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Winning a Debate with an Israel-Hater

Winning a Debate with an Israel-Hater

How to challenge anti-Israel extremists in your neighborhood or campus.

“It often happens in the middle of an otherwise pleasant day — you’re shopping, or walking across a college campus, and you encounter THEM. They’re holding signs that claim Israel is an “apartheid state” and charge Israel with committing “genocide” against Palestinians. They’re calling for boycotts against Israeli products, and divestment from companies that do business with Israel.

You know supporting Israel is the right thing to do. And you’re not alone. For decades, polls have shown a large plurality, usually a majority, of Americans back Israel. But here’s the problem: you don’t know how to respond – or if you even should – to these Israel haters.

This is an all-too-familiar sight, and has become more frequent in the past decade as Israel-bashing extremists have taken their hostility into the public square.

Their words don’t represent a simple disagreement with specific actions or policies of the Israeli government. Instead, they’re an open call for the elimination of the one country that shares American values in a region full of despots and anti-American fanatics. Simply put, they’re not just promoting a Palestinian state, they’re demanding that it replace the Jewish one.”

This is the opening of my new book, “Winning A Debate with an Israel-Hater“, published earlier this month by Shorehouse Books.

Winning A Debate With An Israel Hater Cover

I wrote this book to give people the information they need to effectively confront these extremists in their own neighborhood—not to change the minds of those protesting Israel, but rather to let the general public hear the other side of the story.

It’s extraordinarily important that we don’t let the lies of the PIDS (People with Israel Derangement Syndrome) go unchallenged. According to Manfred Gerstenfeld’s book Demonizing Israel and the Jews, they have managed to get over 150 million Europeans to believe that Israel is “exterminating” the Palestinians; you don’t want to see them successfully selling that malignant myth on your neighborhood.

As a grassroots Israel activist, I have over a decade of experience countering anti-Israel groups in the San Francisco Bay Area, not only in person but also on TV and radio. I’ve also given many talks, both to pro-Israel and to more neutral audiences.

(Video background: SF Jewish Film Festival Audience Jeers Pro-Israel Speaker but Cheers for Ahmedinejad)

This handbook distills all of that experience into a useful guide for Israel supporters, and also does it with some satirical humor to both entertain, and make the points easier to remember.

Successful advocacy, however, is not just knowing the facts; it’s delivering them with effectiveness, and– just as importantly– avoiding mistakes that can undermine those facts. Here is a bit of advice that I call “The Five Commandments of Successful Advocacy” (Perhaps you were expecting a different, more biblically connected, commandment number? Sorry, I don’t want to suggest that these small kernels of advice were the result of any type of divine revelation.)


It’s important that our side be credible. You won’t be able to fact-check on the fly when confronting the PIDS, so it’s vital to stick to what you already know is the truth.

Of course, this is even more important in any online encounter where your words can remain visible for an eternity. You don’t want your rhetorical gaffe about Israel to end up like a drunken party photo posted on Facebook. Even editing a blog post or deleting a Tweet is no protection against the infamous “screen shot” that captures what you initially sent into cyberspace.

It should also go without saying that we don’t need to resort to “Pallywood” techniques of faked pictures and maliciously edited videos to make our points. And we don’t want to find ourselves in the moral sewer inhabited by PIDS who, during Operation Protective Edge, posted pictures of the murder scene of the Fogel family—butchered in their home by Palestinian terrorists—claiming them to be Gazan victims of IDF operations.

Also, beyond substance, consider style. Nothing undercuts the punch of an online comment like bad speling and gramur, ‘cause if you don’t rite good then your statement looks fulish.


Never say that the person you’re responding to is an idiot. Even when he is. (For those who remember the original Saturday Night Live “Point-Counterpoint” sketches, avoid the “Jane, you ignorant slut” response.)

These people may be wrong on the facts and their train of thought on this issue may not be running at full speed, but they are often otherwise quite functional and rational. Instead, take a deep breath and simply point out the errors of either facts or logic.

Although you can go “Law and Order” on them and “impeach the witness” if the person (or the organization they represent) has a track record of making statements that are demonstrably wrong. The person seeking the moral high ground should also occupy the rhetorical high ground.

Avoid overly broad statements such as “all Palestinians are supporters of terrorists.” Do too many of them support radical Islamist terror? Absolutely—even one is too many. But recognize that just as you want the PIDS to make unforced errors to which you can respond with authority, they want you to do the same. Don’t help them out. You can blame the Palestinian leadership for refusing to negotiate peace with Israel, but you can’t blame every Palestinian-in-the-street for that.


Avoid conflating all anti-Israel activism into the most extreme position (which is, for you newbies, supporting Hamas and its calls for genocide).

There are ample ways to counter anti-Israel arguments without accusing every Israel boycotter of secretly holding a “Friends of Hamas” membership card. (Though some of them might.)


The PIDS couch their anti-Israel screeds in the language of “human rights.” You should use similarly sympathetic terms, as they’ll appeal to the audience. Neil Lazarus suggests that whenever possible, include the words “hope,” “peace,” “children,” and “future” in any statement that you make. As in “Israelis want a future of peace for their children, and also for Palestinian children. We hope that the Palestinian leadership will end its 67 year war against Israel and come to the negotiating table.”

Winning a Debate with an Israel-Hater is available on in both paperback and Kindle.

I am very appreciative that Legal Insurrection has given me this opportunity to tell you about it!


Dr. Michael Harris is one of the founders of San Francisco Voice for Israel, which is now the Bay Area chapter of StandWithUs. In his role with the group, Dr. Harris has made appearances on radio shows (both in the US and in Israel) and television news reports as a local spokesperson, countering misinformation about Israel. In his spare time, he is a pediatrician in Marin County, California.


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I agree with all your commandments.

The problem is, people have to be open to being persuaded.

More and more I find the almost perfect single-circle Venn diagram of anti-America and anti-Israel suspects increasingly to be some of the most close-minded people on the planet.

When I was a teenager, a Jewish friend tried to conscript me onto the Palestinians’ side, calling the Israelis “Nazis.”

Years later, he is still the same.

    LukeHandCool in reply to LukeHandCool. | October 25, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    I’ve long found this a fascinating as well as troubling issue, and I’ve almost been forced by my circumstances to think about it long and hard over the years.

    My father would go on occasional anti-Semitic rants (as well as rants about just about all groups of people), but never spoke ill of my Jewish friends or my older sister’s Jewish boyfriends.

    One of his employees was a Holocaust survivor whom our whole family adored, including my father. This man was a great influence on me as a boy.

    And the anti-Israel Jewish friend I mentioned came from a prominent family, his father a UC professor and his maternal grandfather a Pulitzer winning composer who fled the Nazis.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that for otherwise smart people to be anti-Israel is a reflection of some psychological shortcoming or defect and not for lack of intelligence (although having Low Marble Count would likely make one more susceptible to the pervasive anti-Israel propaganda).

    It seems to me it is something in their (otherwise highly intelligent people) psychological makeup that makes them especially prone to erecting a space needle atop Maslow’s Pyramid, with taking the Palestinians’ side an even higher level of moral self-actualization. For anti-Israel Jews, it seems to be a form of self-flagellation. They’ve taken the noble trait of self-criticism and created a monster in their errant attempt at the peak of nobility.

Sammy Finkelman | October 24, 2015 at 10:48 pm

You won’t be able to fact-check on the fly when confronting the PIDS, so it’s vital to stick to what you already know is the truth.

That’s correct, but it gives an advantage to lying propaganda.

You may not believe what they are saying, but you may not be able to say what is wrong with it. And someone may be tempted to say something.

This is where people telling lies have an advantage. Don’t jump to conclusions would be good advice, even though that means you don’t have a satisfacory counterargument.

The truth is, anyone attempting to argue must be much much better informed than the people repeating carefully created canned messages.

The same problem exists when arguing with missionaries except that the arguments they make don’t change, and therefore someone can find out well in advance what the counterarguments are. (Plus, the arguments of missionaries are really, really, bad, and you may know a response yourself immediately already.)

Not so, with propaganda demonizing Israel. You don’t know what’s wrong with the story of Israel killing a 13-year old. And the thing is, occasionally something like this can be true, but it doesn’t justify the conclusion that is attempting to be made. What the right answer is depends on what the facts are.

Sammy Finkelman | October 24, 2015 at 10:50 pm

I disagree about not making ad hominem attacks. They may be appropriate. If someone is an anti-semite, you wouldn’t say that to other people?

They are however, weaker arguments than an actual good refutation, but, saying something like Pallywood exists, is also an ad hominem argument, just not against your interlocutor.

You’ve got to say that all kinds of sources are unreliable.

Commandment number 3 is really the same as number 1. Stick to what you know, and that the idea that all Palestinians support terrorists is not something you know.

Number 4 is right, but could be phrased better as don’t accuse someone of supporting something they are not (intentionally at least) supporting.

Sammy Finkelman | October 24, 2015 at 10:50 pm

If you want to talk about Israel wanting peace, talk about how there has never been the slightest attempt to attempt to get rid of the al Aksa mosque, and that even though red heifers have been found, nobody has ever slaughtered. Talk about the overlooked significance of that.

Now you’ll get an argument about Israel is not respecting the mosque, but the argument is about the right subject matter – one where they have to lose, if not right then, eventually, when anyone finds out the facts.

And if you can’t win that argument, arguing is totally useless, and don’t try.

Sammy Finkelman | October 24, 2015 at 10:55 pm

Don’t concede something because you don’t know the refutation, or if there is one.

You wouldn’t accept it yourself on the basis of whatever it is, so you shouldn’t concede it either. Don’t concede anything that you don’t think is true. Don’t concede it just because you don’t know.

Anti Israelis aren’t really subject to having their minds changed. Most of the ones I’ve met are parroting a party line because it cool to be anti Israel these days.

the best advice is don’t … they are jew hating morons … debating them only lowers you down to their level of idiocy …

Nobody is born anti-Israel/anti-Jewish – you have to be taught such bias, just as you have to be taught anything not instinctual. Any belief not originally based on logic, reason, and established facts is virtually impervious to counter arguments based on logic, reason, and established facts. This is the power of propaganda and discriminatory beliefs and why otherwise intelligent people continue to hold them despite all evidences to the contrary. The root of all such beliefs is ‘credo consolans’ – the errant belief is in some way consoling to those who hold it.

An example would be the widespread belief in ghosts despite the absence of any evidence whatsoever that they exist. Why then believe it? They believe it because of one or more of the consoling implications if ghosts were real. If ghosts exist:

-It means the ‘spirit’ survives the death of the body.

-It means that when loved ones die they still exist and are still available to those who loved them, albeit in a chimeric fashion.

-It means that we can still communicate with loved ones who have died, hence seances, psychics, etc.

If you want to change anti-Jewish bias, you have to figure out how and why that discriminatory belief holds value for the believer and blow it up. Good luck with that, because when you threaten a person’s cherished belief, no matter how despicable it is, they will hate you for it and your effort is more likely to cement the errant belief than change it. It is exceedingly difficult to dislodge beliefs held not because of evidences for it, but because it makes the believer feel better, for whatever sick reason.

Another Voice | October 25, 2015 at 1:40 pm

“If you want to change anti-Jewish bias, you have to figure out how and why that discriminatory belief holds value for the believer and blow it up”

My response is, Absolutely! To the first part. Yet to stop taking on the counter debate and hold it to the light of day is to roll over and concede. Historically, if that were have been allowed to happen the Jewish State would never have come into existence nor would the Jewish people been allowed to excel and given the world of their gifts. This has been their history many times over. There was never should there be a time to concede to annihilation.

David Harsanyi recently wrote in an Op-Ed;
“Israel Haters Only Like The History That Suits Them” published in The Federalist:

To read it is to realize the debate goes back thousands of years and the battle to have a Jewish State and people is only impacted by circumstance of the current leaders who were allowed to take the stage in the world to give it credence. The situation between current events leading to the Holocaust in Europe and the Middle East are being re-created in a global events. For this we have to thank the progressive democrats on the left side of left and their adorned chosen one; Barack Hussein Obama.

Not to speak up at every opportunity, would as those in our own country who denied Europe of its own truths at the time the most recent purging began, is to repeat our own history leading up to WWII.

I have another idea. As I view anti-Israel propaganda as epiphenominal–as being driven and paid for by Islam

… sorry …

by Islam, Inc., in its jihad against the infidel, why not go on the offensive against Islam? The enemy will not expect this, and therefore most of its canned responses will be irrelevant.

My approach has the merit of requiring relatively less knowledge and being correct. It links the murders of Jews in Israel with other Islamic murders and undermines any claim that Israel-Palestine is amount Western-style justice.

But then a problem might be that activists like Harris don’t really agree with me about Islam.

Michael Harris?

I would suggest putting the hater on the defensive by pointing out Palestinian institutional anti-Semitism and support for terrorism (including 9/11 celebrations) and asking him if those are the sort of people he really wants to champion.
If the hater is a Muslim, point out that the Koran promises Israel to the Jews. Emphasize all the wars the Muslims have lost against Israel, and follow up by asking him, “If Allah willed the destruction of Israel, don’t you think that 5 Arab armies would’ve won in ’48, 3 Arab armies would’ve won in ’67, or 2 Arab armies would’ve prevailed in their sneak attack in ’73? Isn’t it obvious that Allah favors Israel and that by opposing Israel, YOU are opposing the will of Allah?” Yep, shove it right down his throat!

You should read this post about a change of heart about Israel on the far Left:

Just ordered 2 books from Amazon.