Behind the News: Ideology and Psychology

Although we have so much more information than ever before, understanding continues to remain elusive.

Nowhere is this truer than in the world of current events, where facts and impressions whiz by, claiming our attention for milliseconds, leaving us breathless with emotions in search of context, history, and depth.  In search of meaning and understanding.

When we search for meaning in world events, ideology and motivation are key variables.  The search reveals surprising commonalities between two strange bedfellows, Russia, and Amnesty international.

Russia and Amnesty International share a key attitude that is pivotal to their actions: both reject fundamental respect for a state’s national sovereignty.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is constantly before us in videos of bloody brutality; their disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty couldn’t be more obvious.  But Amnesty International is an organization with no army.  It demonstrates its disregard of nation’s sovereignty -Israel’s – differently, in a campaign of delegitimation and demonization that can’t be seen on video but is insidious and venal.

One of its directors, Paul O’Brien, recently announced to a gathering at Washington DC’s Women’s Democratic Club his belief that “Israel shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.”  He elaborated, “we are opposed to the idea — and this, I think, is an existential part of the debate — that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people.”

Opposition to the continued existence of an existing sovereign state is not what most of us expect from a self-proclaimed human rights organization.  But there it is.  With his revelation, suddenly the organization’s slanderous campaign against Israel makes sense.  It has nothing to do with human rights.  The twisted charges of “apartheid” against Israel are the operational equivalent to Russia’s claim of “de-Nazification” of Ukraine.  Both are efforts to justify the destruction of a duly constituted, democratic, sovereign state.  The basic rights of a people to self-determination in safe, secure, and respected borders are blithely denied in both cases using a Big Lie.

From a psychological point of view, it takes a great deal of arrogance to deny another state’s agency, autonomy, and self-determination.  That arrogance is based on an ideology.  The seminal thinker and writer, Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., describes the ideology behind Putin’s aggressive psychology in a Psychology Today post, “Is Putin Beyond Influence?” (Psychology Today, March 14, 2022).   It is this ideology, opines Lifton, that enables Putin to perceive the invasion of Ukraine as a sacred mission.

Similarly, it is the progressive ideology of Wokeism, a religion, according to writer John McWhorter, which is the engine of Amnesty International and its fellow travelers’ mission to do to Israel what Russia is trying to do militarily to Ukraine.


John McWhorter, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.   New York: Portfolio, 2021.

About the Author
Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, television commentator and podcast host of the Van Leer Series on Ideas with Renee Garfinkel
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