Israel Advocacy - Concepts and Definitions

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Justice for Jews and Israel

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The Case for Israel


Concepts & Definitions



Forming Opinions

Narratives and Issues


Applying the Basics

Techniques & Tactics

Grass Roots Activism


Using the Web

Proactive Advocacy

Anti-Israel Narrative

Zionist Narrative

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Grass Roots Guide

Israel Advocacy
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Approaches to Advocacy

There is more than one successful approach to persuading people, as there are different audiences and different Israel advocates who are suited to different styles. We do not pretend to have a monopoly on truth or technique. However, some points are so obvious that they must not be ignored.

Our Approach to Advocacy

Our approach to advocacy is based first on principles, then techniques and only lastly, particular issues which may be ephemeral. "Talking points" might be good for a particular audience or useful at a particular time, or reflect a particular point of view or approach. We think it is more important to get the principles and technique right. We want to teach you how to make your own "talking points." We favor proactive advocacy rather than reacting to the other side, because proactive advocacy is the only way to really gain adherents for a cause, and it is the most effective way of countering fallacious propaganda.

"Hasbara" vs. Advocacy

Hasbara literally means "explanation." Israeli government officials must explain the actions of their government. It is not particularly your job, especially if you find it difficult to get definitive information about a specific issue. Your main mission is to defend the legitimacy of the Zionist movement.  "Explanation" is always reactive to criticism. It is not pro-active. Advocacy is a positive act. You are in the "business" of advocating for the rights of the Jewish people. You are not primarily in the business of explaining the latest actions of the Israeli government. You should not get bogged down in denying the latest atrocity stories invented by anti-Israel groups. You will have to do "Hasbara" as well. However, you need to focus on the main goal and not allow yourself to be entirely distracted by red herrings and marginally relevant issues.


Concepts and Definitions

Some concepts are basic to what we do, so we had better have a common understanding of what these terms are and how we will use them.


What is Advocacy?

"Israel advocacy" is making the case for Israel in the broadest sense. That includes popularizing the basics of Zionism that underlie the foundation of Israel even more than defending specific policies. Those engaged in advocacy have to agree on the main principles and consensus issues. They don't have to accept every policy of the Israeli government or defend every official in every case.

Advocacy is political and ideational persuasion. It is explaining a set of ideas and principles and getting others to accept it.


What is Not Advocacy?

Advocacy or "Hasbara" is not "PR" "Branding" or "improvement of image," though these can help. It is not directly related to improving tourism or business investment. Ideological advocacy is not the same as selling a commercial product or a political candidate, though marketing and advocacy have some common facets and techniques. Both involve persuasion.

Advocacy or "Hasbara" is also not challenging or undermining policies of a particular Israeli government in the name of "Zionism." It is not about promoting one (Israeli) partyís political platform at the expense of others. For those living outside of Israel, advocacy is not making dubious, disprovable claims about a particular political candidate or party in your own country because you disagree with his/her position on policies related to Israel.

Understanding what is not advocacy also helps us understand what not to do. A political candidate has to win an election in a specific time frame. After that, people will forget all the spin that was generated until the next election. Talking points or ideas that don't work can be discarded in favor of others that will get votes. Advocacy is about winning a battle for survival. It doesn't stop after a certain date, though some issues may be time-limited. It has to convince people of ideas that will need to stand the test of time. Principles cannot be discarded just because a particular audience will not accept them, or because the other side has given them a bad name. Vital issues cannot be postponed, and vital national concerns cannot be cast aside. A candidate can change a stand on abortions or medical care because he or she will get more votes.

Israel can't give up on a vital issue like Palestinian Arab "right of return" or Jewish rights in Jerusalem because the focus panel decided that the sound bite is no good. Advocacy that is fashioned by PR people falls into some of these absurd errors.

Advocacy is not the same as Public Relations or marketing. However, it uses many of the same techniques. The other side will use those techniques. Unless you are aware of them (and sometimes if you are) they will certainly be effective against naive and impassioned defenses. You need to know the techniques of the other side and be prepared for their various arguments. You need to understand what "works" in demolishing those arguments for a neutral audience. That's not the same as arguments that may sound convincing to you.

Partisan political propaganda that tears down the Israeli government or Israeli politicians is not advocacy. It is not helpful to Israel. Usually it produces an extremist and distorted view of Israeli supporters.

Israel Advocacy is not Jewish Education or Zionist Education. Educating the next generation of Jewish Zionists and winning Jews over to Zionism are important goals. However, the main focus of Israel advocacy must be the vast majority of people who are not Jewish or Zionist. They are not necessarily hostile and must not be viewed as such.


What is Zionism?

Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. It is political movement based on the beliefs that:

  • The Jews are a people.
  • The Jewish people have the right to self-determination.
  • The only land that the Jews and the world have ever viewed as the legitimate home of the Jewish people is the land called Israel, or, by others, "Palestine."
  • The Jewish people have the right to realize their self-determination in the land of Israel.
  • That the Jewish people, or those who wish to, should undergo a national rebirth and regeneration, and become a people like all peoples and a nation like all nations - a free people in our own land.

Achieving the goal - The goal set by the first Zionist congress was to obtain a national home for the Jewish people secured in international law (literally, "the law of peoples"). Formally, in one sense, that goal was obtained first with the League of Nations mandate for Palestine, and then, when that proved a failure, with the decision of the UN in 1947 to partition the land into an Arab state and a Jewish state. In fact, a considerable portion of the nations, the Arab states especially, never accepted either decision and never agreed to the right of self-determination of the Jewish people. Many never agreed that there is such a thing as a Jewish people, and insist that Judaism is only a religion.

Zionism and advocacy - These are not just abstract principles. Each of the above statements has a profound and practical bearing on just about every Israel advocacy issue. Without Zionism, Israel advocacy is meaningless. There are groups who try to do Israel advocacy but discourage people from mentioning "Jew" or Zionism because these words are not liked by focus groups. These are the things we have to "sell." There is no way around them. If we do not believe in them, we must close up shop.

Zionism has never been an "easy sell." "Jew" and "Jewish" have a long history of being the "Brand X" of the national and religious world. They are easy targets for racists and fanatics. But we are not Finns or Scots or French, Episcopalians or Greek Orthodox. We are Jews and Zionists. If you are not proud to be a member of the Jewish people and a Zionist, don't do advocacy. You have nothing to explain or to advocate here. If words like "Jew" and "Zionism" don't sit well with focus groups or the public at large then we have to work on this problem, and not avoid it, because it is the central issue.

What is Not Zionism?

Zionism is not a religious movement - . There are religious Jews who support Zionism for their own religious reasons, just as there are anti-Zionist religious Jews who can "prove" that the Jewish religion is not compatible with Zionism. There are Christian Zionists, and there are Christians whose faith teaches them to be anti-Zionist or leads them to be anti-Semites. Zionism is not a religious movement. It is a political movement and ideology.

Zionism is not about "Greater Israel," real estate, chosen people or fulfillment of God's covenant. Zionism was not viewed even by religious founders of Zionism as any of the above. No borders were originally proposed for the Jewish national home. "Greater Israel" was first introduced as a bogie man by Arab propagandists about a hundred years ago, when they forecast that the Jews would try to take over all the land in the Middle East as far as the Euphrates River. In recent times, this has been a centerpiece of Arab propaganda. A rumor circulating in the Middle East claimed that the map of Greater Israel is shown on the roof of the Knesset. Yasser Arafat claimed that the Israeli 10 Agora coin showed the map of Greater Israel. The coin is shown below. The "map" is the bit of rock in which the Menorah is embedded. In the shape of the rock, you can see a map of Israel and surrounding countries including parts of Syria and Iraq, as well as all of Jordan if, like Yasser Arafat, you were blessed with a great imagination.

Mentioning "Greater Israel" falls into a trap set by anti-Israel propaganda and will not gain sympathy for the Zionist cause among most audiences.

Following the Six day war, "Greater Israel" (Eretz Yisrael Hashleima) was the name of a political movement in Israel that sought to keep the territories conquered by Israel in that war. Some extremists who support "Greater Israel" claim that they are the only true Zionists, but their claim is not borne out by historical fact. The Greater Israel movement has been progressively marginalized. Today the major advocates of this idea are a minority at the extreme Israeli right, and include non-Zionist groups.

Zionist is not the same as "pro-Israel." ""Pro-Israel" is so ambiguous that it is a virtually meaningless term. "Israel" is just a name. Christian dogma insisted at one time that they are "Israel" and replaced the Jewish people as Israel in the context of the scriptures. A "pro-Israel" group can be in favor of a state called Israel that does not allow Jewish self-determination, doesn't foster or allow development of Jewish national culture or institutions. There are "pro-Israel" groups who favor legitimation of the anti-Semitic Hamas, which has vowed not only to destroy Israel, but also to destroy all the Jews, in order to bring about the "end of days." When you encounter a group that claims to be "pro-Israel," challenge their speakers to explain what this term means. When a person says they support "the right of Israel to exist" ask them if they support self-determination for the Jewish people. Similarly, when a group says that they favor "security for Israelis and Palestinians" they donít necessarily favor Jewish self-determination.

Zionist advocacy is not about advocating a particular political program of any kind - It should not be the primary business of any Zionist advocacy group to advocate for a particular political program other than the current program of the Israeli government and its leaders. It is legitimate for people to advocate for right or left wing programs, but that is not Zionist advocacy.

It is legitimate for "peace" groups to advocate solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but if that is all they do, they are not Zionist groups. If they don't ever defend Israel, they are not doing Zionist advocacy. Following for example, is the current mission statement of Brit Tzedek Veshalom:


"The mission of Brit Tzedek Veshalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace is to educate and mobilize American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

There is nothing in that statement about support for Israel, and indeed, the organization has never done anything to support Israel or advocate for the Zionist cause. The above statement could apply as well to the Palestinian group American Task Force for Palestine, or for that matter to a branch of the PLO. In places and at times, Brit Tzedek says it is "pro-Israel" but it does not specify if Israel is to be the national home of the Jewish people or perhaps a secular democratic state, and in fact, it has never taken any pro-Israel initiative.

The new J-Street lobby likewise carefully avoids the "Zionist" label and states that it is "pro-Israel" It states:


"J Street is the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.

J Street was founded to promote meaningful American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically. We support a new direction for American policy in the Middle East and a broad public and policy debate about the U.S. role in the region."

Elsewhere, there are statements about J-Street being "pro-Israel." J-Street has for example, issued condemnations of boycott initiatives. The condemnations do not decry boycotts as illegitimate, but only oppose them because they are not helpful in furthering the peace process. J-Street has not, and probably never will, sponsor a political initiative that favors any Israeli policy or opposes any anti-Israel legislation or policy. J-Street has not, and is not going to, defend the legitimacy of the Zionist idea or promote Hebrew culture or financial or political support for Israel. It is not a Zionist advocacy group and it is not a Zionist group and should not be confused with such groups.

Identifying the Core Issue

In reality, since 1900 or so there has only been one issue both in the actual physical battle for Israel, and in the public opinion or advocacy war. That is, the Arabs do not accept the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Often, they do not admit that the Jews are a people or have historic rights in Israel AKA Palestine. That basic historic refusal is the reason for all the wars, and it has been translated into various "issues," masquerading as "Israel Apartheid," "Right of Return," refusal to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people etc. The core issue is historic and seemingly only of academic importance, but the issues it spawns are with us every day.

Almost all other issues flow from the stand of a person on the core question. "If one accepts the Arab premise that Jews are a religion and have no right to self determination, then Israel indeed arbitrarily "discriminates" against people of other religions or outsiders with "racist" immigration laws." Of course, if you deny that the French are a nation, then there is no basis for French people to say arbitrarily that Americans or Chinese or Russians cannot automatically claim French citizenship or cross the border without passports and visas. That would make the French Republic a "racist" state as well. Likewise, if one accepts the Arab premise, then the Fatah and the Hamas, which are sworn to destroy a member state of the UN, have the legitimate right to "resist" the occupation of any and all territories (with terror). They have the right to sabotage efforts to achieve a two state solution within "occupied Palestine," whether by suicide bombings or by setting impossible conditions such as "right of return" of refugees.

For example, that is precisely the stand of Columbia professor Joseph Massad, who insists that the two state solution is a "Zionist" and "racist" solution and that all peace proposals are "racist" ref

Therefore, almost all Zionist advocacy must begin with inculcating the idea that there is such a thing as a Jewish people and that the Jewish people has the right to self-determination within Israel, which is our historic homeland. If the focus groups or kibitzers or any audience do not accept that idea, you cannot move to a different strategy because that is the main point of what you are trying to do.


Do No Harm

The first principle of any endeavor should be "Do No Harm." You can do harm if:

  • Your statements can be shown to be false, implying that the arguments they support are false.

  • Your actions, statements or slogans can be used to portray Zionism or Jews as racists, extremists, warmongers, and reactionaries or hard hearted.

  • Your themes or "explanations" can be used to delegitimize Zionism.

  • Your statements offend particular groups or insult their leaders.


Examples of statements and actions that do harm:

  • Claim that there were almost no Arabs in Palestine circa 1900, originating with Joan Peters, was easily shown to be false.

  • An article that advocated "nuking" Mecca.

  • An article that appeared in a Zionist publication, advocating a particular stand about US health care policies that was in no way related to Zionism or Israel. The title of the article called for denying medical care to AIDS patients. What does that have to do with Zionism or Israel?

  • Excessive zeal in the cause of "peace" - a "Zionist" group featured a film by anti-Zionist Azmi Bishara; a "pro-Israel" group insists that the security fence is a "land grab." If these groups really have differences of opinion with Israeli policy, they should find constructive ways to express them.

  • Settlers who beat Arabs and uproot olive trees are used to show Israeli brutality. The problem is not just "Hasbara." The actions themselves do great harm to Israel and to Zionism, and the ideology they represent should not have any place in Zionism.

  • Claim by right wing extremists and some others that Zionism was always about use of force and that transfer was an integral part of Zionist ideology. Both claims can be shown to be false, but advocacy of these positions by persons who identify themselves as "Zionists" makes it easy to paint Zionism as heartless and evil.

  • Holocaust - In 1948 and since, Zionist advocacy sometimes used the Holocaust as an emotional tool and as a rationale for "justifying" the need for a Jewish state. The Holocaust was a tragic illustration of the correctness of Zionist doctrine, but it should not be referred to as the "reason" for creating a Jewish state, because it is not a good reason and it was not the reason for Zionism, which began long before. It should not be used to excuse extremism and errors in judgment on the part of Israeli Jews. Zionist emphasis on the Holocaust helped to encourage the shibboleth that Israel was created only because of European guilt over the Holocaust, erasing the previous history of international commitment to a Jewish national home and the history of Zionist construction and settlement in Ottoman and mandatory times. Arabs were quick to say that they should not be made to suffer because of the Holocaust, as though Jews had no other claim on the land. The Islamic Republic of Iran may or may not be preparing second Holocaust for the Jewish people, but the fact is that talking about it is not going to do much good and won't convince many non-Jews that Iran is dangerous. Explaining that Iran oppresses women and homosexuals, and that Iran is seeking "A world without America" is probably going to be much more effective.

  • "Anti-Semitism," like Holocaust, has been overused and abused. It should be applied only when appropriate and when its use can be defended. A person who is opposed to the Israeli occupation is not an anti-Semite unless they use anti-Semitic terminology and ideas. A person who claims "Zionists" control the world or the U.S. government really is an anti-Semite.

  • "Advocacy" that brands all liberals or Democratic party voters as anti-Israel people with dangerous "leftist" ideas. Over half the American public voted for the Democratic party in the last election. Most of those people support Israel Don't lose half your audience for no reason. Anti-Zionists are quite happy to label all Zionists as "neo-cons." Don't fall into their trap.

  • Copyright

    This material is copyright © 2009 by Ami Isseroff and members of the Zio-Web group. No part may be reproduced without permission in any form.


See Also - Zionism and Israel- Issues and Answers   Zionist Quotes    Explaining Zionism Be a Proud Zionist 

More Commentary about Zionism

Zionism and Peace - A Zionist Credo

Zionist Quotes

Not in My Name - Don't Let Extremists Hijack Zionism

Was Israel Founded Because of the Holocaust??

The Two State Solution is the only solution for peace

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Zionism - Table of contents at the Jewish Virtual Library

Zionism article at Infoplease

Zionism - Definition and Brief History - A balanced article that covers the definitions and history of Zionism as well as opposition to Zionism and criticisms by Arabs,  Jewish anti-Zionists.

Labor Zionism - Early History and Critique - Contribution of Labor Zionism to the creation of the Jewish state, and problems of Labor Zionism in a changing reality.

The US Library of congress has a comprehensive and balanced set of articles about Zionism:

Zionist Precursors - US Library of Congress

Political Zionism - US Library of Congress

Cultural Zionism - US Library of Congress

Labor Zionism - US Library of Congress

Revisionist Zionism - US Library of Congress

Jewish Agency Zionism pages - Links to basic information about Zionism from the Jewish Agency

Ambassador Herzog explains Zionism in the UN


Dvar Dea - Israel & Zionist advocacy

Realistic Religious Zionism - moderate religious Zionist Web site

ZioNation - Zionism-Israel Web Log    Israel News  Israel: like this, as if Christian Zionism Albert Einstein Bible Palestine Nakba 1948 Israel Independence - Birth of a Nation Six Day War War of Independence History of Zionism Zionism FAQ Zionism Israel Center Maps of Israel Jew Zionism and its Impact Israel Christian Zionism Site Map

Presenting Zionism - Zionist advocacy