Rather than proving to them that they are ignorant, or hateful, our goal becomes to make them question whether or not their position is the moral one.
The past few weeks have proven how effective anti-Israel propaganda has become. Beyond the blatant and disturbing errors in reporting by outlets across world, of which there were dozens, thousands of people shared their moral objections to the IDF’s use of force into the echo chambers of their social media feeds. It was; however, the responses of Israel’s supporters to these seemingly moral stances that was most disappointing.
“You’re just an ignorant, hateful anti-Semite!” a comment on Facebook read. Twitter abounded with similar slurs and emotional retorts. Is it any wonder why we are losing in the court of public opinion? We still have no idea how to talk to people about Israel.
All too often, we assume that all people who express some form of anti-Israel opinion are rabid anti-Semites with malicious intentions. This assertion lacks nuance. While there are certainly individuals with these views, my own experience has been that most of the people we engage with on the subject of Israel are generally well-meaning, albeit a little naive. Much to my disappointment, this naivety is met by those of us who support Israel with the kind of ad hominem attacks that destroy our credibility.
Swearing and name-calling, regardless of our frustration, is the surest path to forfeiting our ethos and widening the gulf between our views and our detractors. While ‘likes’ and retweets on our wittiest digs might make us feel like our positions are scoring points, the gamification of conversation only hurts efforts to make supporting Israel as broad-base of an issue as possible. When people have negative conversations with Zionists, how can they be expected to have positive opinions of Zionism?
The key, I believe, is to think critically about how we might have more meaningful, productive conversations, even on social media.
We first must make efforts to enhance our understanding of the foundation of our detractors’ arguments. All too often, conversations devolve into fruitless shouting matches because we fail to grasp the ideological foundation from which a person is arguing. When we accuse anyone of being hateful or prejudiced, we presume that the bedrock of their ideology is rooted in hate. Assuming that most people believe themselves to be essentially good, this proposition quickly becomes irrational. No one evil would make the case that their position is a moral one.
In reality, people argue a position because they believe it to be the morally correct one. By understanding this essential fact, our responsibility to our detractors changes. Rather than proving to them that they are ignorant, or hateful, our goal becomes to make them question whether or not their position is the moral one. In doing so, we can begin to slowly influence how they view the conflict, but this is only possible once we understand that above all, our challengers have the desire to align their values with their speech and action.
Perhaps more important, we must remember that we are speaking with human beings. Flawed, beautiful, imperfect human beings whose opinions, regardless of the confidence with which they are delivered, are mostly uncertain attempts to make sense of our world. Accordingly, patience and kindness should form the foundation of our persuasion techniques, not because of the inherent goodness of these qualities, but because they are the most powerful tools to opening a person up to change. As allies of Israel, it is imperative that we remember that the messenger is the message.
Finally, a few more words on patience. No one should change their views over night, especially on a topic as contentious as this. Patience, in this context, means not only having the endurance to offer our perspective as a person’s opinions evolve, but also having the poise to remain calm when a disagreement arises. Entering a conversation, escalating it with personal attacks, and then leaving it does not win our cause any supporters. If we cannot devote the time and energy necessary to be in these frustrating situations, then perhaps it is better to stay clear of the conversation until we can fully invest ourselves.
I certainly do not claim to have an understanding of how to navigate every single conversation the Zionist community may find itself in. Some people’s minds are made up and reconciliation will never be possible. I believe; however, that these simple rules—understanding, kindness, and patience—can encourage people to reconsider their positions or, at the very least, they can enhance the quality of conversations we have with one another.
Contributed by East Coast Campus Coordinator Liel Asulin.