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Questions As Weapons

By Charles Jacobs – Totally Jewish
Lecture (Illustration Photo) Inset: Professor Ruth Wisse

“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.

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Questions As Weapons"

#1 Comment By hod tamir On January 23, 2007 @ 5:02 pm

all the power to you.

#2 Comment By hod admirer On January 23, 2007 @ 10:15 pm

hod im with you

#3 Comment By Zalmy On January 23, 2007 @ 7:37 pm

This is exactly the way to deal with Goyim in general! Every altercation with a Shwartze or Arab always starts with something ridiculous- like them accusing you for something – and then the Jew starts defending himself and even analyzing himself if he offended the Shwartze or Arab – When a Goy accuses us of something we have to answer him right away in the same manner that he accuses us. With a ridiculous annoying response.
“STOP IT” and when they ask you “stop what?”, you say again – “just stop, OK?” The problem is the Jewish mind is too over analytical – we have to realize when BS is being thrown at us and throw it right back.

#4 Comment By Baruch G On January 24, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

Kol ha Kvod a great response to a provocative question. As a university student I know it is all too easy to get involved in discourse with a non Jew especially Arabs who are 100% convinced they are in the right. The whole idea is not to be drawn into such a discourse in the first place. I would humbly argue that it is best to remain assertive but not overly aggressive. I feel this is very important as you do not know if somebody less religious than yourself is watching you do not want to end up making a Chilul Hashem, instead answering in an assertive and intelligent manner lets the person in question know that you refuse to get into ridiculous debates that do not seem to end until the person in question has dragged Israel and the Jewish people into the dirt with them.

#5 Comment By REB YID On January 24, 2007 @ 7:06 am

Great article.

Zalmy I agree with your comment 110%

A story from the Holocaust; A Nazi was giving a Jew a hard time. The Nazi went on to say to the Jew; you see it’s bad to be a Jew!! The Jew replied; It’s NOT bad to be a Jew, It’s hard to be a Jew!!

We Yidden are to nice by nature. If a Goy hit’s you hard, Hit em back harder!!

#6 Comment By Zalman Kastel On January 28, 2007 @ 7:47 am

“that’s exactly the way to deal with goyim in general… ”Shwarzeh“. Ouch!Cringe!! Proffesor Wisse makes a good point about agreeing to answer an accusation dressed up as a question gives legitimacy to the point of view in the ”Question“. I wonder about the value of dragging up all the faults of the Arab world. I certainly would caution against the attitude of using such an agressive approach against goyim in general and in every altercation with a ”Shwarzeh”. Let’s remember that every person is made Btzelem Elokim, whether Black or White and yes even an Arab. While we should be prepared to stand up for ourseleves, we should do so assertively and bdarkei Noam Ubdarkei Shalom.I might sound like a left wing meshugene Liberal to some people, but think about it, we would not accept some anti semite talking about Jews this way and we should not talk this way about others. Oh, and if you disagree with me, I have only question for you; Tell me the truth, why DID you kill your grandmother?;)