Now that the dust has settled on the latest round of Middle East fighting, and with a new government emerging, can we hope to achieve clarity when communicating the merits of Israel’s position?
Forget insights from the usual suspects – Mideast experts, military strategists, elected officials and media pundits — who jam the airwaves and newsfeeds. Their opinions ricochet across the universe of activists who are pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, but most people around the world have little time and interest in factual detail and historical nuance. As the rhetoric gets even more vitriolic and extremist, their gut feeling is that Jews and Arabs are just hopelessly warring factions — cats and dogs, Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, Democrats and Republicans of the quarrellous modern era – and are therefore destined to never get along.
To break this logjam, let’s start with a quick and easy round of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. That’s the therapeutic practice based on you being your own shrink and challenging your irrational thinking with an alternative, rational response that might yield healthier behavior and better outcomes.
Here, then, are the five biggest mistakes people make when speaking about the conflict between Israel and Hamas – and a suggested reframing. These are the automatic thoughts that one hears frequently from Israel’s supporters, and not just their enemies, by the way, and I’ve fallen prey to a few of them at times myself.
- “It’s Complicated”: No, it’s actually simple and can be boiled down to radical acceptance. Does a Jewish state in the Middle East have a right to exist? That’s right – we’ve travelled back in time to 1948: we accept your right to exist as Palestinians, now accept ours as Israelis. Sadly, if there was a referendum on this these days in most progressive circles, it would likely yield a resounding no. Anti-Zionism is not confined to marches in Teheran; it has metastasized in areas seemingly far removed from the conflict, like the small town of Great Barrington, Mass., where I live. It was both frightening and clarifying for me to see in front of Town Hall signs that read “Death to Israel,” “Death to Amerikkka” (misspelled intentionally), and “From the River to the Sea Palestine Will Be Free.” I estimate that about a quarter of those driving by honked their support for such sentiments and/or made obscene gestures and shouted obscenities at our pro-Israel counter demonstration.
- “It’s Both Sides”: Wrong. The Palestinians in Gaza are under the control of a cruel and corrupt and militant Islamic theocracy led by Hamas whose armed men hide behind their own civilians and then cynically measure PR success when some of them are killed in the crossfire. Israel lives under a flawed but basically functional democracy with one of the world’s strongest economies, high tech industries and militaries whose people would rather be going on with their lives than dealing with this craziness.
- “It’s Racist”: To criticize the policies of the Jewish state is anyone’s right and a favorite sport among Israelis themselves, as well as many in the Jewish diaspora. But to declare that Israel is by very definition racist and hence illegitimate is antisemitic. Guilty parties engage in what therapists call projection. In this case, they call Israelis the most terrible names ranging from Nazis to colonizers and seek to disparage the country with the toxic allegation of apartheid. In part with the assistance of the dangerous dark Web, and social media celebrities with their millions of followers, we have now essentially returned to the UN’s infamous 1975 resolution equating Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, with racism. Worse yet, it is now infused with “intersectionality” that puts our cause on the wrong side of the broader fight for social justice. While the offending UN resolution was officially struck down in 1991, its spirit is resurgent. It’s time for us to proactively link antisemitism and anti-zionism, including among antiemitic Jews (there is such a thing) beset by self-loathing.
- “It’s Bibi”: He threw matches on the fuel to start the latest round and bears the ultimate responsibility, the thinking goes. I’m not a fan of his, and it looks like he might finally be on his way out (you never know), but with over 4,000 rockets indiscriminately lobbed at Israel’s towns and biggest cities, this is bigger than Bibi. The violent rejectionism continues whether Israeli governments are right-wing or left-wing or somewhere in the middle.
- “It’s Unsolvable”: That’s acquiescing to self-defeating despair. Actually, it is solvable and there’s a model that’s already starting to bear fruit. Just ask the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain and Sudan, as well as Egypt and Jordan before them. While many pro-Palestinians chant for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, isn’t time for us to do more than just claim to be “anti-BDS” and instead come out in favor of Support, Invest and Connect? To lift up Palestinians and Israelis alike, we have an obligation to promote economic prosperity that’s part of an alternative paradigm of hope.
Let’s take our cue from well-known vlogger Meir Kay, who posted a video last weekend in which he gave hugs to strangers while blindfolded in a public square in NYC and wrote a very different kind of message on his placard: “I am a Jew and Stand for Peace – How About You?“
Israel has shown the world it can defend itself, justifiably and discriminately with lethal firepower. It is now the season to again show the world that we Jews and Israelis are capable of compassion, caring, and love.