Monday, March 17, 2008


Globally and daily Jews are faced with anti-Israel commentary in the media.

It is not surprising that we get a host of different responses from different members of the Jewish community and, being human and especially being Jewish, this sets us squabbling between ourselves. It's worth taking a closer look at the anti-Israeli comment, especially from a South African perspective, in order to create a more effective response. Since this is a blog, not a textbook, I'll cut right to the chase and simplify!!!

There are 2 broad types of anti-Israel comment:

The Jihadists of various stripes. I define Jihadist in this context, as people who have made a career of anti-Zionist propaganda. Some are religious Islamists using Israel to recruit and motivate Jihad. Some are simply other Muslims who have hitched a ride on the Islamist bandwagon for their own personal (criminal, political, whatever) ends but don't really care much about the religious motivation. In addition, there are Western Jihadists, mainly from the radical, secular Left, who have made the destruction of Israel a personal mission. And there is a strong fringe of anti-semites with no single philosophy but simply motivated by hatred and prejudice. I call them all Jihadists since they are not susceptible to reason or facts.

This mixed bunch run the anti-Israel propaganda mill in the sympathetic Western media, on the Internet, in Mosques, and elsewhere - tailoring the message to suit the different audiences and the occasion. This "campaign" is not run from a single command centre, but there is undoubtedly a significant degree of coordination at all levels ranging from local to even global via e-mail and other modern means of communication. Much of it is institutionalised and will be incredibly resistant to change.

It is a waste of time "debating" Jihadists as though argument and facts counted for something. They are not interested in "truth" but in either destroying Israel or in using it to promote their own agendas. One must respond to them on their own terms with the techniques of counterpropaganda and, where necessary, using diplomatic, economic and military means.

In South Africa there are factions within the Muslim community who definitely belong in this category. Kasrils is the archetype of the Leftist Jihadist who is making anti-Zionism a personal mission. Papers like the M & G and some of the Independent stable lend themselves to this campaign and are unlikely to be turned by appeals to reason or fact. Pilger and Fisk are professional assassins called in to hurt Israel as much as possible using clever propaganda techniques.

I'm going to lump the rest into the camp of "innocents". Many, including Jews, are concerned about aspects of Israeli reality or policy and wish to have this changed through open debate. Most of these individuals do not want to see Israel destroyed and many are open to debate. They often have concerns shared by ardent supporters of Israel. What they lack, however, is an appreciation of the existential nature of the threat to Israel (and possibly to Jews more generally).

On the other end of the "innocents" spectrum are those on the fringes of Jihadism. They are more vehement and resistant to counterargument, maybe for psychological, social and career reasons. Perhaps much of the Western liberal media is penetrated by people like these who become accomplices to anti-Israeli Jihadism. They differ mainly in degree and possibly to persuasion and social pressure.

Whatever the reason is besides the point. Innocents can add to the flood of anti-Israel propaganda and can spill into the "useful idiot" category.

In response to "innocents" one can point out that, the world has many evil people who abuse the conscience of the liberal sector to promote their hateful ends. Thus one can call for moderation in the expression of concern, an awareness of political context and also some appreciation of the realistic issues which face Israel and to adjust their expectations to take account of the possible and not the ideal.

What is the best way of defending Israel?

Clearly there is more than one way depending on who one is addressing and context. It is important to realise, however, that defending Israel is NOT the same as open debate. Defending Israel is a political act in which one weighs consequences of one's words, actions and tone on the audience. It needs awareness of others, self-discipline, coolness, intuition, skill and endurance.

Debate is something different and takes place between people who share a minimum commitment to resolution Debate is accompanied by honesty and respect for "truth" as an ultimate value.

In general, there are some no-nos for those who wish to defend Israel.
  • Don't try to suppress freedom of speech even when it is being abused.
  • Don't simply insult your opponent and don't call him or her an anti-semite unless the direct evidence is available.
  • Don't misquote or exaggerate facts.
  • Keep your arguments simple but not too simplistic.
  • Don't sound too self-pitying.
  • Don't go overboard and know when enough is enough.
Propaganda (rhetoric) is an art acquired by hard work and practice. It can serve a good purpose when used with integrity and discretion. Sometimes the weapon can be blunt but often subtlety is best.

Mike Berger

1 comment:

Lauren said...

excellent posting. It gives structure to a very broad subject. It is vital to keep one's cool when addressing any of the jihadists and knowing when to answer them at all. Zapiro's cartoon had to be answered if only to give voice to my spleen. How long do you keep the thread going? Also there is a difference between explaining your position and justifying yourself. Being defensive doesn't serve the purpose.
Lauren Singer