Eldad Tzioni

Hasbara 2.0: Getting people to listen to the message

Posted on February 24 2011 3:00 pm
Eldad Tzioni has blogged as The Elder of Ziyon since 2004.

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Editor’s Note: This is part 3 of a continuing series.

Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

Effective advocacy for Israel means finding a way to get the message across to people. And getting one’s message across to others effectively involves psychology.

People identify with various groups. If you are a Dallas Cowboys fan, you will naturally feel comfortable with other Cowboys fans, and it is easier for the other fans to gain your trust. The same with people who come from the same town you are from, or people of your faith, people who share your hobbies, or people of the same age and socio-economic status. This is natural.

It is just as natural for people to regard those outside their groups with suspicion. People will have their guard up towards people who are strangers, who are not easily identifiable as “one of us.”  Let’s call this guard “the barrier.”

No matter how open-minded you think you are, you almost certainly subconsciously trust people to whom you feel an affinity more than those who you consider somewhat different.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, Americans used to strongly identify with Zionism and Israelis. Both countries were founded by idealists, being born in wars won against all odds. During Israel’s first decades Americans naturally considered Israelis to be “just like us,” – scrappy, hardworking people building a nation from scratch, using their own brains and muscle, in an incredibly hostile environment, and even with a sense of humor.

America in the 1950s and 1960s was also a more outwardly religious nation. No one was insulted at the idea that the Founding Fathers would invoke Scripture and the word “God” was not considered inappropriate to use in public. The idea of a Jewish state in the land of the Bible was simply considered fitting.

As a result, Americans were very receptive to Israel’s narrative. The “barrier” between the two nations was very low, and trust was implicit.

Today the situation is different. Because of decades of propaganda and indoctrination, America is less patriotic and less religious. Moreover, the culture of hard work being its own reward is being slowly replaced with a culture of entitlement. The unity of purpose that America had during World War II – and even after Sputnik – has eroded.

To be sure, the heartland of America remains much as our nation was five decades ago. But on college campuses and in large cities, American ideals are being replaced with a philosophy that is truly dangerous to the nation over the long term.

This is of course a very big topic on its own.

But for Israel, this means that the barrier of communication with Americans has been raised. The constant demonization of Israel in the media and on campus has turned Zionists into “the other,” people no longer to be implicitly trusted. They are now regarded as Goliaths instead of Davids, as bullies instead of the bullied, as religious extremists who cannot be related to by an increasingly secular America.

The barrier is now high, and it must be broken down.

If a Mike Huckabee passionately defends Israel, the cosmopolitan New Yorkers and Chicagoans are not identifying with the messenger because he is regarded as a Republican nutcase. If Alan Dershowtiz writes an op-ed supporting Israel, they think that since he is Jewish his arguments are already tainted and his objectivity cannot be trusted. And unfortunately there are very few non-Jewish liberals left willing to publicly and passionately support Israel.

Fortunately, there are other ways to break down the barrier. And, contrary to how Jews tend to think, the answer has nothing to do with coming up with better arguments in favor of Israel.

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