“Why did you kill your grandmother?” That’s what Professor Ruth Wisse said to an Arab student at Stanford who asked her, “Why is Israel an apartheid state?” The student was flummoxed and tried again, “Why is Israel an apartheid state?” Wisse again responded, “Come on now, tell us why you killed your grandmother.” A few more rounds of this and the student relented.
According to the Chabad Rabbi who invited Harvard’s Wisse to speak, Wisse then explained how some questions are not questions at all, but weapons: If she would have answered his anti-Israel accusation, she would have been trapped, and done damage to her cause.
Her “grandmother” riposte was the perfect demonstration of that point:
Having to explain why you’re not guilty as charged is a losing proposition. Yet Jews have allowed themselves to be trapped in a meta-discourse that continuously takes the form: “Israel is bad.” “No it’s not.” Or “It’s not as bad as you say.”
Indeed, much of the history of hasbara – Israeli PR – has been defense against slanderous accusations. The classic handy reference book many students use, “Myths and Facts,” a tome fat with expanded revisions to include the evolving set of lies and half-truths hurled at the Jewish state by Arabist propaganda. The formula of the book, which is the formula for much of hasbara training, is to set out the “myth” and then answer it with the true “facts.”
Sometimes the “factual” response shows how Israeli conduct is exemplary:
“Israel is an apartheid state?” “No,” reads the formula. “Apartheid is something very different and cannot be applied to the condition of Palestinians in Israel, who are in fact treated in many ways better than they are in Arab countries.” Etc.
But even this – “We are much better than you say” doesn¹t work, because as long as the discourse focuses on Israeli behavior, we lose.
What to do? Once armed with the realization that the anti-Israel formula accuses Israel of exactly those crimes the Arab/Muslim world has committed, we can work our way out of the corner:
“You say the Jews are guilty of oppression, apartheid, discrimination, expansion by land theft? Not true. What is true is that the Arab world is guilty of every one of these things.”
Here’s an enhanced “Myths, Facts, and Big Picture” approach:
The Lie: Israel is an apartheid state.
The Truth: That’s ridiculous. (See Myths and Facts on why.)
Transition: But I’m glad you brought up apartheid. Christians are fleeing Palestinian-controlled areas due to Muslim violence. Violence against women, especially “honor killings” where male relatives kill females for “improper” sexual relations, are common in Palestinian territories and throughout the Muslim world. Jews are not even permitted to set foot in Saudi Arabia.
The Big Picture: Something similar to apartheid is found in the Arab world, where women and children, gays and lesbians, and Christians and Jews, are controlled, expelled, tormented and killed. That’s what we should be protesting.