I recently wrote about my experience at an interfaith event where a woman tried to use criticism of Israel as a disguise for her anti-Semitic views. She said that she hated “the Jewish state” for its treatment of the Palestinians and that terrorism against Israelis was justified.
I set up a meeting to continue our discussion.
When I told people I would be meeting with her, some praised my decision, while others were skeptical. They asked me why I would waste my time talking to someone with such extreme views who was most unlikely to soften her enmity toward Israel.
I responded that I didn’t expect to change her mind, but I did hope to provide her with facts and a perspective she hadn’t heard.
When we met, I thanked the woman for accepting my invitation and acknowledged that these are difficult conversations. Unlike most interfaith work, in which people of different faith communities share basic values, this was going to be challenging because of our fundamental differences.
She began by saying, “Israel’s wall and the checkpoints don’t seem conducive to a long-term solution.”
I responded: “It’s certainly a shame that the wall and checkpoints are necessary. But for Israelis, the possibility that safety measures may impede a long-term solution is not as important as preventing their children from being murdered. Since the security fence has been built, terrorist attacks have been reduced by 90 percent.”
She brought up the settlements: “I just don’t see how they can be justified.”
I acknowledged her point: “I understand your frustration, and many American Jews feel the same way. But …”
She interrupted: “Well, do the American Jews speak up about this issue?”
I responded: “Some do, and some don’t. But stop and think for a second. You wouldn’t hold Chinese-Americans responsible for the actions of the Chinese government against the Tibetans. So how is it fair to hold American Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli government?”
I continued: “However, the settlements aren’t the reason that the peace process has stalled. The Palestinian leadership has refused to come to the negotiating table even though Israel has an open offer to resume peace talks. And Israel has little hope for peace because of Palestinian incitement — do you know about Palestinian incitement?”
She shook her head no.
“Both Hamas and Fatah teach their children that they will be martyrs if they kill Jews. It’s in their textbooks and even their children’s television programming.”
She said, “I didn’t know that.”
I continued: “Did you know that the Palestinian Authority pays convicted terrorists up to $3,400 per month? The worse the crime, the more money they receive. In 2016 the Palestinian government allocated over $300 million towards paying terrorists. This is half of their foreign aid budget.”
Her response shocked me: “Why don’t you guys publicize this more?”
I replied: “Trust me, we try. But if you’re only looking at the conflict from one side, you wouldn’t be aware of these issues.”
As we were wrapping up the conversation, she said: “You know, I still feel that the Palestinians are being treated unfairly. But you did teach me a few things, so thank you.”
Was this meeting successful? Absolutely. She didn’t change her stance on the conflict, but I did educate her about several key issues and pointed out her prejudices and logical fallacies.
The issue is straightforward: How can we have meaningful conversations with people who don’t realize that the hostility they express toward Israel is in fact anti-Semitic?
- Educate ourselves. To confront those who are well meaning but ignorant about the conflict, Jews must themselves be educated about the conflict, Israel, Jewish history and the lines of attack used by those who hold anti-Semitic views.
- Have an open mind. Jews must acknowledge legitimate criticism of Israel. Denying such criticism diminishes credibility when confronting a person who tries to disguise anti-Semitism as condemnation of Israel.
- Understand the goal. The goal should not be to win every point, but to make the person think. It’s unrealistic to believe that you can get a person to change his or her mind completely, but you can stimulate some questioning of fundamental convictions. In other words, the goal is to make them insecure about their irrational prejudices toward Jews and Israel.
- Use analogies and statistics. Using analogies and comparisons is useful in illustrating bias and makes an immediate impact. With an effective analogy, the person feels the point instead of simply hearing it. Statistics are also crucial. By being able to cite them, you show that you are well informed with evidence about what is actually happening.
- Make the conflict personal. If you have relatives in Israel who live in fear of terrorist attacks every day, talk about it. If you have been to Israel and have seen Israelis and Palestinians co-existing on a daily basis, talk about it.
- Size up your audience. The choice of argument and strategy is important and should be tailored to the person and the points he or she raises. For instance, you would address a 60-year-old Protestant woman and a 20-year-old college student differently.
The takeaway? Although it’s difficult to change a person’s opinion, it’s possible and worthwhile to have these discussions. If you listen carefully, understand your audience and know your facts, you can counter anti-Semitism disguised as criticism of Israel.