Debating Israel (In School and Out)

5 years ago Leighest 0

by Ephie Wiedermann; CTeen Plano, TX

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was told to me at the CTeen International Shabbaton in 2015. It was a new track, pioneered by two dozen of us brave “scholars” who would rather hear an intelligent speaker enlighten us then freeze our fingers off in 0 degree weather (a la my 2014 Shabbaton experience). All the members of the new “Learning Track” gathered in the coldest corners of the Jewish Children’s Museum’s basement where we heard speakers both enigmatic, odd and everything in between talk about relationships, archaeology and the exodus, quantum physics and chassidus, and most expectedly, Israel. But the speaker who talked to us about Israel was anything but expected.

What he told us, what he told me, was: “When debating an opponent, you’re not trying to convince your opponent, but the audience.” This was something that took my verbal sparring (Israel-related and otherwise) from plain argument to debate-level. And in the following period of time that’s enveloped a little over a year, I hope I’ve changed some opinions. So here’s my Amateur Guide to Debating anti-Israel People (based off of trial and error):

Always remember to convince the audience, not your opponent. Anyone competent enough to debate an expert like yourself is not going to switch side because of your magic debating skills.
Dress for the Occasion. You represent Israel and the Jewish people. If you’re not dressed appropriately, don’t represent the Jewish people poorly.
Know yourself. On one occasion, I had 40 minutes to prepare a persuasive dismantlement of a speaker’s talk, and in that time I got so shaky from adrenalin, I had difficulty forming words. It was an embarrassing episode, but I learned from that experience how important it is to control yourself (proper breathing techniques and mindset will reduce or eliminate adrenaline release), and if the situation calls for it, to let an opportunity go.
Remain partisan-neutral. A growing movement on the Left side of the political aisle wants to turn Israel into a partisan issue (simple english: liberals want to support Palestinians instead of Israel now). So don’t insult or support partisan figures like Obama, Trump, etc.
Don’t get too technical. With some debates (wage gap, economy, etc.), getting into the boring technical details helps raise the audience’s opinion of you as an “expert”. But in a moral debate like the Israel one, the best arguments are the simplest ones.
In moral debates, pathos – appeals to the audience’s emotion – reign supreme. Make sure you have the ability to get an emotional response from your audience. Using marginalizing words like “terrorist”, “hateful”, and “evil”, tend to put your opponent on the defense.
Don’t bring up nazis. Just don’t. If (when, these days…) your opponent does, call them out on it: point it out as a simple tactic to elicit an emotional association. Never stay on this point too long. By painting the Jews as weak victims of the holocaust, enough damage has already been created to our national identity in the minds of non-Jews.
Get your facts straight ahead of time. This may include hours of research and some memorization. A good 75% of the time this is not necessary to defeat an opponent, but in the off chance that it is, it provides invaluable support for your argument.

With these tips, you can hopefully begin to win neutral or apathetic people over. Most anti-semitism Jews encounter these days is thinly veiled as anti-Israel, so these tips may become useful sooner than you think. Just remember to use your saychel (head)!