How to “name-and-shame” without looking like a jerk

This is a republication of an original article written by David Bernstein, Executive Director of The David Project, in the Israel Campus Beat on Tuesday, June 14, 2011.

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.

a middle aged man with dark features and a collared blue shirt looks forward

David Bernstein

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:

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.