Recency bias is sabotaging the Jewish People.
Looking at events from a larger, historical perspective gives us a more comprehensive, nuanced outlook that will prevent ignorance and arrogance from harming the Jews.
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In the mere weeks after Palestinian terrorists infiltrated Israel on October 7th, massacring 1,200 people and abducting some 240 more, we saw “pro-Palestinian” demonstrations around the world, both online and offline, calling for a ceasefire to the “death and destruction” in Gaza.
Mind you, these demonstrations occurred a good two-to-three weeks before Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip, as Israel patiently held off on its real military response to give diplomatic negotiations a chance at returning all the abductees.
In Israel, and among those who cherish it around the world, we knew it was only a matter of days after October 7th that this unconscionable Palestinian attack, and the “thoughts and prayers for Israel” that came with it, would quickly turn into overwhelmingly one-sided empathy for the “uninvolved” and “poor Palestinians” as Israel responded to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Make no mistake: You can (and ought to) have simultaneously similar amounts of compassion for both Israelis and Palestinians, but that’s not what happened. Across the board, relatively mild concern for Israel was replaced with profuse support for the Palestinians.
In other words: recency bias, the tendency to place extra emphasis on experiences that are freshest in one’s memory, usually at the expense of previous or other experiences which are just as important or consequential.
Throughout today’s Jewish world, recency bias isn’t just “helping” the Palestinians; it is hurting the Jewish People, because it’s causing us to make short-term decisions incompatible with the Jewish People’s long-term goals, such as unity amongst ourselves and engendering formidable Jewish pride to neutralize rising antisemitism.
Here are three examples of recency bias amongst today’s Jewish People:
1) Overshadowing of the Holocaust
There is no question that the Holocaust was an unspeakable and horrific series of events that we must continue to learn about and expose to generation after generation, both Jews and non-Jews alike.
When it comes to recency bias, though, the Holocaust is not the problem; it’s the overemphasis on the Holocaust at the expense of the rest of Jewish history that knocks a more beneficial balance out of whack. By making so much of Jewish history about the Holocaust, as well as the events preceding and succeeding it, we cloud the Jewish People’s remarkable history spanning thousands of years.
We also tarnish the Jewish People’s “brand,” from one predominantly of victimhood, discrimination, persecution, and suffering, to one of peoplehood, perseverance, wisdom, ingenuity, humanitarian values, and self-determination.
But don’t just take it from me. When I recently visited the ANU – Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv following its recent $100-million, 10-year renovation, I noticed that the Holocaust was significantly underplayed; amongst the museum’s three massive floors, only a small room tucked away in the corner of the second floor is dedicated to the Holocaust. Why is this the case?
It was a question I posed to Dr. Orit Shaham Gover, the museum’s chief curator, who told me that the Holocaust wasn’t a focal point by design because, when they started to look back into Jewish history, they found prosperity.
“Economic prosperity, cultural prosperity, ingenuity, a lot of cultural dialogue,” she said. “And this cultural involvement is the essence of the Jewish story, not the persecution and killing and atrocities. It’s not that we don’t relate to the atrocities in the museum; we do in the historical context when they happened, where they happened. But not as the lenses through which we look at the Jewish story.”
Hence why it’s imperative that Jewish education and Jewish dialogue involve the entirety of Jewish history — the so-called good, bad, and ugly. Of course, this means we must know all of our history in order to speak about and pass it on.
2) Jews Seeking Refuge in the Diaspora
There seems to be a presiding mindset that Jews, today and in the future, will be just fine and dandy living in the Diaspora. That the Holocaust was our absolute low point and there’s just no way Jews living outside of the Jewish state will ever be endangered again.
The question is not whether there will be another Holocaust, but rather: Will a meaningful number of Jews again face unjust persecution or violence, just like they have countless times in our past?
The answer, as demonstrated by “pro-Palestinian” mobs and other bad actors since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, is an emphatic “absolutely.” If you study Jewish history, you quickly learn that persecutory events against Jews look and feel starkly different, such as the Holocaust, the Bar Kokhba revolt in 132 A.C.E., and the Kishinev pogrom in 1903.
So, will another Holocaust happen again? Probably not, at least not in the form of Nazis going door-to-door to round up the Jews. But, again, this isn’t the most meticulous question, because the Holocaust is not the only type of persecution or violence that Jews have faced.
Instead, persecution is likely to look more like Jews feeling increasingly unsafe about being Jewish and engaging in Judaism outside of the confines of their home, that they’ll stop sending their kids to part-time or full-time Jewish schools; they’ll stop visiting Jewish places of worship; they’ll stop buying Jewish foods at the market; they’ll stop taking trips to Israel; and they’ll stop raising their kids Jewish.
Eventually, many Jews that remain in the Diaspora will either live in Orthodox communities, only do Jewish activities in their homes, or renounce their Jewishness altogether because it will have become such an emotional and psychological burden to be Jewish not just in diction, but in action and deed. Some folks call this “death by assimilation” for good reason.
Since many Jews do not want to contemplate such a reality, they engage in another form of recency bias: that things have generally been good for Jews across the globe since the Holocaust — and will continue to be. This mindset certainly soothes our heart strings, but it is not rooted in any semblance of reality.
While the world is very much different now than it was, say, during the Holocaust, it’s not a new world with new creatures. It’s still the same world, with the same human tendencies, the same political and socioeconomic forces, the same knee-jerk reactions to blame minority groups for society’s decay and miscalculations.
Many Jews with deep pockets continue to think that they can buy support, but the Arabs (with a diametrically opposed agenda to us Jews) have way deeper pockets. According to a study published in 2022, which did not attract much attention at the time, the Qataris donated $4.7 billion to U.S. universities starting in 2001, precisely after the September 11th attacks. (The recipients, however, did not report part of the money received, as required by law.)
As Arabs and even Muslims continue to up the ante with their seemingly bottomless pockets, Jewish donors and lobbyists will become exponentially less relevant, while Jewish persecution and violence will become exponentially more common and socially acceptable in some parts. If it can happen to Moshe in 133 A.C.E. and Vera in 1540 and Max in 1903, it can happen to you in 2024 or your kids in 2047 or your grandkids in 2092.
I’m not trying to scare Jews, wherever they are in the world. I’m simply trying to protect us from our own recency biases.
3) Israel as the Aggressor
Nowadays, many people perceive Israel as the aggressor whenever a military conflict arises between the Jewish state and Palestinian factions, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. If you look at the results of these conflicts — thanks to Israel’s overwhelming military might — then it’s easy to view Israel as the aggressor. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows that Israel’s enemies, past and present, seek power. To harm or damage Israel, therefore, is an attempt at achieving power. On the other hand, most of Israel’s responses have been that of survival, not power.
Hamas, for instance, was founded in 1987, soon after the First Intifada broke out, as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which in its Gaza branch had previously been non-confrontational toward Israel and hostile to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Co-founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin said, and the Hamas Charter affirmed, that Hamas was founded to liberate Palestine, including modern-day Israel, from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
Meanwhile, in 1947, the Jewish Agency for Palestine and most Zionist factions accepted the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine — a resolution that recommended the creation of two independent Arab and Jewish states and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem. The Arab Higher Committee, the Arab League, and other Arab leaders and governments rejected it outright and indicated an unwillingness to accept any form of territorial division.
The result was a series of military conflicts in which various Arab groups and countries were the aggressors, including the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (Israel’s War of Independence), the Palestinian Fedayeen insurgency, the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and so forth. Israel was considered the “underdog” in each of these battles, yet won them all.
With every victory, Israel strengthened itself economically, militarily, geopolitically, and otherwise. It also took preemptive steps to defend itself in the future, such as increasing its borders (you know, buffer zones) and other measures, which any country would reasonably do.
However, these actions were strategically manipulated by Palestinian leaders to gaslight Israel and inflame the Palestinians’ narrative. In the mere defense of itself, Israel somehow became an oppressive, colonial-settler, genocidal, and ethnic-cleansing power which must be restrained. And then delegitimized in the court of public opinion (an ongoing Palestinian strategy that dates back to the 1960s, when Israel was just a budding state).
Now, as Israel uses 2,000-pound bombs to strike Hamas’ vast terror tunnel network underneath Gaza, recency bias automatically makes people pay more attention to “2,000-pound bombs” — thus overshadowing “Hamas’ vast terror tunnel network,” which was built largely using misappropriated humanitarian aid, which is one of the reasons why so many Palestinians are suffering right now in Gaza.
I’m not suggesting that 2,000-pound bombs are a fast-track to achieving peace with the Palestinians, but neither is all the terrorism that Palestinians have indiscriminately inflicted on Jews, going back to the 1800s in Ottoman-era Palestine. Sure, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, yet given a choice between being dead or going blind, Israelis choose (as you would too) the latter.
Israel’s former prime minister, Golda Meir, put it more poetically: “If we have to have a choice between being dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have the bad image.”
To ensure our storied survival for generations to come, Jews across the world ought to take this page out of the Israeli book.