When it comes to Israel, no news is good news - opinion

The public is on edge on the cusp of a new government. Nationalism and patriotism are a straitjacket for political debate underpinned by misinformation and confirmation bias.

 When and How the Arabs and Muslims Immigrated to the Land of Israel (photo credit: Rivka Shpak Lissak)
When and How the Arabs and Muslims Immigrated to the Land of Israel
(photo credit: Rivka Shpak Lissak)

We made aliyah a decade ago. I am still asked, “What’s different from the United States?”

For one thing, the news is different. Rarely does US media report stories from Israel and they are just not of interest. US business news is all about oil and Israel has none. Israel’s election creating the potential for a coalition government including ultra-nationalists is news. The two-state solution is a heady topic.

Terrorist acts are not viewed as antisemitism and are given short shrift. Antisemitism in the US is largely absent from news reports because anti-Israel/Zionism is a legitimate political position. Jewish organization leaders made it so. They spin hate speech, attacks on Jews and anti-Israel/Zionist demonstrations into a single tenacious web. For example, one spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post that US campus anti-Israel/Zionist incidents “may be characterized as antisemitic” (October 14, 2022).

Jews think the world is aflame because they get Israeli news from local Jewish (Shabbos) newspapers, magazines, podcasts and websites. Broadcasters interview people with opinions as if they were newsmakers. Newspapers offer analysis as news. Social media tells a story in 15 seconds. Frankly, no news is good news when it comes to Israel.

 Bookshelf (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Bookshelf (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Failure to Read

Reading is an alternative in order to have a well-rounded opinion on a matter, in order to grasp the changing world social order. But reading data is woeful. The vacuum created leaves an opportunity for building the ominous trend of accepting misinformation as fact. Confirmation bias then ensures wrong is right and opens the door to extremism.

There are people who want to ignore or justify slavery and honor the Confederacy, wave a Nazi flag and unashamedly spew Jew hatred on national television interviews. In a recent instance, the interviewer did not correct the hate speech from a celebrity or stop the interview because the influencer supported the interviewer’s political candidate.

During the pandemic, American adults read a book a year. That was an increase of 2% from pre-pandemic times. Mira Rackicevic curated the facts: Nearly 15% of the US population, over 43 million adults, possess low literacy skills. The US is number 28 in literacy per the World Factbook. Young adults read without a screen for 10 minutes or less per day. One out of every five children in the UK can’t read at a satisfactory level by age 11.

Rackicevic suggests the data shows additional minutes of reading per day can significantly improve kids’ reading performance. Children who read at least 20 minutes a day are exposed to almost 2 million words per year. Reading could help reduce mental decline in old age by up to 32%.

Reading fiction can make you a better decision-maker. Reading increases emotional intelligence, and consequently, your career outlook. This is a good place to start. The Oracle of Wall Street, Warren Buffett, attributes success in business decision-making and investments to reading prodigiously.

Misinformation and confirmation bias have real-life implications. They widen differences between normally good people. People adopt more extreme positions to get their point across. Here is an example of how a meticulously researched book can enhance debate and shape opinions on whether one agrees with the author’s conclusions or not.

Case Example

Rivka Shpak Lissak published a book about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, When and How the Arabs and Muslims Immigrated to the Land of Israel (Gefen Publishers, 2021). Everyone with an opinion on a two-state solution ought to read this book. Lissak adds to the knowledge base, offering a fact-based perspective.

One caveat is the book reads like a doctoral dissertation. It is heavily ladened with over 350 pages with citations from other authors about the social, anthropological and political history of Israel. The second note of caution is that Lissak has points to prove.

The book is an academic refutation of the Palestinian Authority’s position to “negate the existence of a Jewish past in the Land of Israel. Its goal is to rewrite history and spread this rewritten history to the whole world. It wishes to prove that there is no Jewish nation, Judaism is only a religion, the Arabs (whom they call Palestinians) are the ancient peoples of Israel and that Jews have no right to the country.”

There are Jewish authors who support the Palestinian narrative. Lissak recognizes and pays them some attention in two paragraphs in the preface, giving readers the option of pursuing oppositional positions on their own. That’s classy.

Lissak wants to be clear that the Palestinian people are not the oldest inhabitants. She argues the Arabs trickled into Israel over centuries. Arabs only came in waves “from the last decade of the nineteenth century up to 1914 seeking work due to the economic development of the land by the Zionist movement and the Christian organizations.” Lissak argues “The Jews were the majority ethnic group in (Jerusalem) for over a thousand years, from the tenth century BCE until 70 CE.”

“The Jews were the majority ethnic group in (Jerusalem) for over a thousand years, from the tenth century BCE until 70 CE.”

Rivka Shpak Lissak

Palestinian claims of historical rights are fatuous. Jews were nationalists from Biblical times. Jews prayed as displaced persons for 2,000 years for a return to their national homeland. Zionism is replaced nationalism with patriotism. Jews became willing to sacrifice their child soldiers for the good of the state.

The book is particularly relevant as Israel’s elected leaders undertake the task of forming a government. Jews argue Palestinians are not a people, they are Arabs and Arab states like Jordan exist for them. Lissak describes how Muslim Arab nationalism rose during Crusader and Ottoman rule. She ignores the formation of a Palestinian identity under the British morphing into nationalism under Israel’s rule. Since 1967, Palestinian nationalism has transformed into patriotism. They are fighting for their homeland. Palestinians demonstrate their patriotism and are willing to sacrifice their children for a state.

It’s a Civil War

When and how the Arabs and Muslims immigrated to Israel is an excellent effort at confirming one’s biases that Jews deserve a state. But for me, Lissak makes clear the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a civil war. The existence of one or two states and the boundaries of those states need to be settled diplomatically or both Jews and Muslims will continue sacrificing their children. This is a war between two peoples.

So far, the Israelis are winning by making the Palestinians bleed more than the Jews. But Jews seem to be tiring: almost 14% of the population lives overseas and fewer young Jews are entering the army combat units. Others are hoping politicians spouting extremist views will heavily influence the new government and drive out the Palestinians. The public is on edge on the cusp of a new government. Nationalism and patriotism are a straitjacket for political debate underpinned by misinformation and confirmation bias.

The author is a business consultant and writer. He worked for US governors and was a research and teaching fellow at Harvard.