Israel, an apartheid state?
And other ridiculous comparisons that are increasingly harming the Jewish world.
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How many times have you heard people compare present-day Israel to Apartheid-era South Africa?
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is certainly a dark part of both Israeli and Palestinian narratives, but calling the current state of affairs apartheid is one of the many silly comparisons increasingly harming the Jewish world.
Yet it turns out, making such comparisons is actually a very normal part of how the human brain has evolved. More specifically, we’re wired to use heuristics, or mental shortcuts that simplify problems and avoid cognitive overload, so we can quickly reach conclusions to complex problems.
The limbic part of our brain is responsible for this behavior, but the problem is it has no capacity for language. This is why it’s hard to put feelings into words — and why we speak in analogies a lot of the time.1
Reasoning by analogy starts with an observation that two or more things are similar in some aspects, and ends with the conclusion that they’re likely similar in many (if not all) aspects as well.
As a result, this irresponsibly creates analogies that are misleading, inaccurate, taken too far, and overgeneralized.
A more effective way to reason is called “first principles thinking” — in which you break down complicated issues into fundamental truths, and then reassemble them from the bottom up. In many ways, this is the opposite of reasoning by analogy, a top-down approach that begins with comparing things which are known.
For example, if students want to learn about flying an airplane, reasoning my analogy means that they might start with studying how birds fly. Certainly there are some similarities between birds and airplanes, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that birds and airplanes aren’t one in the same.
Why, then, do we continue to use analogies — like Apartheid and Israel — when talking about different parts of the Jewish world?
Just like students learning to fly an airplane start with basic physics, we ought to employ “first principles thinking” to better understand the Jewish world. Let’s dive into four examples that illustrate this point, including:
Israel, an apartheid state?
Judaism, a religion?
Tisha B’Av, a prediction for modern Israel?
Antisemitism, a form of racism?