Forming opinions on perception of reality can have unjust, dangerous repercussions

www.bethyam.orgJune 7, 2013 

It is a bad habit to form an opinion without the facts, a common practice today.

How many times a week do I hear someone say, "Perception is reality?" What about the truth? Does this not matter anymore? We indulge the notion of "perception is reality" to the exclusion of truths about people, nations and religion. Too often we run the risk of distorting, even profaning the truth when we are attaining political goals. This creates a far deeper problem than social gossip. People's lives become at risk.

I'm seeing this attitude of "perception is reality" as a cancer spreading throughout the world unjustly infecting the reputation of Israel. The overwhelming majority of Americans and Congress itself support and respect Israel. Many of our Christian friends in America ardently believe in the fundamental values of Israel, not only because it is a democracy but because the perception exists in America's religious ethos that the Jewish state is a key factor to the fulfillment of the Christian theological vision to the end of days.

These two secular and religious ideologies dovetail with each other. They have served Israel and America well, but now the "perception is reality" syndrome has begun to gain traction in a few of this country's and the West's cultural icons and academic heavyweights in an anti-Israel tirade.

Some entertainers fall prey to the distortion and downright lie that Palestinian propagandists portray Israel as the new apartheid reincarnation of the old South Africa. Musicians and singers spread the word and follow the trendy left-leaning avante garde. Have they read a book on the subject or examined both sides of an issue by talking to people on the ground? Or was the truth rather that they heeded the call of their agents to cancel a concert in Tel Aviv and suddenly found their names in the paper with a resurgent worldwide audience and sales booming for their newfound political consciousness?

All this publicity and fame just for bowing down to the new idol of "perception is reality."

Half-truths abound in the Middle East like desert sands. What is the truth about injustice for the Palestinian Arabs or Israeli victims of terrorist bombs from Gaza? What is the solution? Most people who live there understand on some level that suffering has occurred on both sides and that the occupation of the West Bank must end. The question is how to end it without endangering Israel's security and giving the Palestinians a legitimate state to pursue their own destiny.

It is a mystery like trying to dig for oil. But by demonizing Israel with the notion that it is an apartheid state gets the peace process nowhere.

Israel's friends watch with disgust and disappointment when scholars like physicist Stephen Hawking refuse to attend an academic conference sponsored by Shimon Peres in Israel, claiming to boycott Israel and its products because of the West Bank Settlement policy. Or when Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker calls on international singer Alicia Keys to cancel her engagement to perform in Israel and, instead, perform in the Gaza Strip. Sadly, there are other stars who have started to follow this road and cancel their bookings in Israel.

The goals are not only to isolate Israel, damage its standing in the world, but also to discredit the idea of a Jewish state and, finally, to characterize the idea that Zionism is no different an ideology than apartheid was in South Africa. The "perception as reality" syndrome works when these cultural icons put on the apartheid mask. All they see through the mask is an Israel that can only be consistent with an immoral regime. And that is where the perception becomes the reality, and the reality is a lie.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yes, the occupation of the West Bank has been a difficult process for Israel and the Palestinians. Many Arabs live in poor conditions and with the indignities of a military system. Yet to ascribe the perception that the cause and the fault is all upon Israel's shoulders is wrong. Ignoring the responsibility of the Palestinian leadership for making peace is an injustice as well. The political leadership of both peoples and their constituents bears responsibility to make hard compromises for the opportunity for peace. That is all that matters now.

Wouldn't it be great if these entertainers and scholars would be involved in bringing both sides together rather than choosing one side over another? What is achieved in the long run by their canceled tours or boycotts of Israeli products except poisoning the chances for dialogue for peace?

Cultural leaders can play a constructive role by using their artistic talents to build trust between the two peoples rather than exacerbating the divisions, which is exactly the effect they have when they get caught up in policy issues and boycott Israel. Solving this impasse requires creative strategies and new paradigms for peace rather than demonizing one side or the other. What if these artists could let their art be a beacon of light uniting all sides for an evening of peace? Then the perceptions could lead to the hope of peace rather than continue the stalemate of mistrust and hatred.

Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter, @rabbibloom.

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