Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Free Walid Shoebat!

According to Protocols, Palestinian terrorist-turned-lover-of-Zion Walid Shoebat will be speaking at UCLA Hillel this Tuesday.
Shoebat, a convert to Christianity, certainly has been doing the rounds: just a couple of weeks ago he was the guest of Aish in London, he’s due next month in Atlanta, and a quick Google search reveals that in the last few months, he’s spoken to Jewish audiences in Berkeley, Riverdale, Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto, amongst other places.
Mr. Shoebat is an odd character: some reports have him donning a kippah and saying “Ani Tzioni” in Hebrew during his speeches, whilst others have him “allowing’ Palestinians to continue living in an Israel that includes “Judea and Samaria” – “as long as they pledge allegiance to Israel and become Israeli citizens.” (As a Zionist, has he thought this one-state-solution through properly?). I personally find it strange, even a little creepy, for him to have switched sides so completely that he seems to be actually rooting for his former enemy. Frankly, I would have found him more reliable and more compelling had he emerged with a more nuanced message.
Still, far be it from me to criticize Mr. Shoebat, a man willing to admit where he was wrong, and campaign for justice, perhaps at risk to his life. And there is no real harm in Jewish organizations listening to his story, either: it is reassuring and comforting to know that even a former Palestinian terrorist concedes we’re right.
My question is: what’s the point? He’s preaching to the converted. Why does Mr. Shoebat, who claims his aim is to spread his story and message as widely as possible, waste his time talking to Jewish organization upon Jewish organization – when it’s the waverers and opponents he needs to convince?
A cynic would suggest Mr. Shoebat was earning a lot of money for each talk – but I’ve found no mention of what happens to his fees.
The real lesson is about one of the weaknesses of the Jewish community’s hasbara efforts. Instead of focusing on a really aggressive campaign to defend and promote Israel, we spend way too much energy sending each other emails about the “matzav,” and listening to our own side reassure us we’re right, because it makes us feel better.
We made a similar mistake with Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam, who with the publication of her book became the darling of every Jewish organization, overnight. Manji, who wrote her book specifically in order to challenge and revitalize her fellow Muslims, suddenly found herself talking instead to dozens of Jewish audiences, who experienced a collective emotional catharsis as they heard their thoughts about Islam validated by a Muslim. (At least Manji, if she followed the lines of her book, had much to say about the historical development of Islam and what can be done to help its moderates; Shoebat, as far as I can make out, has little more to offer beyond his personal story and some wildly unrealistic projections – see above).
Surely our long-term goals would be much better served if we spent our free evenings listening to, and learning the lessons from, our opponents; listening to, and learning the lesson from, strategic thinkers; campaigning to get fairer coverage; sending mass-emails about the matzav to someone other than our Jewish best friends; or frankly, doing the washing-up. At least we would free up Mr. Shoebat, Ms. Manji and their likes to talk to the people who really need to hear them -- which is not us.

UPDATE: Manji, a Muslim, was the star speaker at a conference last week entitled, "Canadian Jewish Women Speak."

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