I had planned to write a brief and concise Hasbara Guide for college students who are faced, often for the first time, with hostile opposition to the existence the country they love. Somehow though, I got more than a little bit carried away. I’ve just been doing this for way too long, and have a lot of field experience that I would love to impart on the next generation so that you don’t screw up as many times as I did.
I am also in a unique position. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to interact with antizionists and “non-zionists” in university through both my progressive activism (pro-choice, feminist, pro-LGBT, etc.), my budding friendships with my boyfriend’s sister who converted to Islam 30 years ago and her 5 children who are very active in SJP, and my relationship with my longtime best friend who converted to Islam 2 years ago (and yes, she’s still my best friend, although she does cringe at a lot of the things I say on this topic).
So if anyone understands what’s going on inside their heads, it’s me. And I can promise you, every one of those people mentioned above are wonderful people with their hearts definitely in the right place. I just think they’re wrong about this particular issue.
I’ve decided to frame this series in terms of don’ts, because I find that explaining what to do and how to do it is much easier when done so within the bounds of knowing what not to do.
So, without further ado, I present to you: The Biggest Mistakes Pro-Israel Advocates Make. In other words, How Not To Do Israel Advocacy So That You Get A Better Sense of How To Do Israel Advocacy.
In my 7 years of working the campus Israel Advocacy scene, along with my brief interlude as a hardcore leftist during my sophomore year of university, I’m going to come out point blank and say that I’ve been guilty of every single one of these mistakes. We’re all human, and we all have motives, hopes, and fears. We care about our safety, our reputation, and also the truth, and often we have to modify our methods to satisfy each of these to the greatest extent we can.
There is definitely a spectrum of activism, involving different philosophies and approaches, between “taking the high road” (a.k.a. doing nothing) and “fighting fire with fire” (a.k.a. using the tactics of the so-called “Pro-Palestinian” activists right back at them). The quote, “put two Jews in a room and you’ll get three opinions” seems to ring especially true in relation to which method of Hasbara is most effective. Jews can’t agree on anything, what makes you think Hasbara is any different?
The saying goes: you can only reach new heights by standing on the shoulders of giants. I’m going to make a disclaimer here and admit that some of these ideas aren’t exactly mine. Rather, they were conclusions I drew from countless discussions with well-known “giants” in pro-Israel activism, both literal (like Ryan Bellerose) and figurative (like Chloé Valdary). It’s actually quite funny that the most talented and effective pro-Israel activists in my opinion happen to be non-Jews, but when I think about it, it makes sense. We Jews are not very good at selling ourselves, because we don’t have a tradition of proselytizing like Christians and Muslims do. Fortunately, we can learn from them, so that you don’t wind up learning the hard way like I did as a naive, bright-eyed college freshman, all those years ago.
- Too many facts, not enough emotion.
This error is a committed often by pro-Israel students, especially since on our side we have facts, but on their side they have hyperbole, conspiracy theories, and pictures of dead babies. As my friend Ryan Bellerose always says, “If you respond to pictures of dead babies by talking about computer chips, everyone will think you’re an insensitive jerk.” The anti-Israel side is more effective by flipping an emotional switch in three seconds with a soundbyte or a picture of a dead Syrian baby than we are with our huge walls of text and facts about Israel’s myriad lifesaving technological innovations. Not only is that approach boring in comparison, it also isn’t particularly moving to anyone with a modicum of empathy when compared side by side to the disenfranchised Palestinians. That is unfortunate, because we do have a very compelling and emotionally charged story, we just need to learn how to tell it right. Since college students of the 21st century don’t have the attention span to read our long, dense fact sheets, especially when they have a few hundred pages of reading due by the end of the week, we need to flip their emotional switch. Not only should we debunk their pictures as fake or from other conflicts, but we should also contribute some of our own. Videos of Palestinian leaders admitting they want to kill all Jews, images of children hurt by Hamas rockets and suicide bombers, videos of Israelis running to bomb shelters and taking cover at the side of the road amidst sirens and panic, stories about Palestinians who were thrown off buildings and dragged by motorcycles for being gay or admitting publicly that they want peace with Israel, and maybe a 3-minute soundbyte about our indigenous claim to the land and the 7th century Arab conquest. Here’s a good example of an emotional video that is short and powerful enough to keep anyone’s attention and leave a positive impression of Israel, but if you look hard enough on sites and YouTube channels like MEMRI, Jerusalem U, StandWithUS, and PalWatch, you’ll find the soundbytes you’re looking for.