Eight years ago, “Israel Apartheid Week” began on campuses in America and around the world to show “solidarity with the Palestinian struggle” and to demonize Israel as an “Apartheid” regime.
Ten years ago, I began studying this “pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli” phenomenon.
It began, like so many movements, on a university campus. The year was 2002, and then-former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was scheduled to speak to a group of Jewish students.
But he was not allowed to speak. Why? Because a mob of young, multicultural North American university students – who waved Palestinian flags, spat on Jews, smashed glass, and hurled anti-Semitic slurs – stopped him from speaking.
Why would Western university students clash with police and riot in the streets to stop a free man from engaging in free speech – on what should have been a bastion of free speech: a university campus? And why would those students – and students across America and around the world – demonize Israel and declare their solidarity with Palestinians in their annual “Israel Apartheid Week?”
My journey to answer that question brought me all the way to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem home, where I had the honor of working shoulder-to-shoulder with him as a writer on his victorious 2009 campaign to become Israel’s current Prime Minister.
Why would non-Palestinian university students declare their solidarity with Palestinians, when almost everything that defines campus life in America – free love, free speech, women’s rights, gay rights – would get them killed by the very Palestinians they champion?
For that matter, what is it about the Palestinian cause that has the power to unite vastly different non-Palestinians around the world, including President Jimmy Carter, the Green Party, the late Saddam Hussein, scores of American columnists and news editors, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the worldwide labor movement, gay and lesbian activists, women’s groups, Noam Chomsky, Amnesty International, the late Osama bin Laden, solidarity groups from America, England, Germany, Canada, Spain, India, Norway, Scotland, Ireland, France, Sweden, Australia and Italy, campus groups from the vast majority of colleges and universities in America, plus the United Nations—to make “Palestinians the largest per capita recipients of international development assistance in the world,” and to make Israel the most protested nation in the world after America?
What is it about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that causes millions of people around the world to choose sides the way they do?
Researchers at the University of South Florida set out to answer that question. They gave two groups of test subjects an identical, one-page essay that described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—equally and fairly—from both sides’ perspectives. Then one group was given a map that showed Israel as geographically small, and the other group got a map that showed Israel as large.
Same Israel. Same facts. The lone variable was the map: one group got a small Israel map, and the other group got a big Israel map.
The results were astounding. The group with the small Israel map felt Israel was the underdog and took their side, and those with a big Israel map felt Palestinians were the underdogs and took their side.
What does this tell us?
It tells us these test subjects based their decisions on something other than facts. The facts were identical (each group got the same one-page essay). The results, however, were far from identical. The lone variable was the map. When Israel was perceived as small, test subjects saw an “underdog” and supported Israel. When Israel was perceived as big, test subjects saw an “overdog” and chose the side of Palestinians.
(To see a video of this phenomenon, click here.)
What is going on here?
Identical facts. And yet people choose sides, in dramatically different ways, based on which side is the perceived underdog and which is the perceived overdog.
This “Axis of Power”—between the power-haves and the power have-nots, underdogs and overdogs—is the tipping point for many of the issues that shape our world today—from Occupy Wall Street to President Obama’s re-election campaign of “fairness vs. fatcats” to the way millions of people around the world choose sides the way they do in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I gave this belief system a name—Underdogma—which is the widespread and reflexive belief that, in any given issue, whichever side has less power (the underdog) is automatically considered righteous—simply because they have less power, and whichever side has more power (the overdog) is automatically considered wrong—simply because they have more power.
Jews have traditionally been the underdogs of history—enslaved, rounded up, and killed by some of the world’s most powerful tyrants. But things have changed. Today, Jews have a powerful homeland in Israel, advanced weapons, and a fearsome, well-equipped army. In the eyes of those who practice Underdogma, Jews committed an unforgivable sin. History’s persecuted underdogs became powerful overdogs. In the words of Israel’s late foreign Minister Abba Eban: “when I was first here, we had the advantages of the underdog. Now we have the disadvantages of the overdog.”
This week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told America “the story of a powerless and stateless people who became a strong and proud nation able to defend itself.” Because Israel is now strong and proud and able to defend itself, it must now also learn how to defend itself against those – on campuses or on the campaign trail – who demonize the strong for being strong.
It’s called “Underdogma,” and if you want to know how to defeat it, visit www.under-dogma.com
Michael Prell has written for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and more than 300 leaders on four continents, and he is the author of the book Underdogma: How America’s Enemies Use Our Love for the Underdog to Trash American Power www.under-dogma.com