How to Win a Debate With an Israel-Hater (REVIEW)
Despite Michael Harris’ substantial previous work as a pro-Israel advocate — including lectures, panel discussions, media appearances and work with Stand With Us — his new book, Winning a Debate With an Israel-Hater, is probably his most significant contribution to Israel advocacy. The book is concise, often funny, and I would not send a Jewish student off to university without a copy in his or her backpack.
The primary virtue of the book is that Harris manages with humor and concision to cover the key arguments made by what he calls People with Israel Derangement Syndrome (PIDS). Whether it is the bogus “Israel apartheid” slander or hypocritical BDS moral posturing, or the cynical “right of return” tactic, Harris efficiently outlines the case against the PIDS’ attempts to defame the lone, sole Jewish state. He also makes sliced deli ham out of anti-Israel “experts” like Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe and John Meirsheimer, among others.
Harris provides a number of positive suggestions for both action and analysis. His proposals for action are standard. Write a letter to the editor, join local pro-Israel organizations like Stand With Us, join the buycott and purchase goods manufactured in Israel, and so forth.
From the analytical end, he recommends, for example, using Natan Sharansky’s 3-D Test to determine if an argument against Israel is antisemitic; that is, is Israel held to a double-standard or subject to demonization or delegitimization? If the answer is “yes,” then the argument is antisemitic. However, and rightly in my view, Harris warns against flinging around charges of antisemitism as if they are confettim because doing so will likely backfire among the very people that pro-Israel/pro-Jewish people should be trying to reach.
Harris is not trying to reach anti-Zionists, whom he recognizes are often beyond rational discussion, but the regular onlookers who do not necessarily have a dog in the fight. The fundamental idea is that the good guys will carry the day among regular folk if they argue for a peaceful conclusion of hostilities within the framework of a negotiated two-state solution. This is true because, ultimately, antisemitic anti-Zionists wish to see the elimination of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people and that must be pointed out.
When framed in such a manner, most regular Americans — if not your average European — will recognize that the pro-Israel side is the side of justice, while the anti-Zionist side is the side of at best ignorance, and at worst, genocidal malice.
This, however, brings me to my problem with the book.
Harris insists that if we want to win the debate with Israel-haters in the eyes of regular, moderate friends and neighbors, then we must make the moderate argument, which Harris argues, is the case for the two-state solution.
I agree… to an extent. But the problem, as Harris recognizes, is that the Arabs have never shown the slightest inclination toward implementing two states for two peoples within normalized relations and economic cooperation. This is precisely what the Jews have wanted since the beginning of the modern conflict, early in the twentieth-century, and what the Arabs, both citizenry and governments, have always rejected and continue to reject.
Concerning the two-state solution, Harris writes:
…this is the solution toward which we will be heading, however slowly and fitfully, if and only if the Palestinian leadership ever decides that having a Palestinian state is more important than working for the elimination of Israel.
Precisely… if and only if.
However, since the Palestinian-Arabs have never shown the slightest interest in any such thing, it renders the argument in favor of two-states moot. There can be no two-state solution without the cooperation of the Arabs, and since the Arabs do not want two states for two peoples there cannot be two states for two peoples. One can sing the praises of two-states from the hillsides like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, but unless that is what the other side wants, it can never come to be.
Nonetheless, as a pro-Israel primer on the major issues surrounding the conflict, Winning a Debate With an Israel-Hater can sit comfortably on the bookshelf, right next to Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. Send one to your college kid.
He or she may very well need it.