What everyone should consider before engaging in debate about Israel.


It’s common for discussions about Israel to spiral out of control quickly. Here are four things everyone should consider before engaging in debate about Israel.


#1 — Avoid Ad Hominem attacks

Nothing brings a debate to a close faster than name-calling. There are some sophisticated ways of attacking a person’s character and they should all be avoided. For example, although many anti-Semites use Anti-Zionism as either a conscious or subconscious cover for their antisemitism, this does not mean this is always the case. It is wrong to accuse others of antisemitism (and egregious to call someone a Nazi) without fully vetting their position and attitudes.

True, ad hominem attacks, or name-calling can be cathartic and, lets face it, fun. But unless you’re some kind of Don Rickles/Joan Rivers love-child, your insults will be (and should be) taken as the sign of a weak argument and vulnerable position.

#2 — Know your history

Those who do not have a comprehensive understanding of the political and anthropological history of the Middle East are not in a respectable position to make historical and anthropological claims. Your lack of knowledge will invariably lead to a steaming heap of fallacious arguments and unreliable sources, and ultimately you will fall into one of three categories: ignorant, negligent, or prejudiced.

This is true for both Zionists and anti-Zionists alike. If you’re going to discuss history … know your history.

A basic test of competence could be determined by the degree to which a person understands the following items. This list of historical events and phenomena is hardly comprehensive, but it’s a good starting point. (Feel free to add more in the comments on the right.) Each of these is available for investigation on Wikipedia—almost all of them have their own dedicated pages. I have linked them here for easy access. As you read through the list of issues note how many you can speak intelligently on, and challenge your debate partner to do the same.

• The Ancient Israelites
The Jewish Kingdoms (1020 BC — 4 BC)
• The Jewish Diaspora
Origins of the word “Palestine”
• The Jews and the Roman & Byzantine Empires
The Jews and Muslim Rule thru 1300 AD
The Jews and The Crusades 1099–1243
• The Jews and The Turks, The Ayyubids, The Mamluks
• The Jews and The Ottoman Empire
• Late 1800s Zionist Immigration (and Immigration in general)
• 1917–The Balfour Declaration
• 1920–The formation of the League of Nations
• 1920–The San Remo Conference
• 1923–The British Mandate of Palestine
• 1880s-1930–Jewish land purchase in Palestine
• 1937–The Peel Commission
• WWII and the Holocaust
Arab ties to Hitler and the Final Solution
• The establishment of the United Nations
The UN’s Partition Plan for Palestine
1947–Arab attack of Israel
1948–Arab-Israeli war
• 1949–the Armistice Agreement following Israel’s decisive victory
• The Palestinian Exodus
The Lausanne Conference of 1949
The War of 1967
• 1967–The Khartoum Resolution
•1973–The Yom Kippur War
• 1979–Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty
• The Oslo Accords
• The First-, and Second Intifadas
Israel-West Bank Barrier
• 2005–Israeli Disengagement from Gaza
• 2006–Gazan election of Hamas to power
• 2006–Destruction of Gazan Infrastructure
• 2007–Embargo of Gaza
• The definition of “Genocide
• The definition of “Terrorism
• The definition of “Apartheid
• The history of all terrorism via Gaza and West Bank
• Israel’s democratic political structure and history
• The Jewish Diaspora
Origins of the word “Palestine”
• The Jews and the Roman & Byzantine Empires
The Jews and Muslim Rule thru 1300 AD
The Jews and The Crusades 1099–1243
• The Jews and The Turks, The Ayyubids, The Mamluks
• The Jews and The Ottoman Empire
• Late 1800s Zionist Immigration (and Immigration in general)
• 1917–The Balfour Declaration
• 1920–The formation of the League of Nations
• 1920–The San Remo Conference
• 1923–The British Mandate of Palestine
• 1880s-1930–Jewish land purchase in Palestine
• 1937–The Peel Commission
• WWII and the Holocaust
Arab ties to Hitler and the Final Solution
• The establishment of the United Nations
The UN’s Partition Plan for Palestine
1947–Arab attack of Israel
1948–Arab-Israeli war
• 1949–the Armistice Agreement following Israel’s decisive victory
• The Palestinian Exodus
The Lausanne Conference of 1949
The War of 1967
• 1967–The Khartoum Resolution
•1973–The Yom Kippur War
• 1979–Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty
• The Oslo Accords
• The First-, and Second Intifadas
Israel-West Bank Barrier
• 2005–Israeli Disengagement from Gaza
• 2006–Gazan election of Hamas to power
• 2006–Destruction of Gazan Infrastructure
• 2007–Embargo of Gaza
• The definition of “Genocide
• The definition of “Terrorism
• The definition of “Apartheid
• The history of all terrorism via Gaza and West Bank
• Israel’s democratic political structure and history

If you or your debate partner are not at least vaguely familiar with most of these items, or able to explain why they are irrelevant, you’re probably not in a position to discuss any issue related to the Middle East conflict; you’re not in a position to call for divestment of Israel; you’re certainly not in a position to protest and advocate on behalf of the “historical rights” of the Palestinians, or for that matter Israel. How could you advocate for a people’s historical rights if you know nothing about their history?

Of course, It’s fine to support a particular side for reasons that aren’t based on historical rights to land. For example, your argument in support of Israel may be that regardless of history, a people have the right to defend themselves from immanent attack. Another argument may be that you support one side simply because of the values that side teaches and exemplifies. Arguments about Israel can deal with the future, the present or the past. If you’re going to engage in serious debate about the past, you need to know what you’re talking about.

#3 — Establish common ground

If your debate partner cannot agree to things you consider to be plainly true, you will almost certainly run into trouble. For example you may maintain the following:

(a) Hamas’s express objective is, as stated clearly in its charter, to destroy Israel and kill all Jews; it teaches this objective to children through television programs
(b) Hamas attacks Israel with the express intent to murder innocent civilians
(c) Israel’s military activity in Gaza is a “defensive,” not an “offensive,” the singular purpose of which is to eliminate terrorist attacks on its civilian population
(d) Israel takes exhaustive measures to prevent civilian casualties, more than any other country has in the history of warfare

If your opponent does not agree to these things, and you believe them to be fact, then engaging in argument may be pointless. One who denies widely accepted facts without providing reasonable evidence to the contrary is not someone to be taken seriously, so it’s a good idea to agree to these things upfront if they influence your position. You might even state clearly, “These are the points that influence my position … ” and see if there is any disagreement.

#4 — Know your fallacies

This is an important one. Fallacies are arguments, which often seem to make logical sense, but in fact do not, according to the rules of logic. There are fantastic resources online (two of these are yourlogicalfallacyis.com, and Wikipedia’s pages for “Fallacy” and “Argument”) and it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with these before getting into a debate. Be careful though … crying “fallacy” relentlessly can annoy your debate partner into a rage, or shame them into silence.

It’s better to make positive arguments that convince the other of your position, than to constantly point out your opponent’s mistakes (or idiocy). And it’s best to spend most of your time understanding and clarifying your respective positions, than to waste time bickering. Dennis Prager’s motto is a good one: Clarity over agreement.


These considerations can seem overwhelming, in the sense that researching region’s history or delving into the principles of logic can be a deep rabbit hole. But if you enjoy debate, and want to be effective at it, you could do worse than to take these things seriously.

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