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Verbal Combat: The Rise of Israel’s Words Warriors

March 4, 2013 11:24 am 15 comments

Yarmulkes off to Secretary of State John Kerry who pushed back against the repellant, nauseating comments of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who had said, at a UN-organized conference in Vienna (where else?) on February 27, that Zionism was a crime against humanity. Kerry said that United States found his comments “objectionable.”

Erdogan has said far worse. In 2010 he offered this nugget: “Even bullies, pirates and criminals have a code of honor. But for those who have none, it would be a compliment to call them names.” And last November he accused Israel of state terrorism and of an “attempt at ethnic cleansing.” But Kerry’s condemnation is essentially the first time Erdogan has been called on his disgusting remarks.

There is a reason.

The current thinking of the State of Israel and its allies worldwide is that the Jewish state must embrace whatever friends it can find in whatever form they take. And if those ‘friends’ offer outrageous oral attacks, just sweep it under the rug. Verbal assault? Water off a duck’s back. What matters is what people do, not what they say. Erdogan has to cater to his constituents at home. He’s got to serve up fresh meat in order to remain popular. Turn the other cheek to his insults. Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, who called Jews “apes and pigs” in an Egyptian television interview in 2010, has to cater to the Arab street. He hasn’t gone to war to reverse the Camp David accords, right? So never mind what he says. Don’t respond or things will escalate.

I remember how Israel and world Jewry adopted this posture with Yasser Arafat after he signed the Oslo accords. Here was a man who had ostensibly made peace with Israel. But that did not stop him from regularly speaking of “the terrorist activities of the Israeli occupation and the Israeli crimes.” (CNN Interview, 2002) At the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2001, Israel’s partner in peace said that the Jewish state was engaged in a “savage and barbaric war” against the Palestinians. He later spoke of Israel using “blatant and fascist military aggression against our Palestinian people.” (The New York Times) Most significantly, he declared in July 2008 that Palestinian men, women, children would fight until Judgment Day, when the Palestinians will take over Jerusalem as their capital.

Err… it may sound like war. But he wasn’t openly calling for hurling bombs at buses, correct? So he remained kosher.

But it is my strong opinion that overlooking incendiary rhetoric is exactly what led to the global deligitimization of Israel from which we suffer so severely today. The Jewish State is trapped not only in a war of bombs and missiles but primarily in a war of verbs and words. Its major defenses can no longer include just tanks and helicopter gunships but eloquence, articulateness, and factual fluency.

How did Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy, which respects the rights of women, gays, and everyone in-between, become one of the most maligned and hated nations on earth? How is it possible that Israel retains, in a global poll of citizens of 22 countries conducted by Globescan, the same negative rating as North Korea (50) and is seen more negatively then even Iran, which stones women to death?

The answer is that Israel has paid lip service to the verbal assault against its reputation for decades. Israeli hasbarah has been a monumental failure not because Israel cannot enunciate but because it failed to understand the importance of words. While Israel was developing advanced radar and the Iron Dome defensive shield, the Arabs were unleashing a global army of articulate spokespeople on campuses, the BBC, and CNN. Arab leaders who were Israel’s ostensive allies were criticizing Israel daily at the UN. It did not take long before Israel – defenseless and silent – became one of the great pariah nations of the world.

And the only way to combat now and reverse the growing deligitimization it is to create an army of words warriors who employ the power of spoken truth to champion Israel’s cause.

First, we must create an institute, an advanced scholarship, where young Jewish leaders will be trained to become charismatic spokespeople of the Jewish community and defenders of Israel worldwide. The institute would provide real-world media training, debate preparation, broadcasting, op-ed writing, and rhetoric in an effort to create the most charismatic spokespeople for Israel and a new generation of global champions of the Jewish cause. It is the objective of This World: The Jewish Values Network, to create this institute in the near future.

Second, the biggest battles for defending Israel today are taking place on college campuses worldwide. But the focus of pro-Israel activism at Universities has been to bring pro-Israel speakers to address student groups. This is a noble effort but is ultimately hampered at many a campus by a fatal flaw. For every one student that come to listen to pro-Israel groups, there are two students that come to protest. The key is to rob them of this victory by inviting Israel’s detractors and their spokespeople to formal debates. At Oxford, where we witnessed the beginning of the anti-Israel movement on campus which would later sweep the University world, we succeeded in ferocious pro-Israel activism by focusing not principally on speakers but on debates. Our purpose was to demonstrate fearlessness in advocating for Israel’s cause. But things have since deteriorated to such a degree that just last week the Oxford Student Union actually had a vote as to whether or not Israeli academics should be barred from the University.

We must cease being shy about debates and seek them out against Israel’s leading critics. Besides, debates are markedly more interesting than lectures.

The righteousness of Israel’s cause can be established in open argument and Israel can be victorious in the marketplace of ideas. The time has come to passionately engage Israel’s enemies in verbal combat.

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


  • Unfortunately, Rabbi Boteach is wrong.

    Debates are not going to win the information war.

    With all due respect, Jews tend to think that this is an intellectual battle. It is not. It is emotional.

    The reason people become anti-Israel isn’t because of logic or because of hearing a speech. It is because the anti-Israel side uses emotional arguments. They use film, plays, posters, maps, and other media that do not appeal to the intellectual but to the visceral. They change the framework of the argument to one where Israel and Jewish nationalism is at a disadvantage.

    And I am saying this as a writer of a website that is popular because of its intellectual arguments.

    I have spoken about what pro-Israel advocates need to do to win the information war; you can hear my recent speech in Israel about this very topic here:

    We have plenty of good debaters. What we need is unapologetic Zionist filmmakers, video game designers, novelists, playwrights, and others who know how to strike emotional chords when talking about the Jewish right to our ancestral lands.

    • While your points are valid, There can be more than one methord that is effective and anything that is effective no matter how small, Helps.
      Rabbi Boteach points also have merit in my opinion.
      I don’t think the Rabbi was diminishing the importance of public speakers, but that it depends on the circumstances, and that Debates can be a good and effective way of combating Flawed and misleading information, by letting the rhetoric flow and then disproving it in a public debate.
      But by gosh much harm could be done if the person debating, is not fully armed with the required knowledge or lets emotions take over
      Elder of Ziyon ,I think you make a very good point here –
      “The reason people become anti-Israel isn’t because of logic or because of hearing a speech. It is because the anti-Israel side uses emotional arguments.”

      would this not be a good area to target ?, with speeches, debates, blogs and media that can easily highlight the misinformation used in such emotional arguments.
      even fighting them on message boards makes a differance, and no one knows who is reading it, they may not post but one way some media/Bloggers and Politicians etc find out what the public are thinking is through this methord.

      The Arab propaganda must be confronted on all levels and where ever it can be found, over time they have refined their techniques to such an extent that in the west if one wants to be seen as cool and trendy then one needs to be pro Arab/Arab Palestinian. obviously this needs to be corrected by all and every methord available.

      An example of palestinians making the news, courtesy of 60 minutes, a must watch for those who have not seen it.

      and apoligies I have replied with out watching your speech, due to only being able to get dial up, it will take many hours for me to download, but I will do so tonight.

  • I am happy to see someone gets this at last. It even helped me understand (a little) Israel’s total lack of interest in countering this well coordinated PR offensive against it.

    To that end, I would add to your list:

    Enlisting non-Israelis and non-Jews. The Saudis do this, albeit they likely BUY their allies (thinking, for example, of Mearsheimer and Walt and a conveniently timed gift to Harvard).

    Second, I would add some deep research into the Arab and Muslim PR campaign against Israel. I think it is well ooordinated and well funded. Let’s learn about that funding…how many Middle Easter studies departments are getting Saudi money? It should not be quite so easy to purchase scholars.

    Thanks for this article, and good luck.

  • Er… if only the word warriors would edit Wikipedia. As it is, the Palestinians and their allies control the language there in anything to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Because they are mostly young (and stupid) they have got a foothold which does not allow our word-warriors there to write the facts. Almost instantly the old-timers will intimidate or hustle out any newcomers. It takes time and patience and there is a learning curve, but please…. Wikipedia is read by millions. Please consider becoming an editor!

  • Steve Blowers

    I am not Jewish but am more than happy to speak up for and defend Israel.

    • Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! It’s people like you who give me hope for the future.

    • I am with you, Steve. It is our duty to stand up and speak TRUTH when we hear lies being spoken against Israel. Lies and deceit are always defeated when the TRUTH is spoken!

  • I can not stress the importance of what you say strongly enough.
    I have found this to be very True.
    Way down here in little New Zealand, I was surprised when on entering a trades message board in nz some months ago, I found a lot of anti Israeli threads, being a bit of a history buff,I realised what they were saying did not ring true.
    I found it easy to Demolish their retoric, with many thanks to Google and a few other right minded people.
    I have found just recently,That there is a massive
    Propaganda war going on by Arab and Arab Palestinain’s via youtube,media and message boards, whats more I believe this has caused quite a swing against Israel due to a lack of anyone refuting it, while the info is out there, (thanks to many supporters of the truth)
    many Westerners are to lazy to look for it or don’t believe it due to the conspiracy Theorists or Arab propaganda work.
    Although I am not Jewish and never been to Israel, I know right from wrong, I have become a message board warrior for Israel, and have only one hard core conspiracy theorist left, all the others have fled,(he is fading though and none take any notice of him now).
    So yes Stand up and be counted, do not get emotional but present the facts, get debating.
    Google is you friend and so am I

  • The rabbis were 100% right when they compare lashon hara to shedding blood. The Arabs’ are now killing Israel with their lashon hara. Israel must fight back.

  • Thank you Rabbi Boteach. I think you are EXACTLY right. How do we convince others that these are the right steps to take?

    How do we influence our youth to make them understand that this is not some far-away abstraction, but this ultimately means their lives if we fail to stand up for Israel?

  • Jonathan Lev

    Absolutely right on. We can and we must educate, train and empower our people to present,defend, debate and enlighten with truth over the lies that have become accepted.
    Count me in. I’d love to participate.

  • Sonia Willats

    Thank you, Rabbi. I am convinced that the battle is spiritual and that Israel must stand tall:…David asked … “… Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 1 Samuel 17:26 It also appears to me that the ‘objective liberal philosophy’ of our age (for want of a better term) is not so objective, and is a kind of religion in itself. It is G-dless, and by its very nature opposed to Israel because it is opposed to Israel’s G-d. Judith Butler is, to me, a toxic expample of this philosophy. There are many others -well intentioned- who succumb to this lie.

  • Thanks for writing this. Would be more than eager to take part.

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