Recently I raised the possibility that more information about Jewish history might undermine inaccurate Palestinian conspiracy theories. While standing by this statement, I acknowledge that there are powerful reasons other than misinformation that a group might fall prey to such theories. The most powerful: some conspiracy theories are not crazy.
The currency of easily disproven conspiracy theories in the Arab world is depressingly well documented. Just for one example, in a 2008 poll, 50% of Egyptians and 49% of Jordanians said that either Israel or the U.S. was behind the 9/11 attacks. (Interestingly the Palestinian Territories were less inclined to conspiracy – while 46% did say it was either the U.S. or Israel, a solid 42% identified al Qaeda. In Egypt and Jordan, only 16% and 11% respectively thought al Qaeda was the culprit.)
Living in Jerusalem, however, brings to mind the old joke “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.” Consider the following. Imagine you were driving in upstate New York and your companion volunteered, “You know, The Nature Conservancy bought Follensby Pond in 2000 as part of a secret arrangement with New York State to force the remaining Iroquois off the land.” You’d correctly think he was a nutball. While the Iroquois are indeed fighting in the courts for land rights to parts of New York State, you would be right to assume that these disputes are taking place aboveboard. If then your friend said that the organization of NYS archeologists was taken over by the same conspiracy, as was the housing authority and various non-profits claiming to promote New York history, you’d would be sure of his unbalanced nature.
Now shift to Jerusalem. The government designs plans for parks where currently Palestinian houses are located. The Knesset is considering a bill that would lessen the academic qualifications for the head of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. As the head of the Archeology Department at Hebrew University has said, the new law “could undermine archaeology’s academic freedom and its ability to operate free of political influence.” The Knesset is also debating a bill structured to cut off funding for humanitarian NGOs while retaining funding for right-wing organizations. Even what public areas are kept clean and visible is political. A large, historic Arab cemetery in the heart of West Jerusalem appears semi-abandoned and is made hard to see from the sidewalk, while all sites of ancient Jewish or modern Israeli history have been given appealing signage, sight lines and lighting. Daily, construction for new Israeli Jewish housing in East Jerusalem is approved while Palestinian housing is demolished and repairs are forbidden.
Helping students develop the habits of critical thought will certainly aid them in moving away from conspiracy theories. If the government and its allies stopped conspiring against those students and their families, that would make an even larger contribution.