It’s not a pretty picture. But it’s out there for all to see. With any news about either Barack Obama or the State of Israel the good gets buried or dismissed and the bad oversimplified and amplified. Let’s look at some facts:
Since President Obama took office, here is what happened:
1. Dow gains nearly 10,000 points.
2. Unemployment plummets:
3. Consumer confidence soars:
4. The economy continues to improve, with GDP growing from a negative 5.4 percent in January, 2009 to a healthier, positive 3.5 percent today while the deficit shrinks from 9.8 percent of GDP to just 2.8 percent.
And people call for his impeachment!
For the first time in history, we are approaching universal health care. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are ending. But Democrats abandon the President because opinion polls show Americans aren’t happy with the way things are going. And Democrats take a beating in mid-term elections. With the lowest turnout in seven decades — just a third of the electorate vote — the House and Senate go back to the party that was in place until January, 2009. (Want to check those charts again?)
So now let’s turn to Israel and the recent Gaza war:
It is generally acknowledged that Israel is the only real democracy in this part of the world. Far from ideal, Israel can still proudly point to equal rights for women, freedom of speech and the press, a fiercely independent judicial system and a parliament that includes Arab representatives. Still, Israel took a beating in world opinion during the Gaza war.
Accused of war crimes, excoriated in the media, it was pounded on all sides even as missiles rained down on its civilian population. But the news out of Gaza was very one-sided as Hamas controlled the media. Even reporters admitted they were forced to withhold anything showing Hamas in a bad light.
- Fact: Hamas’ indiscriminate shelling of Israeli civilians is a war crime. And it launched those rockets deliberately from civilian areas, near hospitals and schools to maximize their own casualties, storing them in UN schools and mosques and refusing to allow media to report it.
- Fact: Hamas’ reporting of “civilian casualties” was grossly misleading. Of those “civilians,” 57 percent were of combat age, between 17 and 39, though this age group is less than one-sixth of the population. By contrast, a quarter of all Gazans are adult females, but fewer than 10 percent of total fatalities were women.
- Fact: Prominent military leaders say Israel “went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties,” as US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey told the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. He said the IDF “did some extraordinary things to try and limit civilian casualties.”
And, as Retired British military leader Richard Kemp had told the UN: “Based on my knowledge and experience … the Israel Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
But which side is accused of war crimes?
So why do both President Obama and Israel fail to get credit for the positive things they do? Why doesn’t the message get through? Is it the messenger, or is it the listener?
Could it be neither President Obama nor a Jewish state is considered legitimate?
⇒ Since Barack Obama began to seek the presidency there have been charges that he was born in Kenya, that he was a Muslim, that he was just not eligible for the office.
⇒ And for centuries Jews have been the “other” to most of the world’s population, but any goodwill toward Jews in the aftermath of the holocaust has evaporated and openly anti-Jewish sentiment is on the rise.
Surely, some people are just racist or antisemitic but that can’t be all of it. What about Jews who look at the lopsided casualty figures and blame Israel? Or black Republicans like former congressman Allen West who is campaigning for impeachment?
I believe one answer lies in how people experience and interpret the facts they see. Everyone views the world through a prism of their experiences and influences, so any “truth” they see is shaded by their their own psychological, intellectual, and emotional makeup. Jonathan Haidt explores this idea in The Righteous Mind and concludes:
“Our minds were designed for groupish righteousness. We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning.”
It is said that you can choose your beliefs but you can’t choose your facts. Well, our beliefs color the way we see facts. And so believing the President should be impeached, or Israel fails to meet the ethical standard we expect from the people of the book, may indeed be a rational, honest decision, but it is reached through the way we screen the facts that feed our intuition.
Like it or not, perception becomes reality. And, as my daughter continually reminds me, There is no point of view from nowhere. We see everything in context.
And context determines the facts we choose to see — and those we choose to ignore. How else would you explain it?