Response

Decided to stick with the new theme for now. In the meantime, here’s a story from earlier this year…

I had an interesting experience recently that gave me direct exposure to many of the dynamics you’ve read about on this site regarding the behavior of anti-Israel activists on college campuses and the reaction they generate.

Without naming names or places, I was asked to present “the other side” at a college-level class in response to a student’s previous two-day class-time harangue directed against the Jewish state.

Apparently, students in this psych class were given the opportunity to lead class discussion on one of the themes of the course, which gave one person the opportunity to present on “discrimination” with you-know-who presented as the Apartheid-level discriminator (with intersectionality-laden accusations against the US thrown in for good measure).  Since the teacher was out at a conference for the period this student presented, as well as the following class, this gave our local advocate the chance to spend two days inveighing against Israel.

The experience was disconcerting enough for one student that she reached out for help and advice and, long-and-short, this led to me coming to class to present an alternative point of view.

Presenting “the other side” implies that responding to someone else’s allegations was what was expected, although an alternative would have been to spend the class period telling the truth about Israel’s enemies as aggressively as the original presenter shared her lies.  But taking into account the audience (in this case, older undergrads and graduate students at a prestigious university), I thought it better to actually provide them a lesson in social psychology with the war against Israel used as an example of toxic behavior that can infect entire societies (including Israel’s enemies). 

Now I did include a number of important truths in the discussion, including humanizing both sides in the conflict while also pointing out facts that confound “the narrative,” such as the Palestinian alliance with Hitler in World War II, the support the British Empire provided Israel’s foes – including splitting Jordan off from “Palestine” and leading Jordanian troops in 1948 – and the expulsion of Jews from the Arab world.  Each one of these facts was unknown to the students in the room, which allowed me to challenge the credibility of the original presenter without attacking anyone directly.

Such behavior was not a two-way street, however.  For almost from the start the student who had been given the floor previously began to insert more of her accusations into the discussion, in the form of “innocent” questions.  But when I responded sternly, but politely, that such questions could wait until the end of my talk (the same rules she insisted on when she had the floor) and did not let her dominate Q&A at the expense of her classmates, she resorted to the old fallback of getting upset and breaking into tears over the fact that any side other than hers was allowed in her presence. 

This tactic is called “Argumentation from Outrage” and is an old staple of BDS “dialog,” although in this age of “coddling,” it has been used to increasing effect to shut down debate through what has been termed “crybullying.” 

One thing that became apparently pretty quickly is how discombobulated Israel’s accusers become when they don’t have complete control of the microphone.  It may just be that this particular person was not an effective partisan, at least with regard to challenging someone who knew what they were talking about and was ready to stand his ground.  But it may also represent the sort of atrophying of argumentation skill among those who insist that no dialog can take place with anyone not ready to agree with everything they say in advance.

Did my presentation sway anyone?  Hard to tell.  While I was surprised how little these older college students knew about the Middle East beyond what they were told in this class, I remembered someone once pointing out how little many pro-Israel advocates know about other hotspots (how much do you really know about the situation in Burma, for example?), which suggested we should approach educating others on topics of importance to us with humility.

I’d like to think that exposure to truth presented respectfully, coupled with watching the rude behavior of a classmate who fell apart when she could not dominate the discussion to spread her false narratives got them thinking that maybe the world was not as black and white as they’d been told.

Time will tell…

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