The board game Taboo— is one of my favorites. The objective: get your teammates to guess the word at the top of each card but without relying on the related words listed at the bottom.
Related game, try this: “Israel-Palestine edition” Taboo for political debates. Prohibited words:
- Israel (alone as a noun)
Most conversations about the conflict use these words in abundance, none of which mean anything. If you’re going to say someone or some group is “anti-Israel,” you must highlight what behavior and specify how that behavior is bad. Similarly, qualify what you mean by “supporting” or being “pro” Israel.
#6 is the toughest but the most crucial. By avoiding Israel as a stand alone noun (“We should support Israel” or “Israel doesn’t want peace”) debaters are forced to specify if said behavior is bad for Israel as a state (meaning the health of her democratic institutions), bad for the Jewish state (meaning harmful to Israel’s majority Jewish status), or bad for her safety (meaning dangerous to the lives of her residents), and more.
My experience? Most people have no idea what they’re talking about and just recycle cliched phrases. And others have never had to parse “Israel” into its many components: the land, the government, the will of the Israeli electorate, a specific political party, a coalition of political parties, and so on.
The flotilla is anti-Israel.
What does that even mean? Likely it means that the flotilla is opposed to the Israeli government’s policy of blockading Gaza. But is the alleged “anti-Israel” element rooted in: (1) opposing just— the blockade, (2) opposing the Israeli government’s choices, (3) opposing Jewish aspirations to an independent state, (4) ignoring Hamas’ culpability and/or actively siding with Hamas, (5) passengers on board who commited some secondary “anti-Israel” qualifications, etc.
Israel is opposed to peace.
Again, what does that mean? Who is— Israel: the Israeli public at large, the right-wing, the settler movement, the ruling coaltion, or the cabinet ministers? And what is “peace”: a cessation of violence, withdrawl from the territories, the establishment of two states, or a one-state solution? Each turn of definition expands the potential meanings by an entire dimension. Be specific.
Here’s the advanced edition for deeper conversations in perhaps more left-right polarized environments. Additionally prohibited words:
- terrorism / terrorist
- ethnic cleansing
- Zionism / Zionist
- Any permutation of the phrase: “seeks Israel’s destruction”
- Any permutation of the phrase: “plight of the Palestinians”
Each of these bear highly charged connotations to different audiences. Their use is typically to score guilt points, not to dialogue. But even if we’re debating, not dialoguing, these confuse more than they illuminate because of their multiple meanings.— These words each summarize an analysis which justifies their useage.— Unless you have all night and want to debate a tangent, ditch them.
One of the stupidest acts of slacktivism to me is fighting to change the meaning of words. Meet people where they are and not where you might like them to be. All the energy wasted on “reclaiming” or “reframing” could have been spent on clarifying shared values (and thus recruiting them to your side). “Zionist” is one of those words that the left and right seek to re-define, but which is not useful to meaningful debate. Its use is merely a loyalty signifier.
The point of these Israel-Palestine Taboo conventions is to escape ambiguity and debate with clarity. In dialogue speak, you are learning to build “bridge words.” I find that debate opponents are surprisingly closer in opinion than they realize, but speak past each other. And more importantly,— these enable you to escape fighting over words and, well, get into fighting over things that matter more: policies, values and solutions.
This is how I write and converse about this issue. Your feedback is warmly appreciated.