Becoming Student Advocates for Israel

Ethan Hammerman

The Israeli cause is an incredibly hard one to fight for. In America, a country of underdogs, it is natural to root for those being oppressed rather than the perceived oppressors. Due to a solid working knowledge of media manipulation, the Palestinians are able to plant the spotlight squarely on the Israelis for torturing them and ruining their way of life rather than on their own leaders for attacking Israeli civilians.

As a young advocate for Israel, I have been taught many important methods of Israel advocacy, and how to best persuade those who are undecided on the issue to join the Israeli cause. For the past year, I have been a part of the Write on for Israel program, when, once a month, I make the hour-long commute from Connecticut to New York City and listen to eminent speakers and participate in workshops regarding Israel advocacy. Through this program, I have also been a part of the AIPAC Policy Conference as well as a delegate to the AIPAC Schusterman High School Seminar this past November. All of these opportunities have taught me different ways to be the most effective advocate possible for the state of Israel.

The most important aspect of being an effective advocate is to know your audience. I cannot stress this point enough. At the leadership seminar, I was able to be part of a question-and-answer session with many Israeli advocates. At one in particular, we were asked to formulate one main argument for American support of Israel. Many students came up with cogent and solid arguments to state their case that utilized cold-hard facts and logic rather than conjecture and fantasy. However, some others, especially private school students, based their arguments around religious connections to the land and God’s promise to the Jewish people. These are not effective arguments for advocating, because all of those who could be swayed by that will already be on your side. Your goal is to fortify your ranks by recruiting from the middle, not piling on to what you already have.

There are many alternatives that get the Israeli point across better than resorting to the Bible. Logic, for example, and appealing to nationalism rather than religion, are two of the main methods for arguing strongly in support of a cause and convincing others to join it. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. So, if the United States is supposed to stand up for democratic ideals, it has to support Israel. Israel has one of the highest levels of freedom of the press in the world. So, since the United States is a major proponent of freedom of the press, it is necessary to support Israel in all of its actions. Arguments like these, which focus on things that all Americans hold dear, are perfect for any audience when advocating for Israel. There are some other arguments that should only be used in certain situation. For example, when speaking to a right-wing crowd, it may not be a bad idea to mention Israel’s liberal gun rights. However, that is not the best topic of interest to discuss with a more left-wing crowd. Instead, why not focus on the liberal gay rights Israel offers its homosexual community? Knowing one’s audience is integral to convincing others of your point.

Another important factor of advocacy is legitimization and the power of positive persuasion. In terms of arguing points, it is best to focus on positive and productive aspects rather than negative and argumentative ones. Positive arguments tend to be more prudent for convincing those in the center of the Israel spectrum to come over to your side. More often than not, people look for reasons to join a cause rather than shun it, and the great thing about Israel is that there are so many reasons to support the cause of her native people. Focusing on the positives can be the foundation of the best possible persuasive arguments. For example, instead of talking about the wars that Israel has gone through to maintain their ownership of the land, why not use more human interest related anecdotal evidence of Ethiopian and Soviet Jews who came to Israel in order to find better lives for themselves and their families? It utilizes basic human pathos in order to prove its point, and is beautiful in its pure simplicity. Unlike network news, in advocacy, positive information is always better than negative information.

Thus far, I have given you a lot of information in terms of how to convince others of your belief. Well, what about in a debate situation? In this case, there is an easy-to-remember method to use. It is called the ARM method, and it is a perfect way to win over anyone in a heated debate. First, you agree with the posed contention, especially if it is particularly negative. Face it, your opponents may know some basic facts. If they are correct, acknowledge it. However, reframe it in a different light. Make it seem like it was necessary for Israel. No matter how negative, any situation can be strongly legitimized. Finally, have a strong message. This serves to bring your argument home, and completely stave off the attack.

Here’s an example of the ARM method at work.

The argument: Israel killed many civilians in the attacks on Gaza.

Agree: “That is true. Unfortunately, Israel did kill many civilians in the Gaza attacks.”

Reframe: “However, one must remember that, unlike most military organizations, Hamas operates within civilian populations. They were the main target in this case, and it was necessary to attack them.”

Message: “The goal of the state of Israel is to bring peace for all Israelis and Palestinians, and a major component of this is to end Hamas’s reign of terror in Gaza.”

I hope that this short introduction to Israel advocacy will help you take up arms in the battle for Israel. Even if you don’t join Tzahal, you can still be on the front lines in another crucial war, the war of public opinion. Israel needs to be defended, and I hope that with this new information, you will be ready to defend, and teach others to defend, Eretz Yisrael. ♦

Ethan Hammerman, a senior at Westhill High School in Stamford, Connecticut, is a member of the Write On for Israel journalism program, funded by the Avi Chai Foundation.
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HaYidion Israel & Zionism Education Spring 2009
Israel & Zionism Education
Spring 2009