“We need to defund the PA.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, sir.”
This was a snippet of a conversation with Senator Ted Cruz (Tx. – R) about the status of the Taylor Force Act during the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2017. The act would defund U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as long as it continues paying the families of terrorists.
Preaching to the choir — this phrase represents a problem in the pro-Israel community.
Pro-Israel advocates often find themselves appealing to the same audiences with generic rhetoric. Understanding non-Jewish concerns and anti-Zionist talking points is essential to both strengthening the Zionist argument and gaining new adherents.
One part of the problem is semantics. Supporters of both the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the Palestinian cause often focus on language. In order to discuss substantive issues, finding vocabulary that is acceptable to all parties is crucial to stimulating dialogue.
For example, what should the land to the west of the Jordan river be called: The West Bank, Judea and Samaria, or Occupied Territories? Another example of this struggle over terminology is the separation barrier between the West Bank (again, aka. Judea and Samaria, aka. the Occupied Territories) and the rest of Israel. The definitions are technical, differences minute, but they can mean the difference between a civil, policy-based dialogue or impassioned invective-hurling.
Many aspects of the conflict remain confusing or polarizing to those unfamiliar with its history. Explaining such subtleties reveals the underlying factors and politics affecting both sides. A major point of contention is the concept of Palestine. Initially, the Romans used it as their name for the former Judean Kingdom, yet it did not correspond exactly to modern-day Israel. Palestina Prima, for instance, comprised northern Israel, while Palestina Salutaris extended to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Palestine thus approximates a geographical name. From this perspective, the term’s historical context is closer to pre-unification Italy, a geographical expression. While this does not change the reality that today’s Palestinian Arabs retain a distinct culture and geographic home, knowing the etymology clarifies the origins of many pro-Israel advocates’ stance on the name "Palestinians."
Finally, the pro-Israel community must find common cause with groups outside the Jewish community, making an effort to reach those with little contact with pro-Israel individuals or under the sway of those who would paint Israel as undemocratic and Zionism as racist.
In 1987, Queens College hosted an event by the Queens Black/Jewish People to People Project. It was led by the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum, who was known for advocating interfaith dialogue. Queens student Barry Friedman stood at a microphone before an auditorium of 1,700 black and Jewish students and said, “Reverend Jackson, we can’t seem to get a dialogue going with the black students on campus. Can you help us?’’
Jackson responded by pointing to the college’s BSU president, Michael Reese, and said, ‘’Brother Reese, are you still in the house? Do me a favor and walk over to that gentleman,” pointing to Friedman. The reverend attempted to reconcile the black-Jewish relations on campus by asking, “Do both of you agree that tuition is too high? Do you both agree that President [Ronald] Reagan is not doing enough to help college students pay for school? Do you both agree that we should fight world hunger?’’ Friedman and Reese nodded in response.
“Okay,” Jackson said. “Now you know that you agree on the major items. The rest should be easy to work out.”
The seven decades of the Israeli-Arab conflict has fostered a flurry of polemics and slanted histories, resulting in two separate sets of facts. To break this intellectual stalemate and create an environment friendly to pro-Israel views, the pro-Israel community must clarify misconceptions, explain obscurities, and stress Israel’s similarities to diverse groups.
By Jackson Richman and Samuel Kramer
Jackson Richman is the Capital Commentary and Op-Ed editor of Kol HaBirah. Follow him on Twitter: @jacksonrichman.
Samuel Kramer is a master’s candidate at Georgetown University. He has interned at the State Department, Department of the Treasury, and the Hudson Institute. The views expressed in this article are his own.