The Biggest Mistakes Pro-Israel Advocates Make #7: How to Deliver Different Strokes for Different Folks

Happy Tuesday, Hasbarites (well, it’s still Tuesday where I am!)

By now, if you’ve been reading my previous installments as religiously as I hope you are, you’ve got the basics pretty down. The advice I’ve been giving you is advice that can apply to basically any kind of persuasive scenario. and a lot of it is common sense (although, as we all know, common sense isn’t exactly common).

Now that we’ve covered the basics, we can move on to some of the greatest hurdles in Israel advocacy and my idea of how to overcome them. The next advice I’m going to give you is probably going to be the most important advice I provide, as it’s exactly what the anti-Israel side is doing, and exactly what we AREN’T doing.

In my last few installments, I’ve discussed how most pro-Israel activities are headed by senior citizens who don’t know how to influence the next generation (as they don’t speak our language) and mainly preach to senior citizens. Given that senior citizens are overwhelmingly pro-Israel, it’s preaching the choir and a waste of time. I’ve discussed how pro-Israel groups fail to get out of their Jewish bubbles and create and build alliances with other cultural groups. And now, I bring you something that anyone who has studied marketing should be well-acquainted with, but most pro-Israel organizations are not: knowing your audience.

different strokesMistake #7 Thinking one size fits all

When we promote Israel, whether on campus or off, we project the same monolithic message every single time. Israel is great! Look at the beaches! Look at the gay pride parades! Look at the hot women! Support Israel because we’re sexy!

Except that doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, that style was founded and projected in the 1980’s during the Reaganomics yuppie age. That time of relative tranquility between the 1960’s and ’70’s revolution and the post-9/11 activist reemergence when everyone wanted to be a “Material Girl (or Guy)”. The late 1980’s was the heyday of gangsta rap, where bragging about getting rich, piling on the bling and name brands, and pretending to have bank accounts as big as your hair, were in vogue (if you want to understand that zeitgeist, think of the movie Clueless). Nowadays, pretending to be as bohemian and ascetic as possible, what I would like to call “fake poor” or “thirdworldist” is chic. This means raiding thrift stores (or wearing new designer clothes that look like they were bought at a thrift store), listening to indie bands with weird, often esoteric names, and going to coffee shops with torn or patched up plaid sofas. This means looking back on the ’80’s and ’90’s with “WTF was that?!” and looking back to the ’60’s and ’70’s with wistful longing, nostalgia for an era that most of us have never experienced despite being glorified everywhere by today’s young “hipsters” – the trendsetters of the modern day.

Obviously, the zeitgeist is different now. Our Hasbara strategy hasn’t changed with the times, and the fact that today’s “cool kids” look down on the 1980’s with revulsion doesn’t help our cause. In fact, it makes us look even worse to them, because while our fancy, exclusive, 600$/plate fundraising galas might have thrilled 1980’s “Material Girls,” it just reminds Millennials of all the starving children in Africa (or Palestine!) who are suffering, as well as the elitist or classist lack of inclusion that only bolsters the common narrative of Israel being Goliath and the Palestinians being David. Palestinian activists know this, which is why they make all their events free, include free childcare, and host them at grungy but trendy cafés. They’re the cool kids. We’re so last century!

You might be asking: what in the world does this have to do with one size fits all? Well, a huge part of the zeitgeist of the 21st century is the appreciation of diversity. By spreading a monolithic message, we’re essentially ignoring that diversity is there. Our one-size-fits-all attempt to please and win over everyone will win over no one because it’s spreading ourselves too thin. If we want to be most effective, we need to cater our message to the individual, because there isn’t such thing as a monolith.

In order to do this you need to know how to read a room. Read a person. ask them questions and learn more about them as a person to determine which “category” they fit in (or which combination of categories). By knowing people, you can predict what they will likely say and be able to cater your response accordingly based on what they like to hear. This tactic is precisely how the Palestinian side has brought Black activists from the Zionist side (as Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights friends mostly were) to the antizionist side in droves – by somehow connecting the black struggle against police brutality in America (Ferguson, etc.) with the struggle of Ethiopian Jews and illegal African migrants against police brutality. (An aside: the former are much-beloved members of the Jewish community, as Jewish as I am, and the latter bring mayhem and criminality wherever they go – just ask any Israeli).

Here are some examples of catering your message to the individual, an expanded form of the popular piece “The 4 Types of Anti-Israel Leftists“. I’m sure you can come up with many more.

1. Radical Leftists

Case Study: Magenta Lawson

Magenta is a rising sophomore at Swarthmore College who identifies as gender nonbinary (skew female, gender pronoun “she”) and LGBTQ (queer). A Political Science major, she’s been bombarded for the first time this past year with all this new information about the injustices in the world perpetuated by European Colonialism against the Native American, African, Asian, and Middle Eastern tribes. She was taught that these were people totally at peace until the colonialists came and ruined it all. Inspired by her professors and enraged by what she’s been learning at school about all kinds of oppression, she feels a calling to make the world better and use her power and white privilege living in an affluent society to help the powerless. She joined the Queer Alliance and finally met people who understood her scenario and related to her nonbinary identification and approach and made her feel like she belonged and was part of something awesome instead of an outcast and weirdo like she was in high school. Many of these friends were also active in other social justice causes, sympathetic to marginalized individuals, whether they are queer, People of Color, or Palestinian. She started attending meetings at other organizations such as Amnesty International and Students for Justice in Palestine, where she learned about all the horrible crimes perpetuated against the Palestinians by Israel. Over time, while learning about the corrupt history of colonialism in America, how it was founded, and how it prospered off the backs of tortured African slaves and well-meaning Native Americans whom they handed a brutal genocide in return, she became disillusioned with power and started identifying as anarchist, seeing that as the ultimate expression of anti-colonialism. While learning of corruption and greed of the wealthy, who exploit the poor to fill their pockets, she also became sympathetic to Marxism.

Who they are?

Usually college students (people tend to grow out of this once reality hits them in the face), sometimes non-profit workers, union organizers, and academics.

Why do they believe what they do?

They’re idealistic and genuinely want to make the world a better place. They are also very trusting of anyone who claims to be “marginalized” and mistrusting of anyone in authority, power, or who projects an air of success and affluence – e.g. the Clueless Hasbara Organizations (see what I did there?) They believe in a zero-sum game – in order for someone to be affluent and successful, somebody else must be oppressed and slaving away without getting what they deserve. This disillusionment with power is what draws many of them to Marxism and anarchism.

How do we appeal to them?

To attract the radicals, who care the most deeply and whose concern and motivation to act we can use to help our own cause, we need to focus more on justice and less on peace. This advice might sound counterintuitive, but if you have peace without justice, stability without resistance in the face of a purportedly “oppressive” regime, you have a solution that is unfair. This unfairness doesn’t fly, especially with Generation Y, brought up in the “everybody gets a trophy” egalitarian culture. The bright side is that leftists are generally open-minded, so if you feed them the information in an anti-oppressive framework without sounding too confrontational, they might understand.

What do we do?

We need to speak their language. Learn the language of the left, the language of anti-oppression. Radical leftists will only support you if you’re disenfranchised, so talk about the Jewish struggle for equality and self-determination over the course of millennia. Expulsions (especially the Farhud, to expose the Arabs for the colonialists they really are), genocides, massacres, pogroms, second class citizenship, colonization, etc. Teach them about Israel’s indigenous status according to the JC Martinez-Cobo definition, the one that’s accepted by the UN. Point out the hypocrisy of the so-called “Pro-Palestinian” groups claiming to support progressive values but supporting the Palestinians who want to turn Israel into a theocratic, homophobic, misogynistic dictatorship.

What do we not do?

Do not invite the to any paid events at the JCC or Federation. Do not invite them to any speeches given by people in suits and ties, or people connected to industry, even science. It’s too bourgeois for those types of people and makes Israel look like Goliath rather than David. They would listen to a homeless bum off the street before they would listen to a professor like Alan Dershowitz or Mordecai Kedar.

Why it can be harder than most:

They are stuck in the leftie groupthink and worried about ostracism if they were to change their mind, and teens and young adults value belonging more than anything.

Why it can be easier than most:

These youngsters tend to be pretty open-minded, especially if they’re freshmen.

2. The Bleeding Hearts

Case Study: Laura O’Neal

Laura O’Neal is a 37 year-old Irish Catholic mother of three young kids. Exuberant, fun, charismatic, and warm, she cares deeply for her friends and family, and tends to give people the benefit of the doubt. She is gregarious and has a tight group of friends who bring their kids over often, so there’s always the pitter-patter of little feet and the high pitch squeals of young kids filling her home. Every night at 6pm, after she’s fed the kids dinner, she watches the 6 o’clock news and sees images of dead children in Gaza. She immediately pictures it happening to her own kids and her friend’s kids and her heart grows heavy. Israel is evil, abusing its power, and needs to be stopped, especially since Canada supports it.

Who are they?

Very intuitive, emotional people, mostly mothers.

Why do they believe what they do?

They believe everything they hear and see on TV and in the newspaper, especially the sensationalist images on TV and on news sites. They also fall prey to graphic and gushy Facebook posts shared by their “Bleeding Heart” friends, typically propagated by propagandists such as Mohammed Zeyara and Jewish Voices for Peace. These individuals, often women, are usually very impressionable and easily emotionally aroused (so they also often fall prey to conspiracy theories and are in the category of individuals most likely to be anti-vax). They always follow their intuition and tend to think in black and white. They are usually not very educated. If they are, they’ve been out of school for awhile.

How do we appeal to them?

Appeal to their emotions. Pictures say a thousand words.

What do we do?

Focus on the Jewish struggle for self-determination, as well as how the Jews were persecuted at every turn – the Jews as an oppressed people. Like the Radical Leftists, they also sympathize with anyone who is oppressed and downtrodden. Prove to them that antizionism is antisemitism – challenge why they are only not okay with Israel when worse human rights violators are ignored. Try to explain how the media is biased and discuss the statistics – for example that the 2014 Gaza War casualty figures are skewed adult male of fighting age (67%). More than 80% of the Gaza casualties have been male. Show proof (videos, etc.) of Hamas child soldiers, children dying while digging the terror tunnels, and institutionalized indoctrination of hate against Jews. Just how these people are impacted by emotional videos from the Palestinians during the Gaza War, they would also be impacted by similar emotional videos from Israel. It might also help to explain the issue with Saudi/Qatari funding of our institutions that might skew the bias.

What do we not do?

Overwhelm them with facts, or anything longer or more complicated than a quick soundbyte. Make sure nothing you send them is above the 5th grade level.

Why it can be harder than most:

These people see the media (especially the news) as an authority and will often respect it over you.

Why it can be easier than most:

They are very impressionable, so if you have a compelling argument that’s “juicy” (e.g. proof of human shields, child soldiers, proof that it’s the PA’s fault), then they will eat it up.

3. Muslims

Case Study: Ahmed Al-Shahid

Born in Tunisia, Ahmed moved to Montreal, Canada at 11 years old. Naturally, his family gravitated to other members of the Tunisian community, and because it was small, the Muslim community, which welcomed them with open arms. His Grade 6 classmates made fun of him because of the different way he spoke French, so he sought solace with other Tunisians and Muslims who accepted him. The narrative he had been raised with was that Israel was illegitimate, and perpetuating horrific human rights violations. It was also seen as part of the package, a small but necessary condition for fitting in with the community. He is fully aware that any misstep or inkling of sympathy toward Zionists can lead to ostracism, so he and his friends bonded over immersing themselves in their narrative. In a way it’s the glue that holds Muslims together and a way they can express Muslim pride.

Who are they?

They’re members of the Muslim faith, either born into it or converted. The latter are more difficult to deal with because they feel they have to prove themselves.

Why do they believe what they do?

They’re from a collectivist culture, meaning tribal and family affiliation trump absolutely everything else. Therefore groupthink is of utmost importance and must not be compromised or else consequences are serious.
These folks are raised with a deeply-rooted distrust of Jews and a hate of Zionism. Zionism is seen as illegitimate and fought against by many world governments. This is an attempt by governments to distract from their own shortcomings. Western Muslims also see themselves as victims. The victim complex is huge among Muslims of all sects and levels of observance, and causes them to feel a kinship to the Palestinians. Finally, since the Muslim communities in the West (especially the U.S.) are relatively small, Muslims from all countries and tribal affiliations join together in communal activities. Since there is a lot of infighting among Muslims in the Middle East, the one common thread among Western Muslim communities, the one thing every group or entity in the Muslim world agrees upon, is antizionism. So, to help them bond, they cling to that thread. Many of the more traditional and religious Muslims genuinely believe that once a territory is conquered by Muslims, it belongs to Allah and cannot be reversed. This is quite a hurdle to overcome!

How do we appeal to them?

When you’re dealing with a devout Muslim, especially a Sunni, you can almost guarantee that their antizionism comes from feelings of kinship with their coreligionists that run very deep, the collectivist notion that when they suffer, you are suffering that is often unfathomable to individualist westerners. Whether due to religion or tribalism, the cultural idea is that everything my group does is right or must have a good reason even if I can’t see it now, and everything the opponent culture does is wrong, and that whatever intention they have must bad. With this notion, explaining the error of their facts and assumptions will take you absolutely nowhere, because social ties trump all else and self-criticism is out of the question for them.

What do we do?

Fortunately for us, Sura 17 in the Quran states that Allah gave Israel to the Jews, aka “Bani Israeel”(??? ???????). Yes, you heard that right; the Quran is a Zionist document. What better way to argue with a religious person than to cite their very own holy book?

What do we not do?

Muslims have a very “face-saving” culture, so don’t go right out in their face and tell them “you’re wrong!” You have to let them down very gently or they won’t be receptive and immediately instinctively get defensive.
Also, don’t keep going if you know you’re going nowhere.

What can make our job easier?

Nothing. This is the hardest group to do Hasbara to. Don’t even bother unless you’re really experienced at this and know your facts backwards and forwards. The more Western their mindset, however, the less difficult it might be to influence them.

What can make our job harder?

Collectivist cultures value tribal affiliation above all else, and supporting Israel goes directly against most people’s tribal affiliation. The social consequences of becoming a zionist in the Muslim community are therefore dire and certainly include ostracism. Nobody wants to be ostracized, especially those who believe people are more important than politics or the truth as the community is very tight-knit. They will most likely fight you to the bitter end and not concede publicly, though they may concede privately.

I’ve given you just a few examples, but I’m sure you can extrapolate them to many other scenarios and predict how to cater to each “type” of person in your approach. The most effective aspect of Palestinian activism is the fact that they are chameleons – they can change their colors to suit whatever people they happen to be preaching to. While we shouldn’t compromise our identity, we must acknowledge that Zionism has many facets and qualities to it that form sort of a buffet, and that when feeding people from the buffet, we should probably choose food we think they’ll like based on what we know of them. The ability to “read a room” takes time to develop, but once you do, you’ll realize it could help you a lot with other aspects of life.

I could write a whole book with case studies and examples like this, but this is all I have time for. Have any of your own? Post them in the comments!

Not caught up? Click HERE to see the rest of the Hasbara Guide!



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

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