By Ray Hanania
Sometimes I wonder if Arab and Muslim Americans understand that, to change the country, you have to connect with Americans in a compelling and reasoned manner, not pander to their own communities.
Every time there is an Israeli military assault on Palestinian civilians, Arab and Muslim Americans rise up in protest. During this most recent Israeli carnage in Gaza, protests have drawn millions of people in dozens of cities across America, as Arab and Muslim Americans have been joined by other groups, including progressive Jewish Americans concerned by the Israeli government’s embrace of the far right. The protests are impressive in size and emotion, but not in effectiveness.
Worse is that such protests only take place during Israel’s worst attacks on Gaza, not when Israel’s military and armed settlers target and kill Palestinian civilians in small numbers on a near-weekly basis. Killings that continue to add up.
Why? Protesters are driven more by emotion than strategy. The protests are effective in raising the ire of Arab and Muslim Americans and the progressives who support them. But they are not effective in even coming close to changing the minds of the majority of Americans.
There have been some attitude changes among Americans, but not nearly enough to force Israel to stop the carnage. What is needed is a strategy that can effectively connect with what impacts the American public the most and that then conveys the carnage behind it.
Americans generally close their eyes to the massacre of Arab and Muslim civilians but erupt in outrage and antagonism when the victims are Israeli. They take the assertions of Israel’s government at face value, even when the Israeli government lies and exaggerates or makes excuses. Tel Aviv uses strategic messaging and favorable media support.
One Israeli government tactic is to respond to its brutality by making counterclaims and blaming those they attacked. This is what happened when Israeli soldiers killed 12-year-old Mohammed Al-Durrah in 2000. And when they murdered Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh last year. In these examples and dozens more like them, Israel followed a clear pattern: it blamed the Palestinian deaths on Palestinian violence. Criminal American mobsters use that defense and “deny, deny, deny.”
When Israelis are the victims, they exaggerate their losses. The delay in the truth coming out allows Israel to solidify its support among Americans, not caring that the real story will be revealed later. So much violence takes place that the past carnage becomes a blur.
In all cases, the Israeli government’s goals are achieved. It dodges responsibility when the crimes are committed, while exaggerating responsibility when Palestinians commit crimes. They know that time and delays will defuse the trauma of the truth and eventually just make it go away.
The Israeli government wraps its messaging in compelling press releases that are filled with clever “spin.” It works closely with a sympathetic mainstream news media to raise doubts about Palestinian accusations.
So, what should Palestinian and Muslim Americans do?
First, they need to strengthen their communications network in America. They need to capture major incidents and convey the true, unexaggerated facts in press releases, at press conferences and during meetings with the editorial boards of major American print and TV outlets.
Their message has to be devoid of emotion and must convey the facts in a compelling and understandable manner, which is the exact opposite of the protests of screaming, chanting and posters and signs that often include messages that undermine the protests’ goals.
While protests are dramatic and visual, their messaging is focused on one point: Palestinians and Muslims are angry. This message does not speak clearly to American interests or concerns.
Palestinians and Muslims need to define the most effective messaging points that not only convey the horror of what Israel is doing, but in a way that captures American attention. One method is simple. You make the carnage the second point in the message and instead make the first point about something that will provoke Americans’ outrage and sympathy. This is counterintuitive to the emotional outbursts of the Arab community but it is effective.
The most powerful messaging strategy is right in front of Arab American eyes. But their vision has been blurred by emotion and the egregiousness of the Israeli government’s massacres.
American taxpayers are saddled with economic burdens that have only grown over the years. They are coming out of a pandemic that has fueled inflation so much that costs have tripled, while benefits have decreased. Congress was in disarray for weeks in the face of rising street gang crime, increasing burdens on the growing elderly population and worsening conditions for American veterans. It was in disarray until the Hamas attack on Israel took place. Then, did you notice how quickly American lawmakers set aside their political polarizations to come together to help Israel?
Is Israel more important than the 582,000 Americans who are homeless? More important than the 31,000 homeless veterans who fought not for Israel (hiding behind dual citizenship) but for America? Congress has done little to address these problems.
Yet, the House of Representatives quickly approved giving more money to Israel — an extra $14.3 billion on top of the $3.8 billion it already gets every year. Republican members even went as far as pushing the funding for Israel only, refusing to include aid for Ukraine, and adding a provision they were having a hard time getting passed: a cut to the funding of the IRS, which investigates income reporting abuses by the wealthy. Who is more wealthy in America? Not the majority of Americans but the rich Republicans and members of Congress.
The primary message to grab American attention is clear: follow the money. The secondary message is that the money is being used to fund Israel’s killing of thousands of women, children and babies.
Americans see the people at these massive protests as not being concerned about their own country. A good strategy can change that. To win, Arab Americans must make this conflict about being good Americans.