The power of propaganda and misinformation

The technique, which propagandists use to persuade us to focus disproportionately on the Israel-Palestine conflict, diverts our attention from the many grievous tragedies that are more deserving of our serious and immediate attention

Israel boycott 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel boycott 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In their book Sleight of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions, neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde describe how magicians use the way our nervous systems are wired to create seemingly impossible illusions.
One of the main tools used by magicians is directing the audience to look away from the location where the trick actually occurs. They write, “Paying attention to one thing means the brain must shut out other information.”
This technique, which propagandists use to persuade us to focus disproportionately on the Israel-Palestine conflict, diverts our attention from the many grievous tragedies that are more deserving of our serious and immediate attention.
While in some cases this is done deliberately, the sheer overwhelming persuasive power of the oil-funded propaganda of organizations like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has succeeded in recruiting many well-meaning but misinformed supporters to engage in this disproportionate attention.
Let’s look at the facts: The grim results of wars
The war in Syria has caused the death of some 120,000 people, and turned some 2 million into refugees who are suffering terribly in temporary camps in the harshest of weather.
The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has claimed an estimated 3 million lives, and the United Nations has described Sudan’s western Darfur region as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with about 1.4 million people in displacement camps.
Persecution of Christians in the Middle East
In recent years Christians have become the unfortunate targets of religiously motivated violence. This month the Vatican said it regarded as credible reports that 100,000 Christians are killed every year because of their religion.
In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood engaged in a terror campaign against Egypt’s Christian minority, attacking Christian homes, shops, schools and churches in the worst violence against the Coptic Church since the 14th century. In the Egyptian city of Dalga, Christians live in terror. Churches have been attacked, a monastery burned and jizya, the special tax on non-Muslims, has been imposed on the 15,000 Coptic Christians who remain in Dalga.
Not only Christians but all non-Muslims are threatened by radical Islamic rule. Freemasons, Rotary clubs, Lions and similar organizations should also beware, as the Hamas charter promises to obliterate these organizations.
The reactions of two Christian bodies
Two religious bodies in Britain seem to regard the above enormities as being of minor concern. They appear to be so completely preoccupied complying with the exhortations of the biased BDS propaganda machine that one must question how they respond to the desperate calls for attention by millions of pathetic war victims and their own persecuted Christian colleagues.
It is difficult to understand how they can virtually ignore these millions of desperate victims and instead spend enormous amounts of time, energy and money attacking Israel although, as reported in a 60 Minutes documentary, that is the one place in the Middle East where Christians are not suffering from violence. To paraphrase Macknik and Martinez-Conde, paying attention to this populist Israeli thing means the brain must shut out concerns about millions of real sufferers.
The Methodist Church of Great Britain focuses its humanitarian actions against Israel by actively supporting BDS. It recently launched a public consultation with a questionnaire about this subject. To those well-intentioned Methodists who naively believe that by supporting BDS they are promoting a peaceful two-state resolution to the conflict, it will come as a surprise to learn that BDS categorically opposes it and that in common with Hamas, its aim is “euthanasia” for Israel, as expressed by BDS co-founder and leader Omar Barghouti. Moreover, when asked whether BDS would end if the “occupation” was brought to an end, Mr. Barghouti replied with an emphatic “no.”
And the St. James’s Church in Piccadilly, London, is hosting a hugely expensive “Bethlehem Unwrapped” festival focusing on Israel’s security wall, with no mention of its purpose and its effectiveness in having substantially reduced terrorist attacks, saving hundreds of lives. While a portion of the wall is close to Bethlehem, the church’s claim that it “surrounds” Bethlehem is not even approximately true.
During this elaborate, expensive event, images will be projected onto a giant replica of the wall which will be lit up at night for 12 days, and anti-Israel speakers will demonize Israel.
The saddest and most misleading aspect of this extravaganza is the failure of the church to use the occasion to muster relief for their own persecuted brethren in Bethlehem who are crying for support. Their plight is described in the following extracts from a MailOnline article titled “O, Muslim town of Bethlehem,” which describes the situation very differently than painted by the St. James Festival.
Referring to the wall that is the focus of the St. James festival, the article reports that it is designed to stop suicide bombers, adding that in 2004 fully half the Israeli fatalities from such attacks were attributable to extremists from Bethlehem.
The Christian population of Bethlehem has dwindled from over 85 percent in 1948 to 12% of its 60,000 inhabitants in 2006. There are reports of religious persecution in the form of murders, beatings and land grabs. A Bethlehem Christian, Joseph Canawati, says: “There is no hope for the future of the Christian community.”
Life for Palestinian Christians has become increasingly difficult in Bethlehem. The fear of attack has prompted many Christian families to emigrate, including Canawati’s sister, her husband and their three children, who now live in America.
“I want to leave but nobody will buy my business,” Canawati says. “I feel trapped. We are isolated.”
Jeriez Moussa Amaro has firsthand experience of the appalling violence Christians face.
His two sisters, Rada, 24, and Dunya, 18, were shot dead by Muslim gunmen in their own home. Their crime was to be young, attractive Christian women who wore Western clothes and no veil. Samir Qumsieh, general manager of Al-Mahed (The Nativity), the only Christian television station in Bethlehem, has received death threats and visits from armed men demanding three acres of his land – and he is now ready to leave. “As Christians, we have no future here,” he says.
How sad that these two churches have been persuaded by powerful propaganda to direct their strenuous efforts toward populist attacks on Israel, instead of an energetic international campaign to relieve the plight of the many desperate war victims and persecuted Christians.
The writer is a founder member of the international Coalition of HasbaraVolunteers, better known by its acronym CoHaV and  is a retired engineer andindustrialist who comments on the Mideast conflict at