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‘Israeled’ billboard puts past participle into present hatred

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A huge billboard emblazoned with “Israeled [verb]: taking something that isn’t yours, and then shamelessly pretending it belongs to you while playing the victim” in Johannesburg this month has raised ire about antisemitism and sharp questions about language and the abuse of maps.

This anti-Israel billboard in Fordsburg is far from the first time outdoor advertising has been used in South Africa to express a view on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Fordsburg Muslim Youth Organisation (FMYO) recently erected other billboards with the slogan, “Genocide Isreal, ethnic cleansing Isreal, occupation Isreal”. Others historically have depicted Nelson Mandela and Iran’s leaders supporting the Palestinians, or the notorious four maps showing the size of “Palestine” shrinking over the years.

This latest billboard also shows two maps – one labelled “Palestine 1946” indicates virtually the whole of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in green to be “Palestine”. In the second map, just the tiny area of Gaza is marked as “Palestine 2023”. The billboard adds “#SavePalestine” and features the logo and name of the FMYO.

Former English lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, Hazel Cohen, said, “I hate it. It’s inaccurate politically, grammatically, and sociologically. The term is a past participle, but the definition refers to the present. Of course, language shifts and grows all the time. But if this becomes part of spoken usage, it’s dangerous. This is basically hate speech, is it not?”

Looking at the use of language, Dr Evan Cohen, from Tel Aviv University’s linguistics department said, “English has a simple morphology – the structure of words and sentences – and you can easily make any noun a verb. You just make the necessary sound and spelling changes. You can’t do it so easily in a language like Hebrew. On ‘Israeled’ specifically, it seems that it’s just that form, and it acts more like a participle, as an adjective.”

The disparaging term “Israeled” isn’t unique to this billboard. It has been popular on the crowd sourcing online Urban Dictionary, which tracks slang and neologisms, gaining traction since October 2023. The platform chronicles how internet users give new meanings to old words and manipulate the English language.

When anti-Israel billboards go up, Israel supporters have frequently countered with boards or symbols of their own. Asked if outdoor advertising works, a veteran ad man and expert in outdoor advertising, who wishes to remain anonymous said, “It does get awareness, but they would need multiple boards to break through. So, one can definitely retaliate with boards near those. We have done just that in the past with Nelson Mandela boards. We used this sentence from Mandela, ‘I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognise Israel, within secure borders.’”

Experts weighed in on whether the billboard is antisemitic. David Saks, the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies said, “The inclusion of the phrase ‘playing the victim’ makes it obvious it’s a vicious dig about Jews, which combined with portraying Israel’s creation as a criminal enterprise does make it antisemitic, but antisemitic with permissible boundaries, since it only intimates as opposed to being explicit. In spite of it staying – just – within the lines, something so inflammatory and calculated to cause offence should really never have been accepted in the first place by the billboard company concerned.”

Antisemitism expert and emeritus professor at the University of Cape Town, Milton Shain, said, “I had never seen the term [Israeled] until now. It brings to mind the old dictionary term ‘to Jew’, the verb for tough bargaining. It’s disparaging, and to my knowledge is included today – if at all – in dictionaries with a warning. Hopefully this will evolve with the verb ‘Israeled’. After all, Israel was legitimately created by the United Nations. The message in the billboard ignores this entirely.”

Rolene Marks, the spokesperson for the South African Zionist Federation said, “The recent placement of an antisemitic billboard in Fordsburg featuring an inaccurate map of Israel is deeply concerning and unacceptable. Such deliberate misrepresentation through maps isn’t only factually incorrect but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes and falsehoods.

“The Jewish connection to the land of Israel spans thousands of years, which includes archaeological evidence and is supported by historical, cultural, and legal foundations, including international law. Denying Jews their right to self-determination, as evident in this distorted map, falls squarely within the realm of antisemitism as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, which explicitly condemns denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

“This incident isn’t an isolated one but reflects a broader pattern of extremist groups promoting hateful ideologies on billboards. It’s imperative to recognise and condemn such actions unequivocally. It’s unacceptable to use falsehoods and misrepresentations to demonise the Jewish community.

“Furthermore, the use of the term ‘Israeled’ is disturbing, and reminds one of the concept of ‘Gazalighting’ – when a terrorist group from Gaza carried out a massacre, then later denied it, and blamed the victim. We’ve witnessed a growing trend of ‘Gazalighting’, as certain commentators deny or minimise the atrocities that took place on 7 October.”

“It’s 100% antisemitism. It treats Jews differently from anybody else,” Cohen said. “There are wars raging in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Sudan, so why is there this treatment of Israel alone? Israel didn’t start this war, but it’s doing what it has to do. Those other wars are a lot less justifiable than the war on Hamas.”

Huge billboards like this don’t come cheap. The veteran ad man said, “Just the production cost would be about R20 000 to R25 000. It really depends on where the outdoor hoarding is situated. Different areas have different rates. The rate can vary from R100 000 to R150 000 per month. Also, if a Hamas sympathiser owns the site and doesn’t have an advertiser, then they may do it at no charge.”

The war of words is set to continue on billboards and banners as the conflict in Gaza rumbles on.

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  1. yitzchak

    Feb 27, 2024 at 9:16 am

    it’s interesting how they play the map!
    If Jews held title to 6% of the land in 1948, does the reciprocal imply that “Palestinians ” held the remaining
    94 %? Huh?

    That this bullboard is behind a double layer of fencing,barbed wire, electrical topping and a gap for guard dogs says a lot about their paranoia.

    There is no debating with such lobotomised people.They need to remove all references to Jewish biblical sources in the quoran and start again… talking about cultural appropriation.


      Feb 28, 2024 at 10:10 pm

      I mean your country’s response to South Africa, Is to call them nazis or nazi supporters even though, South Africa Has been through more than a colonial stress and racial drama.I’m pretty sure that’s Israel’s retort for everyone who is against what’s going on in the gaza strip. it’s very pathetic

  2. yitzchak

    Feb 29, 2024 at 2:41 pm

    Yes…the harrowing accounts of released hostages is what’s going on in Gaza.
    Israel must use air power to flatten terrorist strongholds to avoid our casualties.

    Palestinians, Hamas are truly in the legacy of nazism and fascism using their own citizens +ours as canon fodder for the imamas and ayatollas.

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