How the Guardian perpetuates Palestinian misery

A guest post by Mitnaged

Cartoon courtesy of Diversity Lane

I believe that the psychology of Westerners who over-identify with the Palestinian cause is an under-explored dynamic.  It is clear that they seek the psychological benefit of being seen as on the side of “victims” but there may also be what Pascal Bruckner[i] refers to as “Western masochism”, because many view the I-P conflict through a lens of atoning for past colonial sins, and post colonial guilt informs their politics to a great extent.

The notion of colonial sins and post-colonial guilt may well underlie the behaviour of the mainstream media and organs like the Guardian.  However, and taking the Guardian as an example, I would argue that this notion does not explain sufficiently its obsessive focus on Palestinians as the only victims in the Middle East conflict.   I therefore propose to examine this in terms of what predisposes dissatisfied (one assumes) people to identify unhealthily with the Palestinian cause at an individual level and how the Guardian, in the shape of CiF, perpetuates that enmeshment.  I believe that CiF’s over-identification with the Palestinians as “victims” is pathological and speaks more about the needs of the “over-identifiers” than it does about the objects of their pity.  This over-identification has many of the characteristics of pathological co-dependency.

Co-dependency is often used to define the skewed relationships which enable substance abusers, alcoholics or narcissists to perpetuate their destructive behaviour, and to absolve them from taking steps to improve their condition.  Often the whole family may be involved.  Co-dependent relationships are complex and multifaceted but essentially this is a condition which results in a dysfunctional relationship between the co-dependent and other people.  Co-dependents are addicted to helping people.  They need to be needed.  This addiction is sometimes so all-consuming that the co-dependent will cause the other person to continue to be needy. The co-dependent will purposefully overlook serious shortcomings in the object of his/her pity such as child-abuse or other criminal activity, and will sabotage all attempts by the pity object to become independent.

Co-dependents often suffer from a ‘Messiah Complex’ where they see problems with everyone and see themselves as the only people who can help.  They create and maintain the addiction to being helped.  Co-dependency is an addiction to being needed.   (Source: Co-dependency Test And Definition)

So far I have written about co-dependency as an individual trait.  Care should be taken when extrapolating from research with individuals onto groups, but nevertheless the findings of such research can inform enquiry into why groups might take on the co-dependency role:

There is no doubt that the Guardian and CiF in particular have hives of bees in their bonnet about Palestinian victimhood and correspondingly about Israel’s culpability for the Palestinian plight.  Most of the time, these take on a delusional aspect.  Articles on CiF rarely reflect what an unbiased person might construe from the available facts, and often go to great lengths to distort or deny empirical evidence to shore up those delusions.   Just as the co-dependent person defines her/his in terms of being needed by pity object, so also one gets the feeling that the Guardian and CiF may shrivel up and die if there were no Palestinians to pity.  The obsessive Israel-bashers above and below the line on CiF could not survive emotionally intact if the objects of their pity improved their economic, political and emotional state.

In a similar way as the alcoholic’s inability to function acts as a stimulant to the co-dependency of his/her partner, the “oppression” of the Palestinians acts like a drug to the Guardian and CiF.  Once hooked it is difficult for them to deal with anything which points to their having been wrong to engage in this over-identification.  Therefore, rather than having to admit this, they continue to add to and embroider the fairy tale and broadcast it until it takes on a life of its own.  One example may be found in the alleged “starving” of Gaza – which has been proven false again and again – and I have lost count of the number of times CiF writers have referred to Gaza being “strangled.”

There is little doubt also that the “victimhood” of the Palestinians serves a psychological purpose for the NGOs, UNRWA, the unreconstructed, arrested developmental BDS-ers, and those of the extreme Left who need a cause to believe in because they cannot find other meaning in their lives.  Palestinian victimhood provides gainful employment for thousands in UNRWA who depend on it continuing.

Of course, there can be no co-dependency without objects of pity and rescue.  For the Palestinians themselves – possessed of the insh’allah attitude to life; where they are always the victims of circumstances and are rarely motivated to initiate anything constructive to better their lot; where their faith system has put them at the mercy of events; who can rarely be wrong about anything because their shame would be unbearable, and where the only story they can tell themselves about why bad things happen to them is because someone else is always to blame – this gadarene rush by the co-dependent useful idiots of the Guardian to sympathise with and rescue them must seem heaven-sent.   Bear in mind, however, that the Palestinian objective is never to be rescued (just as the objective of their useful idiot co-dependents is never to succeed in rescuing them or helping them succeed in living useful lives). Each group needs the other to perform its role in order to maintain the relationship as it is.  Change one aspect and the whole machine would spin out of control – if the Palestinian society was to politically mature, and if they were to aspire to live peacefully alongside Israel, then its co-dependent useful idiots would lose a vital means of defining themselves.

Add to this the concept of secondary gain (where a person deliberately uses a disability or illness or situation to get privileges or sympathy that he might not otherwise get) and the Palestinians have another motivator to maintain the status quo.  The ordinary Palestinians, of course, are doing what they always do almost from knee-jerk reaction, but their leaders’ instinctive cunning senses an opportunity for gain and aggrandisement from their people’s victimhood.  They, too, have much to lose if the Palestinians’ lot is bettered because their power base will be threatened, so they too have a vested interest in perpetuating their people’s misery.   They, too, maintain a parallel and perniciously manipulative co-dependency with their people.

How, then, might this cycle of mutual abuse be halted?   A co-dependent individual is addicted and the cure of addiction lies in the individual’s wish to be cured and to understand the cause of the addiction so as not to be trapped by it again.  There are tried and tested methods which involve psychotherapy and long-time support and the encouragement of insight into relationships where co-dependency may be a risk factor.

The same methods will not work for Guardian/CiF co-dependency without either a dawning of awareness for the Guardian of the harm done to their Palestinian pity-objects by their obsessive focus on Palestinian victimhood and Israeli villainy, or for the Palestinians to realise that more can be gained economically and socially by making a lasting peace with their neighbour.   The latter is at least conceivable, although I would not want to put a time scale on it, and it would almost certainly render the Guardian’s role obsolete.   I doubt, however, that the Guardian is ready to let go of its addiction yet.

[i] Bruckner, P. (2010).  The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism.  Princeton University Press

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