Tuesday, November 29, 2011


There is much debate over what words and lines are effective when discussing the Israel Palestinian conflict and how an advocate for Israel can put their case in the most favourable manner.

Recently, ‘The Israel Project’ has run a number of focus groups to find out what messages work with the general public and how best to present Israel’s case. The most recent research was carried out with British University students and the preliminary results may come as a surprise to some readers.

Although the general anti-Israel message does seem to have had an effect in the overall perception of the conflict, the specifics of roadblocks, settlements and other such activities were not brought up those being surveyed as reasons for this sentiment; more it was a general sense that Israel had committed humanitarian violations which had, in turn, disenfranchised the Palestinians. Yet despite this, there was no consensus of one side being right and the other being wrong. Those surveyed saw things in shades of grey rather than black and white.

Perhaps reassuringly, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) did not appear to have made much traction with any students beyond those attending particularly aggressive campuses; and boycotts, particularly academic ones, had very little support both as a concept and as an effective technique to pressurise Israel.

What we can learn from this is that we do not necessarily need to be overly concerned about dealing with specific attacks and accusations made against Israel by our opponents and should concentrate on delivering a simple, positive message about Israel in order to counter them.

The strongest messages appeared to be centred around the inclusivity of Israeli society and Israel’s leading position in alternative energy and technology advancements. Among the students surveyed, the fact that Muslim and Christian Arabs have the right to vote and serve in the parliament proved both surprising and very encouraging. And although the students did not see Israel’s scientific strengths as reason to become supportive of the state, the issue does allow the discussion to become broader based.

The weakest message for this particular group seemed to be the religious one that G-d gave the Land of Israel to the Jews and they have lived there for thousands of years.

Also, there is a consideration to be made about discussing the advances and contributions Israel has made to the world in such a strong manner, as the natural response to this was that if it was so good then it must be able to solve the conflict if it really wanted to.

Overall, what we can take from the focus groups is that students who may not instantly become pro-Israel are open to discussion and that the BDS movement have been quite successful in creating a general negative image of Israel without the use for specifics.

Moving forward, although the focus group, where these result emanated, concentrated on university students and its findings are very preliminary, there is no reason to limit the conclusions to just this demographic group. These ideas can be conveyed in debate with other groups as well and should be used as a guide rather than the rule for all cases.

With thanks to ‘The Israel Project’ for organising the focus groups and for producing the results.