Israel Advocacy Guidelines

October 2012

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Andrew White is the founder of the Beyond Images advocacy and education project for Israel -  These guidelines are available on the website homepage under Israel Advocacy Guidelines

A. Introduction and contents
How do you advocate for Israel, in an effective way – balanced, coherent, humane, credible and mainstream?  These guidelines have been written for students on British campuses who identify with Israel, and who face this challenge through their campus lives.   But it should have wider application.  

Seven key advocacy techniques

  • Balanced advocacy and core values
  • The centrality of education
  • Building persuasive arguments and ‘framing’ the issues   
  • Listening skills
  • Avoiding a strident or self-righteous tone
  • Skills at engagement
  • Choosing appropriate forums and building alliances

Seven principles of Israel advocacy

  • Positive, values-based advocacy is the best response to demonisation
  • Basing Israel’s case on the fundamental rights of the Jewish people 
  • You cannot build a Palestinian state by demonising the Jewish one
  • Don’t depict the conflict as a ‘Zero Sum Game’ or as ‘us or them’
  • Provide context and build informed understanding for Israel’s actions
  • Convey positive messages in a positive tone, not just fears
  • Be very careful before making the anti-semitism claim

B.  Seven key advocacy techniques

  • Balanced advocacy and core values

It all starts with values.  What values – universal values - are you seeking to convey?  If your value system is authentic, sincere and appealing, then you create rapport, respect, and credibility. 

At the core of Jewish universal values are the following – respect for human dignity, yearning for peace, respect for the ‘other’, and the commitment to making the world a better place.  Israel advocacy needs to be built on these principles.          

If your values offend fair-minded people, you can be the most knowledgeable person in the world about Israel, but it does no good. 

2.  The centrality of education
First and foremost, you need to educate yourself with facts, information and perspective.  The battle of ideas over Israel is being fought on an extremely sophisticated level – no amount of advocacy technique can cover up if you really don’t know the basic facts and issues, to at least a reasonable degree.      
Set yourself learining time, reading time – reading not only the texts, blogs and articles that you are likely to agree with but, importantly, the ones you instinctively oppose.  That is part of the Israel education challenge today.

3. Building persuasive arguments, and framing the issues

But it not just about the facts themselves, it is how you marshal them and frame arguments that convey a set of values.  Just throwing facts at people is of marginal value at best, and can be counter-productive.  We on Beyond Images have aimed to distil the facts into compelling and humane arguments which reflect the values we described above.      

4. Developing your listening skills
And then, there’s listening skills.  To be an effective advocate, you need great listening skills - to understand what others are saying, as well as realising how your own words and ideas might come across. Israel advocates too often come across as oblivious to how their behaviour and messages must appear to other people.  And they also sound unaware of what the counter-arguments are to the points they are making.   To refute those arguments they need to hear them,  understand what they are, and properly absorb them.     

5. Avoiding a strident or self-righteous tone

You need to be adaptable, and open to criticism. A strident tone, and self-righteousness do terrible harm to Israel advocacy.  Advocates frequently complain about the double-standards to which Israel is subjected, but to many of its critics, this argument comes across as a distraction, a way of sounding persecuted and avoiding the real issues. The harsh fact is that many Israel advocates tend to defend Israel in a ‘knee-jerk’ way.  They imply that the criticism of Israel must be driven by ignorance, bias, bigotry or anti-semitism (or all of them).  We do not win support and friends this way.    

6. Skills at engagement

You need to understand how to engage – how to create rapport with people you are involved with; how to make people think and steadily win them over; and how to challenge their assumptions (rather than reinforcing them).

7. Choosing appropriate forums and building alliances

Finally, where and with whom do you aim to advocate for Israel? You need to choose appropriate forums for engagement.  There are some who will never change, and never listen – our task is not to try to win them over: it’s to minimise the impact of their views.  We need to engage with the ‘middle people’ and win the battle over what they believe, as well as providing intellectual and values-based reinforcement for those who are emotionally supportive towards Israel but who lack the knowledge and the tools to translate that support into action or coherent arguments.  And one key challenge is to win allies and understanding outside of Israel’s traditional support base.        

C. Seven key principles of Israel advocacy

So far, we have spoken about personal techniques and approaches to advocacy.  But what about what you actually say?  Here are seven principles which can help to guide the content of Israel advocacy:-  

  • Base Israel’s case on the fundamental rights of the Jewish people: Strongly affirm the national rights of the Jewish people – then focus on Israel’s desire for coexistence.  We mistakenly think that the key to advocacy is to show how much Israel desires peace, and to describe how much Israel has done to try to achieve it.  But there is a mistake here.  Of course it is true that the Israelis yearn for peace.  But too many people in the wider world do not understand “Why Israel?” And if we just talk about peace, they misinterpret this for weakness, and a lack of resolve that we have a fundamental case.  Israel is being challenged today not just by territorial claims, but by the questioning of its legitimacy. Therefore we have to start by restating Israel’s core historic and moral narrative (which is widely denied) and explain that the Jewish people have a right of national self-determination in the land of Israel. Then build Israel’s case for peace, and its track-record.  This involves a reframing of how the conflict is perceived.  Explain that if the Jewish peoples’ history and their legitimate national rights were recognised, not only in words but in actions, the Palestinians could have peace. They could have viable statehood, prosperity and security.  
  • Positive, values-based messages are the best response to demonisation:  The response to demonisation of Israel is not denial – ie it is not to say “we Israelis are not demons”.  The response is to articulate a set of core, universal values, linked in to the Jewish tradition, which can foster understanding and respect for the contribution which Israel and the Jewish people can make to the region, and to the world: contributions based on principles of human dignity, peace, respectful coexistence and tikkun olam (making the world a better place).  You need to be able to articulate how Israel is fulfilling its role as a global citizen even today, and how it could do so in the future to an even greater degree.  To do this, you need to tell the untold stories – of the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens, of the medical services available to Palestinian and Israeli Arabs, of the international outreach efforts Israel is making, from disaster relief, to humanitarian aid and ‘green’ farming technologies.  And many others.  The conflict is perpetuated not because Israel is blind to the plight of the Palestinians (which is not true) but because Israel’s neighbours and its detractors internationally are blind to the qualities of Israel.
  • You will not build peace or freedom for the Palestinian people by demonising the Jewish state: Linked into this is another key message.  Quite simply, you cannot build a Palestinian state by demonising and stigmatising the Jewish one, nor by preaching to it from afar, or by campaigning for boycotts and isolation. You will build a Palestinian state on the basis of mutual recognition and respect, and on the basis of an understanding of the Jewish right of national self-determination.  That insight lies at the very root of this conflict.      
  • Don’t depict the conflict as a ‘zero sum game’ or as ‘us or them’: Advocacy can quickly become extremely polarised, and leads up a blind alley.  In this paradigm, you are either ‘pro-Israeli’ or ‘pro-Palestinian’.  A values-based position is ‘pro-‘ both peoples.  Argue rationally and humanely for the legitimate rights of all peoples of the region.  Highlight that Israel wishes to live side-by-side with its neighbours, including the Palestinians, in peace and securityBut also pinpoint how peace is sabotaged by the hatred of Israel which is embedded in so many parts of Palestinian and Arab societies, and in the self-destructive rejectionism and culture of victimhood of Hamas and many moderate Palestinian leaders too.  At the same time, don’t demonise Islam or the Arab world, or make sweeping statements about the Palestinians 
  • Provide context and informed understanding for Israel’s actions: Provide context for Israel’s actions, and demand fairness in the media, among NGOs, activist groups, student leaders etc. Argue for informed understanding of Israel, not unquestioning support.  We are not against criticism of Israel, and should not be seen to be trying to stifle it. But we must challenge uninformed criticism of Israel, half-truths, and downright falsehoods.  Unchallenged falsehoods take root as fact.  And we must challenge criticism whose tone and techniques foster anti-semitism.
  • Convey positive messages in a positive tone, not just fears: It is all too tempting to pinpoint the extreme hostility of others to Israel.  But we should instead focus on a positive vision and avoid creating a defensive, semi-siege mentality in the advocacy world. We have strong messages: ‘Israel yearns for peace and with acceptance of the Jewish peoples’ national rights we are sure we can all achieve it’, or ‘we’re willing to make tough sacrifices to reach a solution’ or ‘Israel could act as a bridge between the West and the Muslim world, a melting pot for cultures and religions, and a hub of forward-thinking technological innovation for the benefit of all the peoples of the region…’.  Tell stories of Israel’s idealists and heroes, and speak less about those outside Israel who hate the country. At present, to many people, Israel advocacy sounds shrill, paranoid and defensive.  We have to assert positive values in a conciliatory tone, rather than negative values in a tone of virtual paranoia.     
  • Be very careful before using the anti-semitism claim:  Be very cautious before using the ‘anti-semitism’ claim against Israel’s critics and detractors, or the allegation of ‘Jewish self-hatred’. Anti-semitism is a complex phenomenon.  Is it automatically anti-semitic for a person to claim that there is a strong Israel lobby that operates behind the scenes?  Or that Israel is at the root of the region’s problems?  Or for that person to claim that Israel seriously violates human rights, while they do not take a stand on Syrian human rights abuses?  These views and attitudes are held by many people of good faith who would strongly deny that they are anti-semitic.  The beliefs may be wrong, but are those who hold them anti-semitic?  It is very difficult to show that the underlying motivation of a person is anti-semitic, and it is a highly inflammatory claim to make, prompting them to fight back against the charge and accuse you of bigotry and name-calling.  Instead, show how it is the effect of the critics’ ideas and arguments, and the visual images they use, which can foster real anti-semitism and cause discrimination or even violence against Jews in Israel and outside, regardless of their motive and intention. 

And see also WebIsrael – A Beyond Images Guide, on the website