fighters and survivors.

Yiddish was also the language of the ghetto, and the Israelis were going to get rid of ghettoism, get out in the fields and be working class and peasant Jews, get their hands dirty, etc. Yiddish was the language of Jews who would not work and get their hands dirty because it was too good for them.

Also Yiddish had been the language of the anti-Jewish nationalists in the USSR in their Jewish enclave in Siberia. Hebrew was seen as the language of Judaism and Jewish nationalism, while Yiddish was the proper language for the Jewish nationality of the USSR. The USSR even had many publications in Yiddish. No state promoted Yiddish as much as the Soviets did. Some anti-Semites.

Also Yiddish was only the language of the European Jews, and the new Israel was supposed to be the homeland of the Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews also, who did not speak Yiddish but often could speak some Hebrew. Hebrew was the unifying language of all the Jews. Also, from the start, Israel was very much a religious state, and still is.

The religious were given tremendous power in the state. As the language of Judaism, Hebrew was probably favored over Yiddish. Yiddish was also tainted as being the language of the Jewish atheists, Commies, secular rabble-rousers, etc.

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33 thoughts on “The Resurrection of Hebrew in Israel”

  1. Dear Robert
    Modernizing languages to make them suitable as the official language for an industrialized country has been done before. It was done with Czech, Finnish, Greek, Albanian, Bulgarian. However, those were still languages spoken in daily life by common people. Hebrew, by contrast, was not used as a spoken language by anyone anywhere in 1880.
    It probably succeeded because by no means all the early Zionist knew Yiddish. I doubt that Theodor Herzl knew Yiddish. As a consequence, Hebrew also had the practical function of being a lingua franca.

    Cheers. James

    1. A lot closer than you might think. The numerals #1-10 are very close I think. If you saw them lined up, you could see it right away. I am not sure how far back in time they split.

      1. If Jews are originally from the Kurdistan area, how did they end up speaking a Semitic language? I guess what I’m askin is, are jews Semitic in genes as well as language, or are they basically Semitized indo-iranians.?

        1. They are Semiticized Indo-Iranians, precisely. Indo-Iranians genetically that is. They are related to the original Anatolians, the Kurds and the Armenians. The peoples of Greater Anatolia. The original Anatolians are just European types like Armenians. The Asiatic component is only ~ 7% or so.

          Armenians are pure White. The Kardashian sisters took DNA tests on TV and their genes came back 98% pure Euro. If you look at Armenians, you see how much they look like Jews. Jews are from that same Armenid stock.

  2. Armenids don’t look like typical Europeans. And is it the same with Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians?

  3. But arent Palestinians descended from the ancient Hebrews who stayed in Israel and converted to Islam, thus losing their jew identity? By the way, I’ve seen many Armenians before, and yes they look jewish, but certainly very swarthy and Mediterranean like. Hell, some of em are darker than many Koreans even.

  4. It seems to me that the revival of Hebrew points to the uniqueness of the Israeli colonial settler project.
    Hebrew is threatened by English, but as the unifying language of Israeli Jews Hebrew – and not Judaism or Zionism – defines their national identity. Nation formation is a risky business for the Zionist project, and another line along which the whole colonial enterprise is fracturing and running into the sands.

    How long before Hebrews turn on Zionism, Judaism and Jewish immigration and say: Enough! We are Hebrews! No more Jews! For more on this see the writings the Hebrew nationalist Michel Warshawski, who is anti-Zionist, secular, anti the Jewish National Fund and pro full civic equality for Palestinians throughout historic Palestine.

    My whole post is castles in the air however…the revolt of the Hebrews will not happen.

    Warschawski is an ex member of Matzpen, an Israeli socialist organization that had 50 activists at its high point in the early 1970s. For more Warschawski go to the Alternative Information Centre, based in Jerusalem
    The AIC are about as popular among Israelis as Palestinians are in Israel. An enemy within…

  5. Dear Paul
    Israel is not a normal state and Jews aren’t a normal nation. A normal state is the state of its citizens, and a normal nation is defined by language and culture, not necessarily unique but common to all members of the nation.
    Israel does not define itself as the state of its citizens but as the state of all Jews in the world. If the UK were to define itself as an Anglican state and the state of all Anglicans in the world, then it would be like Israel. Actually, that comparison is only partially correct because the vast majority of Anglicans in the world are English-speaking.
    Jews speak many languages, live in most countries and belong to many cultures. They lack the ojbective attributes of nationality. It is really absurd to say that Jews from Moscow, Buenos Aires, Tehran and NY all belong to the same nation. Subjectively, Jews are a nation only because their tribal, blood and soil religion tells them that they are a nation.
    If Israel were to become a normal state, it would define itself as a binational state with a Hebrew majority and Arab minority, just as Belgium is a binational state with a Flemish majority and Walloon minority.
    The Zionists wanted to create a normal nation. In a way they succeeded. The Hebrew-speaking population of Israel are potentially a normal nation, but to become really normal they have to divest themselves of Judaism as the definer of their national identity and simply see Judaism as the main religion of the Hebrews, just as Catholicism is the main religion of the Poles.

    Have a good day. James

    1. “If Israel were to become a normal state, it would define itself as a binational state with a Hebrew majority and Arab minority, just as Belgium is a binational state with a Flemish majority and Walloon minority”

      Why would Israel define itself as a binational state to be a normal country, when the entire world consists of nation states? Is Germany defined as a binational German-Turkish state? Is Turkey defined as binationals Turkish-Kurdish state? Is France defined as binational French-Moroccan state?

      Are the Arabs short of lands and states to define their nationality (22 states!) that they need also that the only tiny Jewish state define itself as Arab?

      Why do you tell the Jews in Israel what they are? They are a nation. They were a nation before they even received the religion, and since their religion is non-missionary they preserved their ethno-religious status throughout the years in the diaspora.
      The Jews deserve every right granted to any other nation – the right of self-determination and independence, and also the right to defend themselves when they are being attacked.

      Why should the Jews, persecuted throughout their entire history and even in today’s world face enormous campaigns of hate and demonization by genocide-seekers, be the first and only nation to give up its national rights, putting itself completely under the patronage of other nations? Would that be fair and just?

      There are many other points of disagreement with your article and the comment above me, but for now it’s enough and I hope you will reply. Thanks.

      1. The Jews this…the Jews that…give us a break. What garbage Maor. Jews are not a nation, but Hebrews (Israeli Jews) are. Nations live in one place, share one culture and one language. 60% of the world’s Jews still don’t live in Israel, after 63 years.

        How’s that for patriotic nationalism? Chinese Jews didn’t originate in ancient Palestine; neither did Indian or Ethiopian Jews. It’s public knowledge that some of the Russian Jews in the 1990s had no documentation to demonstrate they were Jewish. The Jewish people is a transparent fiction, a figleaf for colonialism. Forget it.

        Are you a Hebrew of the first or second generation? Or older than that?

        If you want to remain in a Hebrew nation under a Hebrew government you’d better listen to what premier Ehud Olmert said when he retired. Otherwise it’s bye bye Israel…

  6. Dear James

    I agree entirely. Indeed we have many points of agreement.

    Jews are not a nation by any definition of the term, and in this I agree with everything you have written in your usual erudite and objective way, but Hebrews are. This is the paradox of Israel. A family arriving from Baghdad in 1950 now has Hebrew speaking grandchildren, and possibly even great grandchildren. Their culture, language and identity is Hebrew, and it may well be secular as well. Zionism is a curious fusion of Jewish religious millenarianism and a secular colonial settler ideology. I am wondering aloud whether the Hebrew identity will in time separate itself from the Jew as defined by the Jewish state. It could be a healthy development. Hebrews need not be as tribal as Jews.

    Let us distinguish, too, between a national identity and the nation state. Clearly “Israeli Arabs” as they are called are not called upon to participate fully in the Jewish state: their military service is not mandatory, their education system is second rate, they are not compelled to learn Hebrew, they cannot hold employment in the Israeli Civil Service and public employment sector,
    and they cannot buy land (on the foundation of Israel all Arab land was nationalised by the Jewish state), neither can they found any new settlements within the 1967 borders. Arab communities such Tamra have no funding from the Jewish state, are grossly overcrowded because no land is available to them for sale, and often lack basic amenities such as public sanitation. Israeli Arabs are Palestinians.

    Israel cannot, in my opinion define itself as a bi-national state without destroying its raison d’etre, without it ceasing to be a shelter for the “Jewish people”.

    What Israeli Jews find traumatic, when confronting the threats to the dominant national ideology in Israel, including bi-nationalism – and contemporary Israeliness is defined and maintained by trauma through the education system – is the prospect of becoming a national minority within the borders of Palestine in 1947, even without the right of return being granted to 7 million Palestinians in the diaspora, simply because Arab birthrates are higher.

    Therefore they will fight to a man and a woman to keep Israel “Jewish” and pursue Judaisation of the Galilee and the West Bank, followed by Gaza. I feel it is doomed to failure unless the radical option of genocide of the Palestinians is pursued. At the moment, despite the growing extremism in Israel, this still seems unlikely.

  7. This is how the demography of Israel/Palestine adds up (the figures are confusing because Palestinians in East Jerusalem are counted both by the Israeli census and by the Palestinian Authority).

    Israeli Jews 5.8 million including 550,000 East Jerusalem (200,000) and West Bank settlers (350,000).

    Israeli Palestinians 1.4 million including East Jerusalem (illegally occupied), 0.3 million unclassified “others”.

    Total for Israel (including illegally occupied East Jerusalem and suburbs): 7.5 million

    Gazan Palestinians 1.5 million,

    West Bank Palestinians 1.5 million to 2.3 million (depending on whose figures you take),

    West Bank Jewish settlers, 0.35 million.

    Jews 5.8 million, others 0.3 million, Palestinians 4.4 to 5.2 million + or – 200,000.

    But the Palestinian birthrate is one of the highest in the world, putting Palestinian population growth at 3.3% per annum in Gaza, 3.4% on the West Bank including Jerusalem, and 2.7% within the 1967 borders of Israel. The population growth of Israeli Jews overall is 1.7%. Among the religious Jews however, many of whom are West Bank settlers, the growth rate is much higher.

    By 2035, at the current rates of growth the population of Palestinians of Israeli citizenship will be equal to that of Israeli Jews. Palestinian citizens of Israel are perceived by Israeli Jewish intellectuals as an existential threat to the State.
    A Palestinian state is also perceived as a threat to the Israeli state (Raphael Israeli – The threat of a Palestinian state). Israel has a peculiarly dangerous national psychology. I would call it annihilation anxiety – the traditional Jewish religious concern with assimilation/absorption into a multicultural society overlaid with a preoccupation with the Nazi genocide of the Jews,
    grafted onto every Israeli as pre-rational foundational stone of Jewish Israeli psychology in childhood.

    Because annihilation anxiety is pre-rational and subconscious, Israeli Jews can view a nuclear attack on Teheran as a necessary condition for Israel’s survival. Paranoid psychosis? I don’t know what the DSM classification is but there should be one!…Zionist psychology is apocalyptic and pessimistic – see the Benny Morris interview below.

    This national psychology leads to a magnification of non Jewish actors as existential threats. The war against Hezbollah in 2006 was seen a fight for Israel’s very survival. The insane and disproportionate bombing of Gaza was the revenge for the relative fiasco of the Lebanon in 2006. This is Benny Morris, an Israeli historian, on the “Israeli Arab time bomb”:

    “The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinization has made them an emissary of the enemy that is among us. They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then. If we are attacked by Egypt (after an Islamist revolution in Cairo) and by Syria, and chemical and biological missiles slam into our cities, and at the same time Israeli Palestinians attack us from behind, I can see an expulsion situation. It could happen. If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified.”

    The whole interview with Benny Morris is enlightening…and chilling. Read it here:
    Crazy stuff.

  8. I heard a while back there were Hebrew anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish (anti-Judaism) groups which wanted to re-create a pre-Jewish fascist nation.

    I believe Otto Weininger predicted the Jews would have to drop Judaism altogether and go “Hebe fascist” (my term) altogether to save whatever “Jewish” state they managed to create.

  9. Dear Paul
    Demography is of course supremely important in multinational, multireligious or multiracial states. No self-respecting majority relishes the prospect of becoming a minority. There is indeed a danger that Jews (Hebrews) will become a minority within greater Israel. Well, why don’t they settle for little Israel then?
    As you pointed out, there are 4 areas to consider: Israel proper, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Gaza is already a purely Arab area. There is no reason why the Gaza question can’t be uncoupled from the other areas. Gaza could become an independent country today without putting any Jews under Arab domination, although it would need economic help at first.
    I really don’t now the situation in Jerusalem well. That leaves the West Bank and Israel proper. A solution might look as follows:
    1 – Israel withdraws completely the West Bank and forces the settlers to return to Israel proper.
    2- The West Bank will become a sovereign state called Palestine.
    3 – The Arabs in Israel proper will become citizens of the new Palestinian state and they will be offered financial inducements to move to Palestine.
    4 – Negotiations will be initiated between Israel and Palestine for a fair division of Jerusalem.

    If the above is done, the prospect of the Jews becoming a minority in Israel will vanish. There is some logic and fairness to partition and population exchange. What is totally unfair is the position: “we can occupy and settle your territory but you have to leave our territory”. That’s the logic of imperialism.

    As to Israel as a safe haven for Jews, is there any reasonble person who believes that Jews in the West can become victims of murderous anti-Semitism again? Why not believe that the Americans will reintroduce Black slavery? The West can be the safe haven for Jews.

    There are two words that should never be confused but always are: nation and state. The Soviet Union was a state while Russians, Latvians, Armenians, etc were nations. Belgium is a state while the Flemish and Walloons are nations. Most states are not nation-states, which of course is a huge political problem.
    Patritotism is a term that should be reserved for attachment to a country and loyalty to its state, while nationalism is the feeling of love and loyalty to the nation. There could be Soviet patriotism, but there couldn’t be Soviet nationalism, and the Soviet rulers never claimed otherwise.
    In nation-states, patriotism and nationalism reinforce each other while in binational or multinational states they are to some extent contradictory. Flemish nationalism emphasizes the part while Belgian patriotism emphasizes the whole.

    Finally, let me point out that, although I totally disapprove of the way Israel treats its Palestinians, I think that Israel is on the whole a very decent country for Jews. Israel is a country in which a president was charged with rape and in which a prime minster was charged with corruption. Can you imagine anything like that happening in an Arab country? The rule of law is alive and well in Israel but not in Arab countries.

    Regards. James

  10. The Rule of Law is good for Jews, yes. So long as they behave like good Israeli Jews. Step over the invisible line and you are in jail. The harvesting of Palestinian body parts by the IDF for the Israeli Jews is illegal, and yet it goes on. You are adopting Zionist logic, James. More forced population transfers are a recipe for even more conflict than at present. Two states comes under the aegis of Zionism.

    Are one million plus Palestinians willing to accept transfer out of their historic homeland in the Galilee and Jaffa? It is a very unlikely proposition and a formula for more conflict. The West Bank settlers are armed and likely to resist any attempt to move them. I see no evidence that Israeli Jews are reasonable. 94% of Israeli Jews supported the invasion and devastation of Gaza, for which there was no military reason. Israel behaves like an outlaw state.

    Israel’s political culture is extremist and atavistic.
    The move to the Right since Begin’s premiership in 1977 is part of the death throes of pluralism in Israel. Activity on behalf of Palestinian human rights (e.g campaigning to encourage Israelis not to buy goods produced in the illegal West Bank settlements) is being criminalized at the moment. Jewish Peace protesters were jailed during and after the invasion of Gaza.

    The 4 year old illegal blockade of Gaza goes on, supported by the vast majority of Israeli Jews. Israeli Jews celebrated in the streets in large numbers when the IDF attacked the Mavi Marmara and shot nine Turkish civilians in the head at close range.

    Tzipi Livni, the Israeli premier in 2009, has been unable to visit the UK because she would have been arrested, quite rightly, as a war criminal.

    Any change to the current status quo is threatening to Israelis, and is seen as an existential threat. The outlook is always grim, in keeping with the pessimistic conclusions about the Jews of Zionist thought. Jim Morrison could not have put it better: “The future’s upsetting and the end is always near (Roadhouse Blues).” Jews are now very comfortable and at home in Western European democracies and the USA, and have been for a long time. Where there is anti-Jewish activity it is mostly connected to Israel’s criminal behaviour and the anger it inspires. It seems to me that Israel endangers Jews worldwide, and I know a few non-zionist Jews who agree with me.

    The fall of Israel as a Zionist state is the most likely consequence both of the demographics, and of Palestinian refusal to lie down and give up. When Ehud Olmert stepped down as premier, he pointed this out. Only a return to the 1967 borders, he said, would save Israel. He would have to add, plus a population transfer of Palestinians to the West Bank. But no-one is listening, not even to a former Prime Minister. Israel is taking care of itself, heading down the road to the graveyard of nation states.

    by Daniel McGowan

    Historical Palestine (or Israel within the borders it now controls including pre-1967 Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights) is one country with one water system, one electrical grid, one powerful military to defend and define its external borders, one monetary system, one telephone system, and one postal system. It is already one state, although half the population has lesser rights or none at all.

    The current argument for creating two states is simply another attempt to carve out a Jewish state, called Israel, where Jews have by law superior rights to non-Jews. It involves ethnic cleansing, segregation, and racism; it is definitely not a formula for lasting peace.

    American support of a racist, apartheid state is contrary to what we Americans profess to believe. Yet we overwhelmingly endorse the idea of a Jewish state and ignore the basic human rights of half the population that is not “chosen.”

    Americans claim to endorse equal rights of citizenship everywhere in the world, except Israel. We do so both out of conviction and out of fear of being smeared with the anti-Semitic tar brush. We are loath to even discuss Jewish power that compels us to deny self determination and equal rights for Palestinians.

    Our government supports the ghettoization of Gaza and other Palestinian enclaves; it ignores Israeli concentration camps like Ketziot; it supports the building of illegal settlements in occupied territory; it turns a blind eye to nuclear proliferation by Israel; it defends a Jewish attack on an unarmed humanitarian flotilla, and it sends our military to fight wars demanded by Israel.

    It is time for all Americans to support the de facto One State of Israel/Palestine and to demand that it treat all of its inhabitants as citizens with equal rights, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

    Daniel McGowan
    Professor Emeritus

  11. delete the sentence “Two states are not conceivable without the political defeat of Zionism”. I contradicted myself.

  12. Thanks Robert. I have always wondered about that, and I didn’t relaize that there was so many negative conotations asspoicated with Yiddish.

    My hat is off to those European Jews who had to learn Hebrew(and in many cases Arabic too) from scratch, though, as I am sure many did. That is a hard family of languages(Semitic) to learn, even with formal schooling. Especially as a second or third language, as must have been the case in the post WWII period.

  13. We’d find Yiddish easier. It’s a gloriously illogical hybrid language. Might be fun! And Yiddisher humour is legendary. What proportion of Yiddish is German? And is there an admixture of Slavic and Hebrew vocabulary Robert?

    1. Yiddish certainly is a Germanic language, that’s for sure. It is a Middle German Rhine Franconian (Palatinian) language. The closest to it is the speech from around Mainz. Speakers of Mainzerisch say that they can actually pretty much understand Yiddish. I guess there must have been a lot of Jews in the Palatine area at one time?

      Palatinate German

      Apparently there is a lot of Slavic and Hebrew laid in there, but I don’t agree with the theory that it is a mixed language.

  14. Not a hybrid language? Here’s the beginning of the Wiki entry: Yiddish (ייִדיש yidish or אידיש idish, literally “Jewish”) is a High German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken throughout the world. It developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages.[2][3] It is written in the Hebrew alphabet.

    Funny, the only yiddish I’ve seen has been in the Latin script. I had no idea the Hebrew alphabet was the written medium for Yiddish…is this entry correct?

    1. Comrade, traditionally, hybrid or mixed language is a specific term. A Middle German language could not be a hybrid language. It’s a Middle German language with other elements.

      Yes, Yiddish is traditionally written with the Hebrew alphabet. To this day, I believe.

    2. >> I had no idea the Hebrew alphabet was the written medium for Yiddish

      “I had no idea the world isn’t flat, but I want everyone to acknowledge me as an expert on cartography”

      >>>> I’ve not come across them in thousands of hours of internet
      >>>> research. Are they more than a rumour? But then I don’t read >>>>>Hebrew

      “I can’t understand Hebrew or Arabic, but I want everyone to think that I am an expert on the Middle East. After all, I’ve memorized everything that this Seattle guy Richard Silverstein ever wrote!!”

  15. Dear Paul and Robert
    Israel can’t be defeated militarily, only demographically. Israel is a nuclear power, and when a nuclear power faces imminent defeat by conventional weaponry, it will be irresistably tempted to resort to nuclear strikes. The Arabs know that too, and that’s why threats of driving the Jews into the sea lack all credibility.
    The two-state solution can be fair as long as the borders are drawn right and both states are fully sovereign. It is NOT right when Israel draws a border in the middle of occupied Arab territory and only grants sham sovereignty to the Palestinians. As to the right of return, I can sympathize with the Palestinian position, but it just isn’t realistic. Sometimes bygones should be allowed to be bygones. Instead, Israel should offer financial compensation to the Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed in 1948.
    The one-state solution would turn Israel into another Lebanon. A country with a small majority and a large minority is in greater danger of serious conflict than a country with a large majority and a small minority because in the latter case the majority can feel secure while in the former case the majority fears becoming a minority. If Israel and the occupied territories were to become one state, it would have a small Jewish majority and a large Arab minority and conflict would be pre-programmed.

    I can read German fluently and on the few occasions that I saw Yiddish in Latin script, it looked very Germanic to me. I would say that about 90% of its vocabulary is Germanic.

    Cheers. James

    1. This is true, it is a Germanic language, but German speakers supposedly cannot understand it all. Probably less than 40% intelligibility. However, it is said to be intelligible with Palatine German, which means that this is probably where Yiddish came from.

      There is another Rhine Franconian language called Yenish that is very interesting. It’s an argot of thieves, bums, vagabonds and beggars cant, not a real language.

  16. Thanks for your contribution James. You are right I feel about the absolute right of return for all Palestinians and their descendants. A minority now want to return home to a – terribly changed – homeland. I’ve seen a figure of 10% – only an estimate of course. One can only hope that the Israeli leadership sees reason before it’s too late, and there is an exodus of the Jews to Europe and the US. There is already an exodus, but small scale.

    Given the depth of hostility, only a federal state with cantons for Jewish and Arab majorities could work. I feel things are too far gone for 2 states
    on Israel’s 1967 borders. But a population swap of some kind is conceivable, if consent for it could be won. A one state resolution strikes me as entirely utopian. You are probably right about the “Lebanese outcome”. The only one state solution of the conflict is the one currently in progress, not a just state of affairs. The right of unlimited Jewish immigration to Palestine, which caused the conflict in the first place, will have to go for any longterm resolution of the conflict to take place.

    In some ways this is the biggest obstacle of all to peace, because it involves the defeat of Zionism and the normalization of Israel as a state.

    Meanwhile here is a useful contribution to the struggle for human rights for the besieged minority by the Israeli academic Neve Gordon:

    By Neve Gordon – Israel

    There is a considerable amount of misunderstanding about the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions). As John Berger explained a while back, BDS is not a principle but a strategy; it is not against Israel but against Israeli policy; when the policy changes BDS will end.

    BDS is also not about a particular solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather the demand that Israel abide by international law and UN resolutions. It is accordingly something that you can support if you are for a two state solution or a one state solution. You can even support it as a Zionist. It arises from the realization, following years of experience, that the Occupation will not end unless Israelis understand that it has a price.

    In a sense, the fact that a boycott is required is a sign of weakness following the polaristaion and marginalisation of the left in Israel. On the one hand, we have more or less used all the other weapons we have in the arsenal of non-violent resistance and the situation on the ground is only getting worse. On the other hand, we are witnessing the development of a proto-fascist mindset in Israel. I am, for example, extremely anxious about the extent that the space for public debate in Israel is shrinking.

    One of the ways of silencing any dissent is the through the demand for loyalty, so that a slogans you hear a lot now is “no citizenship without loyalty.” This slogan reflects the inversion of the republican idea that the state should be loyal to the citizen and is accountable for inequities and injustices. It is a manifestation of the complete reversal of the republican relationship between state and loyalty and the adoption, instead, of a logic similar to the one that informed Mussolini’s Italy. It is – as Gramsci once said – part of the morbid symptoms of our times.

    One of the expressions of these symptoms is the increasingly violent attitude towards any kind of dissent within Israel. I have received more death threats following my criticism of the flotilla fiasco than ever before. When I walk on campus people ask in jest if I am wearing a bullet proof vest. Such jokes have a menacing undertone. Therefore it is not all that surprising that only three professors in Israel openly support a boycott; many others are in the closet because supporting BDS is not considered to be a legitimate form of critique and people who back it are in danger of being punished.

    And yet, there is also a sense that the pro-government proponents have gone too far. They are not only targeting people on the far left, but practically everyone who is even slightly critical of government policies. A couple of months ago a high school principle who objected to military officers coming in to speak to his pupils, was all but crucified. Clearly the outrage of so many Israeli academics against the assault on academic freedom has little to do with the boycott, but is rather against the attempt to silence any kind of critique. There is an ever-growing sense that public discourse in Israel is dramatically shrinking. Thus, the provost of Haifa University, who courageously criticized the Minister of Education and the assault on academic freedom, is by no means a left-winger but is simply outraged at the current developments. He would never otherwise support my stance on the boycott.

    – Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation. He contributed this article to Contact him through his website:

  17. So Hebrew, not Yiddish, is a possible hybrid language…
    (from Wiki)
    Ghil’ad Zuckermann[39][40] compromises between Wexler and the majority view: according to him, “Israeli” (his term for Israeli Hebrew) is a Semito-European hybrid language, which is the continuation not only of literary Hebrew but also of Yiddish, as well as Polish, Russian, German, English, Ladino, Arabic and other languages spoken by Hebrew revivalists.[41][42] Thus, “Yiddish is a primary contributor to Israeli Hebrew because it was the mother tongue of the vast majority of revivalists and first pioneers in Eretz Yisrael at the crucial period of the beginning of Israeli Hebrew”.[43] According to Zuckermann, although the revivalists wished to speak Hebrew, with Semitic grammar and pronunciation, they could not avoid the Ashkenazi mindset arising from their European background. He argues that their attempt to deny their European roots, negate diasporism and avoid hybridity (as reflected in Yiddish) failed. “Had the revivalists been Arabic-speaking or Berber-speaking Jews (e.g. from Morocco), Israeli Hebrew would have been a totally different language – both genetically and typologically, much more Semitic. The impact of the founder population on Israeli Hebrew is incomparable with that of later immigrants.”[44]

  18. Dear Robert
    I subscribe to your blog and have read quite a few of your posts. I would like to make a suggestion; please do a little more research into the concepts of Semitic, Hebrew and Jew. In a very simplistic way it can be put as: Semitic>Hebrew>Jew. This will help you articulate your position even more coherently (even if finally after all the research your position is more hazy but more accurate than before, sometimes the truth is an admixture with no clear demarcations). This suggestions pertains more to your comments than to the post itself. You may disregard it without much loss.

    Meanwhile I eagerly await Gunter Luling’s multi-volume epic on ancient Hebrew history which should clearly point to the origins and early life of the Hebrew people. I can also recommend you to read Joseph Yehuda’s Greek is Hebrew for an amazing insight into the origins of the Hebrew people. Though the book requires knowledge of both Classical Hebrew and Classical Greek to be accessed.

    Finally I look forward to more of your posts.

  19. My grandmother speaks Yiddish fluently. I learned a decent amount through osmosis.

    If they speak slowly, she can understand about 90% of what a German speaker is saying. Germans do not seem to understand Yiddish as easily, though.

    Yiddish is divided into 2 dialects generally. There’s a Western Yiddish that was spoken by German and some French Jews, and the Eastern dialect, spoken by Jews in and around Russia. They are mutually intelligible, but the Eastern dialect definitely borrows from Russian and Slavic languages.

    Yiddish definitely contains Hebrew and even Aramaic. I remember watching the oh so famous Mel Gibson movie about Jesus, in which the actors are all speaking Aramaic. Wasn’t I stunned to find I could actually understand some of what they were saying without the subtitles.

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