Win friends and influence people with emotional appeals

Yesterday, I attended several events here in Fresno with the regional Consul General of Israel, Dr. Andy David.

He discussed various topics, including one very close to my heart, the ongoing information war against Israel (my words, not his). In response to a question about how American friends of Israel can help, he said  that we should do what we can to change the way people envision Israel, from a site of conflict to a “normal country.”

It’s better for people to think of Israel as a beautiful country with a high-tech economy and a cultured population than as a target of terrorism and war. Americans are simply not interested in things that they can’t relate to their everyday lives, so we should stop talking about rockets and start talking about how much fun it would be to spend a few weeks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We should send our kids on Birthright trips, etc.

There is no doubt that he has a point. For example, a college student tells me that he supports BDS (boycott-divestment-sanctions) against Israel because “they stole the Palestinians’ land.” I respond, “no, let me explain about the Mandate, Arab immigration into Palestine in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Mufti, resolution 242 … instant glazed eyes.

But if he had visited Israel, perhaps studied there, if he knew Israelis and understood that they are normal people with normal aspirations, it would be harder for him to accept that these people were actually vicious oppressors and thieves; he would perhaps be more prepared to listen to their side of the story.

It doesn’t help to bombard Americans with stories about terrorist atrocities, said David. They don’t relate to them, and the other side is doing the same. They are lying and we are not, but the listener doesn’t care. He tunes out.

As I said, he has a point. Nothing is more important than letting our young people see Israel for themselves, because, as he said, for a Jew or a Christian it is a powerful, sometimes life-changing, experience.

But there is another point of view. Not exactly a contradictory one, but perhaps another aspect. Orit Arfa starts with a similar premise — that Israel is losing the information war — but has a different prescription:

At almost every pro-Israel lecture I attend, someone feels compelled to ask an unrelated question at the end: “Why does Israel have such bad PR”? …

Part of the problem with Israel’s PR is the fact that we even refer to an intellectual defense of Israel as “public relations.”It’s not a matter of mere PR or image. It’s a matter of our core values and our willingness to stand up for what we believe and know is right and true, no matter what the cost. We could have exponentially more effective PR if we spent less money, but tapped into our other hidden treasures: our conviction, passion, honesty, and fearlessness.

Israel’s enemies are good because they offer “black and white” messages, using humanitarian language that makes Israel’s enemies sound like the oppressed and downtrodden. They do not sugarcoat their lies. They say:

  • Israel is an apartheid State
  • Israel is an occupying power
  • IDF soldiers are war criminals

And how do Israel’s spokespeople—both in and out of the Israeli government–fight these lies?

  • They give long, arduous facts to debunk those claims
  • They assert that Israel simply wants peace
  • They assert that “it’s complicated/complex”
  • They boast that Israel is a leader in hi-tech. (Without Israel, you wouldn’t have cell phones!)

I’ll tell you why these strategies rarely make a dent. The general population doesn’t care about drawn-out facts, especially in this television/Facebook obsessed, fast food/fast consumption culture. We need to answer such claims with strong messages as simple and pure as the ones that Israel’s enemies use – except ours will be honest. You can’t fight lies with “it’s complicated.” You have to throw the intellectual attacks back in their court, with statements like:

  • The Arab world consists of apartheid states
  • “Palestine”is a made-up nation and the “Palestinians” are a made-up people
  • Palestinian leaders are war criminals

Hit them hard, don’t be afraid of being called an ‘extremist’, and above all, be consistent, she says. People are not influenced by rational argument, but rather by emotion, so make your appeals powerful and emotional.

Anti-Zionists understand this. They use art, theater and even physical intimidation (I am not recommending this last, but you have to admit it is a powerful emotional tool). We present legal briefs tracing Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria to the San Remo conference of 1920, and they make up stories about ‘settlers’ uprooting Palestinian olive trees.

Interestingly, both David and Arfa point to the same phenomenon — that emotion is the key to influencing opinion. And of course there is more than one way to trigger an emotional response. So by all means, let’s continue to send our Jewish kids on Birthright trips, and make it possible for the Christian ones to walk where Jesus walked.

Arfa mentions the fact that anti-Israel views permeate the artistic and academic community. She suggests that we need to develop a “new generation of Zionist artists and academics.” For example — a particularly painful one in view of the two Israeli films nominated for Academy Awards this year — where are the Zionist filmmakers? Give them grants! And let’s fund pro-Israel academic programs to counteract the Saudi-paid “Middle East Studies” departments.

And finally — let’s not pretend that we don’t understand what our enemies are, and let’s make sure everyone knows it.

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3 Responses to “Win friends and influence people with emotional appeals”

  1. Robman says:

    As someone who has been involved in grassroots Israel advocacy for over a decade now, a few observations/cautionary notes.

    First, though it doesn’t sound sexy, I can’t emphasize this enough: WRITE LETTERS to your local paper!!!

    Since Israel is in the news so much and on op-ed pages with equal frequency, there are many opportunities for this.

    The Internet is great, but unfortunately, it is diffuse and self-selective. Blogs like these only reach hundreds or at best, thousands of people spread out over a huge geographic area, in several countries, and these people already agree with the blog or website host, so no minds are being changed.

    That does not mean blogs are a waste of time. They are good for giving “ammunition” to like-minded people so they can use this in more public domains, from the water cooler at work, to well, the local newspaper.

    However, a letter to the editor in a medium sized metropolitan newspaper will be seen by tens of thousands of people in a very concentrated area, and many of these people will be ready to be influenced by a well-stated, concise argument.

    Newspaper editors are aware of this, however. If they are sympathetic to and/or have been corrupted by the ‘other side’, they may not print your letters. Still, it is worth a try, and even if not printed, it lets them know that memebers of the public are not fooled by their b.s. So, even if you don’t think you’ll get printed…do it anyway.

    Beyond my advice above, yes, I’d agree strongly with what Orit Arfa says above. We have to have the facts when needed…but only to counter when they try to back up a narrative with their “facts”. It is crucial to highlight the differences between Israel and her enemies. It is vital to engage the target of your appeal by asking them what THEY stand for, and then present them the two alternatives they have in this fight, and then further ask them which one aligns with THEIR values.

    For example, Chuck Hagel famously said that he was an “American senator, not an Israeli senator”, drawing a contrast between standing for America on the one hand and Israel on the other, as if these were somehow mutually exclusive. But, it was revealed that Hagel has taken a lot of money from Saudi and even Iranian interests. And so it would have been very appropriate to ask him during his confirmation hearings – no one did – what makes the Saudis or Iranians more reflective of “American values” than Israel? The total lack of religious freedom? The institutionalized and officially tolerated abuse of women and child rape? The obsessive Jew hatred? What???

    I close on a cautionary note: While I encourage all readers to highlight the gross deficiencies of Arab and other Moslem adversaries of Israel, they have have been developing this very nasty countermearsure, apparently anticipating such a tactic: they will attempt to classify such revelations as “hate speech”. I’ve had this happen to me.

    Yes, it makes no sense at all. They can call Israelis “child murderers”, “war criminals”, “apartheid oppressors”, etc., and that is not hate speech, that’s “speaking truth to power”. But point out factually that in Saudi Arabia, public beheadings are a form of public entertainment, and you are an evil propagator of HATE SPEECH.

    Do it anyway.

    At least until Obama codfies it into law.

    And still do it anyway.

  2. juvanya says:

    I had the privilege of hearing hasbarist David Olesker speak while on a trip to Israel. He gave a great example of how to fight the other side. LIke you said, you cant respond with facts. Once, he was in South Africa on a radio show and a Muslim called in and asked how he can defend an apartheid state? The radio manager, a black man, looked on with a face that was moderating “And??” to David, who quickly crafted a response. He said that if he were a South African, he would be PRETTY ANGRY THAT YOU WOULD MAKE SUCH A COMPARISON. etc The Muslim hung up and the manager jumped for joy.

    I applied the same tactic a few weeks ago and it worked. Deranged haters wont be convinced, but the neutral parties will say “You owned him!” or similar.

    Hey Robman! Did you forget about that $100?

  3. juvanya says:

    This is a tough fight and Ive seen it from both sides and have been arguing person to person for a few years now. I am not really sure what the broadest solution is, but there are a few tactics that work. Embarrassing and showing up the other side is a good one. I have an example, but I cant remember the details. A pro Israel group unfurled a banner near an anti Israel group and basically won the PR war.

    I think a key thing is that Jews need to raise their children Jewish and be Jewish. That means celebrating every holiday, and trying your best to keep Shabbat. Without the religion and practice, children of Jews have no identity or reason to be Jewish. And if they have no reason to be Jewish, they have no reason to support Israel. Its easier to ‘trick’ todays Jewish youth into becoming religious than becoming Zionist. And when they become religious, the cognitive dissonance will make them Zionist. From there, we roll back the tide of young descendants of Jews turning against Israel. If Jews are united in support of Israel in abstract, then neutrals will find it harder to be persuaded by the other side. When there are many prominent anti Israel Jews, we have a problem.