Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tribalism and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

There is a phenomenon in psychology known as tribalism. In sum, it is that people break up into small groups and associate themselves with those groups. This may sound obvious, but when it comes to politics tribalism (and it's associated us vs them mentalities) appears in force. To a Huffington Poster, no Republican could ever be right about anything. And to a hardcore conservative the word "liberal" should be spelled with four letters. Neither side can acknowledge that the other may have legitimate points of view and that its point of view could be valuable in a certain situation.

There may be no better modern world example of tribalism than in the Middle East. It's pretty easy to see all the countries there as tribes, and the interactions between them seems to indicate this. However, I'm not here to talk about real world politics at this point. I am here to talk about the interactions between people on the Huffington Post. When it comes down to it, most people are either "pro-Israel" or "anti-Israel." What I mean by this is that they usually are attacking Israel, it's people, or it's existence, or they are defending those things. Someone who is anti-Israel may feel that he or she is only criticizing Israel because he or she is really looking out for Israel's best interests (like MJ Rosenberg). But I know better than to try and dig into people's motivations. All I can go by is what people say.

There are some individuals who don't really take a side or criticize both sides equally. People like PMW or MajorKong are what springs to mind. However, the longer people stay, the more they drift toward one side or another. There is nothing wrong with this! It is perfectly understandable that people will take one side or another in this dispute. It is an emotionally loaded issue and there is much to criticize (and sympathize with) on either side. I am not going to attack anyone on either side for picking a side and sticking with it. In some ways I admire everyone's dedication to their beliefs. Better that than waffling back and forth. Just ask John Kerry.

What I take issue with is in situations like this one, where tribalism comes out in force. If you don't want to read the whole read, user Nwo2012 claims that there is no anti-Semitism on the Huffington Post. St. Cuthbert comes in and quotes the user raskefing who claimed that "Zionists" control all the banks, media, etc. Immediately, anti-Zionists came leaping out of the woodwork to defend raskefing, claiming that he was only criticizing "Zionists" and pretending that there is no anti-Semitic myth about Jewish control. They dug in their heels, giving their all to convince the world that raskefing's comment was not anti-Semitism.

It's interesting, right? I feel absolutely no need to defend someone who is racist against Palestinians or Muslims. I will be the first to admit that I am not quick enough to criticize bigoted comments against Israel's enemies, but I also do not criticize anti-Semitic comments when I see them either. Perhaps because there are too many! But anyway, if someone (cough Oleg1 cough) make a racist comment, I and the rest of the "Zionist" posters are perfectly willing to let him twist in the breeze and get all the criticism he deserves. Clearly the anti-Zionists do not feel the same way.

Where does tribalism come into this? Because the anti-Zionists in that situation felt that they needed to defend someone who was "on their side," even though he really didn't deserve their support. It made me wonder how many anti-Zionists there are who's motives are pure but will overlook anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred made by their "allies" for this reason. As I have said before, it is not the anti-Semitism of a few, but the anti-Zionism and the silence of many that has led to the Huffington Post to be in the state that it is in. Maybe the next time a bigoted comment is made, all of us on both sides of this issue will stop and think, and say the right thing. I hope I do.

1 comment:

  1. I don't see that really happening. And people in the West who are pro-Palestinian hate the Jews far more than the Palestinians themselves do. One would like to look for rationality from our opponents but they can't bring themselves to admit the Jewish State has its good aspects. Therein lies the tragedy.