Accusing the other side in a debate of a hidden agenda never gets us anywhere. So let’s just not.
In the Israel/Palestine debate, there’s a trap that both sides fall into, repeatedly – and I’m no exception – which makes it more of a mud-slinging event than a discussion. In a nutshell, the trap is claiming the other side has a hidden agenda.
I propose we all try to avoid this trap, for everyone’s sake. To make that possible, let’s take a quick look at what it is, and how to avoid it.
The trap takes many forms. A typical way it looks when me and other lefties fall into it is “you’re only saying that to distract from the occupation and help Israel maintain it.” A typical right-wing version is “you’re only saying that to de-legitimize Israel and lead to its destruction.”
It may be right, or they may actually believe what they’re saying. Either way, what it does to the debate is to change the subject. Worse still, it’s an attack on the person you’re debating, which puts them on the defensive, and that’s usually enough to make sure they won’t change their mind even a tiny bit. In the end, we all get angry and shit all over each other and nobody’s any wiser for it.
One way to avoid the trap is to just disengage when someone makes a dangerous claim. Just say “okay, bye.” I don’t believe in doing that, but it’s a way.
Another way is to re-state your position and demand a response to it.
Let’s say I claim there’s apartheid in the West Bank; let’s also say you think I’m wrong and that what I’m saying endangers human lives. What you should do is explain why you think there isn’t apartheid, and/or demand that I explain my outrageous claim. There’s a chance I’ll change my mind, or at least that other people will learn to see things your way from watching the discussion unfold. If you just call me a terrorist, I’ll think you’re crazy, and I’ll still believe – and tell people – that there’s an apartheid regime on the West Bank.
It’s the same the other way around. Let’s say someone – call her Jane – attacks International Solidarity Movement activists, claiming they’re agents provocateurs and terrorists; let’s also say that you believe they’re truly working to make the world a better place. Explain why you believe what they’re doing is good, and demand that Jane explain her accusation. Don’t fall into the trap of accusing her of distracting from the point – even if what she’s doing is exactly falling into the trap. Also don’t fall into the trap of defending their motivations. Just focus on what’s actually going on.
Now let’s say you posted something about some protest you support, and Jane fell into the trap, exactly like I just described. You can engage her, even though what she’s doing is counterproductive and distracts from your original point. It’s still better than slinging mud right back at her. Or you can just refuse to be side-tracked, explain (again) why you support the protest, and ask her if she has anything to say about the actual issue.
Finally, you can always link to this post and ask the person you’re debating to read it. It’s short, and here’s a shortlink you can use: http://wp.me/p1gOTH-y6