How often have we seen commentaries concerning the situation in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, made with intensity, even passion, which purport to tell readers the "facts" about Israel? They often narrate falsehoods that might put to shame a string of fraudsters, conmen and conspiracy theorists.
It seems, at times, that there is no limit to anti-Semitic modern fantasies about the Jewish state of Israel that overwhelm the even older libels about Jews controlling world affairs, as in the totally fraudulent forgery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Today, we are given to believe that it is Muslim Palestinian children who are slain by sneering Zionists and that the government of Israel works hand in hand with a global network of Christians and Jewish bankers, politicians, and media bosses.
It is not surprising to see ordinary folk taken in by anti-Semitic meanderings and anti-Israel fiction. A 2015 study by Chicago political scientists, J. Eric Oliver and Thomas J. Wood, provided evidence that belief in conspiracies and other falsehoods is widespread even in the United States:
Using four nationally representative surveys, sampled between 2006 and 2011, we find that half of the American public consistently endorses at least one conspiracy theory and that many popular conspiracy theories are differentiated along ideological and anomic dimensions. In contrast with many theoretical speculations, we do not find conspiracism to be a product of greater authoritarianism, ignorance, or political conservatism. Rather, the likelihood of supporting conspiracy theories is strongly predicted by a willingness to believe in other unseen, intentional forces and an attraction to Manichean narratives. These findings both demonstrate the widespread allure of conspiracy theories as political explanations and offer new perspectives on the forces that shape mass opinion and American political culture.
As shown frequently (for instance, here, here and here), human beings are by nature gullible and willing to take on board all manner of bunkum before breakfast. How else to explain the popularity of arch-conspiracists such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin? Of course, dictators like Hitler and Stalin can enforce their twisted notions by threats and force. In democracies, however, regardless of the open availability of verifiable information from libraries, universities, colleges, and government agencies, large numbers of people fall for any number of fantasies promulgated by internet trolls, the tabloid press, and, not infrequently, politicians with axes to grind.
The multiple-award winning British journalist, Will Storr, has written one of the most thorough investigations of people with controversial or outright bizarre ideas -- believers in past lives, anti-evolution fundamentalists, and all forms of self-delusion. The Heretics (published in the US as The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science) describes a wide range of believers who cannot be convinced by any contrary evidence that their convictions have no foundation in observable fact.
It would be a mistake to assume that everyone who takes unconventional ideas on board must be uneducated or unintelligent. Many highly educated people, including physicians and scientists, take seriously leading forms of alternative medicine and carry out extensive research into them. The US National Institutes for Health has a branch known as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which funds and engages in such research. These are all controversial forms of healthcare, but at least are capable of being scientifically tested.
This willingness to listen to alternative viewpoints while retaining a critical stance serves well in such contexts and is a fundamental part of original scientific and general rational method. All great scientific breakthroughs have been achieved by thinkers willing to challenge the received wisdom of their day -- giants such as Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Darwin, and Freud, to name but a few.
One of the worst examples of a presumably intelligent individual persisting in a much-discredited conviction is the Holocaust-denying historian David Irving, whose reputation underwent severe humiliation during a high-profile libel trial in 2000. Cambridge historian Richard Evans, as the chief expert witness in the trial, tore apart Irving's claims to be a credible historian at all. It is possibly worth adding that Irving had no formal training in history; his two failed attempts to gain a university degree were in physics and political economy.
After such a public disparagement, most people would shrink into embarrassed oblivion. Yet Irving, now 80, continues his Holocaust denial, his anti-Semitism, and his general defiance of official historiography. He writes books, manages a constantly updated website in which he supports the Maduro regime in Venezuela, and links to a series of private meetings he holds. He has many followers in Europe and the United States. His impact may not be great, but in an era of rising anti-Semitism, his persistence in whitewashing Nazism sits well.
It is not surprising that Professor Deborah Lipstadt, the author whom Irving tried unsuccessfully to ruin in that trial, writes in her latest book, Antisemitism Here and Now (London, 2019), about the power of conspiracy theories:
Conspiracy theories give events that may seem inexplicable to some people an intentional explanation. If we were to provide these conspiracy theorists with evidence that the landing was indeed on the moon, they will a priori dismiss what we say and assume we are part of the conspiracy. To try to defeat an irrational supposition – especially when it is firmly held by its proponents – with a rational explanation is virtually impossible. Any information that does not correspond with the conspiracy theorists' preferred social, political, or ethnic narrative is ipso facto false. Social scientists have described such theories as having a "self-sealing quality" that makes them "particularly immune to challenge." (pp. 7-8)
Holocaust denial is, thankfully, an obsession for only a tiny number of bitter die-hards. Lipstadt, however, is writing about something beyond that. Anti-Semitism, in its various forms, is the longest-lasting conspiracy theory across much of the globe. It consists of an assumption of innate Jewish wickedness and has led to millions of deaths, expulsions, and wars, not least in the progressive 20th and 21st centuries when we were all supposed to have become rationalists.
Within the broad range of anti-Semitism, there is one controversial subject in which innumerable educated and intelligent people abandon any willingness to listen to the other side, to investigate the full facts, or to reach conclusions wherever those facts lead them: the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
The link between traditional anti-Semitism, irrational thinking, and hatred of Israel has been summed up in an article by Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
"Anti-Israelism is the modern face of anti-Semitism and just as toxic. Anti-Israelism is a modern-day religion in that it demands unquestioning adherence to a dogmatic doctrine and rejects non-believers as morally inferior."
The anti-Israel dogmatists of whom I speak are not the denizens of the Arab, Iranian, and wider Muslim world, where hatred of Israel and support of the Palestinians is enforced by governments and clerics. They may possibly be excused because they lack the freedom to learn or speak freely about the issue or even board a plane for Israel to see reality on the ground.
The lies about the State of Israel are increasingly amplified in the West through the "mainstream media", such as:
- The New York Times: In April, the New York Times published what Amb. Dani Dayan called "the correction of the year" after the Gray Lady wrote that Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists and their families are a "far-right conspiracy theory." – CAMERA.org, January 2, 2019.
- The New Yorker: "Raja Shehadeh's 'Letter from Ramallah' is filled with misrepresentations that don't belong in a respected publication like The New Yorker – even in an opinion piece." – CAMERA.org. January 7, 2018.
- The New York Times: "NYT Issues Correction after Labeling Palestinian Support for Terrorists Fake News" – National Review, Jack Crowe, April 24, 2018.
- The Guardian: "The Guardian Delegitimizes Israel in Lying Editorial: The Guardian crosses the line with an editorial replete with lies, distortions and delegitimization of Israel." – Honest Reporting January 23, 2019.
- BBC: "Another Gaza maritime smuggling story ignored by the BBC" – BBC Watch, June 11, 2019.
- CNN: "CNN Sanitizes Mahmoud Abbas' Speech, Expunges Antisemitic Statements" – CAMERA.org. January 17, 2018.
- MSNBC: "MSNBC's Chris Hayes Presents Hamas Propaganda as Fact" – CAMERA.org. April 8, 2018.
Churches join in:
- "Uncovered: United Church of Christ charged with faking anti-Israel boycott" – JNS, January 6, 2019.
- "Episcopal bishop sorry for making up Israeli atrocities" – The Times of Israel, August 22, 2018.
- "EAPPI: The World Council of Churches' Training Camp for Anti-Israel Advocacy" - NGO Monitor, January 14, 2019.
And, of course, the United Nations, as well as so-called human rights organizations where pretty well anything goes:
"Although AI claims that it does not "accept any funds for human rights research from governments or political parties," it has received governmental funding, including from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the European Commission, the Netherlands, the United States, and Norway....
Disproportionately singles out Israel for condemnation, focusing solely on the conflict with the Palestinians, misrepresenting the complexity of the conflict, and ignoring more severe human rights violations in the region" --
Human Rights Watch (HRW):
- Systematic NGO Monitor analyses demonstrate that HRW disproportionately focuses on condemnations of Israel and that publications related to Israel often lack credibility. HRW also promotes an agenda based solely on the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli aggression.
- "Uses distorted legal rhetoric to repeatedly accuses Israel of 'war crimes,' '[s]erious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,' 'collective punishment,' and fostering a 'culture of impunity.' Applies unique standards to Israel as part of its broader delegitimization campaign.
- "Promotes a Palestinian 'right of return,' which, if implemented, would effectually mean the elimination of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people."
Ironically, many of the media involved, notably sections of the print and online press, are among the most articulate of our sources and are read by the best-educated sections of society. If one can leave aside for a moment their political bias in general, there is no doubt that newspapers such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Independent, The Guardian and others stand apart from the tabloid press in how they report on and debate about a range of serious topics. That they are all left-wing does not usually detract from the quality of what they write. But they are by far the most inaccurate and bigoted when it comes to reporting and debate about Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Authority.
To read most of their reports and articles on these topics, one might well believe that Israel is the most hideous and cruel state on earth -- a position held widely in the United Nations and its agencies, which are not left-wing or socialist, but which contain a majority of Arab-bloc members and their supporters.
This bias is well monitored by a number of websites that work to identify their inaccuracies and deliberate distortions about Israel, the IDF, or Palestinian terrorism. CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), Honest Reporting, Honest Reporting Canada, UK Media Watch, and BBC Watch all dissect bad reportage, and contact editors to request corrections.
One form of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic speech that is often overlooked can be found in the comments sections that follow many articles, regardless of whether or not the piece itself has those qualities. Even a mild pro-Israel comment can unleash a storm of untruths, distortions of fact and rawness of language.
Two comments were recently in The Independent. On February 1, 2019, Independent staff and agencies published a reasonably accurate report entitled, "US cuts all aid to Palestinians in occupied West Bank and Gaza". The report begins: "The US has ended all financial aid for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, government officials have said."
This might well be interpreted by readers to mean that both the West Bank and Gaza are currently occupied by Israel; so this author posted the following comment:
"When will it sink in that Gaza has not been occupied since 2005, when all Israeli military and civilians finally pulled out? And when will people on the left wake up to the fact that millions from aid money to the PA are given to support terrorist murderers in Israeli jails and the families of 'martyrs' who have died while attacking innocent civilians, with payments increasing in proportion to however many an individual terrorist has killed. You don't have to be a Tory (I am not) to see how support for terrorism undermines genuine left-wing values."
It was not long before Deanna 12 left the following response:
"Quite a disgraceful, uneducated and foolish comment. Has not been occupied since 2005? What nonsense. Do you live on this Planet? The PA is democratically elected organization. As far as murdering innocent civilans (sic) go, your comments are laughable. It isn't (sic) the PA shooting inncocent (sic) medics and diabled (sic) protestors on border fences - with explosive dumdum bullets. It isn't (sic) the PA running an apartheid (sic) system. And it isn't (sic) the PA shooting inncocent (sic) children for fun. Its (sic) well documented. "Children have been shot in other countries I have covered - death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria - but I have never before watched Israeli soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport like in Gaza". Chris Hedges - 2002 Pultizer (sic) Prize Winner."
There is much one could reply to this claim; however Deanna 12's infatuation with a series of fantasies regarding Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas clearly seem so deeply ingrained that no amount of substantiation is likely to induce her to find any facts -- including about Chris Hedges -- for herself.
Dr. Denis MacEoin taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at a British university and for a time Arabic to English translation at a university in Fez, Morocco. Resident in the UK, he is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.