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Peanut butter and jelly, and ketchup

Oct 18,2016 - Last updated at Oct 18,2016

Like his predecessors, the incumbent prime minister of the Israeli colonial state, Benjamin Netanyahu, never fails to make one’s face twitch.

In response to the UNESCO draft resolution that emphasises the indissoluble connection between Al Haram Al Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and Islam, and criticises the belligerent Israeli practices in Jerusalem, especially at its holy sites, Netanyahu commented that the resolution adopted by 24 countries and opposed by six (including the US, the UK and Germany) — was a scene from “the theatre of the absurd”.

He went on to say: “Today UNESCO [with which Israel has severed its ties as a result of the resolution] adopted its second decision denying the Jewish people’s connection to the Temple Mount, our holiest site for more than 3,000 years…. What’s next? A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock ‘n’ roll?”

Linguists must find Netanyahu’s language games a rich material for analysis, as the phrases joined by “and” all exemplify what is generally called collocations, namely words or phrases that are conventionally placed together. 

But Netanyahu’s examples may not cause a twitch in their faces if their analysis stops there. If one goes beyond that step, then dealing with twitches is a must.

One will notice that Netanyahu mixes up mundane or popular objects such as “peanut butter and jelly” with what is typically thought of as higher art, that is, “the theatre of the absurd”.

That mix-up might cause a slight twitch, specifically because it conjures up and exemplifies, as always, the theatre of the absurd: recall his histrionic display of a cartoon drawing of a bomb symbolising the Iranian nuclear programme at the UN assembly or the 45-second silence during which he glowered down at the delegates in the same forum.

Another absurd, twitch-inducing rhetorical gesture is his combining aggressively capitalistic and imperialistic language with religion and spirituality.

By using the pronoun “our” in the phrase “our holiest site”, Netanyahu arrogates Al Aqsa Mosque and Al Haram Al Sharif to Zionists, to further implement on the ground the myth of “greater Israel”. 

That arrogation should not be surprising, as it is typical of colonisers and imperialists who never hesitate to claim what belongs to “others” as theirs.

Indeed, Netanyahu’s absurd claim, and Israel’s for that matter, flies in the face of historical facts — which Netanyahu obdurately ignores. 

Nadia Abu El Haj’s “Facts on the Ground” and John James “Moscrop’s Measuring Palestine” both refute his spurious claims, as they suggest that the connection between the “findings” of the archaeological excavations in Palestine — which were initiated by the Palestine Exploration Fund in the 19th century, and have continued for more than a century-and-a-half now — and Zionism is baseless.

The most absurd — although not very absurd for anybody who follows Netanyahu’s rhetoric and absurdities — part of Netanyahu’s statement is the collocation at the end of the quotation. 

The twitches this time could be caused either by laughter or shock, depending on whether one is accustomed to Netanyahu’s rhetoric or not.

Netanyahu here describes the UN agency’s emphasis on the Islamic character of Al Aqsa Mosque and its refuting Zionist claims as akin to delinking peanut butter from jelly.

His intention is undeniably clear: He wants to make fun of and trivialise the resolution. But his words also trivialise peoples, religions and cultures.

By comparing the issue of Jerusalem to popular objects, Netanyahu underestimates the suffering of Palestinians and the theft and atrocities perpetrated by the colonising power.

He also trivialises Judaism and Jewish suffering, making a statement with which anti-Semites would have no problem automatically agreeing: The connection between Jews and Jerusalem is, according to Netanyahu, akin to the one between peanut butter and jelly!

Ironically, the references to popular American culture here were first made in Hebrew, not in English. Netanyahu does not mind Americanising his rhetoric, even when it comes to defending the ethnocentric Israeli state.

Perhaps heeding either the cultural references or the affinity between Israel and the US in subjugating and negating the presence of Palestinians and “others”, both US presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, condemned the resolution.

Trump even went so far as to point out what he calls “anti-Israel bias of the UN”, a claim that is disproved by many UN practices complicit with the Israeli state and directly taken from Israeli hasbara (propaganda), an exemplary of which is the Israeli education minister, Naftali Bennet, who accused the UN of denying Jewish history as a reaction to the resolution.

The last type of twitch that Netanyahu’s statement provokes is a twitch of déjà vu. 

In 2007, the Rand Corporation published a document — commissioned by the Pentagon — titled “Enlisting Madison Avenue: the marketing approach to earning popular support in theatres of operation”.

The first link between Netanyahu’s rhetoric and the report is theatricality. The second is its aggressively capitalistic language.

But the third and most telling is clear in this quotation about changing the brand of the “war on terror”: “The slow pour of Heinz ketchup once embodied the brand’s positioning of the ketchup as having a thick, rich consistency. Possibly reflecting a new societal focus on speed and efficiency, Heinz still maintains that its ketchup is ‘thick and rich’, but the positioning now focuses more on its new upside-down squeeze packaging that is ‘always ready when you are’.”

They follow this with the example of McDonald’s.

The two examples, Heinz ketchup and McDonald’s, appear in a report that was supposed to help the then American administration formulate its foreign policies, including marketing its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Rand Corporation’s report and Netanyahu’s words are uncannily similar: The combination of burger and ketchup is not a far cry from that of peanut butter and jelly.

It is these resemblances that represent the theatre of the absurd rather than the recent resolution.

That theatre, among whose actors are Netanyahu, the Rand Corporation and company, never fails to cause twitches on people’s faces, but it goes further: Its main purpose is to banalise the lives and suffering of “others” and literally damage their faces.



The writer, a Fulbright scholar, contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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