Why Palestinians?

President Obama slammed Israel on Tuesday for announcing plans to build one thousand Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. This sparked a quick reminder from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that "Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is the capital of the state of Israel." 

Why is it that when Israelis build homes in Israel, they invite scorn from President Obama, and when Palestinians build homes -- or even rockets -- they find themselves with Barack Obama's unwavering support?

Is there something about the culture, beliefs, or actions of Palestinians that resonates deep within the heart of President Obama? Is it the fact that Palestinians incite hatred and violence toward other cultures, calling them "descendants of monkeys and pigs" [1]? Or is it because their school curricula and TV cartoons teach children to kill innocent people, leading 72% of school-aged Palestinians to say they aspire to be martyrs [2]? Or is it the fact that they outlaw and execute homosexuals [3]? Or is it the fact that they subjugate women and then "honor kill" them for the "dishonor" of being raped [4]?

Why would anyone support anyone who does such things? And why have millions of people around the world -- from university campuses to the United Nations to the White House -- joined together to make "Palestinians the largest per capita recipients of international development assistance in the world" [5]?

Five years ago, I set out to answer these questions. What I discovered was a belief system that has implications far beyond East Jerusalem.

When Palestinians take the side of Palestinians, it is called self-interest. When non-Palestinians around the world take the side of Palestinians, it is called something else. I gave this belief system a name -- Underdogma -- which is the reflexive belief that those who have less power are good because they have less power, and that those who have more power are bad because they have more power. 

As former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban observed, "When I was first here, we had the advantages of the underdog. Now we have the disadvantages of the overdog." 

What are the advantage of the underdog and the disadvantage of the overdog?

In 2007, Joseph Vandello of the University of South Florida conducted a study on underdogs. His experiment was simple. First, he asked test subjects each to read an identical one-page essay that described the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from each side's perspective. Then he gave half of his subjects (Group A) a map that showed Israel as big and the other half (Group B) a map that showed Israel as small. 

Same information. Same country. The only difference: Group A's map had a big Israel, and Group B's map had a small Israel.

Participants were then asked which side they viewed as the underdog in the conflict. The results were astounding. Group A (big Israel map) chose Palestinians as the underdog (70%). Group B (small Israel map) chose Israelis as the underdog (62.1%).

The groups were then asked which side they supported -- Israelis or Palestinians. Same information. All that differed was the size of Israel on their maps. The results? The majority of Group A (big Israel) sided with Palestinians (53.3%) while Group B (small Israel) sided with Israel (76.7%).

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 read the same one-page essay). The results, however, were far from identical. The lone variable was the map. When Israel was small on the map, test subjects saw an "underdog" and threw their support behind Israel. When Israel was big on the map, test subjects saw an "overdog" and threw their support to the Palestinians.

What does this mean for Israel?

It means that no amount of concessions will ever bring peace -- or ever curry favor in the eyes of President Obama, the United Nations, and activists around the world -- until Israel gives away so much of its land, and so much of its power, that it transforms itself into a weak and powerless underdog worthy of the support of those who practice Underdogma.  

Underdogma by Michael Prell is now available at www.under-dogma.com

[1] "O Allah, destroy America as it is controlled by Zionist Jews ... Allah will avenge, in the name of His Prophet, the colonialist settlers who are the descendents of monkeys and pigs ... " Ikrime Sabri, Mufti of the Palestinian Authority, Voice of Palestine, July 11, 1997
[2] Palestinian poll, reported in the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper, January 24, 2002
[3] "‘Death Threat' to Palestinian Gays," BBC News, March 6, 2003
[4] "Commodifying Honor in Female Sexuality: Honor Killings in Palestine," Suzanne Ruggi, Middle East Report No. 206, Spring 1998
[5] "Dollars and Diplomacy: Foreign Aid and the Palestinian Question," Scott Lasensky, August 2006
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