There’s a reason Israel is so polarizing: it’s complicated, and nobody’s right. Fighting against “Israeli Apartheid” or a murderous and uncivilized pack of terrorists will always be easier, and according to studies, make you happier, than confronting the conflict in an intellectually honest way.
President of the conservative American Enterprise Institute Arthur C. Brooks took to the pages of The New York Times recently to explain that people on extreme ends–either end–of the political spectrum are actually happier people than moderates.
48% of people self-described as “extremely conservative” said they were happy, 35% of “extremely liberal” people said the same whereas only 26% of “moderates” said they were happy, according to Brooks article. He writes:
What explains this odd pattern? One possibility is that extremists have the whole world figured out, and sorted into good guys and bad guys. They have the security of knowing what’s wrong, and whom to fight. They are the happy warriors.
If you don’t already see the connection to Israel in this you must be living under a rock.
The failed discourse
One needs look no further than the shameful example of “free speech” that took place at UC Irvine to see the utter lack of dialogue in the “Israel debate.”
That coordinated interruption of Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech consisted of students standing up in the middle of his speech and yelling about war crimes. They resisted the Ambassador’s polite request to present questions and hear out someone who they disagreed with.
The UCI students were so blinded by their perception of Israel that instead of seeing a modern democracy navigating difficult waters, they saw an illegitimate, genocidal regime coming to campus to spread lies.
They had no interest in hearing the Ambassador speak because they didn’t want to change their views. If Israel isn’t evil, who is to blame for Palestinian suffering? Working toward building civil society in the West Bank and Gaza is much more difficult and stress-inducing than railing against the evil Zionist Empire.
The “pro-Israel” groups, albeit often with more resources and less vitriol, likewise distort the issues to black and white.
Fellow Times of Israel blogger Yisrael Rosenberg demonstrated just how easy it is, from a “pro-Israel” viewpoint, to absolve yourself of any peace making responsibility by demonizing your enemy. In a June blog post about the suggestion that Israel make peace with the Palestinians, Rosenberg wrote:
A peace deal with this mongrel, made-up nation? Tell me, how do these people behave towards us? With any remote hint of an interest in peace? Why, they uniformly teach their children the holiness of dying while killing Jews. And for them it is public knowledge and absolute truth that we eat their blood in matzot during Passover, and inject AIDS into women in Gaza.
Ah, well there you go (and from a seemingly sweet guy too). If I believed what Rosenberg does, I wouldn’t want to make any concessions for peace either. There goes any need to grapple with questions about settlements and security, probably simpler to just kill the mongrel bastards, I feel happier already.
50 shades of oy vey
When I look at Israel I see so many conflicting truths:
- The occupation is problematic, but a security vacuum to be filled by terrorists would be equally so.
- Palestinian statehood should be a cause Israel supports, even if such a state would likely be hostile toward Israel.
- Forcing Israeli Arabs into what will eventually be the new Palestinian state is unethical, but it may be the only way to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel.
- The list goes on
Seeing Israel as a series of intractable problems with no good answers is tough. With so much at stake it feels like one should take some sort of solid position–for or against. That’s why so many place themselves into the “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine/anti-Israel” camp.
Although overblown rhetoric and bad behavior rarely leads to good solutions, it seems unlikely the debate will be toned down. The science actually tells us you’ll be a happier person if you decide one side is right, and it’s hard to shake people from a mindset that gives them comfort and happiness–even if it’s what stands in the way of peace.
*This is paraphrasing. I remember the gist of what he said well, but I wasn’t recording it.