The Biggest Mistakes Pro-Israel Advocates Make # 2: How To Not Be A Wuss
It’s Hasbara Tuesday, Ladies and Gents!
Welcome to Part 2 of the Hasbara Guide, because like Saudi wives, one is never enough.
No, I am not a paid Hasbara shill. I wish I was. It would be nice to get remunerated for all the hard work I put into advocacy, but alas, I have to stick to doing it because I care about my country and people. Hasbara has become a dirty word, just like Zionism has, and for the same reasons. No, we are not paid propagandists. Yes, Israel has paid spokespeople to promote its reputation just like every other country has. No, I am not one of them, and neither are any of my Hasbara colleagues. Aside from the really high-profile pro-Israel activists who get paid to do speaking engagements or who form the upper echelons of organizations like StandWithUs, I cannot think of anyone I know who is paid to do this. But I digress.
In this portion of The Biggest Mistakes Pro-Israel Advocates Make (TBMPIAM), I will discuss something most Jews find very counter-intuitive: actually standing up for ourselves rather than keeping our heads down in hopes people won’t notice us. Anyone raised by a Jewish mother can attest that you are conditioned from birth to do whatever in the world you could to avoid any risk whatsoever. “Don’t rock the boat”, “Don’t draw too much attention to yourself, you will get hurt,” “Don’t swab your ears with Q-Tips, you’ll burst your eardrum,” “Don’t post that [pro-Israel post] on Facebook, people will hate you, why would you want people to hate you?”
This Jewish self-preservation instinct, to stay in hiding and succeed through pure grit and hard work, comes from a very sad place, a cultural PTSD. But if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will stand up for us? Or at least, who would stand up for us before millions of us have already been massacred? Our Jewish mothers are right – we cannot rely on the “goyim” to help us, we have to rely on ourselves. Simply too many people hate us and have hated us throughout history for literally no reason but superstition, so we have often learned the hard way that trusting others (or even sharing controversial opinions with them) can be a very bad, if not deadly idea.
I’m going to ask you to shelve that mentality. Disregard what your mother said. Yes, I can hear the collective gasp of Jewish mothers everywhere who are reading this. “Let someone else’s kid die for standing up for what they believe in!” they might exclaim, brows creased with worry. But fear not, interspersed throughout this guide and future installments are some safety tips, because although chutzpah is absolutely necessary to stand up for ourselves (and standing up for ourselves is absolutely necessary to avoid getting pummeled by enemies with far more chutzpah), you need to know when to quit.
If you try, there is a chance you’ll have to leave the fray for your own safety. However, that’s a very small chance, and your chance of failure is 100% if you don’t try at all. (If it makes you feel better, I’ve been doing this for 8 years and have emerged without even a hasbara-related scratch as a result, so I’m living proof that Hasbara can be done right – and safely). So, without further ado:
This issue is why most of the advice I gave in #1 (too much pedantic, hard facts and not enough emotion) doesn’t always work. Since the status quo is on our side, the anti-Israel camp feels like it has to work that much harder to gain enough popular opinion to topple it, while we stay complacent in maintaining it. They are constantly on the offensive because we are by definition defending the status quo, and are eager and zealous to jump into action with enticing slogans that fool students into thinking they are about tikkun olam, making the world a better place. Buzzwords like “social justice,” “equality,” and “human rights” are thrown around, and the nastiest of accusations are aimed at Israel without much vocal opposition from Day 1. For the first time in their lives, many of these students are given the feeling they can make a difference in the lives of thousands of suffering Palestinians. Students are immediately guilt-tripped, made to feel that if they don’t support the Palestinians and protest Israel, then they aren’t good people who care about human rights. Unfortunately, this means that the pro-Israel groups need to be proactive in ensuring this doesn’t happen, in showing them what human rights actually mean, that Jewish human rights are human rights too, and that the very real violations of Palestinian human rights are not Israel’s fault, before the anti-Israel groups get to it. This typically means right away.
We Jews have such a compelling story, if only we were to frame it appropriately as a struggle against thousands of years of oppression, we can appeal to the underdog-loving left too. However, the other side normally beats us to it, branding us as the evil white privileged colonizers before we get a chance to show our side of the story.
In most students, this means the emotional switch is already flipped, and any counterarguments or upbeat videos like the one I linked to in the last installment will just make us look like insensitive jerks. Think about it from their point of view based on the emotional overload they have probably already received from the Palestinian side: “Who cares about computer chips and nightlife when thousands of Palestinian babies are being slaughtered by the evil white supremacist colonialist jerk-offs in Israel? How can these Israelis party on the beach while Palestinians are being killed by the zillions by their compatriots in the IDF and not feel like the terrible people they are for not only being complacent, but supportive of their genocidal polices?” Misconceptions like these create a barrier that will result in whatever we are going to say not only being ignored, but also repudiated as insensitive. Once the emotional switch is flipped, no amount of logic and reason can un-flip it, which why we have to be proactive and try to flip the switch ourselves before the other side can. This advice may sound counterintuitive, but it’s really the only way around their aggressive campaign to move hearts and minds away from Israel.
So how do you do this?
- Maintain active and proactive pro-Israel groups on campus and in your community. In other words, host many events with food. I started Montreal United with Israel after Protective Edge to create a meeting place at the grassroots for a wide variety of pro-Israel advocacy, as well as a one-stop shop for all things pro-Israel: information on all the events, lectures, political endorsements, and Israel-related local news you could ever want across the Zionist spectrum.
- Post and comment on Israel-related news on social media. Don’t wait for a conflict to happen to do so, as usually when there is a conflict, the loudest voices are the ones against us and the emotional switch in naive minds is very easily flipped when tensions are high. Cause in point: antisemitic incidents soared during and following Protective Edge.
- Make every effort to host activities that make people not only feel good about Israel, but also develop a better understanding of our point of view and the social justice issues we face as Jews. We must not ignore the elephant in the room – i.e. the conflict. Rightfully brand it as a triumph over oppression and countless attempts to wipe us out. Never forget that we are the underdog in the Arab World, and portray us as such. Some good examples are Israel Food Fests, bringing in IDF soldiers to talk (and since all Israeli students have to serve before university, ask any Israeli student), screening documentaries like the ones from JerusalemU, hosting an interactive workshop about the situation in Israel (SJP shouldn’t have a monopoly on interactive “apartheid wall” or eviction notice-type interactive, visual activities, maybe consider a makeshift rocket siren drill demonstration for example), or even a Zionist Music Festival like Chloe Valdary’s wildly successful “Declare your Freedom Fest”
Being proactive is extremely important, because once a news item comes their way, instead of letting their switch be flipped by the obviously biased reporting and demonization from SJP, SPHR, and the media, people will think twice, and hopefully, they will think critically.
NEXT WEEK: How to Actually Know What You’re Talking About – 05/05