A second talk with Yakov Hirsch, who writes about the Middle East conflict and about “Hasbara culture”: what he sees as the tendency of some Israel-defending people to be overly antagonistic and us-vs-them in their thinking (for example, unfairly framing criticism of Israel as “antisemitic”).
This talk is more generally about the nature of conflict, and about how conflict can make us perceive the world and the people around us in overly pessimistic and antagonistic ways, which in turn leads to more conflict. It’s also about the importance of trying to have cognitive empathy for people we disagree with and see the world from their perspective; even for people we may think are harmful and dangerous. This will be followed by a second talk where Yakov and I talk about American polarization and our polarized views of Trump.
- Yakov and I’s first talk
- For more about Yakov, see the post of the first talk
- NY Mag piece ‘How Bad Is Antisemitism in America, Really?’
Disclaimer for these transcripts: they’re not perfect and will contain inaccuracies.
Zach Elwood: Hello and welcome to the People Who Read People podcast. I’m Zachary Elwood. This is a podcast aimed at better understanding other people, and better understanding ourselves. You can learn more about it at peoplewhoreadpeople.com.
In November of 2023 I talked to Yakov Hirsch about antisemitism and the Middle East conflict, and about trying to understand other people’s perspectives even when we greatly disagree with them. If you haven’t listened to that one, I recommend that one because it’s a more solid introduction to Yakov’s ideas; we talk about the Holocaust and about the “banality of evil” and more. This talk you’re watching now is more of a follow-up.
Yakov is someone who writes about what he calls Hasbara Culture; what he sees as a tendency of some Jewish Israel-defending people to be overly us-vs-them and antagonistic in their thinking; one manifestation of this would be people being too quick to call people and ideas ‘antisemitic’ when they’re not actually antisemitic. For example, you will often hear people describe harsh criticism of Israel as antisemitic, even when that connection seems subjective and very debatable.
You can find various things online that Yakov has written about so-called Hasbara culture and other related topics by searching for his name; you can also follow him on Twitter at YakovHirsch; his name is spelled YAKOV HIRSCH.
This episode you’re watching now is a second talk I had with Yakov. We return to some topics we touched on in the first talk. For any audio listeners, this was a talk recorded on video so if you want to watch it in video format, head over to my youtube channel.
Also, during this talk Yakov and I got on the subject of American polarization and Trump. Also, because Yakov is a pro poker player, we talked about poker. So I’ve split this talk into three parts; the first one, the one you’re watching now, is about the Middle East conflict and antisemitism. The second one will be about Trump, Trump supporters, our divergent, polarized views on Trump, and the American divide. The third part will be us talking about the high stakes poker story of Robbi Jade Lew being accused of cheating.
Okay here’s the talk with Yakov Hirsch.
Hi, Yakov, how’s it going?
Yakov Hirsch: Pretty good.
Zach: Thanks for joining me to talk more about some tough things to carry on the conversation we had earlier. Maybe we get started with… For things that were top of your mind, for things that we didn’t cover well or didn’t touch on in the first talk we had about Israel-Palestine aspects topics, what’s top of your mind there? Would you say?
Yakov: The most important take from that story is that there was a fight between politics and political science, and the politics beat the political science. And I’d like to explain what that means, and this will help us going forward. Whenever we talk about this idea of political science versus politics, it will help us navigate the issues we’re going to discuss.
Zach: Okay. Yeah, would you like to kick it off? Because I could get kick it off.
Yakov: Yeah, sure.
Yakov: Okay. In the last podcast, I said that there was this fight between two historians in the 1990s and it was really important and complex business. But I’m going to sum it up like this. There was a historian, Christopher Browning, and a different historian, Goldhagen, and they had a fight about certain Germans. We all know that during World War Two during the Holocaust, when Germans killed the Jews, a lot of them were ideological. In other words, they grew up with the Nazis and they were just basically brainwashed to hate the Jews. So when they killed the Jews, it was like, “Yes, I’m killing Jews.” But this historian Browning discovered that some German soldiers were not like that. Some German soldiers killed the Jews because they didn’t want to look bad in front of the guy who was killing the Jews. Meaning it wasn’t really anti-Semitism that—
Zach: Peer pressure kinds of factors. Yeah.
Yakov: So, this other book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” came along– this Goldhagen– and he said, “No, you’re wrong. All Germans, when they killed the Jews, they killed the Jews because they hated the Jews. It was this evil thing that was in their mind.” And not just normal, human… In other words, we can’t learn and it’s not universal. Whatever we saw about the Germans killing the Jews, Christopher Browning was saying, “Well, we could learn this for the next genocide, right? Look how people behave in this situation.” And Goldhagen said, “No, no, you’re wrong. There’s nothing universal about the story. We can’t learn about the German killing the Jew or anything about any other soldier anywhere else.” Right? And Browning said, “No, no, no, this is a human thing. In this situation, when you’re ordered to kill someone, you will kill that person even if you’re like’ I don’t feel like killing the person.” Right? So in this fight, the historians believed Browning and the public believed Goldhagen that there was something called the eliminationist anti-Semitism and the German had it. And the last podcast, I showed how this idea affected the world. But the bottom line is that the political scientist, which was the real historian, which was Browning, was defeated. So now—
Zach: In the public’s or in the mainstream or something. Yeah.
Yakov: Now I’m going to quote Hilberg. This is where we start. Hilberg was like the dean of Holocaust historians. He reviewed the fight and this is what he said at the end of the review. “Goldhagen wanted to describe what these men were thinking in the course of such actions.” And he says they were thinking about… They were evil! This is what he said. It was not factual evidence that convinced him for he had none. Goldhagen mentioned these words often in the 600 pages and avid others like unspeakable murderers, horrific, illogical, vitriolic, and gruesome. The adjectives are accusatory. They are taken from the domain of politics and not political science. By the end of 1996, it was clear that in sharp distinction from lay readers, much of the academic world had wiped Goldhagen off the map. Okay? So now, I’m going to explain to the viewer what does this mean. What’s the difference between politics and political science? I’m going to give you this example.
You see, on YouTube or wherever on TV, where a serial killer after they’re in prison for a few years, you have these experts come to interview the guy. Right? They come with the pads, they’re FBI, they’re learning to become FBI experts, they’re interviewing every serial killer and profiler, etc. You will notice that when they talk to the killer or to the serial killer, they’re very nice. Right? They’re not judging him, not saying, “How could you do what you did?” They’re like, “Do you want something to drink?” And they will ask them questions, “What did you feel like when you were doing this?” They really need to know the truth. Right?
Zach: They’re detectives. Yeah.
Yakov: Right, they’re really detectives and they need to know what they can get from this person, which will help the world understand what gets someone to be a serial killer. So it’s very important to be objective there, right? To not influence, not get angry at the person. You’re just going to be objective. You’re not going to judge this person as you’re writing your report. You’re not going to write in the middle, “I cannot believe that guy is such an animal.” Right? If someone were to start writing that in report, we’d be like, “Well, we can’t take this person… This person had a cousin that was killed by a serial killer or something. This researcher.” Right? So the political scientist is the one who’s really being objective
Zach: Or the psychologist. [crosstalk] Yeah.
Yakov: This is what Hilberg used. Right?
Zach: Contrasting it with politicians. Yeah, yeah.
Yakov: Right. So that’s the importance. And now I’m going to show you, in our world, examples. We’re going to talk about what’s going on today. I’m going to show you the examples where you have politics, which we should all believe, “yes, that’s quote, objective,” versus political science. Right? And if we’re able to identify when we’re looking at a situation what’s politics and what’s political science, it will help us understand the world. For instance, yesterday in The New York Review of Books, there—
Zach: Before you start the examples, I do want to say that since we’re kind of wrapping up the last episode, I think one of your points or one of the major points of that last episode or last talk was about how when you view people through a lens of they have this… You know, they kind of like are inhuman, they’re evil, they’re these kind of pathologies that are inexplicable and can’t be compared to other humans. When you when you do that, you create a wall of not really being interested in understanding what drives them. You’ve kind of put them in this class where you are more easily able to…
Yakov: It’s all about cognitive empathy. When you have the scientists, they are trying to imagine being the serial killer. They’re trying to get into a set and be that person and say, “Oh, so that’s what this is about.”
Zach: And it’s almost like when other people do bad things, it makes us less cognitively… You know, we’re less empathetic to them. But that can be a real problem if you’re, you know?
Yakov: We are judging, right? We’re always struggling. But there are people who are trying to understand and not judge. So I just want to give you this example of Hamas and then we can move on to whatever you want. Okay? So in The Atlantic, which is the most influential magazine, a writer there wrote an article about Hamas. Okay? And I’m going to read you the reaction of an opinion writer of the Washington Post, what he said about this article in The Atlantic about Hamas. He said, “My biggest critique is the assumption in Yair Rosenberg’s piece that evil acts are inherently irrational, and therefore, Hamas is best understood as an irrational actor. There’s no room for contingency, agency, or individuals in this account. ISIS was as sadistic as they come. But those of us who worked on ISIS spent a lot of time trying to understand the complexities of the group in a nuanced analytical way. It wasn’t enough to simply say that ISIS was evil and be done with it. That would be useless. It’s almost too obvious to state, so I feel a bit silly saying it but terrorism doesn’t just fall from the sky. Terrorism isn’t quote, not inevitable. There’s a whole body of academic research on what makes the resort to terrorist acts more or less likely. It makes me nervous when an article about Hamas doesn’t quote any experts on Hamas. There are researchers who have spent years studying basically everything Hamas said or done. Can you really write an article on the group without engaging [unintelligible 00:11:56]?” And he lists these other books. He said, “How would you write an article about Hamas without people who have spent their whole life trying to understand Hamas?” When we write serious articles, we take all these experts, and we… Yeah, Yair Rosenberg is not an expert on Hamas, but the point is that article wasn’t talking about Hamas. The article was too much evil. It was enough to say that Hamas is evil and this is the…
Yair Rosenberg is an expert on evil, so he wrote about evil. Whereas when you’re apolitical, you want to understand. In other words, you would like to interview every Hamas member to really understand what happened. Just like we did with the serial killer, you’d say, “Hey, how’d you get…?” You’d try to find out how I got here. Now, just one more, same with Hamas. This is Eric Levitz, New York Magazine. He wrote an article about Sam Harris who has the same view as Yair Rosenberg, and this is what he says. “Sam Harris says the Israel-Hamas war is a battle between “civilization and savagery” – and that Palestinian terrorism is motivated solely by radical Islam, not any earthly grievance. Which shows that atheists aren’t immune to fundamentalist thinking. Ironically, Harris’s own position resembles religious fanaticism in its willful incuriosity. On Israel-Palestine, the celebrated atheist refuses to test the dogmatic tenets of a Manichaen worldview against either the historical record or present-day evidence. Instead of challenging his audience to grapple with the complex origins of the present war, he serves them a fairy tale in which the forces of “civilization” struggle against evildoers, whose malevolence derives from no political history or context but merely from their demonic possession by the mind-virus of jihad. Okay?
And Robert Wright, one other time he also critiqued… There was a fight about the understanding of the American terrorist, and one side said he had ‘jihadi’ intent. Right? And Robert Wright responded. He said, “What does that mean?” He said we have to look at this person, we have to investigate, and you put all these together. That’s how you get to be a jihadi. Right? He said jihadi is like a bomb. It’s not one ingredient. It takes a whole bunch of things together, and that ends up with a jihadi. So this is an example of where you have experts. The arguments about the German was that he was evil. That argument now wins debates, right? If you use that evil argument, it defeats the people who say, “Let’s try to understand it better. Okay, this terrorist, what’s Hamas? Why did… Was there ever a time when they wanted peace with Israel?” All of that stuff.
Zach: Well, yeah. I listened to that Sam Harris, his recent one, where he basically was doing what you were describing where it was… I’m usually a fan of Sam Harris, I think he often goes into a lot of nuance, but on this, he did seem very simplistic because it seemed to just be making arguments like “Hamas does bad things, you know, much worse things on these levels like hiding behind their own people and these kinds of things. Therefore, you can’t compare them, and therefore, you must side with Israel.” That’s what his argument seemed to be. But it seemed to be like that’s a very simplistic framing because as you’re saying, it doesn’t get into the curiosity of why are they doing what they’re doing.
And even if you believe, Sam Harris makes a big thing of… He criticizes Islam, which I think there’s points there, too, but even that is like isn’t Islam also one of other factors too in the way these people behave? You know, it’s very simplistic to just say they’re driven by fundamentalist Islam, I’ll leave it at that.
Yakov: Sam Harris lives in the world of ideas and not people. Because according to Sam Harris, every Muslim has a little bit of ISIS in them. He says it all comes from the Koran, and the question with each Muslim is where are you in the continuum to ISIS? But that’s not the real world. The hate that he has contributed to, if you’re living on the street and the Muslims moved down your block and you’ve been listening to Sam Harris, you’d think to yourself, “Okay, where are they on the ISIS spectrum or on the jihadi spectrum?” And then when you see people reacting to Harris, they’re like, “You don’t know any Muslims. These are not real.” Right? So he thinks about ideas rather than human beings.
Zach: Well, it reminds me of some far-right people who would say very pessimistic things about Islam, about Muslims, but then you just look at the statistics of how many terrorist attacks are there really when you get down to it? Obviously, it’s a problem, it’s a big problem, but it’s also like there’s many Muslims living in America that don’t commit jihad or terrorist acts.
Yakov: Yeah, that’s why it’s so important to have cognitive empathy with the White racist. Because they, like Sam Harris, they again believe that this Muslim is sort of happy when they’re not real Americans.
Zach: Right, they’re cheering secretly or outwardly.
Yakov: The issue is if they were to somehow move into and they become neighbors with a Muslim in a few months, everything about the world will change because they’d see, “Oh, this person’s just like me! A normal person.” Right? They have these ideas which are not true about the world. So when you make arguments, it’s very important which argument you use against the racist for him to say, “Oh, I understand where I might be thinking wrong.” Rather than calling him racist things like okay, that’s what we do. You’re evil.
Zach: Yeah. And I will say, too, I think Sam Harris has also made some good points in that. People calling Sam Harris racist and such for that is wrong to me, too, because even if you disagree with him, he’s trying to make a point about a religion. Many people making points about negative aspects of Christianity aren’t called racist, you know? So just to throw in there that I do appreciate Sam Harris—a lot of what he says—but I do think on this thing, I was finding myself being like… I think he’s lighting over a lot of nuance there. Yeah.
Yakov: He’s saying because of political correctness, that we’re not telling the truth. He says, “All these professors, all these things they are saying, they’re only saying what they’re saying because they have to be politically correct.” So with one sentence, he wipes away all the experts.
Zach: Right, he’s erasing all of the nuance and—
Yakov: He’s erasing political science with statements like that. He’s erasing political science and we’re left with articles like that in The Atlantic. And—
Zach: Oh, yeah, I was going to move on to something related, but…
Yakov: No, and that’s why you end just for the present day, where you have experts saying that Israel is close to committing genocide. You have Holocaust experts in the New York Times. These people don’t go on TV, right? They do research. And now Omer Bartov, one of the great Holocaust historians, is going on every show that we’ll have him and he’s saying Israel is about to commit genocide or is committing genocide. And it’s ignored because ‘Oh, he must be a leftist. He must…’ That’s how if you ask The Atlantic, “Look, this guy…” “Oh, he must be pro…” You know, we don’t listen to experts anymore. Right?
Zach: Although from some people’s perspective, there’s a lot of anti-Israel and pro-Palestine bias in mainstream media. How do you see that? Because I know people who have some valid criticisms, like one of the recent ones with the New York Times rushing to the story about—
Yakov: I am not taking a stand. I’m not judging [inaudible]. I am stating the fact. I don’t have a position on any of these things, okay? [crosstalk] I’m not an expert. But I do know that Omer Bartov is an expert. And I do know that this guy, I’m trying to have cognitive empathy with this busy guy, and he’s stopping what he’s doing– an Israeli Jew– and he’s writing op-eds in the New York Times and going everywhere and he’s saying the Prime Minister of the country said these people are Amalek, are from the Bible. And he’s telling, basically, the civilians and Hamas are the same thing, and what’s happening is the genocide in front of us. So what I’m saying because of this mix-up, I don’t know if it’s genocide, but what I’m saying is The Atlantic doesn’t cover that because he—
Zach: Right, I get what you’re saying. I think that what both you and I are trying to do is trying to examine the understandable ways people can disagree and not try to paint people that have a different view than us as these monsters. I think that’s what you and I are both fighting about at a high level. Yeah.
Yakov: Can I share a tweet of a girl in a college, a Jewish girl in a college, and she had this march with other pro-Palestinian people? And she’s telling everybody…
Zach: Oh, yeah, that one.
Yakov: Right, so think about that. The difference between this Jewish girl who’s at some school march against the war or something like that, she said from the river to the sea. And in this tweet, she’s describing… When you listen to this person, it’s like she’s just trying to do good, there’s nothing that’s described above. She says, “Oh, my friends are so sensitive to me because I’m Jewish. They asked me if…” And it’s like, we have no problems here. Right? No one hates the Jews, everything is great.
Zach: It’s overstated. Yeah.
Yakov: You’re the people that’s creating all this hatred in the school by misinterpreting what’s going on.
Zach: That was an eloquent tweet. Yeah, I saw that one.
Yakov: Right. I just want to say that’s like us being the scientist into the surreal.
Zach: What the people are actually thinking. Yeah. Yeah, that corresponds to what I’m seeing. I see so many people speaking in the most pessimistic ways on both sides. It’s like they’ll interpret a statement feeling bad about Israel’s suffering or feeling bad about Palestinian suffering. People will interpret those in various worst-case scenarios. I see this playing out so many times and I see people interpreting pro-Palestinian marches as being for Hamas or being for terrorism. And as with a lot of conflict, the perceptions of how much maliciousness there are or there is seems very overstated compared to when you actually look at the things that are happening and what people are saying.
Yakov: It’s because the two sides have a different experience of the world. I just want to say this. When some of the pro-Palestines look at Hamas, in the back of their mind, do you know what they say? They say to themselves, “What do you expect?” Or something like that. And that’s why politicals they say yes, if you occupy a people at some point– which is what Israeli security officers say. So just that thought, the thought of– of course, the way Hamas behaved, we have to understand why they did what they did– but just the idea that if you occupy people… You know, like I say, all the security people told Netanyahu all these years there’s going to be an explosion, you can’t keep on doing this. Right. But if you even do that, that’s not good, because Hamas is evil. You can’t respond to the Hamas’s evil. And the whole world is seeing that babies is the problem, right? They see the babies and what are they told? “Hamas is evil.” And the next day, they see more babies and what are they told? “You know how evil Hamas is? And you’re sympathetic with evil.” So it’s two different experiences of the world and each side doesn’t understand the other side. And this might be a civil war before the Trump civil war next year for the election. Because it’s totally different and each side doesn’t even understand the way the other side experiences the world. Right? Just one last thing. For Israeli Jews, this really was! They’re talking about this like it wasn’t a holocaust. Meaning the IDF is now going into 1940 whatever and then fighting the Nazis. Right? This is the story. Right? And the other people are saying, “What do you mean we are killing the baby?” Whereas a lot of the leaders are saying it’s all, you know, they’re all the same. There’s no difference.
Zach: You shared a tweet yesterday, I think it was by Bari Weiss, where she was calling something Holocaust denial, which didn’t seem like Holocaust denial to me. But you draw attention to a lot of those kinds of things.
Yakov: Right. I mean, it’s the Jewish people with the most influence. I wrote an article, “Bari Weiss Wants to Speak For The Jews”. And to speak for the Jews, I just want to show you this book what political science is. It’s a book called “Victimhood Discourse in Contemporary Israel.” So, this is what social scientists do. They look at the discourse in all this holocaust talk and they analyze it. You have 10 different experts and they write them and analyze one aspect of the victimhood, and they try to make sense of how the holocaust, of our understanding of the holocaust, how we came to where we were, and how threatening it is. Right? That’s political science. So, what Bari Weiss does is not political science but the people who follow her believe that she’s saying political science. It’s very important. She’s not saying, “Oh, this is my opinion because I was brought up Jewish.” She’s like, “No, this is the truth!” And meanwhile, it’s just politics. So she takes innocent people, right? For instance, I just want to say this was The Harvard Crimson. They wrote this article at some point during the war. And at the end, possibly the writer was describing the cutting off the heads or whatever, something like that, and on the bottom it said, “This hasn’t been substantiated yet.” So imagine being the editor. You’ll have to produce these articles and you need to state the truth. That’s if you think about the human beings doing this stuff.
But Bari Weiss said, “No, this is…” She called it Holocaust denial in real-time. So when she says that she’s… All the people she’s talking to in the Jewish community, they are made to feel and they already feel that it is 1939 Germany– which is what I’ve been describing for however many years– that this is the success of this worldview, it’s only going to get worse. Because there will be terrorist attacks against Jews, unfortunately, because there are enough Muslims watching what’s happening. And Israel says, “We’re the Jewish state.” Every which way, they say, “We’re the Jewish state. We’re the Jewish state. Jews have to march for Israel, you don’t have to.” So when a Muslim– there are people out there as Sam Harris, how many jihadists are out there– or as Robert writes, how people might become jihadis, is at some point, someone’s going to see this. This is reality. I’m not saying that it has to happen. And they’re going to do an act of hopefully not whatever. And the interpretation of that event is not going to be that some Muslim is watching this killing and he just killed someone. Instead, Bari Weiss and what I call Hasbara culture is it’s the beginning of the end. That means the whole story about what that person did, that one terrorist attack, we can’t have cognitive empathy. This meaning of that act is now turned into something totally different. That totally different thing is the most influential force in politics. And that’s what I write about. That’s why each tweet is important because I’m saying, “Look at what’s happening. Think about the real world and think about the interpretation.”
And that’s why your real Holocaust scholar is going into the New York Review of Books and saying, “You cannot do this. Israel is a powerful state with the most modern weapons, and you’re talking about them as if it’s during the Warsaw Ghetto. You keep on telling Netanyahu…” Think about it. He told his people this is tribal war against our eternal enemies. Right? So Bari Weiss is cultivating to the most influential person in cultivating that that is the reality. That there is a holocaust again. Right? I’ve been very harsh on her. Some social scientists, which I quote, believe, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe it’s the Holocaust all the time, you can just tell me… Like I said, she is responsible for so much anti-Semitism by this behavior. Okay.
Zach: Yeah, I want to make some analogies there to the liberal-conservative conflict in America, but I’m going to come back to that because I see some… [crosstalk Conflict, no matter how it happens, has so many analogous things. And then there’s the asymmetry aspect of who’s perceived or who is more powerful and feeling more weak in a society like I would say conservatives do. They feel like they don’t have power is what allows them to do more aggressive things because they feel like they’re fighting this ultra-powerful force so that that allows them to be more okay with somebody like Trump who takes a more aggressive approach in the way they speak and these kinds of things or the way they act. A lot of people will like that analogy on both sides but I think there’s very much something to the perceived asymmetry of power and making you feel more okay with aggressive or doing horrible things, basically. But I want to come back to that. I do want to touch on something that I think we could have touched on more in our last talk, which I think is important because it’s something you’ve written about. It’s about how, and this is just a general aspect of conflict where people will take out pieces of bad behavior, you know, one-off or rare bad behaviors and hold them up as if they’re super meaningful, so that in the context of Israel-Palestine or antisemitism, that might be somebody taking a tweet and showcasing it and being like, “Look at this horrible anti-Semitic direct message that somebody sent me.” And people act as if that is significant, when the number of people who have those views can be very, very low and some of the messages can be sent by children or these kinds of things or just trolls looking to get reactions. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that.
Yakov: Okay, so there’s this word ‘ideology’ that’s thrown around. What does it mean to be ideological? To be ideological is you have a particular view of the world, which you feel strongly about, and when you see in the real-world proof or something that confirms this idea of this ideology, you say, “Oh, this!” Right? So you spend your life, you’re not thinking about your ideology, you don’t know you have an ideology, right? You think this is truth because this is your experience, right? And you keep on showing more evidence how right you see. You say, “I told you. I told you. I told you!” And the people who say I am speaking from political science, they have the most influence. If you can convince people that you’re speaking with authority, right? But these people, the only authority they have is because they’re saying. And they’re very good at making the case. They’re very good at making the case for their ideology. And the better case they make, the more people will be looking and say, “Yeah!” And if you’re at all susceptible to that idea, it’s like, “Oh, my God, you see, this person has the truth.” Because if you have a similar ideology, you’ll tell your friends, “Go listen to this person.” And they’re like, “Yeah, unbelievable.” Because they take examples you didn’t think of. Like, “Yeah, he’s right!” Because you’re not aware. Like, hold on, step back. What will they say? That’s what we have to have happen. That’s what we have to be political scientists. We have to say, “Hold on. Why do I think that this…” That’s why there’s such a danger to the world is because the stuff people believe that’s confirmed by all the social media that they get.
Zach: It’s the very nature of bias and conflict polarization. It’s just so easy to build a biased worldview because you just start building from the things that you see. And once you start looking at it in a huge, complex world, it’s pretty easy to pull out those things. I mean, I saw that with some of the narratives in America around the immense racism and hate crimes and such. Some of those stories I would see, and Wilfred Reilly wrote a whole book about a lot of the hoaxes there and how media often ran with credulous interpretations of some of these stories, and you would see… For example, you might see like, oh, there was a swastika drawn somewhere and people would act as if that was a significant symbol of something going on in that neighborhood. But clearly, that could be just a young kid trying their best to get a reaction from people, and the easiest way to get a reaction and cause drama is to put a swastika on something. So, these kinds of things where people would use those things to build a narrative about this deep anti-Semitism. But it’s like, is that really what’s happening? Are they… Who are those people?
Yakov: Hey, what you’re saying is a hundred percent true. Of course, these things… Now, if you were to write that in an article or on a podcast, there would be people reacting to that. Right. And therefore, you wouldn’t say it. Right? Because, “Hold on, you’re saying anti-Semitism doesn’t exist? Why are you even talking about this?” Right? Therefore, any reflection of the real world, if it’s a threat to a certain narrative– which is what I write about, this hasbara culture– the reaction is they don’t have cognitive empathy with you like, “Oh, it’s true what he’s saying.” They don’t look at the world. Right? Like, “Yeah, it is true. It doesn’t matter. One tweet? We don’t know what one tweet means.” Jeffrey Goldberg in 2016 of The Atlantic took a whole bunch of Nazi tweets, and this very influential article showed 15 examples, and he interpreted the meaning of each tweet. Meaning when you read it, you think the person who sent this tweet wants to kill Jews like this. Right? So each tweet, he made into an idea that this is the ideology of the person sending it. ‘That’s what it is. This is the ideology of the people sending the tweets. This tweet says so.’ I’m just as very ethnocentric to this behavior, but how… Just a second. [sips water] But that influence, when you are the editor-in-chief, when you put that into the world that every tweet means, then it’s over. I’m basically…
Zach: Well, there’s plenty of documented cases too. Yeah, reaching for confident assumptions about what people are thinking with all these one-off messages. I mean, there was a recent story about the Israel-Hamas thing where somebody found all these anti-Semitic messages on a message board of the college. I can’t remember which college. And people were also acting as if this had great significance. But to me, the things you don’t know are… That could literally be one person, that could be one asocial mentally unwell person, that could even be… You know, there’s cases of people faking hate crimes to get attention for a cause. So it’s like, you don’t know.
Yakov: Of course, this is the world we live in. We’re living in a moral panic. Okay? This is a moral panic. Just the bigger picture, there is a state, Israel… We’re stepping outside, right? If someone from another planet comes, what do they see? They see a state fighting with these other people, right? And they see people who are more loyal to one side, and the other side. Right. And the people who are on this side, when they see what Israel is doing, they’re going to experience it a certain way. So if everything is interpreted from your perspective or if there’s no other side, if there’s no other perspective but your perspective, don’t you realize how that makes me feel? That’s what Israel… You have to think of Israel’s perspective because what happened to them is a terrible thing that can happen to a country. And if it happens to any other country, they would do the same thing as Israel. But here’s the issue. They are living every day with the story based on the rest of the world. They saw the story and most people said, “Oh, my God, that’s so horrible.” But at some point, they’re on to the new story, and the new story is every day innocents dying and Israel doing what they’re doing. Meanwhile, in Israel, when they look at their world, they say, “Didn’t you see what happened to us?”
That’s what Bari Weiss said at some point. “These people are celebrating Jewish death. Anyone who’s demonstrating against the war is celebrating Jewish death. Because don’t you remember what happened to us? You don’t empathize with what happened to us.” And the whole narrative that they have—their whole ideology—if you don’t agree their ideology is the real world, that makes you on the side of Hamas. Right? That’s our situation and everyone chooses to fight it differently. I mean, you have all these depolarization things, right? But look what you’re up against. People who have ideologies and they’re saying it’s political science. They’re not saying this is my politics, they’re saying, “This is the truth about the world,” and more evidence and more evidence and more evidence.
Zach: Maybe that’s a good point to segue because, yeah, the more I’ve looked into the liberal academic work around the claims of high amounts of racism amongst conservatives and Trump voters, a lot of that work is just so weak to me. And I’m not the only person that says that. Musa al-Gharbi, an academic, wrote a great paper called “Race and the Race for the White House” that examined some of the really bad and amazingly bad, to me, academic work that was used to take the worst possible framing of what this data says about what conservatives and what Trump voters believe. And I was actually kind of astounded because those are the things that were used to then paint this picture. They were like the foundation of what journalists would point to, or pundits would point to, or Democrat politicians would point to to build their case of this is the horrible White supremacists and bigots that we’re up against. It was almost taken as a fact in some quarters and very influential quarters that these things were true. But then you go look at the data that the things are built on, and it’s just such bad academic work.
Zach Elwood: I’ll go ahead and cut that talk there. As I stated at the beginning, I’m going to release the second part of my talk with Yakov Hirsch later. That part of the talk focuses on American polarization and our polarized views of Trump. That will be out in a few days.
This has been the People Who Read People podcast with me, Zach Elwood. You can learn more about it at peoplewhoreadpeople.com. Thanks for watching.