Rafael Castro
Rafael CastroINN:RF

On paper the answer is clearly yes… Think of all the Nobel prize winners, the top academics and successful entrepreneurs who are Jewish.

In practice, the answer is often no. Think of Peter Beinart et al and the Haaretz newspaper which provide Jew-haters with useful arguments and the cover to claim they are not antisemites! Yet it would be unfair to just blame leftists for this lack of practical intelligence. Think about recent thoughtless remarks by rightist MKs.

Around a century ago Ze'ev Jabotinsky argued that -politically-speaking- Jews are idiots. His words inspired me to write a piece about this phenomenon. Now, I would like to explore its roots.

Political success, in addition to rhetorical talent and negotiation skills, hinges on one crucial quality: interpersonal skills. In my experience, Jews still have ample room for progress in this sphere.

Jews are often entertaining and intelligent conversation partners. Nevertheless, there are contexts and situations in which your enemies outmatch you. For example, I was once hosted by the Palestinian Arab 'ambassador' in Berlin to discuss a peace plan I thought fair to both sides. The ambassador knew that I write for Arutz 7 and (as it turned out) hated the peace plan, yet she served me tea and smiled with such grace and courtesy that I could only admire how well she represented her side.

Personally, I prefer the rough and tumble honesty of sabras. Nevertheless, I can understand why many Western journalists (including Diaspora Jews) are flattered by Palestinian Arab grace and hospitality and end up sympathizing with the Palestinian Arab cause.

On most occasions in which I have mentioned these Arab virtues, my Jewish interlocutors have answered: "Well, but we don’t stab you after serving the tea!“ This answer is, alas, silly and self-defeating: For one thing, it is perfectly reasonable to emulate grace without stabbing anyone in the back. Secondly, the argument, in the eyes of those who are not familiar with the flaws of Levantine culture, only serves to buttress the prejudice that pro-Israel advocates are bigotted and racist.

Perceptions of interpersonal skills are culturally-conditioned. Courtesy can be an expression of hypocrisy, just like honesty can be construed as aggressiveness. In most non-Jewish societies whose histories are marked by bloodshed and aristocratic rule, attitudes that express harmony such as agreement, tact, courtesy and grace are valued very highly. The reason is that the absence of these traits, historically-speaking, easily provoked disputes, conflict and bloodshed. This may be the reason that societies that treasure politeness often hide violent histories.

On the other hand, in Jewish culture there is no reason to associate disagreement and brusqueness with bloodshed. During centuries, yeshivas imbued Jewish culture with a peaceful love for argument and debate. And facing an outside world that was cold and hostile, Jews developed an informal familiarity towards each other that made Gentile niceties superfluous.

These historical differences come to the fore in Hasbara efforts. I am often engaged in social media discussions between Israel critics and Israel supporters and am disheartened by what I consider to be the superior skills of the pro-Palestinian side. The latter side always emphasizes (in English!) its professed love for peace, equality and human rights, highlighting that it has no issues with Jews and Judaism, but only with Zionism.

Pro-Israel advocates on the other hand are trigger-happy with epithets such as "antisemite“, "Nazi“ and "jihadist“ that easily alienate readers sitting on the fence.

Furthermore, the other side is more likely to concede reasonable points. Our side on the other hand tends to view social media exchanges as courtroom battles. In Hebrew there is a beautiful expression reminding us that sometimes it is better to be wise rather than right. And for this reason, it would be important for pro-Israel advocates to unmask and battle destructive goals, while acknowledging the more reasonable fears and concerns of the other side.

The alternative to softening our rhetoric are bitter exchanges in which our side "wins“ every contested point, but loses the debate given that most readers feel that our side is aggressive and lacking in empathy.

As an Italian I once quipped on Facebook that when Italians move to a new place, we build a community (the mafia), steal from everyone and yet everyone likes us, whereas when Jews move to a new place, Jews help everyone by building hospitals, schools and charities and, pervasive antisemitism aside, wonder why people dislike them. .

Rafael Castrois a Noahide Italian-Colombian with degrees from Yale and Hebrew University. Rafael can be reached at [email protected]