Harold Behr

Student protesters – Idealists fallen among hatemongers

A lifetime of working with troubled young people has brought home to me the stark message that youth is the age of extremism. Not that older folk are exempt from the extremist mindset, but it is particularly wonderful, as a young person, to be able to glory in the satisfaction that the world can be neatly divided into ‘good’ and ‘evil’, or, to personify those abstractions, into those who carry the torch of righteousness and those who perpetrate wickedness in all its forms. Idealisation and demonisation provide ready answers to the world’s problems and the thrill of being surrounded by seemingly like-minded people can be intoxicating.

Just how the attributes of goodness and badness are allocated depends on how the young person has been raised. Parents, teachers, politicians, religious leaders, entertainers and peers all play their part in shaping malleable young minds. Emotional experiences, both rewarding and hurtful, contribute to the way in which groups are perceived. Their leaders are regarded either as admirable, to be followed and acclaimed, or as reprehensible, to be condemned and punished.

Complexity irritates the young mind, unless it lends itself to the challenge of finding a neat, mathematical solution. Nuance is thrown out of the window in favour of simplistic formulae which can be sounded in ringing tones to resonate with heartfelt convictions and be brandished as slogans.

All very innocent, you may say. The polarised way of thinking represents a natural phase of development on the road to a more mature understanding. But for many older people, hardened and embittered in the crucible of life, the extremist position provides them with stepping stones to power. Their very appeal to younger people furnishes them with support for their campaigns against those whom they have identified as their enemies.

Which brings me to the wave antisemitism now engulfing university campuses, in which hatred of Jews coalesces with calls for the replacement of Israel by an Islamic state called Palestine, without any thought being given as to what this ‘solution’ would entail for the millions of Jewish citizens who make up the life-blood of Israel. The fact that this ignorant, simplistic and fundamentally deluded solution has taken root in institutions of higher education proves, if indeed such proof were needed, that scholarship provides no protection against extremist thinking.

One of the sorriest aspects of this spectacle is the number of Jews who have been lured into joining the protests and rallies, where their participation is triumphantly welcomed as evidence that calls for the destruction of Israel are not truly about hatred of Jews but about the righting of a wrong done to the Palestinian people by an alien group, the Zionists, with no rights of possession to the land.

No matter that this extremist position flies in the face of reality or that it carries with it a murderous implication on a horrendous scale. The idealistic wing of the pro-Palestinian protest movement has joined, arm in arm, with supporters of Hamas and ideologues of the far left who have converged on Israel and spread over it a blanket of vilification, hoping to suffocate it.

Israeli idealists have suffered a cruel blow to their beliefs. The tragedy now being enacted in the streets of Gaza and on a lesser scale throughout Israel has become a battle by the IDF to eliminate Hamas, a death cult, whose openly proclaimed goal is the murder of all Jews everywhere. Israeli pragmatists are having to pick up the pieces of a shattered Jewish nation, a democracy painstakingly designed by their idealistic counterparts.

Student protesters, especially Jewish ones, have not yet learnt that lesson. From their bastions of higher learning in ‘safe’ Western democracies, they sally forth, armed with Palestinian flags and anti-Israel slogans. In so doing they give credence to more sinister elements exulting in this unexpectedly rich outpouring of Jew-hatred.

About the Author
I was born in South Africa in 1940 and emigrated to the U.K. in 1970 after qualifying in medicine. I held a post as Consultant Psychiatrist in London until my retirement in 2013. I am the author of two books: one on group analytic psychotherapy, one on the psychology of the French Revolution. I have written many articles on group psychology published in peer-reviewed journals. From 1979 to 1985 I was editor of the journal ‘Group Analysis’; I have contributed short pieces to psychology newsletters over the years.
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