WSJ Columnist: ‘Palestine Effect’ Makes People Irrational

Why does the media continue to post Gaza casualty figures provided by Hamas – often without mentioning the source – as though the information is credible and useful to people trying to make sense of what’s happening in Gaza?

And why do some people instinctively blame Israel for “starting” the Gaza war, even though it’s clear that the first act of violence was the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens?

According to Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, both of these are products of a disorder he calls “The Palestine Effect,” which he defines as “The abrupt and often total collapse of logical reasoning, skeptical intelligence and ordinary moral judgment whenever the subject of Palestinian suffering arises.”

Stephens illustrates the effect by showing how some people ignore inconvenient facts when forming opinions on the situation.

The real utility of the body count is that it offers reporters and commentators who cite it the chance to ascribe implicit blame to Israel while evading questions about ultimate responsibility for the killing. Questions such as: Why is Hamas hiding rockets in U.N.-run schools, as acknowledged by the U.N. itself? What does it mean that Hamas has turned Gaza’s central hospital into “a de facto headquarters,” as reported by the Washington Post? And why does Hamas keep rejecting, or violating, cease-fires agreed to by Israel?


A reasonable person might conclude from this that Hamas, which started the war, wants it to continue, and that it relies on Israel’s moral scruples not to destroy civilian sites that it cynically uses for military purposes. But then there is the Palestine Effect. By this reasoning, Hamas only initiated the fighting because Israel refused to countenance the creation of a Palestinian coalition that included Hamas, and because Israel further objected to helping pay the salaries of Hamas’s civil servants in Gaza.

The last part of Stephen’s quote could serve as a response to an earlier op-ed by published in the New York Times by Nathan Thrall from the International Crisis Group.

According to Thrall:

The most immediate cause of this latest war has been ignored: Israel and much of the international community placed a prohibitive set of obstacles in the way of the Palestinian “national consensus” government that was formed in early June.

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