The Biggest Mistakes Pro-Israel Advocates Make #13: How to Not Bite the Hands That Feed You
I apologize for the lateness of this post, but I’ve been running around for the last few days preparing for my upcoming trip to Israel this Thursday! I think that’s a good excuse, don’t you? Part of my lateness could also be explained by the time I spent reeling from the news of that one-sided trainwreck, also known as the Iran Deal.
Speaking of the Iran Deal, we need to stop assuming our enemies think exactly as we do. This is a big rookie mistake committed by many idealistic, naive leftists. In fact, it was only when it dawned on me that there are cultural differences that account for certain foreign policy decisions and cause different nations to examine different circumstances through a different lens that I was able to abandon the radical leftist worldview, as it is entirely contingent on the notion of “we are all the same.”
Because, let’s face it, we aren’t.
Even among Jews we aren’t the same. We are not the monolithic Semitic caricature that Jodi Rudoren thinks we are. I for one am living proof – I have very fine blonde hair (Type 1a for the stylists among you), blue eyes, am tall, have pale skin that doesn’t tan, and a “cute little goyishe nose” as my grandma likes to say. My younger sister has classic Semitic features – you can point her out as a The Jew anywhere she goes. She is shorter than me, has thick dark hair, hazel eyes, skin that tans to near-olive from just walking down the street in a tank top, and a longer, more Jewish nose. People have talked trash about Jews around me assuming I wasn’t one, which is a pretty strong indication of this.
Jews are also the very opposite of monolithic where ideas are concerned.
When you put two Jews in a room you get three opinions.
The freethinking aspect of our culture has taken us far in virtually every field imaginable. It has gotten us to challenge everything we knew, and produce some of the greatest contributions to humankind.
But it’s our biggest obstacle in Hasbara.
Mistake #13: Fighting the Wrong Enemy
I see this issue rear its head constantly and it has been gradually grating my gears for awhile now. Plurality is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s evidence of a sophisticated, robust, and healthy society where we have the freedom to express ourselves. But this stubbornness will be our downfall.
I had inadvertently been ignoring a huge elephant in the room, until a friend of mine posted a Facebook status about it, and I realized that I cannot write a Hasbara Guide without including this issue.
The most startling difference between the pro-Israel and anti-Israel groups, not including the fact that we have ethics and they don’t, is that they speak as one cohesive voice and we are a dissonant cacophony. They just fight for their cause while we waste all our time fighting each other about how we will fight for our cause.
This distinction is actually quite dangerous. It means we spend too much time arguing with each other and not enough time doing real Hasbara. This could partially explain why pro-Israel advocacy groups spend six times as much as the anti-Israel activist groups but get much less done.
People naturally gravitate to the more simple, cohesive message, which the Arab narrative produces. Simplicity and cohesion in a narrative breeds credibility (e.g. Occam’s Razor), which is why many people intuitively support the Palestinian narrative and sometimes don’t even know why.
Whereas simplicity and cohesion of thought is antithetical to Jewish culture. If debating over minutiae were an Olympic sport, Jews would take up the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals. We form all the colors of the rainbow, occupy all positions on the political spectrum, and our views span anywhere from diehard religious Kahanist to atheist antisemite. If you can think of a viewpoint, you can probably find a Jew who has that viewpoint.
That’s why Jews run a whole host of organizations, from JDL, to AIPAC, to J-Street, to JVP. And because of our Voltarian outlook on life (“I completely disagree with everything you say but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”) we just shrug our shoulders and allow it. Jews embrace pluralism, Arabs embrace cohesion and social harmony (individualism vs. collectivism). As an aside, that’s why it’s so ironic to me that leftists support the Arabs, given that Jews share these leftist values.
In Islam, it is about cohesiveness. Islam means total submission to G-d, and the very nature of the Quran discourages any kind of questioning or pondering. In Judaism, it’s the opposite, it’s all about questioning, about discourse, about being opinionated. The only way that we will win this PR war is to do something very un-Jewish, which is to become completely cohesive, and align ourselves unilaterally for this one purpose: supporting Israel.
The anti-Israel activists know this difference, which is why they take advantage and milk it for all it’s worth.
An American Muslim whose family lives in the Middle East, who is very close to me, confided in me one day that she supports a two-state solution. She told me that if I repeat this to anyone, she will deny it. She said if her family finds out what she truly believes, that she wishes to coexist with the Jews, she will be completely ostracized. She will lose her family, her relationships, her job, her possessions, and everything she holds dear. As part of her community, she is only allowed to have one opinion: that Israel, from the river to the sea, belongs to the Ummah as Palestine.
If we commit this one act of sacrificing part of who we are as Jews, we will save ourselves. This particular act of assimilation, where we completely relinquish discourse, and commit to speaking with one unified voice in support of Israel, is the only way we can win. It is the only way of achieving long-term sustainability of the Jewish State.
The anti-Israel groups know this will never happen, which is why they take the approach they are taking and rely on the one weapon they have: their cohesion. They know that for this reason alone, we Jews have forfeited the chance of ever winning the war of Public Opinion.
Pan-Arabists see this cacophony of different voices as a sign of weakness that needs to be exploited. This is precisely what they are doing – dividing and conquering, by supporting such organizations as J-Street and JVP that subvert the traditional pro-Israel narrative. They take advantage of Jewish openmindedness and reverence for education and reason and integrate their narrative into the academic canon in the tradition of Said.
So what do we do about this?
We have to put aside all of the minutiae and make the goal very narrow: we fight antizionism, so we can have a state. It doesn’t matter which parts of Zionism you believe in, which parts you don’t believe in, or whether you subscribe to religious or secular Zionism, stop fighting over what Zionism is and isn’t and just fight for Israel, because fighting for Israel means fighting for justice.
Do you believe that Jews deserve a state of our own?
Do you believe that everyone except Jews is allowed a state of their own?
If you’re universalist (anti-nationalist), have you thought about why you aren’t fighting against the existence of any other countries?
Consider the hypocrisy of antizionism. Focus on that.
The survival of Israel is the most important thing.
Whether you supported the Likud or the Zionist Union.
Two states or One State.
Secular or Religious
Separation between the rabbinate and state law or no separation
Right or Left
All these things we like to nitpick about.
Let them go.
When dealing with antizionists, survival is the only argument.
We are allowed to speak our minds and have robust and lively discourse, while the Palestinian side is muzzled under penalty of death for being a collaborator with Israel. Yes, this makes us look bad next to their unanimous agreement in the justice of their cause. Yes, this harms our credibility because they have one voice and we have many voices. But does this justify the sacrifice of Western and Jewish values we would have to make?
The answer is not a Yes or No answer. It is far more complicated than that.
A person who reads this article might say that what I’m really asking you to do is agree with Israel and other Zionists no matter what. However, that’s not truly the case.
There is a way of being pluralistic without being combative, and to acknowledge criticisms of Israel without allowing them to be being co-opted to delegitimize it. Derech Eretz, how you conduct yourself and how you treat others, should be kept in mind at all times. Disagreeing in ways that are respectful and non-aggressive is very important. Moreover, however embarrassed, passionate and angry you feel about something a fellow Zionist said, especially if it refers to the “form” of Zionism he is espousing, go easy on him. He’s on our team. Focus our energy on fighting the haters, because fighting our allies is a waste of time. Sure, it’s great that you want to make Israel better, but we are in the midst of a serious delegitimization campaign, the last thing we want is to add fuel to the fire. The last thing we want is some guy quoting something you said and exclaiming, “see? Even this Zionist Jew here said that!” This means we need to shut up and get to work.
Build Safe Spaces
If you really want to discuss grievances about the State of Israel, or discuss your views on Zionism, you may join many of the popular Facebook groups, such as Progressive Zionists that only lets proven Zionists in. Keep in mind that using these groups as a way to criticize Israel is sort of a waste of time and energy that could be better spent combating the constant libel that is spewed at us.
Are you Israeli?
No? Then why are you criticizing Israel as if you are! I’m Canadian and I will never go around complaining about Canada’s racism against our First Nations people to people who aren’t Canadian because they won’t get it and will just assume we’re a horrible country. Canadians tend to have an aversion to insulting Canada to non-Canadians, assuming they won’t understand the intricacies and context. Guess what, Israelis? The same goes for non-Israelis! They don’t know the context, the history, or the intricacies, so they won’t understand. So why do Israelis love complaining about their country to anyone willing to listen? Israel’s endless self-deprecation is a huge anomaly, and Israelis need to get out of that habit – as very soon you might no longer have a country to criticize if you keep this up. There’s a fine line between robust and healthy discourse within a population with the hopes of making it better, to downright nitpicking and reinforcing the extreme double standards, harsh judgment, and high expectations the rest of the world has for us.
Consider your audience
What benefit would calling Israel names like “racist!” in public have to Israel? What would non-Israelis who aren’t part of the culture think when they see Israelis insulting their own country nonstop night and day? Israel is the only country in the world whose existence is under question. Just think about this for a second. Think about what’s at stake. There are bigger issues than Ethiopian Jews not making as much money on average as Ashkenazi Jews, like, oh I don’t know, existing!! This kind of stuff especially in English-language mainstream newspapers is fodder for those who want us dead. Due to our special circumstances, we should keep criticism of Israel regarding anything related to the Palestinians (or anything that can be embellished and twisted to support the “apartheid” libel) private (amongst ourselves, in closed Facebook groups, etc.) and ideally limited to Israeli and Hebrew audiences.
Every Jew is a PR poster for Israel whether they want to be or not. Every time you open your mouth to argue or fight your fellow Zionists in public, you are bad PR for Israel. It’s time we bite our tongues and put up a unified front. Be what they need us to be: supportive. Put your Zionism before everything else, and aim to let change happen from within.
Because no Jewish state is worse than having a PM you disagree with on occasion.
And having a PM you disagree with on occasion (or even often) doesn’t give you a license to join the Israel-bashing party, just like my dislike of certain factions within the Canadian government doesn’t turn me into a Canada-bashing machine.
Put the good of Israel over your pride and ego.
What is it historically that got us over every threat of our peoplehood?
Sticking to each other and clinging to our ancient traditions and values.
That’s what got us through. It was the infighting that was always our downfall.
I do know something that every Israeli would agree upon: we just want to be left alone to live in peace. As usual, different Israelis and Jews have different visions of what this entails.
Some say we need to drive out all the Arabs, because then we’ll be in a Jewtopia and never have to worry about pan-Arabist terror (ethnic cleansing Kahanists).
Some say we need to wipe out our enemies the second they attack us (the hardliners).
Some say we need to just do nothing and defend only when our existence is at stake (the pacifists).
Some say let’s just do whatever we want and not care what anyone else thinks, because the world hates us anyway so nothing we do will fix things (the nihilists).
Some say we need to grant concessions to our enemies via negotiations, land for peace, “right of return,” etc., in hopes they’ll let us be in return for us being so nice to them (the naive pushovers)
Some say we should just abandon Israel altogether because its existence just stirs the pot in the middle east needlessly (the post-zionist antisemitism internalizers).
And some probably have myriad other ideas.
We need to cut it all down to the basics. Trim the fat. Cut the embellishment. Cut the overthinking. We are Zionists in a world that is against us. Let’s act like it. Let’s join together and fight for the most basic necessity of the Jewish people: the existence of our very own state on our ancestral homeland.
Once we’re over that hurdle, then we can argue about specifics.