A strange phenomenon in Israel’s conflict with Hamas has been the outright denials of Hamas’ crimes for which ample evidence exists. This is an example of ideology colliding with reality, and ideology winning.
Ideologies learned at young ages often become deep rooted beliefs, core to people’s own identities and resistant to change. They can also impede people’s ability to grapple with reality. This is apparent in certain Muslim and western perceptions of Israel and in views that run counter to observed reality. And this can be an insurmountable challenge for hasbara public diplomacy efforts.
In the Muslim world, religion and religious ideology is taught from a young age. These teachings impart a system of belief, ethics and connection to other Muslims from disparate parts of the globe, and stress differences with non-Muslims. In the United States, an ideology of systemic racism and systems of oppression has increasingly taken hold in education and is being taught in schools at ever younger grades.
The result of this indoctrination has been the curious case of people distorting or denying reality, both in the Arab world and in the west. In the Muslim world, a legend has developed that the Palestinian Arabs welcomed the Jews escaping the Holocaust only to be backstabbed by the Jews, but this claim is belied by the 1920 and 1929 riots against Jews and the 1936-39 Arab Revolt, which led to the British White Paper of 1939 that shut the door to Palestine for Jews seeking to flee the Holocaust. Despite the existence of video taken by the Hamas attackers showing attacks on civilians, a Hamas spokesperson denied that its fighters attacked civilians. Queen Rania of Jordan denied that any babies were beheaded, as though this idea was beyond comprehension in Hamas’ acts of mass murder and rape. There have also been denials that rape occurred, despite eyewitness accounts otherwise.
Similarly, there have been bizarre distortions in western sources. The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported that Israel started the conflict on October 7. Samantha Pearson, who worked at Alberta University’s Sexual Assault Center, signed a letter claiming that accusations of rape by Hamas attackers were “unfounded.” Owen Jones of Britain’s The Guardian newspaper watched the 43-minute video that Israel released and asked “yes we see a young woman’s burnt corpse with no underwear on, but can we be certain she was raped?” Roger Waters suggested that the October 7 attacks may have been a ‘false flag’ operation, despite Hamas leaders declaring in televised interviews that October 7 style attacks will happen again and again.
What is apparent in these responses is that Israel’s public relations efforts are confronting something other than logic and common sense. They are confronting ideologies that are resistant to reality. There are psychological explanations for why this happens.
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