I went to college in Washington, D.C. during the height of the Second Intifada, which meant that the campus had a constant swirl of litter from both pro-Israel and anti-Israel groups. The Second Intifada was everywhere–on campus radio, in student newspapers, pasted on the walls, and chalked on the streets. Following a particularly bad series of events (and those years had plenty of them), graphic photographs of rubble, bombed out cafes, and innocent dead would greet students on their way out of classrooms.
I was, quite proudly, on the pro-Israel side of this circuit, which in hindsight probably killed more trees than changed minds. When another campus installed fake Israeli checkpoints to mock-harass students, the pro-Israel brigade rallied together and went there to sprawl out around like dead bodies, victims of those who’d been killed by suicide bombers. If you were engaged, you walked around campus constantly alert, looking for signs that had been graffitied or to graffiti them yourself, even sometimes tear them down.
I can’t begin to imagine what the majority of the student body–many of whom seemed politically agnostic on the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict–made of all this. From conversations I had (which were far more effective than all the sloganeering we did), I generally sensed that most people weren’t going to be swayed by all the histrionic stuff playing out on the campus square. Since it probably didn’t relate to them, it just annoyed them.
An example: I never saw a fraternity brother of mine more crestfallen than when a group of activists who were opposed to the building of Israel’s security fence (“Apartheid Wall” as they called it), formed a chain that split the student union in half, encumbering the path to Taco Bell. He was a carefree, Irish Catholic kid from New England and I’ll never forget what he said and he squeezed past a kid trying to hand him a flyer.
“I just want nachos, dude.”
What brings this whole indulgent reverie back to mind is the news of an all-caps pro-Israel ad that debuted this week on buses in San Francisco. It reads:
In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.
Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.
Behind the ad is the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization led by the infamous Pamela Geller. Off the bat, it’s important to note that the ad is obviously flawed–it’s racist, clumsy, Orientalist, and stupid. I can’t imagine anyone (especially anyone whose mind is not already made up) reading this ad and concluding anything other than “some parts of the pro-Israel lobby seem like a bunch of dicks.” I’m sure it’s doing a lot of good work in San Francisco.
But philosophically, the ad is also so primitive, it actually contains an anti-Israel message. Support Israel = Defeat Jihad. This formula suggests that the battle against violent Islamic fundamentalism can be won solely by supporting Israel. I know well from my college years spent crafting hasbara that the very last thing a pro-Israel message should do is reduce terrorism to a battle fought solely between Israel and Islamic fundamentalists.
Isolating Israel here leaves out a coalition of the aggrieved that includes America, Great Britain, Spain, India, and countless Arab and Muslim countries. Rhetorically, it would be easy to flip this ad and say that Israel is the reason for terrorism–a trope often uttered during the Second Intifada. It’s better that as many people as possible feel that Israel’s struggle against terrorism is also their struggle. Otherwise, you’re just keeping people from their nachos.
Related: The New Anti-Semitism [Tablet Magazine]
Is This the Most-Offensive Pro-Israel Ad in History? [Gawker]