The Biggest Mistakes Pro-Israel Advocates Make #6: How to Win Friends In Order To Influence People

win friendsAs we’ve discussed last week, the biggest obstacle in Israel Advocacy is getting our message out. Getting the message out doesn’t mean preaching to the converted – as they already embrace it! Therefore, the way to influence public opinion is by building alliances, especially with the left and non-Jews – in other words, the groups that have the most power and aren’t already pro-Israel. Minds are best changed and opinions are best formed through relationship building, or alliance-forming. If you don’t believe me, just look and see what SJP is doing. They already have a strong support base among Muslims and Arabs so they don’t even bother trying to direct their PR at them. Instead, they temporarily turn into lefties, because they know not to make the same mistake we do, which is…

Mistake #6: Preaching to the Choir

Yes, most Conservatives and Jews love Israel. We know that. They know that. If we only cater to them, we are literally wasting our time, while the anti-Israel groups cover a lot of ground and gain a lot of fans through their extremely effective outreach programs.

Doing this is a big problem for us Jews especially. Due to our history of persecution we have a tendency to stay inside our bubble and not reveal any potentially contentious opinions or ideas to anyone outside of it, for fear of repercussion. Moreover, proselytizing is totally not our forte; in fact, unlike Christians and Muslims, we have no tradition of it. This gives the anti-Israel groups (which are mostly Muslim-affiliated) a HUGE advantage, as activism, in a way, is a form of proselytizing. The exact same skill set is needed, in addition to very similar approaches and tactics. This ability to persuade and proselytize, which is so deeply embedded into Muslim and Christian tradition and culture, is totally absent among Jews. In fact, we not only suck at proselytizing, we also revile it and see it as unnecessary and obnoxious, which is why most Jews really can’t stand activists, whom they decry as “radical nutjobs” with utmost derision. It’s no wonder that most Jews abide by the notion of sha shtil, which roughly translates to “sit down and be quiet,” which is the polar opposite mentality to activism. The polar opposite mindset to combating antisemitism. We are already fighting an uphill battle from the outset. If we want to get even close to an even playing field with the anti-Israel side (let alone surpass them), we absolutely MUST stop preaching to the choir and get out of our Jewish Bubble.

But… how? Many Jews just don’t know how to do it. Fortunately I have some insight here I need to share.

First and foremost, we must build alliances, which are built through friendships and interaction with individuals outside the bubble. Yes, that’s hard, but any Christian who has done any missionary work will be the first to admit: if you want to be effective, the first and most important thing you have to do is get out of your comfort zone. Make alliances with other groups totally unrelated to Israel and Judaism, especially highly motivated social justice people who want to make a difference. You’ll go farther if you can appeal to as wide a variety of people as possible, and the more proactive these people are, the better. The Palestinians are totally aware of this, which is why you see these crazy comparisons between Ferguson and Palestine (Black solidarity movement, ironic since Zionist Jews were the most active in the Civil Rights movement alongside blacks), how the “Oppression of the Palestinians disproportionately affects women” (for the feminist activists), or even the twisted way in which anti-Israel activists somehow attach gay rights to one of the most homophobic entities on the planet (the Palestinian Authority). Do you seriously think they believe that Ferguson and Palestine are the same? I don’t. They do this to forge friendships, and create bonds and alliances by piggybacking on causes that people care very deeply about, to try to divert their passion for those causes into passion for the Palestinian cause. This concept of forming alliances is something we simply don’t do enough of, and something we can seriously learn from the Palestinians. That being said, I think what they do is appropriation. Personally, I feel more comfortable saying “here are some commonalities between us that might help us form a common bond” instead of saying “my situation is exactly like yours.” We need to fight fire with fire a little more, but we can do that without stooping to their level. However, appropriation is better than being a sitting duck and letting the antizionists make all the friends on the playground while successfully convincing everyone to hate you.

Some pro-Israel groups have focused on alliance-building, albeit in such marginal, isolated examples. It’s something we need to be doing a lot more of to gain people on our side. In fact, we are so behind the eight ball because among non-Jewish groups, most have already been approached by and converted to the other side. Why? Because the Palestinian activists are so proactive and know the right emotional and rhetorical tools to persuade naive audiences while we don’t. If a Jehovah’s Witness knocks on a door only to find out a Mormon got there first and baptized the person, the Jehovah’s Witness could preach all they want, but it would be an exercise in futility. Like the JW in this analogy, in most cases, we are simply too late. The ship has sailed, especially if emotional switches have been flipped.

We need to start taking advantage of our interpersonal skills and build relationships on a personal level with executives of organizations not related to Israel or Jews. I know that the urge to stay in the Jewish Bubble is strong with us, but we must resist it with all our might. Even one connection could be a link into larger organizations with thousands of followers. Start with befriending non-Jews and building a rapport before ever talking politics, and then ease your way into it. Although we are doing a pitiful job when compared to the other side, there have been small but notable triumphs that we have to build upon.

A pertinent example that highlights both the challenges we face and the potential for success is McGill University’s anti-BDS campaign, in which I played a peripheral role in helping defeat the Pro-BDS campaign. If you take a look at the events I linked to, you can see the list of endorsements for each side in their descriptions.

The anti-BDS campaign had nearly ALL Jewish endorsements with few exceptions: the more Conservative provincial party (interestingly called the “Liberal Party”) and the popular center-left student newspaper The McGill Tribune. The pro-BDS group has mostly Muslim and Arab groups, however there are many notable exceptions: the most popular student newspapers in English and French; the much-loved umbrella organization for social justice that gets a default $4 a semester from all students (QPIRG, whose fees are increased by student referendum every few years, and yes, I despise it for many reasons); the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE); the Midnight Kitchen (the school’s vegan food bank); CKUT (our college radio station); the African Students Society (MASS, which supports BDS but uses wix as a web host); KANATA (an indigenous Canadian group); and the Black Students Network (BSN). In other words, BDS is not a fringe movement at McGill: it’s actually really mainstream. The leaders of the movement projected the idea that “you should vote for BDS, duh, everyone is doing it.” Since college students haven’t outgrown peer pressure, this strategy totally works. What struck me is not only how the BDS camp made it look so effortlessly “hip” and played on strong psychological desires to fit in, but also the striking differences between the constituencies of both movements, which illustrates the problem we are facing.

The anti-BDS group had nearly all Jewish organizations and Jewish politicians – all older rich white men whom no student could relate to. The pro-BDS group had young, hip student groups comprised of students of every color just like McGill voters, who identify with groups that are traditionally seen as “oppressed”. In college, it’s “cool” to be a leftie (actually it’s considered mandatory for anyone who wants to appear to have a conscience, sadly). And, among lefties, it’s “cool” and “edgy” to be part of an oppressed group. Also among lefties, only the voices of those who belong to oppressed groups actually matter, or at least they hold the most weight, as an attempt to compensate for injustices committed against them, as well as “attempts to silence them.” Cognizant of these trends, anti-Israel groups made it a point to lend credibility to the narrative of “oppression” of the Palestinians by the Israelis by having oppressed groups on campus vouch for them. From genderqueer (UGE), to students of color (BSN, ASA), to indigenous students (KANATA) to economically disadvantaged students (Midnight Kitchen), the anti-Israel groups had managed to woo the entire spectrum of oppressed minorities.

However, this cloud has a silver lining. Not all the clubs fell for their trap. The Armenian Student Association, which understands better than anyone what the Jews went through as they too suffered a horrible genocide in the early part of the 20th century, decided to jump on board with us and endorse the anti-BDS campaign. The Armenian-Jewish alliance, a bond between two groups that have been brutally oppressed throughout history, represents something we can build upon, a model for future alliances on campus that even the bleeding heart left can’t ignore.

Another part of the silver lining? Despite the overwhelming vocal support the anti-Israel side got during the campaign, BDS was narrowly outvoted by a 50-vote margin. Why? Because in the end, BDS is a message of hate and Zionism is a message of love. We must never lose sight of that.

You might be wondering: how in the world do anti-Israel groups manage to appeal to such a diverse array of organizations? Here’s a hint: Chameleon. they tailor their message to each audience. Because their message is literally a lie, they can manipulate and change it to suit the tastes of whomever they happened to be addressing at any given moment. As we will find out next week, one size does not fit all…


#1: How to Flip the Emotional Switch

#2: How to Not be a Wuss

#3: How to Actually Know What You’re Talking About

#4: How to Not Look Like A Total Jerk

#5: How to Win Over the Next Generation

UP NEXT: #7: How to Deliver Different Strokes for Different Folks



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