We Jews have been branded (or self-branded) with a number of names. “People of the Book,” and “The Chosen People” are two of the most popular, although I’ve also heard us described as a “stiff-necked people,” a “people of memory,” as well as a “people that dwells alone.”
But when it comes to verbal jousting with political opponents, I’d like to propose a different title for our side: A people that rise to the bait.
To show you what I’m talking about, look at the comment section of last week’s Divest This bit on Elder (which discussed tactical options for fighting the campus wars in an era of intersectionality). On the surface, I should have been thrilled that the piece triggered over 60 discussion comments. But if you look those comments over, you’ll see that what triggered them was not my original argument but one of those run-of-the-mill accusations Israel haters routinely throw into other people’s comment sections, regardless of the original topic covered.
In this case, our visitor reached for the old “Israel as US-aid welfare queen” chestnut, and no sooner had he posted than dozens of supporters of the Jewish state rushed to debunk the accusation, presenting facts and arguments that explained the true nature of American aid to the Jewish state, while also trying to turn the slur back on the original accuser.
While this defense was both able and passionate, no one involved in it seemed to realize that (1) they were fighting on terrain chosen entirely by our enemies; and (2) no matter what facts and arguments were presented, the original accuser simply ignored them and continued on with the pointing finger.
It’s no accident that a culture, like ours, which values disputation and argument births defenders eager to mix it up with opponents. But when we rise to someone else’s bait (which we do time and time again), it never seems to occur to us that this gives our foes the power to decide what we get to talk about.
Even as we man the barricades to show our accusers how wrong and misguided they are, notice that they will never budge an inch from their original position. And if (usually when) their original attack has been smashed, they will either (1) bring up a new accusation, ignoring everything that’s been said before; or (2) slip away and start the whole shtick over again in the next venue they hijack for their own purposes.
Given this dynamic, why should we bother making new and fresh arguments in the first place if we’re willing to let any bozo dedicated to ignoring them dictate to us the terms of debate?
By endlessly accusing opponents and demanding a response while never responding to the points of those opponents, Israel’s foes want to place us in the lose-lose position of either rising to their bait (and thus handing them control over debate) or saying nothing and letting the opposition’s accusations stand unchallenged.
I wish I could offer a no-fail way of handling such situations (which have arisen dozens of times during my many years of blogging). One useful technique is to promise an opponent an immediate answer to their challenge once they either respond to the original blog post or admit (either directly or through silence) they are in full agreement with my original points. Another is to point out the dynamic described above and insist that the accuser’s days of acting as prosecutor, judge, jury and hangman are over.
Whatever you choose to do, always keep in mind that once you’ve moved the discussion to a topic of your opponent’s choosing, you have already limited the best-case scenario to not losing, rather than winning the argument.