Understanding the fundamental roots of conflict and suffering: An interview with Rich Forer

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Rich Forer is a former member of AIPAC who has orthodox relatives living in West Bank settlements. Still, after a dramatic spiritual awakening in 2006, he was transformed into an advocate for Palestinian rights. He is the author of Breakthrough: Transforming Fear into Compassion A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict which presents an important viewpoint that is all but ignored in the Palestine solidarity movement. I chose to interview him after reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth which taught me the concept of  how “ego-identification” drives conflict between individuals and nations. In Rich’s book and his interviews online he discusses “ego identification” in the framework of Israel/Palestine. I cannot emphasize how important Rich’s “psycho-spiritual roots of conflict” are towards understanding why Israel-identifiers think and behave the way they do. We can take the easy route and brush them off as crazy and racist. It’s much harder to look at the roots and even to identify similar qualities in ourselves.

KATIE: I had never heard the term “psycho-spiritual roots of conflict” until I started watching your videos and reading your book. But as someone with Jewish ancestry who discarded a minor personal identification with the state of Israel more than 12 years ago it instantly made sense to me. While the concept of ego-identification is familiar to me through my study of Buddhism and Sufism and may also be to some readers through their own spiritual journeys, ego-identification as applied to Zionist ideology is not a concept that gets discussed in the Palestine solidarity community. In fact, you’re the only person I know of who’s talking about it. Can you give a brief overview of what is meant by “psycho-spiritual roots of conflict and suffering?”

RICH: Katie, this is a substantial subject that I explain more thoroughly in my book, but I will try to be as coherent as possible in the small space an interview permits. First, throughout this interview the following terms will, for the most part, be used interchangeably: identity, ego, ego-identity, self, self-image.

Psycho-spiritual roots are the deepest layer of our being and have the greatest influence on how we relate to the world and to ourselves. Psycho-spiritual refers to our psyche, or mind, and to our presumed, limited and mortal identities. The many ego-identities we possess may have unique expressions or idiosyncrasies but their primary function is survival and self-validation. Because the presumption of a limited identity divides the world into self and other, I refer to it as a spiritual problem. The self in the dichotomy self and other is not our true and unlimited nature. Whatever we call it, the configuration of self and other has personal as well as collective ramifications which I will describe throughout our interview.

The concept of self, or identity, as a reliable description of who we really are is an illusion. Core identities, altogether, function as a veil of illusion by filtering our worldview through the beliefs and images that are associated with these identities. Our identities are mental constructs that operate as emotional recoil from our common humanity with all people. If the beliefs and images and the identities they support disappear we won’t go anywhere; we will simply be freer because we will be more in touch with our true nature. Our common humanity is an essential element of our true nature.

I am not saying we have to completely lose our limited identities to create a freer world. I am saying we need to become more conscious of how our attachment to these identities can easily trick us into losing our humanity and creating a world of us against them. Our attachment to some identities is weak and losing those identities is not particularly problematic, but our attachment to deeply ingrained identities can be extremely problematic. Isn’t the state of the world powerful evidence this is so?

If, for example, I define myself as a Jew first and a human being second I will possess anywhere between a subtle and a palpable emotional and intellectual bias that takes for granted that the collective Jewish worldview is superior to other worldviews. On the other hand, if I define myself as a human being first my identity as a Jew is less likely to be pathological. Then, I will be more capable of appreciating the similarities and respectfully inquiring into the differences between various ideas. And I will be capable of discarding Jewish ideas for non-Jewish ideas.

These psycho-spiritual roots affect all of us regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, or ideology. So, although I tend to focus my understanding of psycho-spiritual roots onto Israel-Palestine, especially as these roots apply to Israeli loyalists (people who identify so strongly with the idea of Israel’s innocence and the Jewish people’s struggle for security in a hostile world that they are unwilling to question either Israeli policy or the Zionist narrative), I do not mean to suggest that these loyalists as a group are necessarily more vulnerable to the effects of this spiritual problem than other groups.  

I do believe, however, that the dilemma of Israel-Palestine, with its deeply ingrained and false narratives, is an archetype for conflict and suffering. Therefore, if this dilemma can be solved in a humane and just way, a very tall order, I believe such a solution would give birth to a global transformation in consciousness and an entirely new destiny for mankind.

I want to mention that everything I describe in this interview, all of the insights into identity and the mind, spontaneously arose in consciousness as part of an unexpected spiritual awakening. Furthermore, the awakening of insight into these psycho-spiritual roots was not the fruit of the mind’s activity. It was actually the fruit of the mind’s inactivity, which allowed the natural intelligence of the heart to take its rightful place as sovereign over the mind. Accordingly, I realized I was as much Palestinian as Israeli, as much Muslim or Christian as Jew.

KATIE: How does our attachment to these identities affect our relationship to the world?

RICH: All of us are receptive to ideas and behavior that fit within the framework of our identity or self. Ideas and behavior that fall outside this framework – that originate from the other – are interpreted as possible threats. Existential fear arises. We look at the world through this filter of fear and unconsciously project enemy images onto the other. We automatically reduce to objects all that we perceive as the enemy. Then, we hide from, disable or destroy these objects so as to restore apparent security into our lives.

In other words, we distort our ability to see clearly by reducing things to a primitive and inaccurate orientation. When we look at the other, we don’t see who he or she really is. What we see is a reflection of our beliefs about him superimposed or projected onto who he really is. This unconscious process is the underpinning for all kinds of prejudice and bigotry.

If asked to explain in a few words why so many people are unwilling to investigate core beliefs I would answer “fear of death.”

During a Q&A period at the end of one of my talks, a woman identified herself as a “Jewish, Zionist, humanist.” A long time ago that may have been possible but nowadays the terms Zionist and humanist have to be seen as mutually exclusive. This woman’s self-images oblige her to rationalize even the most unjust of Israeli policies as just; and unequivocal assessments of those policies likely engender within her a sense of victimhood. I wish she could have understood that before she is any one of those labels she is a human being. Unfortunately, she was unable to resonate with that understanding. In effect, she was unable to fulfill the injunction of all great spiritual masters, from Socrates to the present, to Know Thyself.  

We are all familiar with Israeli loyalists who refuse to challenge their beliefs by reading a single intelligent book about Israel-Palestine. They delude themselves into thinking they know the actual history when all they are doing is clinging to whatever makes them feel secure in their identities.

Their refusal to find out the facts is a symptom of their fear of empathizing with the suffering of Palestinians who, for so long, have lost so much. Instead of surrendering to heart-felt empathy and compassion, they succumb to intellectual rationalizations that explain away even the most abominable crimes against humanity. Their hearts are closed because their unexamined minds deceive them into believing that an open heart is equivalent to the end of their mortal existence. Thus, they remain immune to the suffering of the other and out of touch with their own humanity. No matter how brilliant they may be, an unexamined mind and fear of truly knowing oneself fortifies a closed heart and occludes that person’s ability to see clearly. Collectively, individuals with this or a similar worldview represent a consciousness that justifies inhumane and ultimately self-destructive policies on the basis of security. This is why I frequently say that the primal enemy is not someone or something outside of us. The primal enemy is the unexamined mind that unconsciously projects its suffering onto the world and then scapegoats the world for its suffering.

In other words, loyalists’ descriptions of the other as the enemy are really descriptions of themselves which, because they are unconscious and motivated by existential fear, they project onto the other. And when they claim that the other is intent on denying them a right to exist they are really describing what, through their support for Israeli policy, they themselves are already doing to the other.  

Denial and projection go hand in hand. What they deny about Israel and about themselves, they project onto the other who automatically and necessarily becomes the enemy. It is easy to have an enemy. It is much harder to do research and acknowledge that the other is a human being too.

Moreover – and this is critical – contrary to what they want to believe, they are not defending Israel, at least the Israel that actually exists. What they are defending are idealistic images of Israel that they unconsciously project onto the real Israel. These projections enable them to deny painful insights about Israel and about themselves that they would otherwise discover if only they would look without the influence of an unexamined mind.

Dualistic thinking such as this conceptualizes a world of us against them, good against evil. Our emotions, our attitudes toward others, how we interpret events, what we notice and what we don’t notice, mirror our worldview. In a never-ending cycle of unconsciousness, we persist in re-imagining and taking for reality the same worldview over and over again. The real threat, and it is mostly unconscious, is to our self-image, or identity, that denying the other’s humanity exposes our inhumanity.  

Dualistic thinking induces so many who profess peace to support war; it is why so many normally decent people, who claim to believe in justice, rationalize indecency and injustice; why so many who speak of morality and democracy defend immorality and suppress democracy; and why so many who adhere to the catchphrase that Never Again should the world turn its back on the persecution of an entire people turn their backs on the persecution of an entire people.  

(Illustration: Katie Miranda)
(Illustration: Katie Miranda)

Like me once, my Jewish friends and relatives who think they are defending Israel are not conscious of their prejudices against Arabs. They think their ideas about Arabs are merely a reflection of what is happening in the world. The opposite is true. What is happening in the world is a reflection of their ideas, of the enemy images that occupy their minds, in the subconscious and unconscious.

Imagine the confusion that exists within a mind that justifies oppression yet claims it wants peace. This mind is so afraid of challenging its thought patterns that it cannot comprehend that when we oppress people and deny them basic rights, they have legitimate reasons to resist. Instead, it labels the resistance terrorism. The fear-based, dualistic mind is not just narcissistic and self-destructive, it is fascistic

If Israeli loyalists sincerely want to distinguish the source of conflict and find peace, they must question their assumptions and beliefs. If they do they will find out that the real conflict is not Israel versus a hostile world or Israel versus the Palestinian people. The real conflict is the inability to integrate the hard-to-believe but inescapable awareness of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with unquestioned loyalty to the Jewish State. One consideration recognizes Israel’s dark side. The other denies the dark side exists.

Unfortunately, they and so many others all over the world do not want to distinguish the source of conflict or find peace, not at the level they are functioning from. Look, for example, at how many people, rather than inquiring into their nationalistic or religious identities, are willing to send their children to war to kill or be killed. At an unconscious level their identities are more precious than the lives of their own children. Because their attachment to these identities and fear for their demise clouds their ability to see clearly, their inborn yearning for peace becomes muzzled by the ego identity’s compulsion to be right. From the false perspective of ego, or identity, being right trumps peace.

KATIE: How do we get in touch with our psycho-spiritual roots and begin to become more conscious?

RICH: As I allude to above the path to freedom from the suffering borne of dehumanizing thinking is self-inquiry, which generates deep insight or self-understanding. True understanding sets free the natural intelligence of the heart and enables us to look at problems without the bias of social or cultural conditioning. When the true spiritual function of the heart is kindled compassion arises.

It bears repeating that anyone who takes on this work will eventually learn that our inborn common humanity precedes exclusive identification with any nationality, religion or ideology. For thousands of years the world’s great wisdom traditions have attempted to address the issue of false identities and the nature of mind, without a great deal of success, in my opinion.

In my awakening, when the intelligence of the heart was set free and my attachment to limited identities relieved, existential fear, which is the underlying disposition of a limited identity, was transformed into compassion. Compassion is the ability to stand in the shoes of the other and see from all perspectives. Therefore, along with compassion clarity arises. Compassion and clarity, seeking to understand all behavior, ask why the other behaves as he does. What are the stimuli for his behavior? Have we in some way provoked his behavior? Compassion and clarity understand that no behavior occurs in a vacuum and that each of us is responsible for the suffering in the world and each of us contributes to the collective mind of mankind.

On the occasions I am invited to speak I sometimes tell my audiences not to believe anything I say. I ask them to question old ideas and test new ones and see how they resonate in the cauldron of the heart. I ask them to find out the facts of Israel-Palestine for themselves. For those who believe Israel is a victim of Palestinian hatred, especially if they have an emotional attachment to that belief, committing themselves to honest research will inevitably alleviate the effects of their attachment and possibly alleviate the attachment itself.

KATIE: Do you think the conflict can be solved without addressing the psycho-spiritual roots and what kind of response to your ideas have you received from the Palestine solidarity community?

RICH: I do not think it can be solved without addressing the root causes. From a pragmatic standpoint, the Palestine solidarity community needs a great many more people to counter the momentum of Israel’s influence on public perception and policy. I can think of two very large categories of people sitting on the sidelines that could possibly be drawn into the Israel-Palestine debate under the right circumstances. Currently, though, as far as I can tell, none of the organizations that work for Palestinian equality understands how to reach these groups.

One group consists of the millions of spiritual seekers in this country. They are not interested in wading through all the arguments from one side or another to figure out who or what to believe. These people are interested in why we behave so unconsciously and how we can integrate the unconscious into consciousness. They are students of Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, Buddhist Vipassana meditation, A Course in Miracles, Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Adyashanti and many other spiritual paths. In the past ten years I have met only a very tiny handful of people in the Palestine solidarity community who have practiced a spiritual discipline and I have met many people outside the community who tell me the community doesn’t appeal to them because it doesn’t look beneath the surface or have much understanding into why people behave and think the way they do.  

The second group consists of people who are generally considered apathetic but who are not. They have not gotten involved in the movement because they don’t know who to believe. They have friends who claim that Israel is in the right and they have friends who claim that Israel is in the wrong. Because they don’t know who to believe, and don’t want to antagonize their friends, they tune the issue out. I became more aware of this “subculture” a few years ago when I was invited to give a speech at a Rotary club a mile from where I was living in New Jersey at the time. The club has a speaker every week, fifty weeks a year. At my friend’s suggestion they invited me. The group is very patriotic, not the kind of group I would normally think would be interested in radical (getting to the root) ideas like mine. After the pledge of allegiance, the singing of My Country Tis of Thee and a prayer I spoke for about eighteen minutes. When I was done the audience was enthusiastic. Some of the members said it was the best speech they’d hosted in a decade. Talking to these people I learned that my brief explication of the psycho-spiritual roots of conflict and suffering had helped them understand why some of their friends were so dogmatic and one-sided in their attitudes. These Rotary members had always had an intuition that there was something wrong with Israeli politics but they could never put it into words until I did it for them. They were grateful and were inspired to get more involved and to pay more attention to Israel-Palestine.

From the perspective of how to most effectively deal with Israel-Palestine, in addition to getting those groups interested and motivated, it seems obvious to me that if we want to solve an enduring problem it is critical we look to its deepest roots. Otherwise, any change we produce is likely to be incremental or evolutionary in nature, not transformational. Evolution versus transformation is like the difference between the melting of an iceberg and the spreading of a wildfire. A principal reason Israel-Palestine has been so difficult to solve is that the Palestine solidarity community treats this problem as a political one. But, as I have been saying throughout this interview and for ten years now, at the most fundamental level not only is the problem not political it is also not territorial, religious, cultural or humanitarian. Those are all important proximate causes but they are subordinate to the psycho-spiritual cause. I usually define this cause as the attachment to a presumed, limited and mortal identity and to the beliefs and images that emanate from and reinforce that presumption. I could never have understood the Israel-Palestine problem until I understood my own mind and my presumed limited and mortal identity. In my research into the problem, I quickly ran up against my identity, my indoctrination into a lifetime of beliefs about myself and my so-called people. The confrontation was shocking. The painful feelings I encountered in myself were a wound. But the wound was necessary because it was the doorway to the end of existential fear and confusion. One’s presumed identity is the root of existential fear and confusion. Whether I am a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, an Israeli, a Palestinian an American, whatever I may be, my identity and its associated beliefs and images are the veil through which I perceive the world.

KATIE: Accusations of anti-Semitism are a common phenomenon in the debate over Israel-Palestine. Can you explain what is going on in the minds of people who use these accusations even against Jews who are upset with Israel’s behavior?

RICH: Identifying as the victims in this struggle, accusers reject historical fact and allege that criticism of Israel or acknowledging embarrassing facts is motivated by anti-Semitic bigotry. David Ben-Gurion admitted that Israel had “stolen” the land from the Palestinians? Was he an anti-Semite? Was Yitzhak Rabin an anti-Semite for lamenting that “ruling over another people has corrupted us?”

Most accusations of anti-Semitism are projections. The actual bigotry occupies the minds of those who are afraid to ask why someone is critical of Israel. Indifferent to the suffering of an entire people and refusing to do honest research to refute or confirm the criticism, these accusers scapegoat anyone who challenges their historical narrative. Abdicating personal responsibility for their feelings, they project onto Israel’s critics fear, confusion and anger, all of which are animated by unexamined beliefs and images within their minds.  

It is true that a small percentage of critics is anti-Semitic and would like to do to Israel what Israel does to the Palestinians. But most critics simply want Israel to comply with international law. They don’t want to harm Israelis. They want to prevent Israelis from harming Palestinians. But even their compassion for Palestinians is conflated with indifference to Jewish lives and judged anti-Semitic. If compassion for Palestinians is bigotry then virtually all Palestinians must be anti-Semites. And if criticism of deliberate violations of international law is bigotry, what is turning one’s back on the suffering of millions?

Are we to presume that the proof that someone is not an anti-Semite is that they accept Israeli justifications for its contempt for international law and its denial of human rights to non-Jews? If so, doesn’t this make a mockery of Judaism and characterize the Jewish people as inhumane? But such a characterization would itself be considered anti-Semitic. This creates an absurdity. The proof that you are not an anti-Semite proves that you are an anti-Semite. This is the dualistic mind infected with existential fear and confusion.

For the most part, accusations of anti-Semitism are moral blackmail and they debase Judaism. Real anti-Semites incite anti-Semitism. I don’t know anyone who does that more effectively than the Israeli government and its defenders. And after inciting anti-Semitism, they complain that they are victims of an anti-Semitic world.

(Illustration: Katie Miranda)
(Illustration: Katie Miranda)

KATIE: When I worked with the International Solidarity Movement in Hebron, one of our rules was to never verbally engage with settlers. This rule had been learned by trial through fire by naive activists who believed that settlers could be reasoned with using the context of human rights and equality for all. Those who broke the rule were lucky if they ended up only having to wipe spit off their faces. Others ended up in the hospital or became the catalyst for a settler riot. In psycho-spiritual terms, why can’t you reason with a settler about Palestinian human rights?

RICH: I’ve explained much of this in my previous answers but, very briefly, from the settlers’ perspective, talking about human rights is an unwelcome confrontation with their rigid identities. As I say above, these settlers think their beliefs about Arabs are a reflection of what is happening in the world, not the other way around. They think they are only defending what is theirs and that Palestinians who inhabit their land, which was promised to them by God, are trespassers. Additionally, since they don’t see Arabs as human how could they conceive of the idea that Arabs could have “human” rights?

KATIE: Do you think people in our movement also suffer from ego-identification, of us against them? If so, how does that manifest?

RICH: People in our movement are no different than anyone else, including settlers. We all have similar tendencies. Ego-identification, or the attachment to ego-identities, can become problematic with anyone. The greatest fear is to know thyself because to know thyself is to not interfere with the dying out of false identities. On the most common level that fear can manifest as a lack of interest in the psycho-spiritual roots of suffering and conflict. Perhaps people in the movement who ignore me are unable to relate to anything I say about identity or are unable to apply my words to their own sense of self. Additionally, I have met many people in the movement for whom, like Israeli loyalists, being right trumps peace. Keep in mind that being right is one of the ego’s calling cards. But for any movement to reach its maximum potential its members have to work at being as conscious as possible so they don’t fall into the same us against them consciousness that is so characteristic of Israeli loyalists.

(Illustration: Katie Miranda)
(Illustration: Katie Miranda)

I often say that anyone who thinks they are important cannot understand my point-of-view. Many of us don’t want to think we are like other people. We think we are special, better, more important. Since I don’t give energy to that mindset people are occasionally hostile and even abusive to me. But what they don’t understand is that when I speak about our inherent non-separateness or oneness, where ideas like specialness or importance cannot exist, I am speaking about our true nature, prior to differentiation into self and other. If they cannot grasp that they are so much more than their presumed identities they will always find a way to resist the message and, in some cases, attack the messenger.

Leaders, for example, are more susceptible than most to closing their minds to a message as radical as one regarding the illusion of identity. The status their positions endow them with can become a trap because it can create a self-image, another egoic way of defining themselves. If they buy into their higher status or sense of importance they are less likely to be open to new ideas.

Earlier, I referred to the dualistic and self-destructive nature of the unexamined mind and I remarked how ordinary people who believe in justice and morality, etc. support injustice and immorality, etc. In a dualistic world all things can turn into their opposites. When organizations in our movement close their minds to new ideas they are also closing their minds to the people who are attracted to those ideas. I have met many impressive people who have in fact dropped out of the movement because they felt it was disrespecting them or ignoring and suppressing their voices, or that it was not addressing the issues I talk about. This is a shame because on the one hand the Palestinian Solidarity movement works very hard to end Israel’s occupation but on the other hand, because it give little or no attention to the kinds of ideas I address it alienates a great many people and makes it harder to achieve its goals. The movement itself must learn to inquire within and to address the attitudes that inhibit its more efficient functioning. There is much more that I could say about this problem but I will leave that for another time.

KATIE: Explain the phrase “collective unconscious of the Jewish people”?  

RICH: Collective unconscious is the repository of cultural, religious and emotional beliefs and attitudes, skills, thinking, feelings and interests that has been transmitted through a mysterious and unconscious process for hundreds of generations. The internal logic that many Jewish people share is a part of this repository. For example, before my awakening, when someone would tell me that Israeli soldiers had killed children, I automatically reacted with disbelief if not outright denial. My “logical” mind explained what really must have happened, which was that children were killed because Arab leaders had embedded their soldiers within civilian populations. Children were not victims of Israeli bullets but of terrorists who were so consumed with hatred they were willing to sacrifice their own people in order to demonize my people. The fact is, I had no evidence to support this explanation. I just made all of it up on the spur of the moment because it fit in with my worldview and, therefore, seemed obvious to me. And I have heard other Jews say very similar, if not identical, things. As it turns out most of what I said was false. Our internal logic, or way of interpreting the world, parallels our indoctrination.   

KATIE: In your book you write about reading Beyond Chutzpah by Norman Finkelstein and feeling threatened: “…I had to face difficult things in myself – long held beliefs and powerful emotions. And I had to face old threats; at times I knew fear as things that seemed essential to my identity were threatened. But there was nothing threatening at all. When I look back, I see that I was simply sitting in my house reading a book. It was my great good fortune that the book was an accurate and compelling account of the subject I was most blind about, but I was never threatened. The common thread of the words I was reading was that they conflicted with my reality. That was the apparent threat. But it was not Reality. It was an illusion.” Can you expand on this specific episode in your life?

RICH: My earlier responses cover much of this but encountering a narrative about Israel and about my people that is incompatible with the narrative I believed and identified with was perceived by my mind as a threat. How can ideas threaten us? My unconscious or unexamined mind had fused certain ideas with my presumed identity as a Jew. Remember at the beginning of this interview I said: “Our identities are mental constructs . . .”? We are continually adjusting our beliefs and images in order to reinforce or build a more perfect illusion of identity.

Contemplating the possibility that cherished ideas have no basis in reality threatens to reveal the insubstantiality of presumed identities and triggers existential fear. This entire gestalt was created by my mind and was all an illusion. In fact, when the ideas that most blinded me dissolved along with my identity as a Jew, it felt like I had awakened from a dream, as if I had been asleep or in a trance for my entire life and upon waking was not burdened with the karma and emotional pain I had always carried. Within the dream, the pain had persisted for a lifetime, but in this newly awakened state it was only a dim and distant memory. I realized that my entire life had been a fictional story in which I had played the role of the main character. I had been making my life up as I went along, remembering things that fit in with how I defined myself – my identity – and forgetting things that didn’t fit in. But whatever I remembered or forgot was only a fraction of a lifetime.

Prior to this awakening, because I was identified as a Jew, whenever I heard of atrocities perpetrated against fellow Jews my emotional reaction was far more intense than it was when hearing about atrocities perpetrated against non-Jews. When a Jew is killed by a Palestinian the uproar within the Jewish community is deafening but when hundreds of Palestinian children are killed, decapitated and incinerated all I hear are excuses and justifications for their deaths. A minority of Israeli loyalists may express sadness which, if it was sincere, should convince them that Israeli policy must change dramatically. Most of these expressions of sadness are narcissistic and self-deceiving because they reinforce a self-image of humaneness. If someone is “humane” then the lethal actions they support cannot be inhumane. Therefore, they must be something else, like “necessary for security.”

Since my awakening, when hearing about atrocities there is basically no difference in the heartache I feel regardless of who the atrocities are perpetrated against.

KATIE: On college campuses we often hear pro-Israel students spout the phrase “I feel threatened,” or “I feel unsafe.” What’s going on here psycho-spiritually? Why do you think faculty and administrators kowtow to these imagined feelings of insecurity?

RICH: As with charges of anti-Semitism, in the vast majority of cases the subjective feeling that is expressed as “I feel threatened,” or “I feel unsafe” is self-created. It is a story these college kids are telling themselves. The story is, again, mostly unconscious or subconscious and is an integral part of their presumed, mortal identities, often passed down from generations. So when someone challenges parts of their story they become frightened. The actual threat that assails them is in their own minds, so whoever they hold responsible for making them aware of the precariousness of a treasured story they so desperately want to hold onto is turned by their minds into a threat. Inspired by their limited identities, their unexamined and unconscious minds create a fictional story. The story is an ongoing one with many episodes, but its plot is always the same and always directed by the internal logic of the limited identity.

Faculty and administrators are probably just as unconscious as these kids, maybe even more so if they have taken money or if their jobs depend upon suppressing certain truths. People can rationalize virtually anything. If a college has generous donors threatening to withdraw donations if the college continues to allow speech that exposes the truth about Israel, its administrators, who kowtow to these donors, will often, in the interests of their own self-images, quickly convince themselves that the donors are correct in demanding the suppression of free speech. After all, it isn’t really free speech; it is hate speech, aka anti-Semitism.

KATIE: Is there any reason to be hopeful that one day Israel will grant its Palestinian population in all of Palestine the same rights as its Jewish population?

RICH: I think the “Jewish state” is far too indoctrinated into fear and confusion and the false views produced by those states of consciousness to have an interest in truth, which is what is required to see all people as equal. I do think, however, that the American public, including its Jewish population, does have the potential to overcome fear and confusion. In addition to an interest in truth, all that is needed is a moderately inquisitive mind and a willingness to follow the facts. Grace will take care of the rest, as it did with me.  

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What a thoughtful and rewarding discussion.

I especially appreciated Katie’s question “Do you think people in our movement also suffer from ego-identification” and Rich’s response. From a buddhist perspective, it’s our own attitudes and emotions that do us the most damage.

“Perhaps people in the movement who ignore me are unable to relate to anything I say about identity or are unable to apply my words to their own sense of self.” Actually, the pushback I have seen to approaching Israel/Palestine in such a deeply personal, psychologizing way is the fear that it may put aside the immediate need to stop blaming Palestinians for the violence being done to them and for Israel to stop committing… Read more »

Brilliant. These ideas clearly merit further study and reflection. I do have some critical reactions though. One of them concerns the relationship between group and common human identity. It seems to me that Zionists DO have a conception of common human identity that straddles group identities. The problem is not so much that they lack such a conception. The problem is that their conception of “human nature” is extremely grim. Zionists see life as a… Read more »

haha. Another “Awakened” Zionist! ; ) What is suddenly going on in the Israel Concept, why so much spiritual/humane awakening lately, after ignoring that humaness for 67 years? Rich Forer AIPAC in 2006 / David Gordis (leading Am. Zionist: former exec AJC) 2016-02-22 in his Tikkun article “Major American Jewish Leader Changes His Mind About Israel.” where he states “In every important way Israel has failed” http://goo.gl/TIa6GS Not to mention the classic anti-zionists: 1. 2003… Read more »

Thank you, Katie, for this outstanding interview! Would that the world’s leading news media (print, electronic, internet), especially those in Israel, Palestine, America and all in the West, could publish/post this interview with Rich Forer. It needs to be read by all! Again, thank you!
Jim Michie
Bethesda, MD 20817