Advocating for Israel in Canada (Advanced Techniques

1. Who, Where and What?
Advocacy isn’t therapy, we don’t do it to feel better; we do it to win. What you communicate about Israel must be based on what your audience needs to hear, not what you want to say. There is seldom such a thing as a “universal” statement or response when discussing Israel; rather the message must be modulated for the audience and situation you are advocating within. As you will be aware, the Canadian environment offers very specific challenges. Let’s look at how these general principles apply to the specific, campus situation in that country.

1.1. Who?
Be clear who your audience is. Not everyone is open to persuasion, and not everyone needs persuasion. Generally, you are advocating for the unconvinced. Find out as much as you can about that segment of your audience, and try and make your messages relevant for them.

1.2. Where?
The context of the interaction is important. What works in one situation will not work in another. Outside an awards ceremony where Yasir Arafat is being honored as “Humanitarian of the Year”, it may be reasonable to chant slogans (amongst other actions). In a discussion in a quasi-academic environment it will not usually appear reasonable, even if it is justified. A nuanced and discursive presentation of Israel’s present dilemmas might be impressive in a one-on-one conversation. It will be quoted out of context in a news report, even if the reporter is not malicious. A brief statement in a classroom can be interminably long on television. In personal, one-on-one, interactions, Canadians can easily perceive a didactic style as “browbeating”.

1.3. What?
The style and content of messages are as important as the context. How should the messages be presented. How “pro-Israel” should you be? When does it make sense to be passionate and unapologetic, and when to appear more “objective” and “even handed”? Only Authenticity can justify passion. The rape victim is seldom berated for her lack of objectivity. The parents of Rachel Corey cannot be attacked for their anger over their daughter’s death. The mother of Kobey Mandel cannot be urged to be more objective. Note, this has nothing to do with the justice of the case, but with the perception of justification. In general, if

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Advocating for Israel in Canada (Advanced Techniques)
passion can be portrayed as justified, it is usually acceptable. However, if the passion isn’t perceived as justified, it will be counter productive. Canadians rarely see passion as being justified. How far should your message be from the position already held by your audience? Addressing a group of socialists on the need to support Israel, because that’s the patriotic thing to do, is unlikely to achieve success! However, quoting Trotsky, or Fidel Castro could impress them. The general rule is that, if you are a credible source, you can usually succeed with effective messages, even if they are far from the audience’s current position. If you are less credible, go for messages closer to their current position. How do you achieve credibility? The ultimate credibility comes from witnessing an event oneself (seeing is believing). If your interlocutors can’t be made to see events in Israel themselves, then your personal experiences are the next best thing. Authenticity translates to credibility. All of the above approaches will only work if you are disciplined as leaders and as a group. In any given context, decide on your message and stick to it.

2. The problem of complexity
Ask yourself what you know about the treatment of the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, or the lengthy civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Probably not much. If I were tell you that, in the former, the ethnic Chinese are officially discriminated against, and in the latter over two million civilians have been killed, you might be appalled, interested or immediately start thinking about the world’s hypocrisy when chastising Israel. It is doubtful that even many worldly, educated, listeners will ask for much more information. Most would feel satisfied that now they know the most important things about the countries in question. But of course, on reflection, the situation is obviously more complex than can be summed up in two facts. Audiences respond to this un-addressed complexity in two ways: a) They will say that the complexity is irrelevant, and hold firm to their position. Or, b) They will reject the possibility of making a judgment, since the issue is complex. Canadians seem to go for the second approach, and seem to be irritated by the efforts of participants in the debate to force them to understand the issues. The only exception to this rule is when there is social pressure to accept a particular position. Once, apartheid in South Africa was one of those issues. No level of ignorance could justify a failure to condemn that racist system. Israel, without justification, has become another. Hence, in some circles, discussion about Israel can lead to a predetermined, negative conclusion, even if it is not justified by the arguments offered, or even if the arguments are refuted. This social convention of perceiving Israel as the problem can create a context in which the more we discuss Israel, the more it is condemned. Perhaps the best strategy in such a situation is to enlarge the discussion to the wider, and objectively more significant issues of the Middle East. Ironically, we – the ones who are concerned about Israel – must often try and limit discussion about it!

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Advocating for Israel in Canada (Advanced Techniques)
But beware; many “sophisticated” people like to appear nuanced, even if they are not. In order to get them to acknowledge a simple truth, you must often “throw them a bone” of complexity (“no one’s claiming Israel’s perfect…”, “certainly there have been isolated instances of abuse by Israeli troops – I know that because the abusers have been brought to trial in Israel.”). Be careful how far you go with this; remember, the communication objective is to convey a simple truth (“No one’s claiming Israel’s perfect… but it is a functioning democracy with a free press and an independent judiciary”. “Certainly there have been isolated instances of abuse by Israeli troops – I know that because the abusers have been brought to trial in Israel. The Palestinian Arabs, in contrast, extol and lionize their human rights abusers and war criminals”).

3. Positive v. Negative Messages
Many people in western democracies express dismay at what they perceive as the consistently negative tone of political advertising. Yet, research shows that the volume of positive advertising sometimes exceeds the negative. Nonetheless, it is the negative ones that are recalled. The inescapable conclusion is that negative messages are the most memorable, and therefore the most effective. Nonetheless, it is always important to present positive messages about Israel (international co-operation, ethnic diversity, contribution to high-tech etc.), but one would not normally expect these messages to win an argument. If you look at the successes of the “bad guys”, you will see that they have not been achieved by talking about Palestinian art, but rather by viciously attacking Israel! However, in the Canadian context, negative messages about the Middle East are particularly disliked. It results in a “plague on both your houses” attitude. It seems that Canadians don’t want to know the truth about the region, because it contradicts their paradigms about the world. If they won’t listen to the truth, what will they listen to? The answer is two fold: a) Positive messages, particularly about the human face of Israelis. b) Messages that do fit into their paradigms: “Everyone’s really the same”, “All problems can be worked out with goodwill”, “Violence is always bad”, and let them see how that fits in with the realities of the Middle East (see Short term messages, below).

4. Form v. Content
Canadians seem to object to the form of some messages, as much as they do to the content. Messages that are strident in tone will often be rejected, regardless of their veracity. Messages that are presented in a moderate tone are more acceptable to this audience.

5. Long Term v. Short Term
Some very important recent research has revealed some of the messages concerning Israel that are measurably effective. Most of you will be aware that one element of this research calls for the constant repetition of the word “peace”. When peace seems a distant dream, many feel uncomfortable with mouthing a term that they feel is, at best meaningless, and at worst, already the property of the “other side”. Some would rather speak of what they see as the root causes of why there is on peace (rejectionism, culture of violence, dhimitude etc.). Yet the research shows that such messages are ineffective. The successful advocate must distinguish between long and short-term advocacy goals. No one can doubt that the prescribed “Luntz” approach is immediately effective. However, no research has yet been done on the long-term effects of changing the parameters of discourse on the Middle East. Thirty years ago, the parameters of debate on the Middle East were very different. The assertion that “Zionism=Racism” was met with amusement when it wasn’t met

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Advocating for Israel in Canada (Advanced Techniques)
with scorn. Part of what changed parameters was the long-term commitment by Arab advocates, to press what were, at the time, unpopular messages. It is important to view the pro-Israel campaign as a long-term effort. Where do we want the debate to be ten, twenty, or even fifty years from now? We have to start now to spread these messages, even if they are unpopular today in the hope that they will, in the long-term, change the parameters of the debate. However, in order to get into the long term, we must pass through the short and medium terms, and these require different messages. It is important that messages designed for these three different time frames do not interfere with each other, and that the various stages of the campaign dovetail. In effect, there will be parallel information campaigns going on, with the emphasis being on the short-term campaigns. In time, emphasis should shift to the mid-term messages, and finally to the long-term ones. The perceived face of the community should present the current message; people who are seen as being individuals representing only themselves should present the “up and coming” messages.

5.1. Short term messages
Israelis are just like Canadians (only different). Israel is a democracy (like Canada). Israel has freedom of the press (like Canada). Israel has an independent judiciary (like Canada). Israel has freedom of religion (like Canada). Israel wants peace (like Canada), and has already given up land for it (unlike Canada). Israel is threatened by atrocious acts of terror (unlike Canada).

5.2. Medium term messages
Israel isn’t the problem in the Middle East; it’s the solution (democracy, rule of law, women’s rights etc.) Israel is the “canary in the mine shaft”; the dangers it has faced are the dangers that the West faces today, and will face in the future. If Israel falls, we all fall. Even Canadians won’t be safe. It’s the Arab/Israel conflict, not the Israel/Palestine conflict. Focus on massive abuse of human rights in Arab world.

5.3. Long term messages
Focus on massive abuse of human rights in Arab world. Islamism is the problem. Examples of dhimitude.

6. Responding
Responding to an accusation – whether in an interview, a debate, or a political campaign – is always problematic. You run the risk of being trapped inside the conceptual frame of your accuser. A factually correct response to his specific point may not be enough to overturn the impression created by the accusation. A joke from the “good old days” of the Soviet Union illustrates this point.

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Advocating for Israel in Canada (Advanced Techniques)
Having declared that half the members of the Politburo are fools, a Jewish dissident is arrested for the crime of insulting public officials. In court he announces his contrition, and offers to retract his statement. The court agrees to release him on this condition, and he solemnly affirms that half the members of the Politburo are not fools! On the other hand, simply refusing to respond to an accusation can leave you appearing guilty without a defense, or evasive. How should one avoid this trap?

7. Techniques of response
An effective response is one that changes the conceptual frame of the discussion. There are three basic techniques of response.

7.1. Refuting
Quoting a notoriously unreliable source. The Islamist who quotes information from a neo-Nazi website, can be confronted with this fact and accused of being in league with antisemites. Supplying information that must be false by definition. A Jewish anti-Zionist says that Ariel Sharon was a member of the “terrorist Stern Gang” during Israel’s war of Independence, and therefore is a terrorist himself. However, Ariel Sharon joined the Hagganah at the age of 14 in 1942. During the 1948 War of Independence, he commanded an infantry company in the Alexandroni Brigade. So the accusation cannot be true. Supplying information that can be refuted from a widely accepted source. A leftist claims that, “America's support of Israel is the reason that terrorists hijacked four airplanes and attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001.” “Osama bin Laden made his explosions and then started talking about the Palestinians. He never talked about them before.” — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Newsweek, (October 29, 2001). Supplying information that is self contradictory, or contradicts some other declaration from the same or allied source. A Palestinian Authority spokesman claims that Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians are holding millions of Palestinians in an airtight prison. Further restrictions are not justified since they are immoral, and couldn’t stop suicide bombers anyway. He can’t have it both ways. Israel can’t be both stopping anyone from moving, and be letting suicide bombers walk around at will!

8. Blocking
If you cannot answer a question, you can say so, justify your refusal, and go on to discuss something else. A campus activist details an horrific account of an Israeli soldier’s abuse of a Palestinian Arab in “the West Bank, last month”, and demands that you condemn it.

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Advocating for Israel in Canada (Advanced Techniques)
You cannot respond to this point, since you have no information on the specific event. But you can say that in the few instances that Israeli soldiers have abused their position (some isolated examples of petty theft in Jenin in May 2002) they have been punished for it.

9. Bridging
If you can briefly respond to a specific accusation, and then convincingly go on to address a different, more compelling issue, you have succeeded in changing the conceptual frame in the most effective way. A Jewish critic of Israel asserts that it is Israel’s “occupation of Palestinian land” that is the cause of the conflict. Well, Israel’s presence in the disputed territories can’t be the cause of the conflict. If they were, why was there a conflict before Her presence in the territories? No the real issue is Arab rejectionism of Israel.
N.B. This handout is intended only as an aide memoir for participants in a workshop designed by David Olesker. The statements made in it do not stand alone, and indeed if read as such, would give a false impression of a complex subject. David Olesker is the founder and Director of J•C•C•A•T the Jerusalem Center for Communications and Advocacy Training. It is a non-partisan organization specializing in training advocates for Israel.

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