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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Comments on my Ingall post (part 2)

More good, thoughtful comments on my post about Marjorie Ingall's column in Tablet.

Joe writes a provocative comment:

I am going to be straight here and say while I agree with most of what Elder writes and I read it daily, sometimes I feel that we are in an echo chamber; from time to time we should open our eyes.
The echo chamber idea is worth a much longer treatment.

1. Perceptions are sometimes more important than reality. If we appear to be bullies, then in the world's eyes we are and they will respond in kind. And if someone like Marjorie is honest to say that's the way it appears to her, castigating her for not looking deeply enough in the books may not be the answer. Sure, her reasoning is simplistic (there are many seats on the bus, who sat where first, yadda, yadda, yadda), but it doesn't change the fact that her perception is that Israelis are bullies.
Perceptions are extremely important, but if they are false ab initio, then how do we fight them? All we have is the truth, and if Jews cannot be bothered to try to find the truth themselves, then who will? It is hypocritical for a Jew to invoke their Judaism to criticize Israel when they are not willing to even find out the other side of the story.

2. People like Marjorie might wish to investigate issues but there are as many voices to hear on both sides and they don't know whom to trust or believe. All they know is "both sides can't be right" and is often followed by a "pox on both you houses" attitude. For instance, they aren't going to read Ephraim Karsh's book and if they did, might consider it "the Israeli perspective", a one sided presentation.
That's fine, as long as they are being honest. Read Karsh, read Morris, and think critically about where they agree and where they disagree, about which of their points are factual and which are emotional. Don't be a passive container that believes everything that is written by one side (and that includes readers of this blog!) The problem with Ingall is that she isn't even aware of a counter-argument to begin with!

3. If we have to depend on American Jews giving us the benefit of the doubt because they are Jewish, then we should realize that we are not winning these hearts and minds even when the playing field is tilted in our favor.
Exactly - we are failing at getting our viewpoint out there. We all know that hasbara has been awful. But how can we reach American Jews most effectively? In schools, in camps, in youth groups, in colleges, in book clubs, with getting them involved in specifically Jewish activities, with trips to Israel, in synagogues, with singles events, with online communities, with interesting speakers directed at them. We also need to do a much better job with the media, of course, but a single Birthright trip is still the best investment in Zionist and Jewish identity for the buck. And I do not think that it it unreasonable to ask Jews to raise their children to give Zionism the benefit of the doubt. God knows that you will not find many Muslims who are raised to think as critically about their own myths as Jews are.
 4. Rather than dismissing these people, we should view it as a challenge: how do we engage these people. How do we, say a simple, effective, consistent message. Palestinians are doing this: pre-67 borders, Resolution 194, siege in Gaza. Our message is too nuanced and inconsistent like when we say "even left-wing Israelis think this way". The term hasbara - that we explain our side - is misguided. We're too smart for ourselves. The fact that liberal Americans don't understand is not their failure - it's ours.
There is a lot of wisdom here. It just needs to be concretized.

5. There are many who present everything Israel does as just and everything the Pal-arab side does is bad. This is not correct and we should not be surprised when we are dismissed as "knee-jerk Israelis". Furthermore, presenting not just facts but facts + a snarky attitude which is great when we preach to the choir but is a real turn-off for those on the fence. By not presenting facts as they are, we dilute our message and then wonder why we don't reach the Marjories out there.
There is truth to this as well, and this is part of the hasbara problem - we make too many assumptions about the audience. Too many people are news junkies who assume that everyone else is as well. I can only speak about my blog, which is really designed to preach to the choir, mostly because I want to bring facts to people's attention and let them do with it as they will.

Framing a message to a universal audience would take much more time than I have - I think I am more valuable providing ammunition than running the war (my Elder status notwithstanding.) I just wish we had better generals.

This is a real problem: we have lost the support of a lot of liberals and lately the support of a lot of Jewish liberals and middle-of-the-roaders seems to be ebbing away. This has a real cost in Israel losing US and world support. I don't know where the tipping point is but we're getting closer every day.
Which is why it is critical to shore up our base.