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Talking Israeli Politics? There’s a Dialect for That

In Israel, a common language does not mean a common dialogue. And Israelis love to argue. Here’s a linguistic guide to help you traverse those moments.

Eylon Aslan-Levy
February 05, 2016

Arguing about “the situation” is something of a national sport in Israel. These conversations can be bewildering for many, as a debate over politics requires an increasing familiarity with key Hebrew buzzwords. Moreover, these terms can take on different meanings in smolani (left-wing) and yemani (right-wing) dialects of modern Hebrew.

Here is a handy guide for new immigrants to Israel who want to sound like native Israelis when they shout at each other about the state of the nation.

Shtulim (שְׁתוּלִים), or “moles” (in the sense of “spies”). Singular: shatul. From the root ש-ת-ל, meaning “planted.”

In yemani Hebrew, shtulim are left-wing activists from anti-Occupation NGOs, such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, who are funded by foreign governments to lobby against Israeli security policy and allegedly spread lies about the Israeli army. The term entered the mainstream thanks to a campaign by far-right group Im Tirtzu, which accused left-wing activists of “fighting against us while we fight terror.”

In smolani Hebrew, shtulim are right-wing activists from pro-Occupation NGOs who infiltrate left-wing NGOs undercover in order to expose instances of wrongdoing. The word took off after “moles” from Ad Kan penetrated far-left group Ta’ayush, and leaked hidden-camera footage to the media of an activist boasting of delivering Arabs who wanted to sell land to Jews to the Palestinian Authority for execution

Hasata (הֲסָתָה), or “incitement”

In yemani Hebrew, left-wingers engage in hasata is what do when they say bad things about Israel to foreign audiences. For example, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has accused Breaking the Silence, which collects testimonies about Israelis’ military service and often hold activities abroad, of “inciting against Israel… all over the world, on the basis of lies, half-truths and distortions.” The government also blames the recent spate of stabbing attacks on hasata by the Palestinian Authority and in Palestinian social media.

In smolani Hebrew, Hasata is what right-wingers engage in when they make threatening statements about the Left and Arabs (such as calling them shtulim), the act of which may encourage violence. The New Israel Fund has accused the Right of using “violent incitement as its modus operandi.” Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon has called Prime Minister Netanyahu “the baron of incitement, hatred and fire.”

Simun (סִמּוּן), or “labeling”

Inyemani Hebrew, simun is what the European Union and United States are doing to goods produced by Israelis in Judea and Samaria, insisting they be labeled “West Bank (Israeli settlement)” instead of “Made in Israel.” In response, right-wing lawmakers proposed legislation to label goods from countries that label Israeli settlement goods as being “manufactured by a country that has chosen to label products from Israel.” In another instance of the use of simun, former settler leader Dani Dayan has accused the Brazilian government of “labeling people” by refusing to accept his nomination as ambassador to Brasilia.

Insmolani Hebrew, simun is what the Israeli government planned on doing to left-wing NGOs for receiving most of their funding from foreign governments. An early draft of Shaked’s NGO bill, which would impose special transparency requirements on NGOs predominantly funded by foreign states, requiring activists to wear special tags (akin to those worn by lobbyists) in the Knesset. Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition and chairman of the left-wing Zionist Union, protested the move by wearing a lanyard reading “Jews don’t label Jews. Jews don’t label people.”

Eylon Aslan-Levy is an Israeli news anchor and political commentator. He is a graduate of Oxford, Cambridge and the IDF.