Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
About fifteen years ago there was a black comedy movie called Mars Attacks! It wasn't a particularly good film, but the central theme was a perfect parable for Israel. And it also answers the objection of one reader to my previous post on the Palestinians, who objected that it had nothing to do with rationalist Judaism.
In Mars Attacks!, a fleet of Martian spaceships arrives at Earth. The US launches a welcome ceremony, in which the Martians initially participate, announcing that they have come in peace. But then, after a pigeon "makes a deposit" on a Martian, the Martians suddenly kill everyone. The US is convinced that this was a tragic misunderstanding caused by the pigeon incident, and arranges for the Martians to address Congress. The Martians agree to do so. The Martian ambassador makes a speech before Congress - and then kills everyone there.
At this point some people are saying that there is obviously a war to be fought, but the president does not agree. He has a personal conversation with a Martian, in which he makes a very moving speech about cooperation. A tear glistens on the Martian's cheek. Finally!
And then the Martian kills the president.
Throughout the movie, it's clear to us that the Martians mean to annihilate all the humans. But we can only recognize that because it doesn't matter to us (since, after all, it's only a movie). For the human characters in the story, however, it's a different matter. Faced with an alien civilization who is technologically superior, the thought of a war is just too terrible to accept. As a result, the humans constantly grasp at straws and fall for the Martian lies, even when there's no reason to believe them and the humans are fatally compromising their own security as a result. They are "taking risks for peace"!
The black humor of the film is in mankind's refusal to acknowledge the true intentions of the Martians. Even after fifteen years, I remember one particular scene in which a Martian is charging down the street in a war machine, shouting "We come in peace! We mean you no harm!" while he is firing his laser cannons and killing everyone. It's absurd... or is it?
When Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo accords, there was very little reason to believe that he was actually serious about wanting peace. After all, in his Arabic speeches back at home, he was telling people that it was a strategic move as part of a longer campaign to destroy Israel. Nevertheless, many intelligent people fell for it - because they were so desperate for peace. One very well-known rabbi (who I will not name) also fell for it and subsequently publicly admitted his error - but how many others did?
Over the years, the Israeli left has made a number of concessions to the Palestinians. Each time, their predictions have been proven wrong. When Israel armed the PA police forces, Peres assured Israel that these weapons would never be used against Israelis - and that if that ever happened, Israel would come down in force against the PA. Well, lo and behold, the weapons were used against Israelis, and Israel did very little in response. When Ehud Barak decided to withdraw from Lebanon, he assured Israel that if there was any trouble, Israel would be free to come down hard on Hezbollah. Well, there was trouble, and Israel was made to feel extremely constrained in its response. When Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza, he assured Israel that if there was any trouble, Israel would be free to come down hard on Hamas. Well, there was trouble, and Israel was made to feel extremely constrained in its response.
Some of us were not surprised at any of this, and had been saying it all along. But others, especially the secular left, were so desperate for peace and normalization of relations with the wider world (and, unlike the religious right, incapable of resigning themselves to the impossibility of it in the short term), that they blinded themselves to the facts. One would think that their repeated errors of judgment would cause them to have some humility and hesitations about continuing in the same path, but like the humans in Mars Attacks, it doesn't.
Cognitive dissonance is not restricted to narrow-minded religious fundamentalists. Even the most intelligent, educated, "enlightened" people can blind themselves to facts when it goes against their deepest emotions and desires. And the desire to be loved is very powerful.