Supporters of the Jewish state are endlessly frustrated by the success of the boycotters in getting their “Israel=Apartheid” message across, regardless of its total lack of truthfulness, even as the truths we tell barely make headway.
“A lie can travel across the planet while the truth is tying its shoes” (or something to that effect) is an explanation we tell ourselves as to why the other side’s fabrications seem to resonate with so many while our carefully constructed and well-articulated rebuttals fall on deaf ears. And there’s no question that a lie endlessly repeated (especially one that tells a simple story) can be very impactful on our story-loving brains.
But the power of their propaganda message derives not from its dishonesty, but from its simplicity. “Apartheid Israel” packs within it a wide range of messages and connections of bigotry and repression, as well as a clear set of steps to follow (boycott, divestment, and sanctions leading ultimately to state dismantlement) that need no further elaboration. In contrast, our explanations as to why Israel is not an Apartheid state (usually accompanied by long-winded analysis and history lessons) makes audiences’ eyes glaze over, not because they are false but because they are complicated.
Many messaging debates within the pro-Israel community boil down to how to find a similar storyline to counter the BDSer’s “Israel=Apartheid” slogan, with arguments generally breaking out over whether our storyline should be negative or positive. But even here, the messages we argue over tend to be multi-faceted and complex, whether negative (let’s talk about Arab repression, homophobia and sexism, as well as the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and depredations of Gaza’s Hamas rulers – who are really just like ISIS, etc.) or positive (let’s celebrate Israel’s democracy, open society, tolerance of gay people, technology, cuisine, beaches, nightlife, yada yada, yada).
In contrast, a storyline that has developed organically over the last few months demonstrates how the power of simplicity can work in our favor.
While Israeli governments have complained for years that the Palestinian government makes regular payments to convicted terrorists and their families, that complaint was just one of many related to incitement, tolerance of and even collaboration with terror. But in recent months, stories of those terror payments have “gotten legs” and regularly appear in the media, as well as being discussed and debated in high government circles.
Part of this has to do with the recent changeover in US government with associated changes in foreign policy priorities. But this doesn’t explain why one particular aspect of Palestinian perfidy as it relates to terror (payments to terrorists) has gotten so much more attention than other equally valid points of controversy.
I would posit that these terror payments have captured the public imagination due to the fact that the storyline they imply is a very simple one: “In an age when the US and the world are supposed to be fighting terror, why are taxpayers also subsidizing it?’ Such a message has the virtue of being straightforward and common-sensical, as well as aligning with the political goal of exposing Israel’s enemies for what they are.
In the world of rhetoric, the term synecdoche refers to the part of something standing in for the whole. The reason this rhetorical device works as a persuasive technique is that it gives someone a small idea they can easily grasp (such as the illogic of subsidizing terror while also fighting it) with a much larger truth (all the corruption and dishonesty and hypocrisy of Israel’s foes with regard to terror).
When a synecdoche like the current terror payment one takes hold among the public, it’s incumbent upon the strategic warrior to take advantage of the situation by reinforcing the simple part (by endlessly pounding on this one accepted idea) vs. broadening the debate by highlighting every other complaint we have against Israel’s foes.
As a wordy people with a great deal we’d like to get off our chests, it’s tempting to jump right in and start explaining why those terror payments are just the tip of the iceberg, and to provide long lists of additional outrages routinely practiced by Israel’s enemies. But just as a disciplined warrior making headway with a bow doesn’t simultaneously fill his hands with additional swords and spears, we too should focus on driving home our current advantage, rather than larding up the news with additional storylines that actually dilute, rather than reinforce, our message.
We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.