Israel Names Its New War After Biblical Story About God Terrorizing Egyptians

If you speak Hebrew, the Israeli Defense Forces would like you to refer to the wave of assassination strikes it commenced in Gaza today as "Pillar of Cloud," a Biblical reference to the form God adopted in order to protect the Children of Israel and strike terror into the heart of Egyptians. If you speak English, it would prefer you to use the less fanatical "Pillar of Defense."

Israel's Hebrew-language newspapers are all calling the new operation "Pillar of Cloud" (or so Gawker's resident Hebrew speaker and Israeli native, Neetzan Zimmerman, tells me.) And that's how the name of the operation first propagated in the America press. Here is the IDF's official Hebrew Twitter feed, in answer to a question about the operation's name, answering "Pillar of Cloud" about 90 minutes ago (thanks again to Neetzan for the translation):

Here's what "Pillar of Cloud" means: According to the Bible, during the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, God took the form of a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night, in order to light their way and to frighten the Egyptian army.

Exodus 14:19-20:

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.

Exodus 14:24

During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.

Exodus 13:21-22

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Numbers 14:14

And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

So that's what a Pillar of Cloud is: A worldly instantiation of an all-powerful, vengeful God seeking to demonstrate the primacy of his chosen people, to guide them in their affairs, and to confound their enemies. And that's what the people who conceived and executed this wave of strikes against Hamas officials and Gazan civilians chose to call them. If anyone was worried about the increasing religious and ethnic fanaticism of the Israeli leadership, they should still be worried. Did Israel launch this attack because there was no other rational route to maintain its security? Or was it pursuing a broader agenda rooted in ancient mysticism?

English-speakers don't really have to confront that question: According to the IDF's English language blog, the operation is simply called "Pillar of Defense." Much better.

The Israeli consulate did not respond to a phone message.

Update: An IDF spokesman emailed to say that "Operation Pillar of Defense" was not intended as a "direct, word-for-word" translation of "Pillar of Cloud."

The name is not a direct, word-for-word translation. Like most translations, it is an attempt to convey the spirit of the name, rather than a simple Google Translate.

Regardless of the religious implications, the bible plays an important cultural role in Israel. I think that every example of Bible quotes you cited has defensive connotations, rather than "vengeful."
Just my two cents.

[Image via AP]