“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.
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.
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.)
Commandment #1: TELL THE TRUTH (OR AT LEAST DON’T KNOWINGLY LIE)
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.
COMMANDMENT #2: AVOID AD HOMINEM ATTACKS
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.
COMMANDMENT #3: DON’T GENERALIZE
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.
COMMANDMENT #4: DON’T DISTORT
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.)
COMMANDMENT #5: USE POSITIVE LANGUAGE
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 Amazon.com 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.DONATE
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