Contain Multitudes

Integrity without empathy leads to (Dog)matism. Empathy without integrity leads to chameleonism. Don’t be a dog. Don’t be a chameleon. Be human. Stay human. #ContainMultitudes.

Online Occupation

Is social media the space where complexity about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes to die? My latest on the ways in which we can maintain complexity in our beleaguered and polarized online universe (with a little help from Whitman, Russell, Orwell and Franklin).

It’s a paradox of sorts that over time, as protracted conflicts become objectively more complex – as more actors and issues become involved – they are experienced in an ever-simplified manner. Identities are polarized between righteous victims (us) and evil perpetrators (them). Conflict narratives become less tolerant of nuance and contradiction. And social networks increasingly become ideologically homogenous.

Compounding the situation, in the past few years, most of the major social media websites have begun using filtering engines that personalize the data we’re exposed to. In effect, they create a tailor-made virtual reality. This process is exacerbated by a pycho-social process whereby many social media users self-select an ideologically homogenous community of friends — a process in social network theory known as homophily.

Both processes mean that people are less likely to be exposed to alternative narratives and views and are more likely to think that their reinforced perspectives, and friends, accurately represent the whole of reality. Such social networking trends reinforce conflict narratives, producing simplistic, rigid and polarizing stories.

This collapse of complexity is bad news as a wide-body of research suggests that increasing levels of complexity is essential for alleviating intergroup division and violence.

So what can we do about it?

To read more, click here.


Debating Israel At Columbia

Went to see a lively debate at Columbia University on Israel featuring Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Wall Street Journal columnist, Bret Stephens, Hussein Ibish, Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, along with author and political commentator, Peter Beinart. The motion under consideration was: “Are Israel’s Policies Justified in Light of the Security Issues it Faces?”

Beinart and Iblish argued that the policy of subsidizing and supporting the settlement enterprise is incongruent with Israel’s security concerns and detrimental to its future. Stephens and Boteach, on the other hand, argued (ignoring the motion) that the core of the problem is not the settlements but rather the culture of hatred and violence endemic to Palestinian society and supported by its leadership.

Beinart and Iblish responded by situating the problem of Palestinian cultural violence within the oppressive structure of the occupation (which Rabbi Boteach dismissed with air quotes). Stephens and Boteach remained focused on issues of values and culture, with Stephens arguing that as long as a future Palestinian state resemblances Iran more than Canada, the Palestinian people have forfeited the right to self-determination.

Unusual moment of the night: Philip Weiss brought the debate to an uncomfortable halt when he refused to abide by the no filming rule. This seemed to have irked Boteach who had his own camera crew in the audience. I’m sure we will read about this soon enough.

*Update: Here is Weiss’ post on the event


God Hates Flags

Video 1: An incredible video providing a glance – rich with symbolism – into the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the occupation. A religious Jewish settler in Hebron (of Russian origin) attempts to scale the home of a Palestinian in an effort to take down a Palestinian flag anchored on the roof. Problem is that the settler gets caught in the barbed wire. The Palestinian confronts the intruder (at one point even trying to help him) and a debate ensues about who has rights over the land. Th Settler at first claims that he just came to talk (apparently confusing the roof for the front door) and then argues that the house actually belongs to him (the settler) because all the land belongs to him (i.e. belongs to the Jews). The Israeli solider that arrives on the scene demands that the Palestinian return to his home. The solider seems to be blaming the Palestinian for the provocation of the flag but (at least initially) has no words for the inept (Purim drunk?) criminal.

Video 2: The flag incident continues. Israeli Soldiers arrive to remove the Palestinian flag. The soldiers give the impression that they recognize the unjust action by externalizing responsibility (“I have orders”). They also say (in Hebrew) to their superiors that there is no point in using force with all these cameras around. One can read that cynically, but I see that as their way of convincing their superior to change course of action and manage this conflict by other means (i.e. through the courts, as first suggested by the Palestinians). It’s interesting that the Palestinians are willing to recognize the Israeli courts as the final authority on this subject (not sure why they would). Perhaps it’s just a way to get the soldiers to leave their homes – for the time being – without humiliating them in front of their children. Or maybe they actually trust the high court in Israel to rule in their favor.

To Serve or Not to Serve?

An intense and loud debate (in Hebrew) precipitated by a group of Israeli youngsters who have penned a letter refusing to serve in the IDF in protest to the occupation of Palestinian territories. The youth are represented by a (brave) young man who despite (initially) stating his case in a calm and articulate manner is verbally accosted by (most of) the program’s hosts in a way that would make Jerry Springer blush. As in many debates regarding Israel/Palestine, there is a negative correlation between volume and logic. It’s easy to celebrate the virtues of democracy, diversity and free speech when your core values/beliefs are not being challenged, it is quite another story, as this clip demonstrates, when they are.


The True Face of BDS?

The BDS “id” unleashed? The new “Juden Raus”? Or just the inevitable “bad apples” in a growing social movement? The barrel or the apples? What say you?

Some Additional Thoughts on BDS

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) seems to have reached a tipping point in which it can no longer be considered a marginal player. A growing number of prominent celebrates, artist, scientist, academic institutions, and business organizations have given their name to the cause. If this point wasn’t clear enough, US Secretary of State John Kerry recently warned that if Israel does not make significant progress in the latest round of peace talks, they can expect to face ever increasing calls for economic and cultural isolation (an idea echoed by Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister). Not liking the idea of a sword of damocles hanging over their side of the negotiation table, Israeli politicians and pundits fired back that Kerry’s words are unacceptable and exaggerated scare tactics.

My take: BDS is a logical product of frustration, failure, fatigue and fear (i like alliterations). A barren diplomatic process.. It’s not a historical coincidence that the movement officially emerged the same year as Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Both were based on the premise that there is no serious partner and that change can only come through unilateral actions. A type of Do-It-Yourself Conflict Resolution. Problem is that in an interdependent relationship, even in an asymmetrical conflict, you can’t cut the other person out of the equation and force a sustainable solution (tailored to your interests) upon them. It’s just not that easy. In the words Nelson Mandela “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

Having said that, I think that BDS can have both a constructive and destructive impact on the conflict. From a two-state perspective, BDS can function as a gadfly that constantly bugs and occasionally bites. By calling for a radical solution to the conflict while at the same time picking up momentum, the movement could influence policymakers in Israel towards greater pragmatism and compromise (considering the alternative). This is the way Secretary Kerry was hoping to leverage the movement.

On the other hand, with its mantle of un-pragmatic righteousness and all-out ideological assault on Zionism, the BDS movement could also reinforce and multiply ultra-nationalistic and hawkish forces within Israeli society. These are people who perceive the world as innately hostile to the Jewish state and will do whatever it takes to protect their tribe. Such a prospect will make a two-state solution even less likely. Although these possible reactions are not mutually exclusive, in a political system like Israel the smart shekel is on the latter.