The Red Queen’s Race

Red Queen and Alice“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Caroll

I’ve written before about the need to take a pre-emptive role in advocating for Israel. Here I want to stress another reason why we need to take the initiative: it is physically impossible to keep up with the rate of accusation. Like Alice, we are forced to run as fast as we can just to keep up.

If you have been following my travels, you will know that I recently returned from a speaker tour of South Africa. There I visited the beautiful city of Durban, whose name is now inextricably linked with the 2001 international anti-Israel hatefest. One of the dedicated rabbis of the community later e-mailed me that one of his congregants had received a message from a friend who, to her horror, supported a cultural boycott of Israel. The rabbi (like most rabbis, overworked and underpaid) passed it on to me for comment. I won’t quote the whole message from the Israel detractor – it’s long, consisting of ten accusations against Israel. Here are my answers to two out of the ten points:

2) The denial of the Palestinian “Right of Return” as recognized by the United Nations Resolution 194

UN General Assembly resolutions neither create nor adjudicate International Law. They have exactly as much legal import as a resolution of the local Rotary Club. Only Security Council Resolutions are legally binding, and then only if they are made under Chapter VII (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) of the UN Charter. (See second to last paragraph here.) Israel can’t be committing a “crime” by denying a “right” that doesn’t exist in law.

9) The War Crime inherent in the use of White Phosphorus as a weapon during the Israeli Defense Force Operation Cast Lead of 2009

What war crimes are “inherent in the use of White Phosphorus”? The International Committee of the Red Cross said there is “no evidence to suggest” that Israel had used white phosphorus as a weapon. (See here.) Notice the shift to alleging that the supposed crime is “inherent” in the use of white phosphorus; that’s happened since the ICRC said that there is no evidence of there having been any casualties from its use by Israel (see here; it’s a long document, search for the word “phosphorus” to find the relevant statement).

I didn’t blame the rabbi for feeling out of his depth here; these are pretty arcane subjects that normal people don’t spend much time thinking about. It wasn’t hard for me to refute them, but that’s not because I’m particularly clever – it’s just that I do this for a living.

But look at the accusations and the refutations. The first thing that should strike you is the language. The accusations are replete with emotive terms (“denial” of a “right,” “war crime” and “weapon”). The refutations are technical (“legally binding”, “Chapter VII” and “International Committee of the Red Cross”). The second thing you should notice is the disparity in length between the accusations and the refutations. Even ignoring the texts referenced through internet links, the refutations are about four times as long as the accusations.

Whereas anti-Israel accusations can be manufactured out of a mixture of thin air and chutzpah at enormous speed, they need much more time to refute, and the refutations often make for turgid reading or listening. If I’d refuted all ten of the accusations in this article, I would have found myself without a reading audience.

Setting the Frame

Only half in jest the very talented David Jacobson of South Africa’s Jewish Board of Deputies recently mentioned to me that anti-Israel advocates can make us do whatever they want. A sham “court” (whose verdict is a forgone conclusion) is set up to put Israel on “trial,” and at once the local Jewish community must apply its limited time and resources to countering it.

Although it’s important to let no negative message about Israel go unanswered, as advocates for Israel we must realize that it is even more important to push our own conceptual frame. Communal decisions about how to apply scarce resources should be based on this fact as well as the impossibility of ever truly refuting every false charge.

The only way to get out ahead of the game is to set your own conceptual frame. To do so effectively requires two elements:

  1. Positive messaging about Israel to convey the basic truths about the rights of the Jewish people in their own land.
  2. Negative messaging about our adversaries to put them on the defensive and dissipate their resources answering us.

Of course, both of these objectives must be carried out by telling the truth (a stricture our opponents often seem to be untroubled by).

In a future article, I’ll go into greater detail about how to set the agenda and conceptual frame. Stay tuned…

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