Narratives – Theirs and Ours

A commenter on my last post regarding narratives brought up a point made frequently when discussing why Israel and its supporters seem to never be able to provide a compelling and stable counter-narrative to the “Israel=Apartheid” one proffered by BDS propagandists.

His point (that Israel and its friends are too longwinded) is certainly well taken (especially if he’s talking about this site).  But I think such long-windedness is just one of several reasons why deliberate attempts by our side to take advantage of the story-loving nature of the human brain have never gotten great traction.

One explanation that does not require self-flagellation is that boiling down a complex Middle East to a simplified storyline (and hoping it sticks in people’s heads) is not always necessary, especially when the truth is so monstrously overwhelmingly on our side.

Think about it.  Despite a decade and a half of BDS efforts (and other propaganda programs that started before BDS), support for Israel in this country has never been higher – and support for Israel’s enemies never lower.

This remarkable fact was not the result of our side’s non-stop propaganda counter-campaign directed against Palestinians or anyone else.  Rather, it derives from the common sense of a public recognizing that those who fly airplanes into our skyscrapers (as well as those who celebrate mass murder of our fellow citizens) are not necessarily friends, while those who fight against the same terror (while still maintaining their humanity and continuing to represent the values we cherish) are not necessarily enemies.

This might be cold comfort for Jews in places like France where ancient hatreds (combined with rank cowardice) have overwhelmed whatever similar common sense might still exist in that country.  But the situation in this country highlights that simple truths – however well told – can still hold their own against manipulative oversimplification.

Also, as I’ve noted umpty-ump times, a strategy that involves endlessly smearing Israel’s enemies in every conceivable forum, year after year after year, would require us to hate those enemies as much as they hate us.  The fact that we don’t harbor such hatred is another reason why we as a community cannot muster what is needed to engage in a decades-long propaganda war.

And even if we transformed overnight into a community united around making our opponents’ destruction seem desirable (even moral), how much weight do we truly have to push such a campaign forward?  The last time I checked, there were not 50+ Jewish nations in the UN, so getting that body to embrace ritual denunciation of the Palestinians is likely to fall a few votes shy. And even if we set our sights lower, I have yet to meet any supporter of Israel, no matter how ardent, who is ready to trash the civic organizations that make up his or her community in order to get them to denounce Israel’s enemies (the modus oparandi of BDS).

Those two caveats aside, my commenter is correct that even when we do engage directly with proponents of anti-Israel propaganda, we do tend to prattle on.  I mean, it’s all well and good to meet the “Israel = Apartheid” propaganda message with an explanation as to why such an accusation is demonstrably false.  But must every such demonstration be twenty-eight paragraphs in length, with the really good stuff buried somewhere around paragraph twenty?

But I think a stronger criticism of our side has to do with how our lack of agreement on so many fronts plays into the hands of the boycotters.

Picking a recent example: the presumed Democratic Presidential nominee recently condemned BDS loudly and publically for God’s sake.  But rather than use this as the launching pad for our own narrative about how BDS is so loathsome it is condemned across the political spectrum (reflected in near unanimous, bi-partisan votes for recent anti-BDS legislation in state and federal representative bodies), some people’s unwillingness to give Hillary a break for anything created an opening for an alternative narrative (that she just made this statement to please donors) to take hold.

I mean, come on!  Would it take that much will power on the part of Hillary dislikers to commend her for getting this right (and attaching it the aforementioned “Everyone Hates BDS” storyline), then voting (or campaigning) against her next year?

Similarly, large numbers of Israelis and American Jews who would prefer the Labor Party still ruled in Israel seem to think that embracing the BDSer’s “We’re Winning!!!” narrative might help them discredit their partisan opponents.   Apparently, hatred of Netanyahu in some circles rivals hatred of Hilary in others, to the point where some reckless partisans routinely use the “success” of the BDS movement to condemn him for “isolating” the Jewish state, never stopping to think how inflating the actual limited success of the BDS project gives it the PR Oxygen is craves (and, without which, it could not survive).

There actually is a simple storyline related to BDS that also has the advantages of being clear, powerful and true.  That – despite its claims of being a “peace” movement – BDS represents the propaganda arm of a war movement so loathsome that the vast, vast majority of the near-infinitely-open Jewish community has cast it out of their “Big Tent,” while Democrats and Republicans join hands in denouncing it.  And, despite its claims of “staggering success,” real BDS “victories” consist of keeping their endless string of failures out of the news.

How’s that for a narrative?

2 thoughts on “Narratives – Theirs and Ours”

  1. It is a shame that these true statements would still be tarnished by the BDS’ers …

    Israel = Liberty
    Israel = Tolerance
    Israel = Justice
    Israel = Democracy
    Israel = Freedom

    Which could likely explain why support for tiny, democratic Israel is more than 5 times that for over-large, non-democratic Palestinian Authority.

  2. Trying to pull both articles on “narrative” together, your stance on “fast” and “slow” thinking can also be described as ideology being used to process information. Some decades ago, Alvin Gouldner (a great US sociologist) defined ideology as (paraphrasing) a statement as to what is in society and a map on how to change that statement, or, for “conservatives”, keep it the same. In the same vein, Bertrand Russell, even more decades ago, argued that we all have prejudices (aka prejudgements) through which we filter information as it arrives. The alternative, as Russell put it, is that a mind permanently open is a mind perpetually blank. We have to short-circuit the decision process to live our lives.

    On other aspects of your two articles, I have spent the last decade since retiring as an academic sociologist commenting on and writing articles for anti-BDS websites. This has been a useful exercise, because I am aware that there are many people out there who need the information that such activities can provide for their own push-backs against BDS, but they may doubt their own abilities to do so without knowing that there are a huge number of others on their side.

    So, yes, BDSers do need confronting with counter arguments and also, if appropriate, direct confrontation as and when they venture on to our territory – such as web sites like this one! It can be the right approach to ram down their throats the true meaning of apartheid and why Israel doesn’t qualify.

    We must, I believe, always approach BDS with an attitude of “no passerine!”

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