The Biggest Mistakes Pro-Israel Advocates Make #11: How to Avoid Washing Away Your Message
– But Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Gays have rights. They could even have civil unions, and marriages performed elsewhere are recognized. I mean, come on guys, just look at Tel Aviv Pride!
– But Israel invests billions of dollars in eco-friendly technologies to conserve water, increase crop yields, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. We even plant like, a buttload of trees!
– Aw c’mon man, you really gonna do this? Did you know that Israel is frequently the first to arrive with aid to folks all over the world who are the victims of natural disasters. Sierra Leone, Jordan, Japan, Haiti, Nepal….that country Israel’s got a heart of gold I tell ya!
– Did you know that Israel has the most start-ups per capita in the world? All that lifesaving technology in the hospitals and stuff, lots of it is from Israel! We’re creating apps that save lives, and, y’know, sometimes help you determine where the cops are on the road.
– Seriously, bro? Seriously? Even the hot chicks on the beaches in Tel Aviv won’t get you to love Israel? I mean, freaking Bar Refaeli!
Dude, you’ve gotta be kidding me. Is there any argument that you WOULD listen to without screaming that it’s some sort of washing?
I’m sure other kinds of “washing” accusations exist but these are the main four I see. I’m also pretty sure about 95% of you readers have already rolled your eyes at least once. That’s understandable. It annoys me too.
_____washing accusations, derived from the term “whitewashing,” are yet another brilliant tactic that anti-Israel activists use to silence us. More importantly, it’s a tactic used to get left-wing activists who ordinarily would support Israel based on their ideals and values to close their minds to pro-Israel arguments that would otherwise appeal to them.
The concept of “washing” is so ingrained into the leftist psyche by anti-Israel activists that the second they hear any pro-Israel argument that makes sense to them, their first impulse is to believe that 1) It’s propaganda and nonsense or 2) That it’s meant to distract activists from the inhumane way Israel is treating the Palestinians.
Because gay rights, green technology, tech startups, hot chicks, and saving Nepalese orphans have everything to do with the Palestinians. Duh.
Everything, even completely unrelated events such as the Ferguson shooting in the US has to be related to the Palestinians if they want to keep themselves at the forefront of global concern. And it works.
They have zero ethics in the way they grab attention. They have no respect for the human lives that end as a result of their human shield program. They send children to their deaths as suicide bombers and tunnel builders. They milk every single tragedy that happens to them for the cameras, even going so far as to create fake scenarios or to provoke IDF soldiers with cameras always standing by to record the action. They aim for maximum drama, maximum effect, because they know it’s the only advantage they have over us. As a pro-Israel advocate, I feel like I’m playing a game against the pro-Palestinian side with them cheating profusely, and everyone is not only letting it happen, but cheering them on.
One of our common mistakes is whitewashing everything. Yes, pinkwashing, greenwashing, aidwashing, techwashing, babewashing, and other washing without anything of substance to complement it. That method just makes it look like we’re purposely avoiding or hiding something, obscuring the “truth” with fluff. While I hate giving legitimacy to antizionist terminology, we do have to respond to the true issues with our advocacy campaigns that are underlying these accusations.
So I bring you
Mistake #11: Pinkwashing, Greenwashing, Techwashing, Aidwashing, Babewashing, and other types of “washing.”
Yes, I can feel many of your fingers twitch, eager to type an impassioned rebuttal in the comments section. “How dare you legitimize their nonsensical accusations against us, meant to silence us!”
And you know what? You’re right. These tactics are meant to silencing us, they are for the most part a load of rubbish. However, they highlight a serious problem with our advocacy that we need to address:
Its shallow, avoidant nature.
There. I said it. Our advocacy sucks when it avoids the real issues that anti-Israel activists address. We actually look like we are hiding something because we ignore the elephant in the room, presumably to avoid negative publicity. Well, without a proactive response to all the negative crap about us out there, we only hear once side of the narrative – THEIRS. On our side we have pictures of beaches, gay pride parades, computer chips, hot babes, and occasionally airlifting Nepalese earthquake survivors.
Let me reiterate.
Palestinian Side: Pictures of dead babies. Rubble. Cities in ruin. Mothers crying over bloodsoaked children. Palestinian teenagers being restrained by Israeli soldiers.* Israeli soldiers with guns and tanks entering civilian areas. Accusations of apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate warfare, violations of international law, economic restrictions due to a blockade and a wall, intentionally keeping the Palestinians in poverty, police brutality, racism, forced sterilization.
Israeli Side: Beaches, sexy chicks on beaches (sometimes carrying military guns), gay pride parades, drag queens, nightclubs, parties, good food, computer chips, technology, iPhone apps, photos that glorify the IDF, the Tel Aviv skyline that emphasizes the wealth of the country, Israeli models, high tech machines designed in Israel, Israeli soldiers with guns and tanks giving each other bro-hugs and taking selfies, expensive gala dinners that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars a head, a lot of trees, and fields full of flourishing crops, and bible quotes.
I’m not say they should remove all these completely. These images do work on some subsets of the population and there is nothing wrong with having them around. However, as I discussed in previous installments, we have to start giving different strokes for different folks. We need to stop only catering to the lowest common denominator, because although it might temporarily entice the masses, all they have to hear is “but these Israelis are using these pictures to hide that they’re killing people indiscriminately in Gaza, see these photos!” to change their minds. We don’t produce anything to flip their emotional switches that comes anywhere close to what the Palestinians provide. Our images of all our cool toys and sexual liberation can’t form the basis of a zionist argument because they aren’t an argument (at least not alone).
To an intellectual, educated activist who doesn’t have the time to read every pro-Israel manifesto or wall of text (like this one), our methods of soundbyte advocacy are almost offensive. As in, how stupid and shallow do you think we are? All we see from them are people dying and brutal human rights violations, and all you have to show for it are pictures of women in bikinis partying on the beach? Seriously?
Let’s try to translate these images and soundbytes in word form, side by side:
-“Israel is the only country in the Middle East to have gay rights.”
-“But in the Occupied Territories, the Palestinians don’t have rights!”
-“But look at all these hot babes on the beach in Tel Aviv!”
-“But Israeli soldiers are killing Palestinian women and children for no reason!”
-“But look at these Israeli soldiers hugging and posing for a selfie? Aren’t they cute?”
-“Cute? They killed 2500 Palestinians last summer! Including 500 children! In COLD BLOOD!”
-“But look at these awesome startups that come out of Israel! Some of them are saving lives!”
-“Saving lives in the West, maybe. Israelis are sure taking a lot of lives in the West Bank and Gaza, wrongfully imprisoning and brutally oppressing our martyrs who are fighting for our freedom to exist as a state of our own!”
-“Seriously? You think Israel doesn’t want to help people? Look at all these pictures of Israel helping set up medical aid tents in Haiti and Nepal!”
-“Isn’t it ironic that they help all these poor suffering people overseas but refuse to help people who are suffering just as bad, right next door? Doesn’t that look like a cover-up of some sort?”
-“But look how environmentally friendly Israel is!”
Yeah, it does make Israel look like a callous psychopath in comparison. In fact, that’s exactly what Hamas and their PR people are trying to do – to use our PR tactics against us. They one-up us every time and make us look like jerks, using our own words against us. They use social justice as a trump card, as none of the other frivolous stuff the pro-Israel side likes to talk about matters if Palestinians are denied basic human rights.
So, like any other brand has to do, we have to keep reinventing ourselves to match the zeitgeist of the time. Not only reinventing ourselves, but adding new layers and new dimensions in response to cultural changes and paradigm shifts, as well as both preemptively and in response to what our opponents are doing and saying.
Imagine it as making an ice cream sundae to share with a group of friends. It has a scoop of mint chocolate chip because your friend Judge Dan loves mint chocolate chip. Your other friend, Brian loves white chocolate and Dave sort of likes it, but Aussie Dave‘s favourite flavour is peanut butter cup so that must be included too. Brian, however, can’t eat anything that has too much carbs or sugar, so cookie dough ice cream is out of the question for him, even though I like it a lot. Ryan loves maple because he’s a walking Canadian stereotype, and let’s say Bob is vegan, then the sundae has to have vegan ice cream in it. Deebo appreciates the finer things in life, so he insists on gelato, but none of our other friends want to pay that much for all the scoops to be gelato, so they compromise on one scoop of Oreo gelato, Deebo’s favourite flavour. Varda insists on plain vanilla bean because she’s boring. Mirabelle loves olive oil ice cream but she’s willing to settle on mango sorbet, which most of us can tolerate. A lot of us don’t want to waste our calories on just plain vanilla though. I love myself a little bit of everything (except vegan ice cream, because it’s not even real ice cream).
In order to compromise for this Sundae, which will probably just end up looking like a Ben and Jerry’s Vermonster, we need to have a scoop of what everyone likes. If I love Oreo but don’t like vegan ice cream, I’ll have a large spoonful of the Oreo scoop but leave the vegan scoop for someone else. If I like a little bit of everything, I’ll have a tiny bit of everything. The more scoops of ice cream there are, the more people are going to be happy with the selection, the more people will find the assortment palatable.
Hasbara has to be a Vermonster, with one scoop of everything, so that there’s something targeted for everyone. No one scoop should overwhelm the other flavours, and we should do an equally exceptional job with each flavour, otherwise someone will insist on getting it elsewhere. We should have an indigenous rights focus, a human rights focus, a social justice focus, a high tech focus, an international law focus, a tikkun olam (helping humanity) focus, a religious freedom focus, among others. One of the many reasons the Palestinian PR campaign is so much more effective than ours, besides the fact that they left all their ethics at the door, is because they have many different angles and messages associated with their cause, and know how to appeal to different demographics.
So what does this have to do with whitewashing?
We have to stop whitewashing our cause. It’s doing us no favours if nearly all of our public relations materials are shallow, light, fun things, a delicate house of cards that comes crashing down the second a Palestinian activist plays the social justice trump card. We need to have failsafes in cases where this is bound to happen. We need to be proactive. We need to stop treating the general public like they’re too stupid and shallow to ever probe deeper into issues. We need to appeal to the intellectuals and social justice warriors who want work tirelessly to make the world a better place. They are the ones who give human rights causes credibility, but they’re currently fighting for the other side.
The saddest part is, they used to fight the war of words for us, but we took them for granted and refused to modify our strategy to reflect changing times, so they gave up on us and left for a more compelling message. They left because the Palestinian side pulled the trump card they couldn’t refuse.
Without justice, you can’t have peace, as any peace would be oppressive.
Without human rights for all, in Israel and in the occupied territories, you can’t argue that equal rights exist for Israelis and Palestinians, for gays and lesbians, for men and women in Israel while ignoring the elephant in the room: the accusations launched against us from the territories.
We can’t claim that we are so valiant in bringing rapid aid in far-off lands while failing to address what is perceived as a human rights crisis within our own lands.
We cannot justifiably post photos of scantily clad Israeli women on the beach while simultaneously ignoring accusations of IDF soldiers shooting innocent Palestinian children playing soccer on the beach.
We can’t brag about our environmental innovations while the Palestinians are complaining that their environments are thick with dust, shrapnel, and rubble from Israeli airstrikes.
We can’t brag about computer chips when they’re showing us pictures of dead babies. As Ryan Bellerose said in his recent talk at CIJR, it makes us sound like we have Asperger’s.
The climate now, in the 2010’s, with our world turning upside down, is much heavier than the light and carefree 1980’s when our Hasbara strategy originated. We’ve since lived through the Gulf War, the Kosovo war, 9/11, the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, the Arab Spring, two intifadas, wars with Hamas and Hezbollah, and the looming threat of ISIS.
We need to stop adopting a policy of ignoring the elephant in the room, otherwise we look like a joke next to the Palestinians whose concerns seem way more legitimate than our #firstworldproblems. We need our strategy to have more grunge, more edge, more emotion, more anti-colonialism, more anti-oppression, more resistance, and of course, more justice.
We need to show that young adults don’t enlist in the IDF because they want to, they go because they know they need to in order for their country to survive. That Israeli soldiers don’t go to war because they get a kick out of it. That Israel is spending billions in aid money to protect itself with bomb shelters and the iron dome while Hamas is not using any of its aid money (the most per capita in the world) to do so. We need exposés on Hamas and Fatah corruption and how the many social justice issues affecting Palestinians are caused by Hamas like this one. We need to show what Hamas is doing to not only gays but Israelis, and denounce their desire to keep any future Palestinian state Jew-free from an antiracist perspective. We need to show that not only are we indigenous and the Palestinians are not (they’re Arabs from the Arabian peninsula), we’ve also lived on that land continuously since biblical times, and that a mass Arab immigration followed the agricultural advancements brought to that land by the Jews. We need to get to the bottom of the conflict in order to leave no stone unturned. If we only skim the surface, if we don’t address their grievances and talking points or predict what their future talking points may be and act accordingly, we look like we’re either hiding what’s down below or too scared to venture there and open Pandora’s Box.
We need to get inside the heads of Palestinian activists. And I can promise you, pics of bikinis, gay pride, computer chips, and rows and rows of fresh organic crops isn’t doing it for them. We need to do more. We need to go deeper. A video by New Zionist Vision I posted with the first installment of my Hasbara Guide illustrates this point very well.
What do I mean by this?
Compare these two message side by side. Which one does the most powerful job of annihilating the Palestinian narrative and approach? Which only fuels it and causes the to roll their eyes, making us look callous and uncaring?
Narrative 1: We give our people, Muslims included, more rights in Israel than any other Middle Eastern country, especially gays and women. We have great nightlife, fun beaches, good looking girls, fancy start-ups, and a prosperous economy. We also care about the environment and give a lot of aid to third world countries and countries hit by natural disasters. Oh and by the way the land is ours because God said so. Aren’t we wonderful?
Narrative 2: This is the land of our people. We’ve inhabited it continuously since the 18th century B.C.E., despite constant wars and attempted expulsions by colonial powers. We are the ultimate survivors of oppression, which includes centuries of enforced dhimmitude on our own land by colonialist Arab invaders from the Hijaz (did you know the word “Palestinian” means “invader”?) This movement called Zionism, which emerged in the 19th century, is about reclaiming our ancestral land from its colonial rulers (then the Muslim Ottomans), and refusing to endure dhimmitude any longer. We did this by buying land from the once-barren territory, often from absentee colonial landowners from the colony’s Mother Country who charged us way more than what it was worth. We cultivated the land with new agricultural technologies that we learned and developed while in exile, and many Arab immigrants came from surrounding lands later on to share in on this prosperity. After the holocaust, the world realized how badly the Jews need a haven from persecution so the UN let us have Israel. This, the Zionist dream and reality, is the ultimate story of an indigenous population exiled from their homeland or made to live as dhimmis finally reclaiming our sovereignty, the holy grail of a social justice movement. The Arab armies, whose leader Haj Amin Husseini was allied with Hitler, fought us at every turn because to them, we should always be dhimmis and “know our place”. We refused to back down and continued this resistance, refusing to be violent unless provoked, which we are frequently. Much of what they say about us lacks context or are flat out lies. Oh and by the way, we share your values of justice, human rights, and equality, being the only country in the middle east where women and gays are treated as equal, and we give tonnes of aid every year to developing countries and countries surviving natural disasters, especially the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to whom we give the most and treat them in our hospitals. Even though the British gave the Arabs their own state already, Jordan, we’re still willing to compromise some of our land for a Palestinian state if they’re willing to recognize us, which they don’t seem to. All they seem to do is send terrorists our way and compensate them and their families for attacking us. How is that just? Why would this make us want to take down the blockade when they only want destruction and refuse peace? And we do have nice beaches, and pretty ladies, you should come visit sometime and see all this for yourself.
Which one is most compelling? The first part sounds like a fluffy tourism ad. The second one is long, I know, but it’s multilayered and profound, as our message should be. We shouldn’t regurgitate all of it at once, we should start with the deeper stuff and then move on to the shallow stuff later when they feel more comfortable with us. It sounds counterproductive, but they’ll only listen to us if we flip their emotional switch, and only the deeper stuff does that.
Like what you just read? Read the rest of the Hasbara Series HERE.
*Most likely after throwing rocks or Molotov cocktails but of course the public doesn’t have to know that.