Over the years, survey research and experience has found that the case for Israel can be made most effectively if you keep in mind the following guidelines: Peace, Empathy, Emotion, Rhetoric.
In most debates, the speaker who comes across most reasonable and in favor of peace is the one who wins. Thus, whenever you speak about Israel, every other word out of your mouth should be peace. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in the hope this would bring about peace. Israel constructed a security fence to protect Jews and Arabs alike and create the conditions for peace. Israel froze settlement construction for ten months to encourage the Palestinians to enter peace talks. Peace, peace, peace.
For too long, the Palestinians would have a three word answer to any question: End the occupation. It was effective because it was simple and no one is for occupation. At the same time, pro-Israel speakers would launch into long historical explanations that were largely ignored. Now, we have an equally simple message: Israel wants peace. This is not a sound bite or propaganda, it is what every Israeli believes.
Too often supporters of Israel resort to demonization or generalization of the other side. While it is useful to point out contrasts between Israel and the Arab states, for example, you lose your audience if you start to talk about “the Arabs” or “the Muslims” behaving certain ways. Instead, it is important to acknowledge valid points the other side may have and then turn the argument to your advantage.
For example, many Palestinians are suffering in the Gaza Strip. I’m sure most would like to live normal lives and not have to worry about Israeli actions. If only the Palestinians had leaders with the courage and vision of Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, then it would be possible to negotiate a peace agreement that would create a Palestinian state beside Israel.
The Palestinians endure many hardships. Some of these are due to Israeli policies. They also do not enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, women’s rights or gay rights. Israel does not deny them these rights – in fact Israeli Arabs all enjoy them – it is the Palestinian Authority, their own leaders that deny these human rights.
How many times have you seen powerful images of Palestinian suffering in the press? They (who is they) use these images (some of which have proven to be falsified) and personal stories to tug at the heartstrings of viewers and listeners. By contrast, Israelis typically resort to dry statistics or history lessons to make their case. Emotional stories are usually much more persuasive.
For example, instead of talking about the 10,000 rockets that terrorists have fired from Gaza into Israel, an abstract statistic that does not convey the daily psychological strain and danger Israelis face, tell a true story that your listeners can understand.
Try a countdown:
15, 14, 13…..1
That’s how long you have to find shelter when the code red alarm sounds in the town of Sderot.
Imagine trying to get your family to safety if 15 seconds. What if you have elderly parents or a disabled child?
Two boys, Osher and Rami Twito, brothers aged 8 and 18 were walking home through the town square when the Qassam warning siren rang out. The brothers tried to take cover. They didn’t make it. The rocket landed nearby and sprayed them with shrapnel. Osher, who loved soccer, had a leg amputated that night. Osher’s older brother rami had a lengthy operation to repair a severe break in his leg. Osher is now confined to a wheelchair.
Israel is often faced with impossible decisions to make to protect its citizens. When it acts, the consequences are sometimes grave and unintended and lead to widespread criticism. It is easy, of course, to criticize from afar, and to condemn the results of an action, but try to force critics to put themselves in Israel’s shoes. Let them try to come up with better solutions to Israel’s dilemmas.
For example, if a town in Mexico began firing thousands of rockets into Texas, what do you think the United States would do?
Some critics of Israeli actions in Gaza have argued the rockets didn’t kill many people so Israel acted disproportionately. Ask them how they would feel if their neighbor fired a shotgun into their house every night. So far, none of the bullets have hit anyone, so would they be content to do nothing or would they want to stop the shelling?
A final reminder
Not every Israeli action needs to be defended, but they should be put in context. And not everyone will be convinced of your arguments, no matter how persuasive.