Hasbara That Works (For a Change) Part 2

In our last episode, we suggested that hasbara, pro-Israeli “public diplomacy” in its governmental and private permutations, often fails miserably because it’s predictable and reactive. We gave a few examples (do see the previous post if you’re just coming to this) of how to go off-script and leave the opposition speechless, breathless, annoyed, dyspeptic and enraged. Let’s do two more.

BDS? The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement we hear so much about.

I’m agin’ it. No way, no how. Reason:

It gives the “People That Dwells Apart” types exactly what they want. You know, those who would love to sever contact with the world. Pull in the Jews. Pull up the drawbridge. Pull down the blinds. Pull out the plugs. Then glory in the righteous solitude, for as long as it lasts.

Which won’t be long.

An isolated Israel is not a solution to anything.

The “Right of Return.”

What are the obligations of a sovereign State to the descendants of those who left the territory of that State before it was established? None. That leaves out everybody who departed before 15 May 1948, and their descendants. As for those who left later, under what circumstances did they leave? As innocent victims of governmental or private persecution? As active enemies? Voluntarily? How do you sort them out nearly seventy years later?

Do other States possess the same open-ended obligation? If so, might the descendants of several hundred thousand British Loyalists who left the thirteen colonies between 1775 and 1789, make similar claims?

In short, you can accomplish a great deal through unexpected questionings and analogies. But hasbara’s problems go deeper than mere rigidity. Far too often, they reduce to mere assertions of things that just ain’t so. And the more arrogantly and belligerently they’re presented, the more damage they do.


There Is No Palestinian People or Nation.

At what point did two-three million 18th century British colonial subjects decide that they were a new people, the Americans? Is the Declaration of Independence less valid because it was written in 1776, not 1676? A “people” is a group of persons conscious of being an entity, regardless of who disapproves or denies it, and who may deem themselves a “nation,” regardless of who disapproves or denies it.

Jews, for instance.

And who are you to tell others what they are and are not?

Anti-Israel is Anti-Semitic.

Not everybody who questions Israel is an anti-Semite. To sludge out a blanket condemnation does nothing to deal with the real anti-Semites but gratuitously alienates the good folks with honest doubts.

Back in 1982, the American people rejected (the proposal failed to win the approval of enough states) the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, calling for gender equality. For millions of men, myself among them, the issue was a no-kopfer. Equality, yes. But after a couple decades of being labeled male chauvinist pigs, real and potential rapists, and the rest of the arsenal of insult, a lot of us decided that we’d sit this one out rather than support those who took such delight in vilifying us. More recently, the gay marriage movement in America has won dozens of victories because they decided to dial down the invective and talk to us heteros like we was people.

Sweet reason, respectfully presented, works. Anyway, as every good parent knows, never reward a tantrum.

Israel Is Morally Superior to Its Enemies.

So your son gets kicked out of school for cheating and offers as a defense: “Why should I be punished for cheating when other people are committing murder?”

You might answer, perhaps, “The sins of others do not erase your own or enhance your own perfection.”

And never invoke “Jewish values” unless you can define with absolute precision what they are, how they’re superior to “Gentile values,” and why Gentiles shouldn’t be offended by the invidious comparison.

And don’t forget to explain how Israel is living them. Especially Hillel’s answer to the Gentile who asked for the Torah on one foot. “Do not unto others . . .”

So if you want to defend Israel in the hasbara mode, abandon the same old/same old, especially when it’s demeaning to others. And do keep in mind:

Israel is, for the vast majority of the planet’s population, a “low-involvement” issue. The world spends a lot less time thinking about us than we think it does. And we need the world more than the world needs us. You don’t get that world’s support – or, more aptly, a generalized good will – by arrogance, hissy fits or self-serving fantasies. You get it by respectful persuasion, coupled with a clear sense that while your virtues may outweigh your sins, your sins are also on display.

All very fine. But one major problem remains: a problem in the hearts and minds of many of those who now oppose Israel, especially in the United States. It’s their problem. But it affects us mightily because our enemies have learned how to make use of it.

We resume on Thursday.


About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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