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Is the war making us more close-minded?

The events of Oct. 7 were so traumatic that my intellectual curiosity crashes against the blunt force of the rocket that landed across the street from me
(Image from Pixabay)

Change is not necessarily a bad thing. As we all live hopefully long, healthy, and productive lives, it is understandable, even expected, that our worldview and opinions will adapt over time as we inculcate, process and integrate new information, and novel experiences

Sometimes change is imperceptible and gradual, sometimes it is sudden and conscious. And sometimes it is both.

There have been a few times over the course of my life where I have felt myself actively changing

I recall noticing an ideological, philosophical shift when I was in Yeshiva. It is natural to change when going through such an experience, learning constantly, introspecting. However, Yeshivot are also high-pressured, intense social environments, and at a certain point I found myself asking what changes were occurring as a result of a genuine change in my worldview, and which were due to social and environmental pressures?

The past year is also one of those moments.

As the war in Israel and Gaza drags on, I feel myself looking at, academics, media personalities, entertainers, and others influential figures that I used to admire, and now I have little desire to engage with them or hear their opinion. (This is not the place for an exhaustive list, but you can probably guess who some of them are based off of my previous blogs). I find myself far more dismissive of certain opinions – I hear a shocking comment about the war, its conduct, Israel, or the Jews, and I tune out – suddenly I have no desire to hear what they say anymore

And then it spreads. Not only do I not want to hear them speak about Israel and the war, I’m less inclined to take their opinion seriously on other issues as well

Why is this the case? Is it possible that if someone is so horribly misguided or prejudiced on one topic that their judgment is no longer considered reliable, or is it possible to compartmentalize and separate the wheat from the chaff?

Two examples pop to my mind, the New York Times and the United Nations. Both are institutions that suffer from massive, blatant issues of bias, selectivity, and agenda-driven libels against Israel. However, I and others, including Israeli government officials when it suits them, will quote these same sources as authoritative when it suits them. So which is it?

This dissonance, this challenge, is one that has in fact existed long before October 7th. My personal approach is that to the extent possible, one should develop the tools to independently evaluate any source, take what is worthwhile, and leave what isn’t. To paraphrase Maimonides, we should strive to “accept truth from those who speak it” says. In an age of mistruths and sheer hatred, this becomes much easier said than done. 

Back to change. What does change signify? Does it signify that the world is irreconcilably incorrigible, or that I am closing myself off? 

Intellectual honesty compels me to the answer – it’s a bit of both. There are blatant untruths, skews, and slurs that simply turn me off. And that is a logical consequence of truly horrendous speech and ridiculous accusations. 

But there is something else, something deeper, going on. The events of October 7th were so traumatic that my intellectual curiosity crashes constantly against the blunt force of the rocket that landed across the street from me. How can I accept the outlandish when the dried blood from a body dragged through the driveway in Kfar Azza is still seared in my memory? After watching the video of those poor, scared female observers, who were brutally murdered, kidnapped, raped and abused, how can I bring myself to care about what yet another boorish observer has to say?

Intellectually we must care, because it is critical that Israel carries out this war with the utmost care for minimizing collateral damage, both for our own moral standing and for international legitimacy (whatever remains of it). But emotionally, the skew, the innate hostility against Israel, no matter what it does, is so unfair that it is tempting, even reasonable, to dismiss those propagating such falsehoods and out of hand. 

This is a sad reality, but it is also a dynamic that is playing out more broadly in Israeli society. 

To quote one of my daughter’s favorite books, it often feels like we’ve “never felt so sad before, so sad or so alone”. It often feels like everyone, from Karim Khan and the ICJ to the mainstream media and that (former) friend of mine who isn’t speaking to me anymore, are out to get us. In the aftermath of the worst single-day slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, such isolation is not just perplexing, it’s devastating. And that devastation quickly gives way to defense mechanisms – what? You truly aren’t able to put the war into the proper regional and historical context? You really can’t differentiate between combatants and non-combatants? This is a matter of life or death, and it seems like your short-sightedness is condemning us to death, to more October 7ths. So please excuse us if we don’t feel like listening to you anymore. 

If you are going to say something outrageous, I don’t want to hear it. We don’t want to hear it. Let us mourn in peace. I look forward to going back day when idiotic statements go back to being top of mind. It can’t come too soon. 

About the Author
Originally from the United States, Natan came to Israel in 2010. He served in the IDF, and has worked in a variety of analytical positions, which is his attempt to contribute to the country that he loves. He has an insatiable curiosity, and he enjoys passionate but civil discourse. He is a devoted husband and father, and everything he does is for them. Follow him at @KohnNatan.
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