The Biggest Mistakes Pro-Israel Advocates Make #3: How to Actually Know What You’re Talking About

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Today is another Tuesday. That annoying day when the excitement of going back to work or school after the weekend has dwindled, but you still have four more days to go.

However, the fact that it’s Tuesday means it’s another Hasbara Tuesday! You get to find out what the next mistake Pro-Israel activists make is! Aren’t you psyched? I know I am!

You may have seen my segment discussing the series on The Voice of Israel. If you haven’t, you can find it here.



Before I start talking about how to deliver your facts and emotions, it’s important to make sure you don’t mess this up and give them ammunition by accidentally getting some of the crucial facts wrong.

Mistake #3 Not getting your facts right.

wall of liesYou don’t have to be a genius to understand that if you are caught giving out wrong facts, you lose your credibility. Since a lot of the anti-Israel activists are well-trained professionals, we have to work so much harder than they do as they are quick to exploit any holes in our logic or story. Their activists know how to draft resolutions, infiltrate student governments, and captivate their audiences to the point that they’re all over these innocent students before we get a chance to sneeze, let alone say “Am Israel Chai.” Therefore, they get to frame and direct the argument. Fortunately for us, the facts, and history, are on our side, and the other side is the one that is twisting facts and ideas. Another advantage is that pro-Israel activists tend to be more educated on the issue, because the antizionist viewpoint usually belongs to someone who was too lazy or had too much at stake to pick up a nonrevisionist history book. However, even those of us who are educated tend to make mistakes, especially given how biased and misinformed sources we trust such as politicians, the media, NGOs, and even the UN often are. The most common errors are 1) that Arabs (“Palestinians”) are indigenous to Israel and 2) That the settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. I’m going to debunk those two myths because they are so ingrained in the discourse that they are seen as truth, even among most pro-Israel students.

1) In his talk at the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR) in Montreal, Ryan Bellerose cited the official definition of “indigenous” to prove that the Jews, not the Palestinians, are indigenous to Israel (also in this post on Israellycool). Indigenous status, according to José R. Martinez-Cobo (former special rapporteur of the Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities for the United Nations), is conferred not just based on where a group comes from but also based on the specific place where the group’s culture originated. The genesis of Arab culture occurred in the Hijaz peninsula (in and around Saudi Arabia), while the genesis of Jewish culture occurred in Israel. But what about Palestinians who were once Jews? Ryan has an answer to this: “In accepting the identity of the Arab colonizers,” he said, “even ethnically Jewish converts who identified as Muslim Arabs had forefeited their indigenous culture and status.” If a Gulf Arab were to convert to Judaism, marry a Jew, learn Hebrew, assimilate into the culture, and move to Israel, she too would forfeit her indigeneity to the Hijaz Peninsula and take on the indigeneity of her adopted culture to the land of Israel. Since many ancestors of the Palestinians were converted to Islam by Arabs and fully embraced Arab culture, they no longer belong to the Jewish cultural group (in fact, many would get deeply offended if you accused them as such), and therefore cannot claim to be indigenous to the land of Israel. Blood isn’t enough, as home is where the heart, soul, and genesis of a culture was and is.

2) Until about a year ago, I actually believed that the settlements were illegal, because the so-called “pro-Palestinian” side never ceased to point that out as they preyed on my ignorance on that particular topic. Contrary to popular belief, the settlements are actually legal under international law. Here’s why (let’s start from the top, shall we?):

In 1948 Israel was formed as a territory handed over by the British and voted upon by the United Nations. Almost immediately, Arab states attacked Israel on all sides. There was a yearlong war in which Israel lost 1% of its population. At the end of the war, they had an armistice agreement (1949) that handed over Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to Jordan. Gaza became part of Egypt. As a part of the 1967 war, which Israel surprisingly won, Israel took over the Sinai Peninsula (which included Gaza), the Old City of Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank). Later, through peace treaties, the Sinai was returned Egypt, and both of the Egyptian and Jordanian borders were at peace. However, Egypt refused to take Gaza and Jordan refused to take charge of the West Bank. The Egyptian and Jordanian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, who somehow magically became “Palestinians” the moment those territories were given to Israel, disputed that territory swap, culminating in the brutal First Intifada, which ended with the Oslo Accords in 1994. The Oslo Accords were signed between the Israeli Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin and the head of the PLO, Yasser Arafat. As these negotiations continued, Israel agreed to swap some of its land for peace, and the beginning of the transfer of authority to the Palestinians had begun. During these land for peace swaps in the 1990’s, Israel kept some discrete pockets within the territories they gave up, predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, in order to avoid displacing too many Jews and to be able to maintain a security presence. As per the Oslo Accords, the Jewish settlements, dubbed “Area C” were determined to be administered by Israeli military and civilian authority. The security presence is important because the Palestinian government hadn’t, and hasn’t yet changed its mind about wanting to do everything it can to destroy Israel. Since the West Bank and Gaza were Israel’s to give, there are absolutely no legal issues with having kept some, as there were no legal issues when France decided to keep the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Quebec in the 1763 Treaty of Paris.

Ergo, the settlements in the West Bank are legally Israel’s or disputed, depending on one’s definition. They are not occupied. The “occupation” misnomer is nothing more than pure historical revisionism, designed to persuade the public into believing falsehoods that undermine the Israeli cause.

Israel has always been very eager to make peace with the Palestinians, but the latter have refused because they believe all of Israel belongs to them and want nothing more than to eliminate it. This is why all talks between the Palestinians and Israel are going nowhere, and any possibility of a Two State Solution is impossible as long as the Palestinians persist in this denial of the state of Israel and remain an ongoing security threat. They don’t want two states, they want Palestine to replace Israel. Their definition of peace is for the entire land to belong to the Arabs, and for Palestine to replace Israel completely. As such, they refuse to back down until this happens, and only adopt resolutions if they facilitate that goal.

There are many other examples where many pro-Israel activists get their facts wrong, but this example is so common that in their Advocacy training guide, CIJA (Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs) even advises to “not defend the indefensible” (a.k.a. the settlements). Given that I just defended the settlements, CIJA’s advice comes from either a lack of understanding of the facts and history that are so integral to understanding the conflict, or based on the assumption that the general public who have been force-fed these lies for so long are a lost cause. That being said, I understand where CIJA is coming from, as although the settlements are not illegal, they are very unpopular, even among most Jews. In my opinion, they are unpopular because certain misconceptions and rewritings of history are so common that people believe them to be true. This revisionism misleads people to believe that settlements get in the way of Palestinian statehood. However, when we dig through history, we learn that every two-state solution offer included dismantling all the settlements, but even that didn’t stop the Palestinians from refusing them. This track record makes it painfully obvious that the only statehood the Palestinians want is one that replaces Israel completely, and that dismantling the settlements won’t solve the Middle East Conflict, it will just give the Palestinians the power and autonomy needed to gather enough weapons to destroy Israel. After all, the settlements didn’t exist in 1949 (it was Arab land) and the Arabs still attacked Israel at every opportunity.

Although the settlements may require a complex explanation, if the topic is ignored it will remain the elephant in the room, especially if the opposition is curious about them or using them as part of their argument that Israel violates human rights. Despite my impassioned defense, I am still ambivalent about Israeli settlement policy, but that’s a discussion for another day.

You don’t have to be a walking encyclopedia or history buff, but when you talk about something in a position of authority, you should probably try to get your facts right. Books like The Case for Israel and The Case Against Israel’s Enemies by Alan Dershowitz, Why I am a Zionist by my friend Gil Troy, a professor at my alma mater, the age-old classic From Time Immemorial by the late Joan Peters, and Son of Hamas by Mossab Hassan Youssef are great primers that can be used to bolster knowledge of what you’re advocating. Don’t like books? JerusalemU makes pretty great short documentaries, and Alan Dershowitz’ The Case For Israel is also a film that’s on YouTube for free.

While you wait for the next installment of TBMPIAM, feel free to watch the videos and read the books I recommended above. Did I miss an important book? Are there any other common misconceptions you think advocates should learn about? Post them in the comments!

FIRST PART: How to Flip the Emotional Switch

LAST WEEK: How to Not Be A Wuss (#2)

NEXT WEEK: How To Not Look Like A Total Jackass (#4)

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Alexandra is a trained comedy actor who is Montreal's second-favourite export aside from poutine.