Hamas Hizbollah Iran Israel Palestinians

The Middle East telephone game

Anyone who has played the game of “telephone” knows that our perceptions of what other people say are often distorted and inaccurate. In that game, people form a circle, and one person whispers something into the ear of his neighbor, who whispers what she thought she heard to her neighbor, and the whispers continue until the last person in the circle recites what he believes the message to be. It often bears only a passing resemblance to the original message.

But this inability to hear correctly seems to be especially acute, for some reason, when people hear remarks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During presentations about the conflict, many of them listen mostly to the background music inside of their own heads, and hear what they want to hear based on that background music, on pre-ordained conclusions, on abject fury at Jews or Arabs, on who knows what else…And all nuance, all subtlety, is not merely ignored; it isn’t even heard.

During a book talk in Buffalo, I gave my standard spiel about how the far left hurts the Palestinian people. I said they spew out so much bile against Israel that they make more moderate, left-leaning Jews afraid to criticize the Jewish state or the American Jewish community. I said that, yes, some of the people emitting that bile were outright anti-Semites. Later, during the Q&A, a woman said she resented the fact that I said that all criticism of Israel was anti-Semitic!!!

It happens all the time.

Two days ago, someone named “A Kronfeld” wrote the following comment about my recent C-Span appearance:

I found Mr. Fleshler arguments during his CSPAN book presentation totally immature – rockets fire at Israeli cities – it’s not big deal; Hezbollah will not destroy Israel (meaning just kill few Israelis). For author of the book this logic is embarrassing.

If you didn’t watch or don’t have the patience to watch it now, I said when Hamas started firing rockets at southern Israel after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas’ actions were “stupid, immoral and illegal.” I mentioned, several times and in different ways, the dangers of Hamas using the West Bank as a staging ground for rockets that could hit Israel’s coastal plain, and said neither Israel nor the U.S. should –or would–ever permit that to happen.

I mentioned Hizbollah just once, in passing, when quoting from a passage about the sources of Israeli fears. Now, it is also true that I said “it is not 1939.” and objected to constant invocations of the Holocaust to justify Israeli actions. At one point, I noted that the threats from Iran and Hamas were very real, and said that I shared the fear of people who were worried about those threats, to some extent. But I said the fear did not justify refraining from pressing for a two-state solution and “a modicum of justice for the Palestinian people.”

You could legitimately argue with what I actually said. You could even argue, I suppose, with the right of an American Jew to say any of it. But only someone determined to hear what he/she wanted to hear could claim that I advanced the idea that Hamas rockets were “not big deal” (sic).

I am fascinated and saddened by this phenomenon. Do different Serbian factions have the same problem when the talk turns to the Balkans? Do Greek and Turkish Cypriots never hear what each other is saying? Why can’t we all just listen, carefully and attentively? Then if the arguments must begin, let them begin…

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