Bigger Picture – Argumentation and Facts

This entry is part 2 of 9 in the series Big Picture (9 parts)

One of the things Israel’s supporters rely on to try to get our message across are arguments supported by facts.

Our reliance on fact and argument is not a function of our being Israel supporters, nor does it derive from our ethnicity, religion, or nationality (any more than it derives from our race, class, age or gender). Rather, facts and arguments form the basis of our case for the simple reason that we live in a society where persuasion is a reasonable alternative to coercion.

I choose the word “reason” with great care, since our belief that differences can be settled through discussion, argumentation and debate can only be sustained if, through repeated personal experiences, we come to see that people routinely get their way by virtue of having the strongest arguments (vs. the biggest gun).

I’ll be getting back to what an extraordinary thing it is to live in a society where reasoned discourse stands even the slightest chance over raw power.  But for now I’d like to highlight one of the downsides of living in such a society: the assumption that those we engage with politically must share our devotion to reason.

The trap this leads to is a belief that if we can just construct the perfect argument, one which builds unchallengeable, objective facts into a framework of air-tight logic, presented with the most compelling rhetoric, we can win the day.  You can see this phenomenon right here on the site (where both I and commentors try to present our recommendations through reasoned arguments).  In fact, you can see it a hundred times a day by just turning to the countless newspapers, magazines and web sites offering editorial opinion (i.e., persuasive arguments) in support of the Jewish state.

But as we have seen again and again, Israel’s opponents are not even interested in objective facts, much less strong arguments built on such facts.

To cite just a few examples, while we are fond of describing the Middle East conflict as complex (because it is) there are some facts that are just too powerfully supported to wish, deny or shout away.

The Jewish historic connection to the land of Israel is one such fact (a fact which does not deny other people’s parallel historic connections to the same land, by the way). Similarly, the fact that Israel’s neighbors attacked the newly born Jewish state in 1948 is as apparent as the marching of thousands of Arab troops into the territory can be.

More recently, it is an objective fact that Israel made substantial offers of land to the Palestinians at various negotiating tables in order to settle the conflict.  One can argue from our side as to whether such offers were wise or foolish, just as the other side can argue whether such offers were worth giving up other things (such as the so-called “Right of Return”) in exchange.  But pretending that such offers were never made (or were not significant – never mind generous) requires just that: pretending, not refutation.

I could continue on through the various “genocides” Israel has been accused of (from Jenin to Gaza) where the low ratio of civilian to combatant casualties was unprecedented in the history of warfare.  But by now you should be getting the idea that facts do exist – even in a place where the environment in which such facts play out might be extraordinarily complex.

But it is just at this level of fact that supporters of BDS et al stake so much on their own refusal to acknowledge objective truth.  Palestinian denial of Jewish history is as long documented as it is absurd and obscene.  But just take a look at what lengths supporters of the Palestinians go to deny facts such as military invasions, peace offers and the cause and result of wars.  Books are published demonstrating that black is white.  Conferences are held where panels discuss how night is day.  Journals run for decades publishing article after article proving that up is down.  All in an effort to destroy any basis of fact upon which argumentation can proceed.

When I and others point out that our arguments are directed not at the Israel haters themselves but to a broader, uncommitted public, we acknowledge an understanding that Israel’s opponents play by a different set of rules.  And it’s all well and good that we don’t waste our time trying to argue with people who insist they get to rewrite the rules of reality to suit their purposes.

But even if we are trying to convince a different audience by following our rulebook, our opponents are trying to convince that same audience by using theirs.  Which makes it all the more important that we understand where they are coming from since – as I mentioned previously – simply dismissing them as hypocrites and liars may not give us the information we need to achieve genuine understanding of what we’re up against.


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5 thoughts on “Bigger Picture – Argumentation and Facts”

  1. One only has to look at the 9/11 Truther movement and its various offshoots to see how difficult it is to “debate,” certain people. As Twain said: A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” Certainly the advent of the internet has made this truism even more accurate.

    As for trying to convince that “audience,” of allegedly uncommitted, hopefully rational folk, how can we compete with the whole world (aka the international community,) when they take every anti-Israel side they can at the good old UN?

    It’s a huge uphill battle but I sure like seeing that there are those still up to the task like on this blog and elsewhere! Kudos.

  2. But even if we are trying to convince a different audience by following our rulebook, our opponents are trying to convince that same audience by using theirs.

    What does their rule book offer? Only one single idea in different colors : “Jews/Zionists bad”. The masses are bombarded with it day in day out under the guise of “news”, reports, and analyses. It’s classic propaganda.

    Propaganda works mostly on ignorant people who still want to voice an opinion and be counted (loosely paraphrasing Jacques Ellul).

    Everyone in the Muslim-Christian-Jewish world is practically born with a built-in opinion on Jews and that is what the anti/Zionist/Jewish propaganda is tapping into.
    It has nothing to do with the situation of the Palestinians or the truth about the complexity of the conflict. They don’t want to know.

    I can understand why anti-Zionists find it ridiculous that we would ask them what they think of the human rights situation in China or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. It’s because they don’t have a ready-made opinion on the Chinese or the Pakistanis – on the other hand they can tap into that homegrown “knowledge” of Jews or that which particular circumstances helped them acquire. That turns them into experts without having had to study for it. Phil Weiss is a case in point. He knows nothing of the history, languages, politics of the Middle East but what makes him an expert he knows everything about propaganda.

    The French philosopher Pierre-Andre Taguieff wrote a 550 page book “The New Anti-Jewish Propaganda” (I don’t know if there is an English translation) where he analyses and documents today’s anti-Zionist discourse. He found that it has only two main components: 1)Jews as racists (and its variants), 2) Jews as killers of children (and its variants).

    “Jews as racists” include charges of supremacism, expansionism, apartheid, exclusion, hatred of the Other, etc or (when it comes from the reconstructionist “rabbi”) tribalism, and a plethora of discriminatory practices.

    Examples of “Jews as killers and torturers of children” (the old ritual murder) are the Al Dura affair, “children” in Israeli jails, etc.

    So, first and foremost, I think we should learn to classify the misinformation we are being fed into those two main categories, instead of going into lengthy arguments facts and figures to prove that it is not so.

    It’s bigger than we thought, and therefore we should keep it simple.

    1. I so agree with you, Sylvia, about the need to keep it simple, and furthermore to stay on message.

      You, Jon, are on the right track when you talk about the BDSers as reality challenged.

      I found the Hazony piece to be very interesting, but I think he misses the point. I have truly come to believe the irrational hatred for Jews, Jewishness and Judaism is at the heart of the matter. The emotion does not come from the thinking, but rather the paradigm is invented to rationalize the hatred.

      In an interview with Paul Berman in March 2009 (originally published at Z-Word, and now archived at The Propagandist), Berman shows whatever was the fashion of the day, the Jews are always defined as unable to fit in.

      “The unstated assumption is always the same. To wit: the universal system for man’s happiness has already arrived (namely, Christianity (Jews weren’t Christian), or else Enlightenment anti-Christianity (Jews remained Jewish); the Westphalian state system (Jews were stateless), or else the post-modern system of international institutions (Jews insist on having a nation-state); racial theory (Jews are different race), or else the anti-racist doctrine (Zionism as racism) in a certain interpretation). And the universal
      system for man’s happiness would right now have
      achieved perfection—were it not for the Jews. The
      Jews are always standing in the way. The higher one’s
      opinion of oneself, the more one detests the Jews.

      I believe it is the supersessionist mentality of all these movements – Christianity, Islam, Secularism – that is at the root cause and always will be, until these movements can embrace co-existence.


      1. Hi Nycerbarb

        Nice “seeing” you around.

        Propaganda and groupthink of course work on the foot- soldiers because of their homegrown, already-negative opinion, beside the fact that sharing that negative opinion with others gives them a sense of “belonging”, a “comfort” of sorts.
        Conversely, and because judeophobia has been traditionally been a part of dominant (Christian, Muslim) societies, the new convert or newly naturalized might overtly adopt an anti-Jewish attitude as proof of “patriotism”. This can affect some Jews and all those dying to “belong”.

        Now, Berman’s description is entirely correct with regard to currents of thought. Universalist, conquering movements, religions and ideologies have always seen necessary, for some reason, to define themselves in relation to Judaism.

        Antisemitism, Judeophobia, Jew-hatred, or just negative opinion on Jews feeding on stereotypes, didn’t wait for Christianity, Islam, secularism to raise their ugly head. They existed already in pagan Egypt. In fact, what irritates those new religions, is that Judaism is the only religion to have survived the ancient world practically intact.

        A little less than 2000 ago, Josephus has had to rebutt pagan clerics of Egypt on the same mantras you see on sites such as Mondoweiss -jewish privilege, jewish politics, Jewish origins, Jewish religion, who are the Jews, “dual-loyalty”, and we see exactly the same mantras on Jewish privilege, history, origin, religion, dual loyalty, etc.

        With practically everything said and done, what is now to be done?

        I say address the problem in neutral terms.

  3. It seems to me that we can never convince western neutrals of the rightness of our cause if we don’t really believe in it ourselves.

    When I read the writing of people like Thomas Friedman or Peter Beinart or Jeremy ben Ami, not to mention any number of like-minded on-line pro-Israel advocates, it becomes very clear that many of us actually believe the charges leveled against the Jewish state.

    Until we really understand that our own cause is truly just, which it is, we can never convince others of that fact.

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