Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The accents of the Israeli team

For many, following all the ins and outs of the Israeli-Palestinian saga can be confusing. Hamas did that, the Israeli army did that. They started the war. No, they started the war. They broke the ceasefire. No, they broke the ceasefire. Hummus belongs to them. No, it belongs to them.

It is all very overwhelming. One thing, however, is glaringly clear. American journalists seem to have a much easier time having conversations with Israeli officials than they do with their Palestinian counterparts. The reason is obvious. All of Israel's official mouthpieces speak perfect unaccented English. And why wouldn't they? After all, they are not from Israel.

Peter Lerner is the foreign press spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces. He was born in London in 1973. He immigrated to Israel in 1985. Hebrew, one of the two official languages of Israel (yes, Arabic is an official language too, because Israel is a democracy), is his second language. You might have wondered why Peter Lerner sounds more like a spokesperson for the Queen than he does for Israel. Why wouldn't he? He is, after all, a foreigner in the land of Israel.

Dore Gold is a diplomat who has served in many Israeli governments. He was once Israel's ambassador to the United Nations. He is currently the president of an Israeli think tank in Jerusalem. He was born in Connecticut, attended high school in Massachusetts, and earned a BA, MA, and PhD from Columbia University in New York City. He has appeared on television numerous times during Israel's latest offensive defending and explaining the policies of the Netanyahu government. As you might expect, his English is perfect. Mr. Gold lives in Jerusalem. He might even live in a house that once belonged to Palestinians. Of course, I don't know that for sure, but trust me, in Jerusalem, it's a safe bet. You might have wondered why Dore Gold sounds like a Yankees fan. Why wouldn't he? He is, after all, a foreigner in the land of Israel.

Mark Regev is the official spokesman of the Netanyahu government. In 1960, he was born in Australia, where he grew up and finished college. He immigrated to Israel at the age of 22, when he began his graduate studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has remained in his adopted homeland ever since. Hebrew is also his second language. You might have wondered why the official Israeli spokesman sounds like Crocodile Dundee. Why wouldn't he? He is, after all, a foreigner in the land of Israel.

Michael Oren was most recently Israel's ambassador to the United States. He was born in upstate New York. He earned his MA and PhD from Princeton University in New Jersey. He immigrated to Israel in his mid-twenties. He has lectured at dozens of American campuses. He articulately defends Israeli policies on American televisions across our great country. Well, he is usually articulate, if you don't count his recent interview on MSNBC when he suddenly (and quite conveniently) couldn't hear Andrea Mitchell when she asked him about reports that Israel had eavesdropped on John Kerry last year. But even when he flusters and fumbles, he speaks eloquent East Coast English. You might have wondered why Michael Oren sounds like an American university professor. Why wouldn't he? He is, after all, a foreigner in the land of Israel.

Micky Rosenfeld is the Israeli police spokesperson to the foreign press. He speaks English flawlessly. That's because he is English. Yup, he was born in England and grew up there. He is blond and blue-eyed. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. He grew up with Duran Duran, the English Premiere League, and bland food. The garlicky cuisine of his new homeland must have come as a bit of a shock to him. You might have wondered why Micky Rosenfeld sounds like Piers Morgan. Why wouldn't he? He is, after all, a foreigner in the land of Israel.

Ron Dermer is Israel's current ambassador to the United States of America. He has been all over CNN in recent weeks. He attended the University of Pennsylvania before moving to Israel is his twenties. He was born in 1971 in Miami Beach, where both his father and brother were once the mayor there. He is one of Netanyahu's closest advisers, writing many of his speeches, in English I assume. He is highly educated, yet for some reason he still sounds obnoxious and rude during just about every interview. You might have wondered why Ron Dermer sounds like a whiny kid from Florida. Why wouldn't he? He is, after all, a foreigner in the land of Israel.

Now I don't really mind that all of these Israeli messengers speak perfect English in American, Australian, and British accents. However, I do mind that with all that Western education they still can't pronounce "Hamas." They insist on continuing to say "Khamas." This is just offensive. Hamas is already frightening enough with its crappy rockets, ancient rifles, and hooded militants. Do they really have to add that chilling "kha" sound? Do they do that with all "h" sounds? It would make some nursery rhymes seem just downright scary. "Khumpty Dumpty sat on a wall" just sounds alarming. C'mon guys. It's "Hamas," like "happy." Just think that. Hamas. Happy. Hamas. Happy. See, it works.

In any case, this is the cast of characters acting as Israel's cheerleaders to the American public. Justifying racial supremacy, ethnic cleansing, and indiscriminate bombing campaigns definitely sounds better when it's done in an accent we can all relate to. But I'm sure every American listening to them still wonders why all these Israelis sound like the next door neighbor. Why wouldn't they? They are, after all, foreigners in the land of Israel. Foreign colonist settlers.

* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, and speaker living in Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab." Email Amer Zahr.

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