The science of anti-Semitism

Why do so many people, from presidents to terrorists, see the Palestinians as underdogs?

By MICHAEL PRELL
November 28, 2011 16:08
4 minute read.
Turkish protesters burn a Star of David during a d

TurkishDemonstrationBurningStarOfDavid311. (photo credit: .)

 
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On September 9, 2002, a mob of young, multicultural, North American university students waved Palestinian flags, spat on Jews, smashed glass and hurled anti-Semitic slurs in an effort to stop a speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Why?

In my journey to answer that question, I traveled all the way to Binyamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem home, where I had the honor of working shoulder-to-shoulder with him as a writer on his victorious 2009 campaign to become Israel’s ninth prime minister.

Why would Western university students riot against Israel, spitting on Jews to declare their solidarity with the Palestinians?

For that matter, what is it about the Palestinian cause that has the power to unite vastly different non-Palestinians around the world — including former US president Jimmy Carter, the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, scores of American columnists and news editors, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gay and lesbian activists, women’s groups, acclaimed linguist Noam Chomsky, the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the United Nations — to make Israel the most protested nation in the world after America?

Researchers at the University of South Florida set out to answer that question. In their research, they gave two groups of test subjects an identical, one-page essay that described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — equally and fairly — from both sides’ perspectives. Then one group was given a map that showed Israel as geographically small, and the other group got a map that showed Israel as large.

Same Israel, same facts. The lone variable was the size of the map.

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The results were astounding. The group with the small Israel map felt Israel was the underdog and those with a big Israel map felt Palestinians were the underdogs, each group siding with their respective underdog.

What does this tell us?

It tells us these test subjects based their decisions on something other than facts. In each case, the facts were identical, with each group receiving the same one-page essay. The results, however, were far from identical. When Israel was perceived as small, test subjects saw an “underdog” and supported Israel. When Israel was perceived as big, test subjects saw an “overdog” and chose the side of the Palestinians.

Another study performed by USF, this time regarding terrorism, provided further explanation.

Test subjects were given a fictitious account of two countries involved in a long-standing conflict. The story described a bomb detonated at a parade that killed seventeen people — with one variable: The bomb was either set by a larger, more powerful group (overdog) or a smaller, less powerful group (underdog). Did test subjects react differently to the same bombing, with the same number of victims, depending on the relative power held by the bombers?

Yes.

The study found that “participants sided with the less powerful group, giving it more sympathy and support, and seeing it as an underdog. In addition, the same violent bombing was seen as more justifiable, legitimate, moral, and necessary when committed by the weaker group.”

When test subjects were told that the high-power group had planted the bomb, they turned against the high-power group — and even went beyond the parameters of the study to question whether “it was right and legitimate for some groups to be more powerful than others.”

What is going on here?

Presented with identical facts, people chose opposing sides, in dramatically different ways, based on which side was the perceived underdog and which is the perceived overdog.

This “Axis of Power” — between the power haves and the power have-nots, underdogs and overdogs — is the tipping point for many of the issues that shape our world today, including how millions of people around the world choose in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


I like to call this belief system Underdogma, which is the widespread and reflexive belief that, in any given issue, whichever side has less power is automatically considered righteous, simply because they have less power, and whichever side has more power is automatically considered wrong, simply because they have more power.

Jews have traditionally been the underdogs of history — enslaved, rounded up and killed by some of the world’s most powerful tyrants and empires. But times have changed. Today, Jews have a powerful homeland in Israel, advanced weaponry and a fearsome army. In the eyes of those who practice Underdogma, the Jews have committed an unforgivable sin. In their eyes, history’s persecuted underdogs have become powerful overdogs. In the words of Israel’s late foreign minister Abba Eban, “When I was first here, we had the advantages of the underdog. Now we have the disadvantages of the overdog.”

The writer has been a strategist for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and has written for more than 300 leaders on four continents, as well as Fox News, CNN and The Washington Times. His new book is Underdogma: How America’s Enemies Use Our Love for the Underdog to Trash American Power. To read more about his new book, visit www.under-dogma.com.

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