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June 17, 2015 11:21 am

For Pro-Israel Advocates, It’s Time to Start Playing Offense

avatar by Andrew Pessin /

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 A mock checkpoint erected during "Israeli Apartheid Week," an annual anti-Israel showcase, in May 2010 on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus. Photo: AMCHA Initiative.

A mock checkpoint erected during “Israeli Apartheid Week,” an annual anti-Israel showcase, in May 2010 on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus. Photo: AMCHA Initiative. – Victories aren’t usually depressing, but recent headlines about Israel include those such as: “Israel Left Off U.N. List of Parties That Kill, Injure Kids,” “Palestinians Abandon Bid to Ban Israel From FIFA,” and a couple of headlines about failed motions for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses. Surely all of these “victories” are better than the corresponding defeats. But still, we can and should do better.

The problem with these victories is that they reflect a much deeper problem in the strategy of pro-Israel advocates. We tend to play defense far more than offense. Some psychologists might enjoy explaining just why Jews, in general, might prefer this approach, but it’s something we must overcome. What’s wrong with this strategy was beautifully laid out in Ze’ev Maghen’s famous piece, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism.”

“A man calls you a pig,” he writes. “Do you walk around with a sign explaining that, in fact, you are not a pig? Do you hand out leaflets expostulating… upon the manifold differences between you and a pig?”

Of course not. For to do this is already to cede the crucial first move to your enemy. It’s to allow that your pig-hood is even a legitimate question in the first place.

Playing defense grants the possible legitimacy of the attacks on us.

It’s time for us to go on offense.

There are many forms this can and should take, theoretically and practically. For example, most discussions of Israel’s interests in the Middle East focus on its security needs. Those are of course important, but then the overall debate becomes how to balance Palestinians’ right to their homeland with Israel’s security need. But that is already to grant their “right,” which is to concede that Israel is wrong. That in turn fuels the perception that a “just” solution requires the wrong party, Israel, to make immediate concessions. That is to admit the possibility that you may indeed be a pig for resisting this.

To play offense, by contrast, is to begin with Israel’s own multiply grounded right to the land, which is easily demonstrable (as columnist Jeff Jacoby has recently done). Then the story is about conflicting rights, between equal players, and nothing is conceded in advance. Let the Palestinians defend or prove their “right” to the land, with actual objective facts, documents, history—do not just concede it. It might, after all, prove a difficult case for them to make.

All the more so with the campus BDS motions that are so frequently in the news. They’ve become so prevalent that we’ve stopped noticing how outrageous they actually are. That’s already a concession, so let’s go on offense. First, a small-but-important verbal move. Let people start associating the acronym with the truth: refer to BDS constantly as Bully, Deceive, Smear. Let that be the first thing people think of when they hear or read BDS. Similarly, let SJP become Students for Just Us in Palestine.

Second, more importantly, we’ve also stopped noticing that the wrong party is being targeted for boycotts. Israel is the only entity in the region committed to Western liberal values such as democracy, diversity, and freedoms of the individual, press, and religion. The other side is the one that should be targeted. The side that’s split between Mahmoud Abbas, a president in the 11th year of his four-year term, and Hamas, a racist and genocidal terrorist group. The side featuring both political and religious oppression. The side insisting that only a Judenrein (free of Jews) Palestinian state will suffice. The side that honors (and pays) its terrorists and celebrates the death of its enemies’ children, and truly belongs on that U.N. list of parties that harm children.

It’s necessary and commendable that Israel advocates are fighting back against the BDS proposals they are facing. But here’s a new idea. Wherever a BDS proposal against Israel is raised, one should also be raised against the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Even better, start raising these proposals before the other side raises one against Israel. As a basis for boycotting the Palestinians, simply demonstrate their commitment to violence and terrorism, their corruption and oppression, and their profound violations of human rights—both of their own citizens and of the Israelis they attack. A similar strategy should be adopted against another popular anti-Israel tactic: “apartheid walls” on campus should face “walls of terror,” and so on.

We should not merely try to defeat these proposals against us. We should invoke the full force of the law to stop them from being considered in the first place. Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law center, has been doing great work here, of both global and local scope—going after the Palestinian Authority in international arenas and local food co-ops considering grocery boycotts. And of course, South Carolina’s recent groundbreaking anti-boycott legislation is an important and genuine success.

It’s time to let the other side play defense for a change.

Let them get booted out of FIFA.

Andrew Pessin ( is a professor of philosophy at Connecticut College and the author of numerous philosophy books for the general reader. 

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  • TB

    Yes! Playing offense is important not just for Israel/Jews, but for world justice. It may also not be helping that Jews tend not to show their anger at being abused. When Palestinians endlessly rage and fume in the streets, people assume they have a Holocaust-level grievance. Jews, meantime, wave flags.

    Truth be told, Jews have also never adequately put Christians on the defensive for the anti-Semitic leanings of their credo. Thus, it is in part Christian anti-Semites (and their Jewish imitators) who have helped Palestinian B.S. take root for decades, culminating in B(D)S.

    But at the end of the day, even though it’s correct to put all manner of lies on the defensive – whether political or religious – it’s also a tricky matter. As we’ve seen, defensive facts/logic only get called Zio-fascist propaganda; the offensive version may also flop.

    I think something very sophisticated in the brain sciences will be needed to penetrate the human-reptilian brain if we want world peace. I sincerely hope Israeli labs are on it.

  • Edward

    The people pictured kneeling look like they are kneeling before ISIS beheaders.

  • Edward

    There are Checkpoints at every airport in the world – a response to 9/11 terrorism.

    Checkpoints are a necessary evil.

  • S. Moses

    To play offense, however, friends of Israel will need support from existing networks and media outlets, such as this one. For example, a Protestant denomination (Mennonite Church USA) may well vote for a BDS-type resolution in a few weeks, partly because Jewish voices have neglected to confront the church in question and shine a spotlight on the issue…

  • yale

    Part of the problem is that when you go on the offensive, you need to know what your goal is. Most of the goals under consideration do not hold up when thoroughly scrutinized:

    1. An offensive doesn’t get us to a “Two-state” solution because to be effective it must delegitimize Palestinian Arab claims, but if their claims aren’t legitimate, why grant thme a state?

    2. Annexing the territories puts Israel at demographic risk and essentially makes the “right of return” Israeli policy by enabling any refugees in the territories to become Israeli, and then vote the country out of existence.

    3. Expelling the Arabs is not an option by any means.

    What is left? If we don’t know, offensive activity may get us nowhere.

    • Romeu Monteiro

      1. The goal of an offensive is not to get a “Two-state” solution, it is to free Israel of pressure and give Israelis higher leverage to support their claims. Then they can concede to a two-state solution, abandoning ancestral land in favor of peace. In fact, they have already tried that yet it didn’t work.

      2. Nobody talked about annexing the territories. That’s a decision for Israelis to make. Having that option does not mean they would be forced to choose it. Also, the demography threat is a bust. Annexing Judea & Samaria with its 1.5 millions Arabs would not destroy Israel’s Jewish majority.

      3. It is not, and nobody suggested that.

      What is left is explainig Jews have the strongest sovereign claim to the Land of Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. That it’s up to them to decide how to administer their land and eventually carve out an autononous territory/country for Arabs or to decide to annex whatever territories of their homeland they see fit, as long as they offer citizenship to people living there, as they have always done.

    • Bibiche Simone Baumann

      If the offensive is successful it might lead to a solution on Israel’s terms. On top of a background of antisemitism I think it’s the fact that the Arabs have oil and the threat of terrorism in their own countries that have turned the Europeans against Israel. But of course they fool themselves into believing they are on the side of the “oppressed”. If the rest of the world had taken a less tolerant attitude towards the crimes committed by the Arabs of Palestine things would not have escalated so much to the point where they’re now calling into question the right of Israel to exist.

  • Andrea

    YES!! This is the kind of article we need, and this is the root of how we need to educate people to talk about Israel. I no longer share the defensive Israel articles. I share the incredible technologies and other amazing things Israel gives the world.
    There is vast psychological research to back up a different way to beat the Pally PR. I am working on creating a strategy that I hope to begin sharing by speaking to Jewish groups and such here in the US.

  • Joseph London

    What amazes me is that with 20% of Israelis being Arabs, the PA demands a judenrein state in the heart of Biblical Israel, e.g. East Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem etc. The PA demanded that every Jew be dragged out of Gaza which has had a Jewish connection going back to the Bible. If Israeli Jews and Arabs can live in Israel, why can’t Jews live in the proposed PA state? Even when Olmert and Barak were prepared to give up about 96% of the West Bank, Arafat sabotaged the negotiations by demanding the ‘right of return’ for four million Arabs to move inside Israel and NOT the proposed state of Palestine, turning Israel into an Arab state. When pro-Arabs say ‘from the River [Jordan] to the [Med] Sea’they are speaking of an Arab state in place of Israel, NOT two states. I wonder how many [non-Arab]chanters know what they are saying.

  • Herbert Fried

    I linked this to my Facebook with the comment “Let’s expose the Bully, Deceive and Smear (BDS) movement for the frauds they are.” It’s about time.

  • Vivarto

    Yes, of course we should take offensive action against our enemies.
    The problem is that very few understand what that means. The best place to learn about it is from our successful enemies.

    For offensive to be successful it must be devastating, deadly, and lead to the final and unconditional, undisputed defeat of the enemy, and equally final victory to us.

    0) Most importantly change the language.
    a) No more “Palestinians” (We are Palestinians)
    b) No more disputed territories, only Judea and Samaria
    c) Arabs are the occupiers of OUR land.

    1) DELEGETIMIZE, DEMONIZE and then DECONSTRUCT the “Palestinians”
    a) The Mufti, the original father of the Palestinian nation was a Nazi.
    b) Arafat was a liar, was not born in Palestine, was a rapist-sodomizer of young boys. The more dirt on him, the better.
    it or not.
    c) Palestine is an illegal entity under the international law.
    d) United Nations is a Muhammadan dominated antisemitic club.

    2) Attack Muhammadans and Muhammadanism everywhere in the world.
    a) Expose Muhammad the rapist and child abuser.
    b) Expose the doctrine of noble lies (taqqia)
    c) Expose Islam as Arab imperialist, supremacist, fascist ideology, NOT a religion.
    d) Focus on abuse of women and other human right abuses in Islam and in the Arab occupied territories.

    3) Anti-Israelism / Anti-Zionism is ANTISEMITISM
    Expose double standards and the antisemites behind them.
    Palestinianism as new antisemitism.

  • steven L

    35 centuries of Jewish rights vs a few decades of whose rights?
    Why do the successive IL Gvts refuse to make the case of ownership of the whole land of the Jews?
    The Israeli Gvt must show leadership.
    Liberal values are becoming anathema to the US socialists.

  • Shofar Shogood

    Very good! But if that doesn’t work it might be time to solve the problem in a more definitive fashion.

  • Is your strategy to fight for the students? Might this solution deprive young Jews from a potential learning experience? Should we always helicopter in and solve students’ problems for them? Which is more important: fighting BDS without student input or helping students try solutions they wish to try after careful consideration and collaboration? BlueStar wants students to succeed, but we are sensitive to their need to feel empowered. Teaching them how to ask tough questions to undermine the very foundation that supports BDS is already proven to work.