Monday, January 21, 2013

Bigger Picture – Argumentation and Facts

Bigger Picture – Argumentation and Facts

One of the things Israel’s supporters rely on to try to get our message across are arguments supported by facts.

Our reliance on fact and argument is not a function of our being Israel supporters, nor does it derive from our ethnicity, religion, or nationality (any more than it derives from our race, class, age or gender). Rather, facts and arguments form the basis of our case for the simple reason that we live in a society where persuasion is a reasonable alternative to coercion.

I choose the word “reason” with great care, since our belief that differences can be settled through discussion, argumentation and debate can only be sustained if, through repeated personal experiences, we come to see that people routinely get their way by virtue of having the strongest arguments (vs. the biggest gun).

I’ll be getting back to what an extraordinary thing it is to live in a society where reasoned discourse stands even the slightest chance over raw power.  But for now I’d like to highlight one of the downsides of living in such a society: the assumption that those we engage with politically must share our devotion to reason.

The trap this leads to is a belief that if we can just construct the perfect argument, one which builds unchallengeable, objective facts into a framework of air-tight logic, presented with the most compelling rhetoric, we can win the day.  You can see this phenomenon right here on the site (where both I and commentors try to present our recommendations through reasoned arguments).  In fact, you can see it a hundred times a day by just turning to the countless newspapers, magazines and web sites offering editorial opinion (i.e., persuasive arguments) in support of the Jewish state.

But as we have seen again and again, Israel’s opponents are not even interested in objective facts, much less strong arguments built on such facts.

To cite just a few examples, while we are fond of describing the Middle East conflict as complex (because it is) there are some facts that are just too powerfully supported to wish, deny or shout away.

The Jewish historic connection to the land of Israel is one such fact (a fact which does not deny other people’s parallel historic connections to the same land, by the way). Similarly, the fact that Israel’s neighbors attacked the newly born Jewish state in 1948 is as apparent as the marching of thousands of Arab troops into the territory can be.

More recently, it is an objective fact that Israel made substantial offers of land to the Palestinians at various negotiating tables in order to settle the conflict.  One can argue from our side as to whether such offers were wise or foolish, just as the other side can argue whether such offers were worth giving up other things (such as the so-called “Right of Return”) in exchange.  But pretending that such offers were never made (or were not significant – never mind generous) requires just that: pretending, not refutation.

I could continue on through the various “genocides” Israel has been accused of (from Jenin to Gaza) where the low ratio of civilian to combatant casualties was unprecedented in the history of warfare.  But by now you should be getting the idea that facts do exist – even in a place where the environment in which such facts play out might be extraordinarily complex.

But it is just at this level of fact that supporters of BDS et al stake so much on their own refusal to acknowledge objective truth.  Palestinian denial of Jewish history is as long documented as it is absurd and obscene.  But just take a look at what lengths supporters of the Palestinians go to deny facts such as military invasions, peace offers and the cause and result of wars.  Books are published demonstrating that black is white.  Conferences are held where panels discuss how night is day.  Journals run for decades publishing article after article proving that up is down.  All in an effort to destroy any basis of fact upon which argumentation can proceed.

When I and others point out that our arguments are directed not at the Israel haters themselves but to a broader, uncommitted public, we acknowledge an understanding that Israel’s opponents play by a different set of rules.  And it’s all well and good that we don’t waste our time trying to argue with people who insist they get to rewrite the rules of reality to suit their purposes.

But even if we are trying to convince a different audience by following our rulebook, our opponents are trying to convince that same audience by using theirs.  Which makes it all the more important that we understand where they are coming from since – as I mentioned previously – simply dismissing them as hypocrites and liars may not give us the information we need to achieve genuine understanding of what we’re up against.