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Israel Advocate Seeks to Empower With Words

November 16, 2006 By:
Rachel Silverman, JE Staff
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Neil Lazarus

According to Neil Lazarus, a British Jew who now lives in Israel, the fight to preserve the Jewish state is not just ideological or political.

It's also a linguistic shouting match.

As an advocate for Israel, Lazarus wants to provide the weapons -- in this case, words -- to help crush Israel's enemies.

"I'm going to be perfectly honest," Lazarus told a student-filled room at the Gershman Y. "This isn't about dialogue. It's about how do we actually win arguments."

In a two-hour workshop, co-sponsored by Hillel of Greater Philadelphia and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Lazarus mapped out several effective strategies to use in Israel's defense in formats like a personal presentation, a debate or a response to a lecturer's comment.

He said that the first cardinal rule of Israel advocacy is "having a message."

For example, he told audience members to stress in discussions that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and to reiterate that it has persistently striven over the decades to achieve peace. Lazarus cited Israel's right to self-defense and its role in the war on terror, as well as the Jewish people's historical claim to the land as viable messages.

The speaker also cautioned that not all pro-Israel talking points will necessarily work in all situations.

Conversations about Israel's gay and lesbian rights, for example, might not go over well with an Orthodox audience, just as secular Jews might be turned off by a discussion of Israel's tolerance of various religious parties.

"You need to realize who the audience is in order to market to them," explained Lazarus. "Don't convince them we're right -- convince them we fit into their value system."

Lazarus also asked the crowd to remember that "words are loaded," with each one connoting a slightly different meaning. He said that "the more specific, the more detailed you are, the more impact you can have."

In general, he said that words like "democracy," "peace," "human rights" and "civil rights" can counteract terms like "racism," "apartheid" and "Nazism," which are frequently employed by Israel-bashers.

Other tactics he mentioned to derail Israeli-bashers included using phrases like, "That's not the issue, the issue is ... " and "Yes, but you need to remember ... ."

Sometimes, said Lazarus, it's smart to agree with your opponent. He said it's entirely appropriate to show genuine concern for the fact that some Palestinian children are causalities of the violence, for example.

On the other hand, Lazarus called political correctness "a mentality in America that has gone mad," and urged program participants to say that "you're wrong" when the situation presents itself.

Throughout the evening, the speaker, who made aliyah in 1988, elicited laughter with his charismatic presence and talent for mimicry. At one point, he adopted a thick Israeli accent; at another, he played the Jewish schtick routine.

"Thank God, they built a fence -- now we've got something new to talk about," he said as the crowd went wild.

In terms of this summer's war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, Lazarus said that it's important to present Israel's efforts to minimize casualties.

"The tragedy of Lebanon was brought upon it by Hezbollah," he argued. "They had no qualms about using human shields."

Still, he noted that advocacy doesn't require being a "yes" man for Israel. "We don't have to agree with everything Israel does. It's about showing the complications, showing the problems."

Most important of all, it's about speaking out on the issues with confidence, he said: "Advocacy is about taking the 'ish' out of being a Jew."

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