The Palestinian intifada is proving a headache to Israel’s image managers on American campuses. “Recent events in the territories in Israel have spilled over on to the US university campuses [and] our work has been made harder,” complains a recent book — let from the University Service Department of the American Zionist Youth Foundation. [1] Pro-Israel groups on campus have lost “the initiative,” the booklet warns. Instead of promoting “positive Israel activities” such as Israel fairs and Israel cafe nights, campus groups now find themselves “in the position of defending Israel.”

The booklet offers “samples of pro-Israel propaganda” for students to adapt for use on their own campuses and suggestions for dealing with university newspapers, debates, visiting speakers, film series and demonstrations. The best tack to take with campus newspapers, the booklet says, is “to place one of your own people on the staff.” You should respond to criticisms of Israel in print, but should avoid getting drawn into letter-writing debates.

If speakers known to be critical of Israel come to campus, you are advised to contact the University Service Department’s regional coordinator, who will supply “information” on the speaker (e.g., on Noam Chomsky’s “long affiliation with the PLO”). You are also asked to send the USD coordinator a tape of the lecture.

If demonstrations are held in support of the Palestinians, consider organizing a counter-demonstration (“position yourself near the cameras”), or alternatively organize a rock band near the demonstration (“most passers by will be drawn to the music”). Formal debates are sometimes useful, but beware of participating if you are likely to lose since “your group can be made to look foolish.” Above all, “polish your delivery. If you are debating Arabs, you have the advantage.”

Posters and other printed material are where pro-Israel propagandists “have had problems” in recent months. Visual material needs to be “positive” rather than “reactionary and defensive.” It should stress the “advancements in human rights” and “quality of life” in Israel. “Pictures of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Arabs” may be more useful than pictures of “Palestinian” violence. A sample advertisement depicting doves and olive trees “employs effective symbols to conjure up images of peace and tranquility which were necessary at a time of heavy anti-Israel criticism in the media and on college campuses.” (The event advertised followed a week that began with Israel’s rejection of the Shultz peace proposal and ended with the assassination of Palestinian leader Abu Jihad in Tunis, massive protests on the West Bank and Gaza, and at least 15 Palestinians shot dead in a single day.) “Connect the ideas of Israel and peace,” the booklet explains, adding that “you can’t go wrong pushing peace.”

But don’t let the other side respond. Another poster, a single statement on a blank white sheet, unfortunately “became a blackboard” for others. The pro-Israel students “quickly realized the mistake they had made” and removed the poster. They solved the propaganda problem by the simple method of “changing the print to white, and the background to black.”

The striking thing about this advice is its insistence on the triviality of tactics over any process of thought, engagement or debate. In this it mirrors the larger response of official Zionism in the face of its most severe crisis, “pushing peace” while avoiding serious engagement and debate.



[1] Israel on Campus — Under Fire, edited by David Becker, Zvi Jankelowitz and Stuart Schnee (NY: American Zionist Youth Foundation, Inc., 1988).

How to cite this article:

"You Can’t Go Wrong Pushing Peace," Middle East Report 157 (March/April 1989).

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