Flotillas. Flytillas. Israel Apartheid Week. BDS. And now, hunger strikes.
These are not the traditional, violent tools used for decades by Yasser Arafat and his brutal band of terrorists.
Rather, by surreptitiously disguising behind Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King’s non-violent methods of social protest, the methods of these pro–Palestinian activists have morphed.
Having been painted as violent terrorists for years, today this new generation is mendaciously camouflaged behind a mask of social justice. Of course, their true aim is no different than it has always been – a one state solution called Palestine.
Recently, to combat this form of attack, Israel has wised up (somewhat.) Last week they greeted the recent “flytilla” activists with a letter issued by the Israeli prime minister’s office addressed to the activists. The letter was unsigned but bore the official emblem of the State of Israel. It read, “We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns…we know there were many other worthy choices.”
It went on to say that the activists could have chosen to protest against the Syrian or the Iranian governments or Hamas rule in Gaza. “We therefore suggest that you first solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience. Have a nice flight,” it concluded.
By using humor as a weapon to combat made-for-media maelstroms, it’s a step in the right direction. But is it just a one-off or a part of a new, larger strategy? With a barrage of protests via various activists constantly making news, Israel is still consistently on the defensive.
Instead, Israel should seize the media high ground, not by constantly reacting to the maneuvers of the protesters, but by staging their own non-violent protests.
In his influential books, Gene Sharp strategically outlined the means to effectively enact the non-violent protests that have been so effectively used by Gandhi, MLK and most recently - protesters in Egypt. From “The Politics of Non-Violent Action”, which came out in 1973 to “From Dictatorship To Democracy” in 1993 and translated into some 31 languages, many of the Arab, pro-Palestinian and Occupy protesters have held them up as their bible. In fact, the Associated Press had reported as early as September 2010 more than four months before the revolution in Egypt, that Gene Sharp''s work was being used by activists in Egypt close to political leader Mohammed El Baradei. Also The New York Times reported that Sharp''s book “From Dictatorship to Democracy” had been posted by the Muslim Brotherhood on its website during the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
And indeed, “Humorous skits and pranks” is one of the 198 methods of non-violent action in his 1973 book, “The Politics of Non-Violent Action.”
As a matter of practical politics dating back to Aristophanes, humor of any kind — not just satire — is far more effective than rage:
- Humor appeals to observers and potential supporters. Fury frightens and alienates them.
- Humor disarms and confuses adversaries. Rage triggers engrained patterns of defense and counter-rage, stokes resistance, and mobilizes fiercer opposition.
- Humor is more sustainable than fury. Anger is exhausting. Most people cannot sustain intense rage over long periods of time. But humor is energizing, both in the short-run of a single protest, and in the long-run of an extended campaign.
- Humor and audacity work hand-in-hand, reinforcing each other. Humor reduces and difuses hostile reaction to broken taboos, and nothing spreads faster by word-of-mouth (or twitter tweets) than tales of audacious humor.
And of course, from Jack Benny to Jerry Seinfeld, if there is any group of people who know from humor, well, it’s the Jews.
While many professional Jewish comedians, like Jon Stewart, poke fun at politics and in turn move the needle of what’s acceptable and end up affecting political and social change, there also have been political Jews who’ve leveraged satire and comic techniques as instruments of change.
Abbie Hoffman, purposefully used theatrical and comic techniques for political ends, when he gathered together 50,000 demonstrators in front of the Pentagon and attempted to lift it using psychic energy. He describes in his autobiographical book, “Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture”, how his cohort Jerry Rubin’s style was “too forceful and rhetorical. It didn’t have the silly element to appeal to the spirit.”
By inserting ourselves into circumstances where we’re able to expose an ugly side of the opposition’s true nature, we can also expose their underlying, vile prejudice and enlighten sensibilities.
Humor is just one tactic. But when used like Jew Jitsu, it can be very effective and help make the world laugh at the same time.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at (www.abenovick.com.)