Utne Blogs > The Periscope

The Periscope

Curing Ignorance Through the Lens

Talking About Talking About Israel


Dialogue is divisive, but it's our best hope too.

In any controversial political or social subject, discussions can quickly devolve into tense conversations or even irate screaming matches. The latest global issue that this applies to is the quickly devolving situation between Israel and Palestine.

Engaging in dialogue on this particular matter really seems to rile people up and perhaps for good reason given the complexities. For one, media coverage can be very one-sided or downright wrong as the recent case of Diane Sawyer illustrates—she incorrectly identified a photo showing devastating wreckage as being in Israel when it was actually in Gaza. ABC later apologized for the mistake. Additionally, studies have shown that people tend to gravitate towards information they already agree with. But since both parties in this case have committed atrocities, both sides have valid arguments against one another (although this often leads to the blame game which can lead into centuries of grievances). Researchers have also hashed out an idea called Identity-Protective Cognition which suggests that people reject information that threatens their identity. While this behavior can be relatively innocuous on an individual level, it can turn dangerous, even deadly, once it's applied to groups. If someone does accept the information, they face rejection and could potentially lose close relationships. The conflict between Israel and Palestine harbors all of these elements as well as others, including the complex role of the U.S.

Of course getting people to talk is probably the best way to stop the deaths that are occurring—at least 612 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have been killed in just two weeks. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has pushed both sides to “stop fighting” and “start talking.” Here, Jon Stewart finds out what happens when the topic is broached:

Photo by gnuckx, licensed under Creative Commons.