On Oct. 15, the Israel American Council (IAC) of Boston held a training session at their Newton office on how to advocate for Israel. The impetus for the program stems from concerns about false narratives about Israel in the media, on campuses and in day-to-day conversation. Supporters of Israel sometimes find themselves unable to respond to anti-Israel comments, articles or organizations. IAC provides the tools and training to enable Israel supporters to become effective advocates for Israel in their communities, workplaces, on social media and on campuses.
During the most recent training it was suggested that the best strategy is to minimize confrontation and to stress that the situation in the Middle East is far more complicated than usually presented. “Things in the Middle East are not so simple as what you see on CNN,” one might say. “Let’s talk about it.” Passionate Israel supporters might be tempted to go on the attack when confronted with misinformation, but it is more productive to engage people and attempt to bring them to your side. The goal is discussion, not confrontation.
Training participants were encouraged to manage the conversation using facts and communication skills, to control their emotions, ask questions and listen carefully. Participants role-played, taking the part of pro- and anti-Israel speakers, with the class evaluating their efforts. All agreed that this was a very helpful way to learn and practice advocacy.
The training stressed the necessity of identifying a person’s narrative in order to understand where he or she is coming from. Four main narratives were presented, with the acknowledgement that some individuals might be coming from one or more narratives or from a little of each.
- The National Narrative: There are two nations who want the same territory, so you either need two states or one state where Arabs and Israelis will live together peacefully. This is the most common narrative. The person who subscribes to this narrative wants negotiations to take place, with peace as the goal.
- The Settlers and Colonialism Narrative: This is the narrative that fuels the movement for boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel (commonly known as BDS), seeing settlers and, in some cases, all Israelis, as occupiers of an indigenous people. This is a major point of view among Palestinians, as well as European and American academics.
- The Religious Narrative: Many in the Arab world see the situation in the Middle East as a struggle between Judaism and Islam, with no possibility of compromise.
- The Security Narrative: Israel is under threat and needs to be secure. This narrative is dominant in Israel. Many Americans find it difficult to understand how Israelis deal with fear of missiles and terrorism every day.
During the training, some basic facts, often overlooked in the media and in academic circles, were presented:
- The population of Israel is about 20 percent Arab. There are also Israeli Christians, Baha’i and members of other religious groups. All are citizens of Israel with equal rights. Israeli Arabs are an integral part of Israel; they work in all areas of Israeli life, including Israel’s Foreign Service, on the Supreme Court and in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). However, the opposite is not true for Jews in other Middle Eastern countries. Most were forcibly deported when Israel became a state in 1948.
- There is a gap between Western aspirations for the Middle East and the reality on the ground in the Middle East. Regarding negotiations, one can’t assume that the other side subscribes to the same definitions of negotiations and peace. Aside from Israel, the Middle East is not a Western culture, and unlike Israel are not democracies. If someone says the Palestinians deserve a state, you might ask, “What is your understanding of how the Palestinians view that potential state? They have said that Jews would not be allowed to live there. Is that the state you envision?”
- The security fence is not a separation barrier and does not make Israel an apartheid state. Since the building of the fence, Palestinian terror against Israel has dropped 90 percent.
- Israel is accused of oppressing the population of Gaza. In reality, Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to the destruction of Israel and which oppresses its own people. Israel sends hundreds of truckloads of supplies every day to Gaza. In fact, 20,000 Gazans enter Israel every month, mostly for medical treatment.
- Palestinians were offered a state five times and refused: The 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, 1967 at Khartoum, 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba, and the 2008 Olmert Plan.
The overall message is that the current state of affairs in the Middle East is a tragedy, and it’s too bad we’re not hearing both sides. It’s hard to know Israel’s side because we generally hear only the other side.
Participants were assured that one does not need to be a Ph.D. to be an effective advocate for Israel. However, the situation is complex, and there are resources where you can find facts to back up your half of the conversation. They include:
For more information on IAC Israel advocacy, go to israeliamerican.org/boston/programs/iac-act-boston.
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