Dr Jonah Cohen, communications director of the Committee for Accuracy in Research and Analysis in the Middle East (CAMERA), explained how to respond to an anti-Semite in a social situation during a webinar on November 18 .
The webinar, the third in a three-part series on anti-Semitism, was hosted by the Massachusetts-based Congregation Or Atid. Cohen began the webinar by highlighting a September article in Alma, a feminist publication on Jewish culture; Irish author, actress and writer Susan Getz, explained how she experienced anti-Semitism when she took her husband’s last name. Getz recounted how, when she told a colleague that her husband’s last name was Jewish, the colleague fumed “about how all Jews are destroying the world through the conflict in the Middle East, that they were using the Holocaust as an excuse for murder, and if he was me he would be “very careful” about having children with my new husband. âI froze in shock and anger,â Getz wrote.
Cohen said Getz was in a “sticky situation” and it’s “difficult to know what to do when so many social and societal factors” are at play in situations like this. Cohen argued that anti-Semites use “rhetorical techniques” to make such conversations “annoying” for Jews, calling them “three anti-Semitic steps.” All three of these steps involve taking a high moral stance, attributing motivations to Jews for their views, and placing the burden of proof on the Jews, not themselves. As examples, Cohen pointed out how anti-Semites accuse defenders of Israel of supporting âcrimes against humanityâ and provide stories about the power of the âIsrael lobbyâ over Congress.
Cohen’s solution is his own three-step process, which he has dubbed âthe Gadfly Methodâ: just ask questions.
“When [the antisemite] applies the three anti-Semitic steps against youâ¦ you only have about a 10 second window to respond when he has grasped the moral height, âCohen said, adding that otherwise the response would beâ awkward âandâ forced â . Cohen’s solution is his own three-step process, which he has dubbed âthe Gadfly Methodâ: just ask questions. He suggests gathering information first by asking questions such as, âWhat do you mean by that? Once the anti-Semite has answered this question, you should then ask questions like “Why do you think this?” Finally, you should eventually start asking leading questions to expose flaws or inconsistencies in the anti-Semite’s argument.
As examples, he cited questions from Margaret Hoover, host of PBS’s Firing Line, to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) about her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez deplored the âIsraeli occupationâ. of Palestine, âprompting Hoover to ask her what she meant by that. Ocasio-Cortez replied that she was referring to the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank; when Hoover urged her to develop further, Ocasio-Cortez admitted she was “not the expert” on the matter. Cohen said he felt Ocasio-Cortez had been “unfairly” slandered during the interview because “admitting your own ignorance is a virtue,” but the interview shows the “power of this question apparently simple “to ask someone to elaborate on their assertions.
Another example he cited was Axios reporter Alexi McCammond’s questioning of Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in an October 10 interview. After Cohen and Greenfield defended the company’s decision to withdraw from the âoccupied Palestinian territoryâ in July, McCammond asked them why they weren’t boycotting Texas or Georgia because of their recent abortion laws and the right to vote. Ben Cohen responded by pausing, shrugging and then saying, âI don’t know. This is an interesting question. Dr Cohen argued that McCammond’s interview is an example of “exposing moral inconsistencies in a person’s worldview.” âWhat you do is remind yourself of conflicting propositions in the conversation and have your partner choose one,â Dr. Cohen said.
âAnytime you want to inform or persuadeâ¦ you try to do all of that using questions,â he added. âThat way you bring your ideas into the conversation while keeping the burden of proof on the other colleague. “