Questioning BDS

Do popular strategies work when advocating for Israel?

Does our audience seem to care if Israelis are talented, give back to the world, are nice, or have many passionate supporters around the globe who claim they are largely innocent?

On the other extreme, while attacking and fighting our enemies may have a place, might the tactic alienate potential Israel supporters? By triggering sympathy for the underdog, might we be inadvertently pushing some well-intentioned people over to the “other” side? Are there any other proven methods that might work better to reach an audience?

I think so, however I had to learn and relearn what might be one of the most effective methods at least three times during my life before the lesson stuck.

First, I learned it helping some of the best trial lawyers in the country persuade jurors to win more than 2000 trials over 24 years. Then, I learned it from Benjamin Franklin who used the method to disarm and change the minds of his political adversaries. Finally, I learned it again from a non-Jewish woman, who used the method to single-handedly defeat BDS on her campus after she had studied the track record of other responses.

What is the method?

Asking questions. Asking questions in such a way that leads others to change their own mind.

If our goal is to defeat BDS as simply and as easily as possible, might we be able to convince students who must vote on BDS measures to conclude that they simply do not know enough to vote for BDS? Can asking good questions help students reevaluate BDS claims? If we can hand BDS defeat after defeat might their funders become disenchanted and simply move on to other venues, bringing this campus cycle to an end?

Let’s take a quick look at this proven tactic that anyone might use to guide others to a place where they might reconsider their position. Let’s examine the claim that Israel is an apartheid state. If you hear this claim, you might consider asking first, “How are you defining apartheid?”

After you listen to how the person responds, you might follow up with another clarifying question, “What are the specific ways Israel fulfills your own definition of apartheid?” If the person argues that Jews have no right to live in Judea and Samaria, consider asking, “How can Jews and Arabs learning to live and shop together in the West Bank be a bad thing?” Finally, instead of arguing back, leave them with a question to ponder, “Are you sure you know enough on this subject to make an informed vote for BDS?”

Another set of questions might be asked to clarify whether the assumption is true that, “BDS is only non-violent way to force Israel to grant rights to Palestinians?” Questions like:

  • Do any domestic Israeli organizations work to protect Palestinian rights?
  • Are Israeli or Palestinian groups able to influence Israeli policies without resorting to violence?
  • Has Israel’s Supreme Court ever ruled in favor of Palestinians over the State?
  • Do Palestinian leaders agree that BDS is the only non-violent tool they have?
  • Why has no one ever asked Palestinians if they want BDS?
  • Will BDS ease Israel’s security concerns of Palestinian militants enough for them to lessen restrictions?
  • Are you sure you know enough about all the available options to choose BDS?

When BDS supporters claim that the tactic worked in South Africa to help indigenous people overcome colonialist oppression, consider asking,

  • What does indigenous mean?
  • Are Jews indigenous?
  • When does indigenous begin: 1948 or 1000 BCE?
  • Must Palestinian calls for justice abolish Jewish indigenous rights?
  • Must justice for Palestine mean injustice for Jews?
  • If your neighbor tries to import weapons while threatening to kill you, what are you supposed to do?

Asking good questions may enable students to reevaluate their own positions and change their own minds. After all, is it really necessary to prove the much more complex task that Israelis are always good, worthy or right? Might it be better to avoid arguments that may alienate fair-minded people who want to do the right thing? Isn’t asking questions a better way to avoid charges of Jewish “privilege” or Islamophobia?

If we simply ask the right questions, could it be possible that students start to see the cracks in their own logic and assumptions? Might this be a more successful strategy than trying to convince the world of Israel’s innocence, niceness, or generosity?

About the Author
Jonathan Carey is Founder of BlueStarPR, a 501c3 nonprofit which uses visual media to build support for Israel’s case as a Jewish democracy within secure, recognized borders. He is a frequent speaker and contributor on Israel advocacy and visual persuasion. Jonathan is also the President of LegalVision, a litigation graphics consulting company.
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