I’m going to put a mark on your forehead, and I hope you’ll put a mark on mine.
But first I’m going to talk about gaslighting.
Gaslighting is, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.” It’s Chico Marx’s Duck Soup line, “Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” come to life.
We Jews are now experiencing gaslighting on an unprecedented scale. We are constantly told that falsehood is true, that evil is good, and that everything we have seen with our own eyes is a series of lies.
For your reading displeasure, I’m going to list twenty attempts at gaslighting that I have seen, over and over again. The fact that many of these statements contradict each other is part of the nefarious nature of this psychological warfare. Just as neo-Nazis simultaneously claim that the Holocaust did not happen while also claiming that the Jewish victims of the Holocaust deserved to die, the new Nazi supporters care about scoring points rather than anything approximating truth and reality.
- The atrocities of October 7th didn’t happen.
- Israel is exaggerating the mayhem of October 7th.
- Hamas only targeted military personnel; there was no intentional killing of civilians. Any civilians killed were either killed accidentally, or by rogue Hamas members not following orders.
- Hamas did not kill civilians because every civilian is, in fact, a settler and colonizer and, accordingly, represents a fair military target.
- Israel is responsible for every person killed by Hamas.
- Israel was behind the breaching of the fence, or at least knew about it in advance and allowed it to happen so that it would have an excuse to retake the Gaza Strip.
- Israel has been occupying Gaza since 1967.
- Israel has kept Palestinians in an open air prison since 2007.
- Israel is a colonizer, and every Israeli is a colonist. Every Jew in Israel is a valid target for extermination, as decolonization is a just, albeit messy, process.
- Israel is an apartheid state involved in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population.
- Israel is committing genocide and other war crimes.
- Israel is intentionally targeting civilians.
- Israel has a higher threshold for civilian deaths in the war zone than any other western nation.
- “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” does not mean the destruction of Israel.
- Criticism directed against Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar for their support of Hamas and denigration of Israel is racist and Islamophobic.
- Tearing down posters of kidnapped children is simply another form of protest, no different from hanging up the signs in the first place.
- The 47-minute film that shows the Hamas terrorists’ own videos of slaughter, kidnapping, torture, burning, and beheading – a film that has been screened for journalists and which was shown at the Museum of Tolerance – is just propaganda.
- Jews are part of the victimizing and oppressor class, and as such are fair targets by those who have been victimized or oppressed.
- Israel’s military advance is motivated by anger and revenge.
- If Hamas terrorists are so gleeful about killing, the Jews must have done something to deserve it.
Every single one of these assertions is demonstrably false… yet I have heard each of them repeated ad nauseam in the most literal sense. They don’t just make me angry; they make me want to throw up.
Every single one of these assertions has been used to silence and intimidate anyone who supports Israel. They unquestionably represent “psychological manipulation… [leading] to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, [and] uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability.”
Every single one of these assertions is repeated in order to turn good into evil, to make the hero appear to be the villain, to justify the unjustifiable to a credulous public.
Every single one of these assertions has been made by people who ostensibly belong to the intellectual elite, giving these false ideas the patina of respectability when, in fact, they are excuses for murder, kidnapping, and actual genocide. Like Martin Heidegger whose appointment as the rector of the University of Freiburg in 1933 was accompanied by his joining the Nazi Party, his modern inheritors have sacrificed their moral standing and intellectual honesty in exchange for the shallow love and approval of an antisemitic population.
Why am I repeating these absurd – yet popular – assertions here? Let me answer by retelling a parable originally related by the great Chassidic leader, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:
A wise king told his prime minister, “I see in the stars that anyone who eats this year’s grain will go insane. What shall we do?”
The prime minister answered, “We can put enough grain aside so that you and I won’t need to eat from this year’s crop.”
The king responded, “If we do that, and we are the only sane individuals while the rest of the country is mad, they will think that they are normal and that you and I are insane. There certainly isn’t enough time or grain to save the entire population, either. No, we have no choice but to eat the same grain as everyone else. But before we do that, we will put a mark on each other’s foreheads. That way, at least when we see each other, we will be reminded that we are not in our right minds.”
In much the same way, we are living in a world which forces us to sometimes question our sanity, our very perception of reality. And the process is so insidious, we might wonder if so many people – bright people, people we may have considered our allies – can truly be wrong.
When that thought enters our minds, we need a reminder that falsehood is not truth, that evil is not good, and that which we witnessed is not a series of lies. We need to put a mark on our foreheads to remind us that we live in an insane world, and that we run the risk of falling into that insanity, too. We need to look at that mark and remember that, in spite of postmodern claims to the contrary, truth does indeed exist.
I hope that this short essay can be that mark.