How to “name-and-shame” without looking like a jerk
- Posted on Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 3:58 PM EDT
- Filed under Op-eds
- Tagged for Benjamin Netanyahu, David Bernstein, Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel Campus Beat, Melanie Phillips
One of the more controversial tactics in a growing effort to counter the delegitimization of Israel is to “name-and-shame” — to go after those who actively delegitimize Israel and seek to delegitimize them.
There are even those, such as British journalist Melanie Phillips, who argue that our entire strategy should be to relentlessly attack the other side and to cease “defending” Israel.
While name-and-shame tactics can be put to positive effect, they can also easily backfire and do more harm than good. We need to learn the art of being disagreeable in the most agreeable possible fashion.
The vast majority of Americans are more sympathetic to Israel than to Palestinians. The latest Gallup Poll from February 2011 showed that sympathy for Israel stands at a historic high of 63% compared to 17% for Palestinians. Sympathy for Palestinians has hovered between 10–20% in the past 30 years.
If you need a reminder of America’s positive attitudes toward Israel, re-watch Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent speech before the joint houses of Congress. The standing ovations could only happen in a pro-Israel country.
Our big challenge in the U.S. is not to bring down inelastic Palestinian numbers, but to ensure that Israel’s numbers stay up. Most Americans are already turned off to the far left-wing justifications of Arab rejectionism and violence. Protecting and expanding support for Israel in a pro-Israel country matters most.
Indeed, the current American political reality dictates an entirely different strategy to fighting the forces of delegitimization than anywhere else in the world. There’s a lot at stake in public support in the U.S.; there’s much less to lose, however, in the UK. Palestinians enjoy a considerable advantage in sympathy in EU countries. A recent study conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation showed that many but not most Western Europeans believe that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against Palestinians.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, the lower the support for Israel in a country, the more aggressive we should be in attacking the other side. Irredentist Muslim and Palestinian causes are held in relatively high esteem in Western Europe, so exposing them can only bring their numbers down and, moreover, has less downside risk given the low esteem in which Israel is held.
In the US, going on the attack could easily make us look overly aggressive — like Israel’s detractors, who turn off the average American. Borrowing from the anti-Israel playbook, however tantalizing, is not the best strategy for the American scene.
While we should focus our energies on positive advocacy about Israel’s quest for peace, commitment to liberal democracy and cutting-edge and life-saving technology, name-and-shame tactics, done right, still have their place.
As unpopular as Arab causes are among the general public, anti-Israel forces are gaining ground in left-wing U.S. circles, particularly on campus. There’s a real danger that if the delegitimizers make further inroads, eventually we may lose ground among mainstream liberals and in the larger American body politic. We can’t afford to give them a free pass.
The trick is to tar the delegitimizers as the anti-peace hate mongerers that they are, while minimizing the risks of alienating mainstream American support — to bring them down but avoid bringing ourselves down in the process.
Here’s how we can do it:
- Start every critique with supportive words for peace or free discourse or both.
- Don’t accuse anti-Israel forces of anti-Semitism unless they openly vilify Jews; accuse them of being anti-peace for opposing Israel’s right to exist.
- On campuses and other places where anti-Israel groups act in a disruptive manner, write and promulgate civility petitions calling on all parties to engage in a respectful discussion. If the anti-Israel groups sign it, then they constrain their future actions; if they don’t, they can be accused of being uncivil.
- In taking on an anti-Israel professor on campus, don’t focus on the substantive arguments they make. That will make you look like you’re trying to stifle discourse. Instead, accuse them, in the words of Professor Gil Troy, of “academic malpractice” for propagandizing the classroom.
- When someone on campus justifies Hamas or Hezbollah, call them out by asking a question: Do you really support the Hamas charter’s call for killing Jews? Can that ever be justified?
- Avoid indictments against all Muslims or Islam; preface any criticism of a Muslim radical group with an acknowledgement of peaceful Muslims.
Name-and-Shame is a must, but how we do it makes all the difference.
About the Author
David Bernstein is Executive Director of the David Project.