Why Lies About Israel Are Surprisingly Effective
I’m going to tell you a few lies:
Halley’s Comet will be visible the first week in March, 2018.
91% of people who had college degrees voted for Hillary Clinton during the last American election.
The San Diego Padres won the World Series last year.
Now none of these statements are true whatsoever. I actually made up each of these lines between sips of coffee at a local coffee shop. The only criteria I used when thinking about the lines above are that they should have no basis in reality, but may sound true to someone who knows little about the germane subjects.
However, none of that matters. The reality is that you probably read hundreds of pages of material each week - from books, to Facebook statuses, news articles, and blog posts, and in about a month you will probably have zero recollection of having ever read this article.
Nevertheless, there is a solid chance that the general gist or various facts that you read throughout this (and other) articles will enter your memory in some way, and if impactful enough, slightly change the way that you think about a certain topic.
This is where the danger begins. See, although I told you that the above statements are completely false, there is a chance that you may remember them as true. This is a psychological fallacy known as the source-monitoring error and in short it means that we often remember information or “facts” as separate from the context in which we first hear them.
So the fact that I framed these “facts” in the context of me outright admitting to you that I am lying may not matter. And, in a few weeks when your friends bring up baseball (assuming you don’t know much on the subject) you may jump out and talk about how the Padres won the World Series last year (when in reality they are terrible).
One of the areas in which this psychological fallacy hits hard is on social media. When you scroll through Facebook (and other social media outlets) and read people’s statuses or look at articles that they post, unless you are very careful to identify and remember a fact within the context of its source, it will not matter much a month later if the content you read is the consensus of experts in the field or some teenager in his basement. This is why the phenomenon of “fake news” is serious, and social media outlets across the board are working tirelessly to alleviate the problem.
Turning our focus onto Israel for a minute, we can begin to understand the immense uphill battle which pro-Israel advocates and Israel itself has to face. There is no shortage of people, groups, and countries that have an endemic hatred of Israel while knowing almost nothing about Israel and her history. Different groups may have different underlying ideologies and reasons for hating the Jewish State (ranging from religious presuppositions to simply wanting to be welcomed into more progressive circles), but very rarely does it stem from an in depth, or even a good surface level, understanding of the conflict.
This is not to say, however, that Israel is or should be portrayed as blameless. Like any country, Israel faces a wide array of problems both internally and externally and we should always be looking to push Israel into changing for the better. It is completely reasonable to criticize many of Israel’s actions both historically and in the present, but there is a line where reasonable criticism turns into irrational hatred and condemnation.
While this exact line may be surrounded by gray area, it is easy to notice when groups and campaigns have long passed it. These are the groups that, while in the minority of public opinion, are able to have far-reaching effects on the international opinion of the Jewish state.
The problem is that smear campaigns against Israel are extremely effective. Movements such as BDS thrive off of spreading hyperbolic and even outright false statements about Israel, and there is no attempt for any honesty or nuance whatsoever. On many campuses various student groups are not even willing to have a conversation with anyone who is pro-Israel due to their policy of “anti-normalization”, opting instead for a slew of ad-hominem attacks and other methods to ensure that their dogmas and lies will go unchallenged.
People who never criticize countries where being a religious minority (even a dissenting denomination of Islam) or homosexual is equivalent to carrying around a bull's-eye on one’s head, will say with a completely straight face that Israel is the worst offender of human rights in the world.
Now, more often than not, the outside observer understands the irony of Iran or Syria claiming that Israel is the world’s worst offender of human rights or that Israel’s religious discrimination is worse than even a more “moderate” country such as Pakistan.
Most people are able to understand that there are two sides to the story and the conflict is more nuanced than a couple of flashy catch phrases written on a poster. And more often than not, the average college student walking to class understands that the vocal anti-Israel student groups are fueled by underlying ideologies that they do not share.
However, weeks later, when asked about Israel the outside observer will remember the punchline without remembering who told the joke. In other words, when Israel comes up in a discussion or debate an otherwise intelligent person may say, “I remember reading about how Israel does X, Y, and Z,” forgetting that those facts may have come from a source that they knowingly distrust. And the source monitoring error will have struck again.
But I am simply not willing to use these psychological fallacies to my advantage in an untruthful way. When asked about Israel, I try to give a nuanced answer that I believe reflects the facts and truth of the complicated situation, even though I know that a hyperbolic statement or blatant lie would probably make this person more pro-Israel in the long run, at almost zero risk.
Just last week a man noticed my kippah on a beach and asked me explicitly “So do you side with Israel of Palestine?” I asked him if he wanted the long or super long answer, and when he said the long answer we ended up talking for two hours. I attempted to give him a full history along with the views and rationales of all involved parties.
In this case it seems like we are stuck. I am always in search of truth in any situation, and Israeli politics is no exception. On the one hand, I think that we have a moral duty to defend Israel’s right to exist in an increasingly anti-Israel world.
However, the average person who talks to me for ten minutes about Israel wants short and easy to digest statements and probably does not care for a long and complicated political, religious, and military history of Israel and her neighbors.
But often times when they talk to the anti-Israel side, they are getting anything but truth. They are receiving propaganda like statements about the evils of Israel, and in the long run, these statements will be given just as much credibility of a well-sourced and analysis of the conflict.
This seems to be the fundamental battle of our time, not only in regards to Israel, but for information in general. With the proliferation of false information that is spreading throughout the world, the only way to fight for truth is to keep on learning, discussing, and teaching others while encouraging them to be truth seekers themselves.
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