(January 6, 2017 / JNS) WASHINGTON—Jewish leaders are criticizing a former U.S. diplomat for using what they say is “dehumanizing rhetoric” in his denunciation of Israeli settlements.
David A. Korn, who served at American embassies in the Middle East and Africa over a span of three decades, ignited the controversy with a Jan. 3 letter in The Washington Post, in which he wrote that “settlements speckle the area like a rash.”
“Mr. Korn’s rhetoric says much more about him than about the residents of Judea and Samaria,” said Elie Pieprz, spokesman for the YESHA Council, an umbrella organization representing the municipal councils of Jewish communities in the disputed territories. “When your opponents use such flamboyant, outrageous and factually inaccurate rhetoric, it is due to the fact that that this all they have, because the reality is not on their side.”
Rabbi Dr. Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, a scholar and theologian who chaired the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council from 2000-2002, told JNS.org, “I favor a two-state solution, but I strongly object to the demonization of the settlers and the tarring of all of them with the brush of a marginal few fanatics.”
Greenberg added, “Every person who seeks peace and democracy should be offended by language comparing settlers to illnesses or insects. These degrading stereotypes are assaults on human dignity and they set back chances for peace. I have found that they are often used by people who deep down are delegitimating Israel itself.”
Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress for North America, said Korn’s remarks “are beyond the pale of civil discourse and he should retract them.” She said that “the dehumanization and demonization of those who hold different political opinions … leads to baseless hatred and discrimination, and is used to justify unfair and hateful practices such as BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) and even violence.”
“One can disapprove of Israeli settlements in disputed territories without using ugly language to express that disapproval,” Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, told JNS.org. “The Talmud teaches that the type of language a person uses is evidence of what lies in his heart. Referring to ‘settlements’—which, in the end, are people—in dehumanizing terms reveals something deeply unpleasant. Metaphors carry meanings.”
Asked by JNS.org if he has any regrets about comparing the settlers to an illness, Korn laughed heartily and said that “an even stronger word might be appropriate” because in his view, the Jewish residents of the disputed territories “are destroying Israel.”
Last summer, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said that residents of Jewish settlements are “like termites.” After the Anti-Defamation League denounced the remark as “abhorrent and inappropriate,” Johnson publicly apologized. Korn, by contrast, told JNS.org, “I’m not going to apologize to anyone.” He said it is “ridiculous” for Jewish leaders to consider his rhetoric inappropriate or offensive.
Palestinian Authority officials often compare Jewish residents of settlements, or Israel in general, to diseases or animals. Last year, for example, the P.A. Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced what it called “the Israeli settlement cancer.” Similarly, a cartoon in the official P.A. daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida last year depicted Israel as a giant snake coiled around a mosque and a church.