David Matlow
David Matlow
Owner of the world's largest Herzl collection
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When it comes to Israel, the world has an anxiety disorder

The diagnosis fits: Overgeneralization? Check. Disqualifying the positive? That too, along with all-or-none thinking and emotional reasoning

I confess I love Israel. I am also realistic about it.

I am amazed by the miracle of Israel’s creation: a people returning to its ancestral homeland after being expelled from it two thousand years prior is unprecedented in world history. I marvel at its ability to survive and thrive against all odds, and I am proud of its accomplishments and contributions to the world. I have been there more than 50 times and until the pandemic interrupted international travel, I visited a few times a year.

Israel is not perfect. No country, even one as great as Canada where I live, is perfect. We all understand and accept that countries and societies are messy, complicated and regularly make mistakes. Given that, I have long been perplexed by the vitriolic hatred of Israel, which is out of proportion to its imperfections and far exceeds the world’s attention to other conflict areas, while ignoring those parts of Israel (and there are many) that are good.

I may have found the answer to that question in my own home.

My wife, Leanne, is a cognitive behavioural therapy counsellor who specializes in anxiety disorders. I have been working at home for 16 months as has Leanne so I have spent many hours hearing from a different room her end of countless zoom therapy sessions with her clients and their parents. From hearing Leanne describe the symptoms of anxiety that cause so many children to suffer so much, my question about Israel has been answered.

When it comes to Israel, the world has an anxiety disorder.

(I reached a similar conclusion in a piece I wrote for the print edition of the Canadian Jewish News ten years ago. The world’s disorder has not been treated in the last decade, so it is now much worse.)

Let’s consider what I have learned are the symptoms of an anxiety disorder and you will see what I mean.

Overgeneralization is seeing a single negative event as representing an overall pattern. Certain things that Israel does that are unpopular (for instance, construction of settlements and security checkpoints) are viewed as the totality of Israel’s relationship with its minority populations ignoring other positive elements such as the ability for all Israelis to vote resulting in Arab representatives being elected to Israel’s Knesset (and being a critical piece of the new governing coalition), access to health care for all and increased opportunities for education. The reasons for Israel’s actions are ignored (including protecting itself from terrorist attacks) and only the response is considered with the character of the country generalized from that.

Mental Filter which is picking out a single negative detail and dwelling on it exclusively so that the entire picture becomes darkened. Israel’s research and development projects have created innovations that have helped the world (including cancer curing drugs like Gleevec and much of the technology that supports the internet, autonomous vehicles and cyber security). Israel is one of the world’s first responders to major disasters, Israeli doctors regularly treat the citizens of Gaza and an Israeli company is installing solar fields in African countries. These positive contributions are ignored by the fixation only on negative details.

Disqualifying the Positive is rejecting positive experiences, insisting that for some reason they do not count. Israel’s positive contributions (such as facilitating the rescue of 400 members of the White Helmets search and rescue team from Syria) are disqualified, with Israel being seen only through the negative mental filter.

Jumping to Conclusions, making a negative interpretation even though there are no definitive facts that support the conclusion. This is an often repeated pattern where the world’s immediate reaction is that Israel is wrong, regardless of the facts then known or that later emerge.

Magnification or Minimization which is exaggerating the importance of certain facts or inappropriately shrinking the importance of facts until they appear irrelevant. For instance, the more than four thousand missiles launched from Gaza in the most recent conflict are viewed as insignificant (in part because of the great lengths in life saving defence technology such as the Iron Dome and investment in shelters and safe rooms). The threat by Iran to wipe Israel off the map is viewed as bluster. Hamas’ stated objective in its charter to destroy Israel is described as just words. The fact that Hamas is an internationally recognized terrorist organization is ignored. The importance of these critical facts is minimized by the world. On the other hand, a court process in a legal dispute to evict a number of Arab families from a Jerusalem neighbourhood from which Jewish residents were evicted in 1948 (regardless of what anyone thinks of the merits of the dispute) is viewed as a threat to peace in the area for which the launching of rockets at civilians is considered an appropriate response.

All-or-None Thinking means seeing things in black and white categories. Israel is seen as being all bad. There are regularly more United Nations resolutions critical of Israel than are critical of all other countries in the world combined. Israel cannot possibly be a worse country than, for example, Syria, Myanmar, North Korea, Iran and China put together. Conversely, Hamas is not seen as bad at all. Does anyone stop to wonder why, if there is an unfortunate military conflict with Israel every five or ten years, why there are no shelters in the homes for the people of Gaza and why instead the concrete is used for underground tunnels for military uses? Why does the world insist on a higher standard of care for the people of Gaza from Israel, than from their own leadership?

Emotional Reasoning which is assuming that negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are. People may have all kinds of reasons not to like Israel, but many confuse their own feelings with what is really happening. Just because you don’t like something about Israel or have an issue with Jews (and in particular with Jews having their own homeland) does not mean Israel does not have a right to exist, and that everything about it is wrong. I may not like the New York Yankees, but I can still appreciate their history and acknowledge they are a good team, and would never suggest they don’t have the right to play Major League Baseball.

As I indicated at the outset, I acknowledge that Israel is not perfect. The Palestinians have their own narrative and history, and surely have valid complaints and criticisms, that must be understood and respected. Israel also must be understood and respected. Although it is viewed as the Goliath to the Palestinian’s David, it is the David to the threat of the Iranian Goliath. It is a small sliver of a country surrounded by enemies (thankfully a few fewer enemies than one year ago). It has an adversary in Hamas that does not care for the sanctity of life, is not interested in any solution that sees a continuing Jewish presence in the area and holds its own people hostage. There is a real dispute that the parties themselves must work out but if one side, Hamas, is not interested in working things out, what is Israel supposed to do?

The resolution of the Middle East conflict is not helped by the world’s cognitive distortions that result in Israel feeling that it is unfairly condemned, isolated and demonized all the time. The focus solely on Israel’s actions and not on its adversaries emboldens them and makes them less likely to seek a resolution, which is contrary to the desires of all people of good will regardless of what side of the dispute they stand on. The first step in finding a solution is to recognize there is a problem. Those who passionately hate Israel may wish to consider their own thought patterns to see if they recognize themselves in any of those canvassed above. When we all can see things for how they really are, the prospect for peace in the Middle East will be improved significantly. That may be a delusional thought, but it is not an anxious one.

About the Author
David Matlow is a partner at Goodmans LLP in Toronto. He owns the world's largest collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia and his Herzl Project is designed to inform people about Herzl's work to inspire them to work to complete Herzl's dream. David's weekly column Treasure Trove can be found at https://thecjn.ca/treasure-trove/
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