It all depends on whose ox is gored

Deceptively simple and obvious, whose-ox-is-gored is a helpful filter through which to view world politics.

October 9, 2018 20:38
3 minute read.
A child walks in front of a mural painting depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on he

A child walks in front of a mural painting depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on her way to a school run by United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in Balata refugee camp, east of Nablus on August 29, 2018. (photo credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)


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Some call it hypocrisy. Others, less judgmentally, call it a failure of empathy later remedied by experience.

I call it the whose-ox-is-gored phenomenon. A given event, policy or idea will be seen differently depending on the degree to which the viewer’s self-interest is involved.

Deceptively simple and obvious, whose-ox-is-gored is a helpful filter through which to view world politics. We need only to scan the news to discover fresh examples of the way meaning is altered and priorities re-balanced depending on who is in the cross-hairs.

Take France’s changing policy toward Iran, for example. France was a leader in the movement to circumvent sanctions against Iran, despite Iran’s role as the premier exporter of international terrorism. Then Paris learned of Tehran’s plans to stage an attack on French soil. Iran’s intelligence ministry was behind a June plot to attack an exiled opposition group’s rally outside Paris.

When the French found themselves – and not just other countries – in the cross-hairs, their attitude toward Iran changed. Last week France seized Iranian assets and arrested two Iranian nationals. Diplomatic relations between the two countries are now chilled and strained. Yet nothing about Iran has changed – except its target. And that meant everything.

It all depends on whose ox is gored.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) is another example. Unique in the history of refugee agencies, UNRWA is dedicated not to refugee resettlement, but to maintaining Palestinian economic dependency and refugee status for generations. The agency has long been unabashedly hostile to Israel and complicit in creating Gaza’s culture of violence. It did not object during months of Hamas-organized arson and escalating violence against Israel. On the contrary, this UN agency supports violence. UNRWA schools teach anti-Israel curricula. In the summer, the schools are used for paramilitary training summer camps where Palestinian children are taught such skills as making Molotov cocktails and other explosive devices.

The schools have successfully inspired a population with rage and demonization, and count terrorist leaders among their graduates. The agency further helped foster Gaza’s violent culture by permitting sniper attacks from UNRWA-run schools, bomb and arms factories in UNRWA camps and the use of UNRWA ambulances to transport terrorists to their target zones. Their employees have even been directly tied to terrorist attacks against civilians.

This agency is intimately involved with Hamas; it is contemptuous of Israel.

But the violent culture that UNRWA helped create turned against it. When the UN agency’s own international employees found themselves in the cross-hairs, threatened with violence from their disgruntled laid-off local staff, Hamas offered no help. On the contrary, Hamas aligned with the threatening mob. So UNRWA appealed to Israel.

When the UNRWA ox was gored, Israel no longer looked like the enemy. UNRWA called on Israel, which came to its rescue.

MIDDLE EASTERN politics is particularly confusing, with complexities and contradictions that baffle outsiders. Gulf states like Qatar are both part of the fight against terrorism (last year the US agreed to sell it $12 billion worth of F-15 jets), and financiers of terrorism. Qatar funds the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Afghan Taliban and the al-Qaeda offshoot Al Nusra in Syria. These apparent contradictions serve the tiny but extremely wealthy Qatar to project power internationally. Whether one approves or disapproves of their strategy depends on whose ox is being gored.

The actions of France, UNRWA and Qatar represent very different kinds of situations, but all reflect the compelling power of the viewer’s self-interest in the perception of events.

Back in 2014, a terrorist attacked the Jewish Museum of Brussels. Four people were shot to death by an Islamist terrorist, a man born in France, who returned to Europe after fighting in Syria. Despite evidence to the contrary, Belgian authorities concluded that the terrorist was a lone wolf. He was not. The killer was part of a network of similar Islamist European terrorists led by a man named Abaaoud – whose victims the following year were 130 people in Paris.

After the deadly Paris attack, a Belgian authority is reported to have said, “It’s no longer just synagogues or the Jewish Museum; it’s mass gatherings and public places.”

Wait… aren’t museums and houses of worship public gathering places?

The comment was European code for “Let’s wake up and take it seriously, now that it’s not just Jews who are in danger, but the rest of us, too.”

It all depends on whose ox is gored.

Renee Garfinkel is a Jerusalem-based psychologist and writer for the Washington Times, and other publications.

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