Telling The Story

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ryan and alan dershowitzHow we talk about Israel matters.

The biggest reason we are losing the war of perception is that we aren’t fighting it.



Our sides best known advocates are dry, boring lecturers who say the same things over and over, who really on stats and facts, and who are not really very engaging to anyone who has not already “drunk the koolaid” so to speak. I know because I watch the difference between what I as an engaged pro-Israel person sees and feels and what some of my friends that I drag with me see and feel.

I first got a great view of this when I sent a video that I genuinely enjoyed of Dershowitz telling off an Arab woman who literally said she was for the idea of genocide against the Jews. A buddy yawned and said “Yeah she hates Jews, BOOORING”. A few days later I sent a video made by my buddy Joni Versity that mocked some Arab women who had made a video “refuting” a video made by an Israeli politician. Not only did he laugh, but he actually watched a much longer video and even references it sometimes now.

The Joni Video is here

You see pro-Israel advocates often talk like mothers, they never swear, they sound proud at awkward times and embarrassed at others, they are overly verbose and concentrate on minutiae and details that don’t matter to anyone but them or people like them. They are not engaging even if they are clearly invested in the subject.

Dershowitz has become guilty of this, because he has been speaking for so long to audiences that are overjoyed to hear him, he has started speaking by rote. Last year at the StandwithUs anti-BDS conference, he basically gave the exact same speech 3 times in 2 days. He threw in some shots at Obama being a “flip flop flipper” because it would play well to the more conservative audience that was uncomfortable with his support of Obama previously, but other than that, he said the same things he always says. He is a defense lawyer, so you would think he would be more fluid and able to change things up on the fly and not be repetitive. His knowledge of the history is solid, if not superlative, and though I think he concedes too much trying to be seen as more leftist, he has a solid grasp of the morals of Israel. He has become boring and dry and frankly is not a very engaging speaker to anyone who is not already firmly pro-Israel and overlooking his flaws. He is in a word “safe” and this plays well to donors I guess. He was not always this way. When he wrote books like Chutzpah, he was confronting uncomfortable truths, he was saying what other people were thinking but couldn’t put into words. He was funny, irreverent and he spoke not only to the Jewish experience but his stories of bigotry and prejudice spoke directly to a lot of minorities. That guy was worth listening to.

The problem is that Desrhowitz is the Bell Cow of pro-Israel advocacy – he will quote stats and figures and talk in high-worded language and use a pile of words to say nothing new. And because he has been successful I see a lot of young pro-Israel advocates following his game plan. They talk about military strategies, and concepts; they sound like university lecturers and almost nobody bothers to attend their lectures other than people who are already firmly onside. We simply won’t win the way we have been going.

The Game Plan

We need to make our events fun and engaging and open. We need to start telling the whole story of Israel, warts and all, not in a way that is harsh, but critical and yet supportive (no Jstreet, not like what you do) WE have to be better, funnier, more entertaining, AND USE FACTS. We need to be better story tellers.

We need a broad spectrum approach. We have to engage not only conservatives, Jews and fundamentalist Christians, but the average person who will not agree with the maximalist position of the Arab Muslims who very clearly hate Jews and Israel. It should be easy because most people are not maximalist about things that do not directly affect them.

The bottom line is that we have the truth and facts on our side and we are still losing, because we do not speak passionately or eloquently enough. We are not telling stories we are reciting textbooks. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

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A member of the indigenous Metis people, Ryan grew up in the far north of Alberta, Canada with no power nor running water. Ryan was unsure if his real name was "Go get water!" or "Go get wood!" In his free time, Ryan plays Canadian Rules Football , reads books, does advocacy work for indigenous people and does not live in an Igloo.