In the 1960s the Soviet government under Nikita Kruschev ushered in the era of “punitive psychology.” It attempted to silence dissent and disagreement with its policies by labelling the dissenters criminally insane, incarcerating them in mental hospitals and forcing strong psychotropic medication and electroconvulsive therapy on them. Within that lexicon of the Soviet regime, any disagreement became “mad” rather than only “bad,” no doubt starting from the premise that no-one takes seriously what a “mad” person says. The world condemned the USSR for these deliberate human rights abuses.
It is hardly surprising, although it is disturbing, to note that a more subtle but no less insidious variant of this attempt to use alleged mental health abuses (this time of Palestinians) is trying to become acceptable as another avenue for the demonisation of Israel and silencing those who speak out in her support.
Tony Lerman writes on Comment is Free about Psychoactive, an organisation which has laudable enough aims on the surface – to examine the psychological effects of the Israel/Palestine conflict on the antagonists and intends to hold a conference at Birkbeck College in London.
However, if we look more closely at Pscychoactive’s web page we see that it is predominantly concerned with the psychological effects of violence on Palestinians and that should alert the reader to its real agenda. Nowhere, for example, are mentioned the psychological effects on Israeli civilians of the continued shelling of Sderot and surrounding areas by the “democratically elected” Hamas and its ignominious fellow travellers long before Cast Lead. Nor does it examine the effects on the developing psyches of Palestinian children and young people as a result of Hamas deliberately placing them in danger by using them as human shields, and teaching them in its schools and kindergartens that the apotheosis of their existence is to commit suicide among Israeli Jews.
Lerman’s article is the usual one-sided opinion piece, and too short to look at all sides of this debate even adequately, much less to do it justice but it is, after all, published on Comment is Free. In true Lerman/CiF fashion he quotes only from the sources which shore up his misguided views.
He is no psychologist either, which of course begs the question as to why he dares to broach the topic at all. True, he admits that
“..any discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict which tries to take a psychological or psychoanalytical approach is bound to enter very difficult mental territory and also to attract some scepticism from those who see the problems as essentially political and requiring political solutions…”
nevertheless he tries, and very ineptly to lead us up that primrose path.
Lerman refers to Professor Uri Hadar of Tel Aviv University, an Israeli psychologist, who sought to explain “Israeli brutality towards Palestinians and what enables it..” but Lerman studiously avoids any mention of the extensive Israeli and other research into the effects of suicide terror on Israeli civilians. He also fails to tell us that Hadar is a radical anti-Zionist and is among the 500 signatories to an anti-Israel petition of 5th January 2009, in which may be seen:
“…It is the signatories’ belief that Israel’s atrocities will not cease without a massive intervention by the international community…”
Neither does Lerman tell us that Prof Lynne Segal, the organiser of this conference, is a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, nor that the conference at Birkbeck on 16 October will be sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices, which according to Melanie Phillips is a front for advancing anti-Zionist agenda.
Lerman is of course writing “as-a-Jew” and in doing so he does not hesitate to wheel out the opinions of any other Jews which he can bend to his tendentious argument. He has become infamous of late for his selectivity in quoting his sources – notable was his omission of the first part of the title of Robin Shepherd’s “A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with the Jews” in one of his previous articles, so that he could pour undeserved scorn on the author and the erudite arguments in it. Readers will remember the response to Robin Shepherd by Comment is Free’s Editors, when Shepherd asked for the right to reply. Given Lerman’s record, therefore, readers may do well to question whether these people actually said what Lerman attributed to them or whether he is being selective yet again.
We also have echoes of the statement by disgraced Labour MP, Shahid Malik, (erroneous and offensive in equal measure) that Muslims are the new Jews, when Lerman quotes Primo Levi’s “Everybody is somebody’s Jew…”
I doubt that I am alone in feeling profoundly uncomfortable about the ease with which some members of the professions feel constrained to denigrate Israel for her misdeeds, real or imagined, on the world stage, as if their professional status alone is enough to underwrite the legitimacy of those claims.
The trailblazers in this are Physicians for Human Rights, one of whose more infamous stories dealt with the alleged death from cancer of Muhammad al-Harrani, which was said to have occurred because he was kept waiting in Gaza for chemotherapy. The story was untrue but this did not prevent the denunciation by Physicians for Human Rights of Israel’s Shin Bet for allowing this to happen. The organisation was informed of the man’s death by the grieving brother. A week later, however, he was found alive. The brother had lied. He didn’t want the patient vetted first, since he was suspected of terrorism. Shin Bet rebuked the Physicians for not checking the story.
Since Cast Lead, psychotherapy has also jumped on the bandwagon in the shape of a particularly egregious and intellectually dishonest article in the March 2009 issue of “Therapy Today”, the monthly journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, entitled “To Resist is to Exist.” The two authors, Martin Kemp and Eliana Pinto, joined a “fact finding mission” to Gaza the bias of which was summed up as follows by Irwin J Mansdorf of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East:
“..To blindly accept the assertion of intentional Israeli oppression against Palestinians as fact and to then offer a banal and baseless psychodynamic interpretation that cites European treatment of the Jews as being related to it not only stretches the bounds of acceptable scientific discourse, it also defames and insults the experience of so many Jews that have either personally been victims of this terrible injustice or have parents and relatives who have. Nowhere is the history of the conflict presented by Kemp and Pinto. Nowhere do they note that for many Palestinians, including the Hamas party that rules Gaza, the entire state of Israel and not only the West Bank is ‘occupied’. …”
Nowhere in their reply in a later edition of “Therapy Today” did Kemp and Pinto acknowledge that they had taken on board any criticisms of their article. They showed no consciousness of the hurt and distress they had caused by their one-sided reporting and neither did they evidence that they had accepted and understood the meaning of the suffering of the residents of southern Israel as a result of shelling from Gaza.
It seems, therefore, that unless Psychoactive takes extreme care (which does not look at all likely from the impression given by its web page and the acknowledged bias of its prime movers) it will tread the same weary path of mindless condemnation of Israel as do Physicians for Human Rights and professionally-accredited counsellors like Kemp and Pinto.
Israel’s detractors care little about the untruths or distortions they make use of in their indecent haste to excoriate her.
That being the case, it is a forlorn hope indeed to expect anything other from Tony Lerman and Comment is Free.