Latest Poll of Palestinians Illustrates the Moebius Strip of Cognitive Egocentrism

The latest polls raise troubling issues which, at the hands of Michael Bar-Zohar’s analysis, sounds a lot like the Moebius Strip of Cognitive Egocentrism. But then again, how reliable are polls of Palestinians (or anyone). The very tone and context in which the questions are asked can have a huge impact on the answers one gets in any circumstance, a fortiori, in an honor-shame culture.

Comments welcome.

A tragedy of misconceptions
Jerusalem Post, Mar 2, 2009 21:03 | Updated Mar 3, 2009 20:34

A survey published on February 5 by the prestigious Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, a Palestinian polling institute, indicates that 46.7 percent of the Palestinians believe that Hamas defeated Israel in the recent fighting in Gaza; 50.8% (compared to 39.3% last April) believe that the rocket attacks should continue, and only 20.8% believe that they are harmful to Palestinian interests. Finally, 55% are convinced that terrorist acts should continue.

These figures illustrate a major aspect of the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians and, on a wider scope, of the West and the Arab world: a tragedy of misconceptions, a confrontation of two societies that do not understand each other and naively believe that people on the other side have the same way of thinking and reasoning as them. As long as both sides persist in this erroneous perception of each other, there is going to be no peace in the Middle East.

In 1997 the Four Mothers organization was founded. Its goal was the full pullout of the IDF from south Lebanon. Every year, Four Mothers said, we are losing 25 to 30 soldiers in the battle with Hizbullah. Isn’t it a pity to sacrifice these young lives? Let’s pull out of Lebanon, and the Lebanese will leave us in peace. The Four Mothers won and in 2000 prime minister Ehud Barak evacuated every single inch of Lebanese territory.

But the result was the opposite. Nobody in the Arab world believed that Israel had pulled out of Lebanon because of its concern for 25 casualties a year. The retreat was perceived in the Arab world as a victory by Hizbullah over the IDF, and the logical conclusion of Hizbullah and other extremist organizations was that they should continue fighting till Israel’s final defeat. The late Faisal Husseini, a respected Palestinian leader, once told me openly: “Michael, if you don’t agree to our demands [about Jerusalem], we’ll talk to you in Lebanese.” Even the sophisticated Husseini thought that the Hizbullah formula was the one that brought results.

The same misconception guided prime minister Ariel Sharon when he carried out the unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005. He was right in pulling out the settlers who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. But Sharon also believed that the military pullout from the entire Gaza Strip would convince the Gazans of our goodwill. Their perception, though, was different. “Israel retreated because it was defeated by us,” a Hamas spokesman said, “therefore let’s intensify our battle, and we’ll destroy the Zionist entity.”

The United States made a similar mistake when in 2006 it insisted on carrying out free elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Washington, intoxicated with the mantra of free elections, failed to understand that Western democracy does not always work in Arab lands. The American experts wouldn’t listen to the warnings of their Israeli colleagues who predicted a sweeping victory of the Hamas extremists. That was what finally happened.

Bringing democracy to Iraq also was one of the major arguments for the war against Saddam Hussein. We can only hope that the democratic regime created there will hold after the US troops’ departure. The enthused American experts who promoted the idea seem to have forgotten that the only periods when Iraq’s parliamentary regime worked was when strong leaders ruled the country with an iron fist.

THE MISTAKE of casting our own image on the opponent was repeated during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Israel believed that by destroying major parts of Lebanon’s infrastructure – roads, bridges, power stations – it would make the Lebanese people turn against the Hizbullah that had ignited the conflict. That could be true in Israel or in America, where public opinion weighs heavily on the political scales, but not in Lebanon. In Gaza, too, the massive destruction by the IDF didn’t convince the Gazans that Hamas caused the disaster; on the contrary, their support for Hamas and its operations even grew.

I often read articles by learned experts who explain how we’ll get rid of the nuclear danger in Iran. “We’ll tell them that if they do this to us, we’ll do that to them,” they say, or “the Iranian people will revolt against the mullahs,” or “the Iranian economy is in shambles, they cannot feed their people if they continue their nuclear project.”

Well, the threats of American pundits don’t seem to bother the Iranian leaders; the Iranian people will not revolt; the only potential rebel is the army, as in all Muslim countries, and so far the army is very happy to build a nuclear weapon; as far as the poor state of the economy is concerned, the Iranian leaders couldn’t care less. Iran’s glory and its return to the status of a great regional power are much more important to them.

We have to understand that the Middle Eastern nations don’t think the same way as the Western nations do. They have their own logic, and their perception of events is different from ours. Words and promises and commitments don’t have the same meaning to them as they have for us. This is not a judgment, but a statement of fact. Therefore, we should make an effort to understand their way of thinking and of reacting to our moves before we engage in negotiations with them.

But as long as we keep trying to project our way of thinking on millions of Muslims, or analyze their words and deeds with Western logic, we’ll not achieve any progress in our relations with them.

The writer is a former member of the Knesset and the biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.

35 Responses to Latest Poll of Palestinians Illustrates the Moebius Strip of Cognitive Egocentrism

  1. Mr.Pink says:

    A majority of Palestinians recongize that Hamas has been defeated. And a number very close to a majority opposes further terrorist attacks.

    It could be much worse. The Palestinians may not want peace, but they are intelligent human beings after all– sooner or later they will accept the fact that they are a defeated people.

  2. Diane says:

    Check out yesterday’s L.A. Times op-ed by author Ben
    Ehrenreich. It’ll make you want to hurl something – curses, a piece of pottery, your dinner…

    Zionism is the problem

  3. oao says:

    these have become so common and frequesnt that it’s hard to keep up with, let alone responded to. lost cause.

    there was a piece (guardian?) comparing the reactions of MSM to the hamas and likud wins. it said that when the likud is deemed right-wing fascist and an obstacle to peace, while hamas just an inconvenience we will have to accept as popular decision, something is obviously fundamentally wrong.

  4. Michelle Schatzman says:

    When writing some rather repetitive reports, I use standard phrases, and I used to joke that in fact, I have some macros for writing these reports, enabling me to go faster. Of course, they are in my head, not in my computer.

    Seems that Mr Ehrenreich thinks in macros.

    Raymond Queneau wrote a poetry book called “Cent mille milliards de poèmes”. It is made of 10 sonnets. Each page of the book is cut off into thin pieces of paper, and each piece contains a line of a sonnet, so that you can take line 1 from sonnet 9, line 2 from sonnet 5, and so on. All the lines satisfy the french versification rules, and every combination is coherent from this point of view. You could read for almost 200 million years, if you read 24/24.

    At least, Queneau’s work is fun. Ehrenreich’s is not. Queneau knew that he was producing “un exercice de style” (an exercise in style). If Ehrenreich knew that he is just applying some combinatorial rules to obtain a very previsible result, could he remain serious?

  5. Diane says:

    … and here’s an op-ed by Judea Pearl, meant as counterpoint, I suppose. Sadly, this isn’t Pearl at his best. And just holding the debate legitimizes the anti-Zionist position, I fear.

    Is anti-Zionism hate?

    On a pragmatic note, how does the U.N. go about undoing Israel, if it comes to that, without challenging its other 20th-century nationalist creations raised from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire — e.g. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc.?

  6. RfaelMoshe says:

    Palestinian Arab culture places value on different things than American culture, and in particular, liberal Americans. It’s a typical pattern where a “progressive” will explain that as all people are alike, and as they feel a certain way about an issue, that therefore EVERYONE does. Then they proceed to analyze how they would feel and what they would do, were they Palestinans. This is both crudely racist, in a “White Man’s Burden” way, and very inaccurate. Palestinians, if asked, are certainly capable of expressing their own opinions, and do not seem to feel the need to have Western “progressives” tell them what they are thinking. As alot of these “progressive” values are premised on material values, and material equality, they can’t fathom the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in particular, the Palestinian tendency to act against their own best (albeit material) interests. An easy example is the Palestinian suicide bomber who obviously values their homicidal hate of their intended target far more than their own life. Its completly irrational to a Westerner but not in an Arab Honor/Shame culture. Another example is the “progressive” feminist silence on the Arab Honor killing. It doesn’t fit within their social theories(love of children, forgiveness etc) and so they ignore or deny the phenonena. When Marxists attempt to use the standard Marxist/Leninist approach, we get bizarre distortions, like Israel nbeing declared a “colonial state”, simply because there isn’t another Marxist pigeon hole that fits any closer. Simply, the best way to understand the Palestinians isn’t to substitute your thoughts for theirs, but to inquire. But, be warned, the resposnes are startling, disturbing and for alot of naive folks, un-expected.

  7. oao says:

    An easy example is the Palestinian suicide bomber who obviously values their homicidal hate of their intended target far more than their own life.

    the various factors contributing to this were discussed thoroughly on this site and elsewhere: arab culture, honor-shame, islam and the paradise martyrdom, indoctrination, ensuring they remain “refugees” to fester, jizziyah from the west which promotes radicals and undermines moderates, and the gap that islam causes by inculcating supremacy while inhibiting progress, which leads to envy.

    it would be impossible for pal society to be any different than what it is. but leftist dogma prevents the leftists from understanding reality.

  8. Lorenz Gude says:

    I’d like to explore the the point RL makes about polls in an honor-shame culture. We have some evidence from the recent war that some Palestinians were less than supportive of Hamas, perhaps because they were Fatah supporters, or for other reasons. But it also seems obvious that not only is there considerable support for Hamas there is also no way to have confidence in a poll – even from one genuinely striving for reasonably objective results. Not only may it be open to manipulation through the way questions are asked, but it may also heavily skewed by the nature of a situation involving matters of survival which precluded honest answers. In short I think such polls are false data points which create the illusion of ‘science’ and ‘rational argument.’ While Bar-Zohar appears to me to me making a case against Liberal Cogitative Egocentrism and against the illusions caused by cultural projection, he characterizes the poll as emanating from a “prestigious….Palestinian poling institute.” By basing his case on such a poll he is starting with what is a carefully manufactured munition in the information war – a piece of propaganda – released by the Palestinians. I understand he is using the other culture’s own ‘data’ to build his argument upon, but I think his argument is more compelling without such pseudo science.

  9. oao says:


    one of my specialties when I was in polisci/academia was survey research and their methodology.

    polls are not reliable even in western society; the sheer change on one word or another can swing the results from extreme to extreme; the context of the survey or the identity of the surveyor can change results considerably. there are tons of other problems. these are endemic and cannot be all addressed even by the most knowledgeable survey researchers, let alone the commercial ones, or those doing it for the pals.

    and I am not even talking about the pal population itself, which is a separate set of problems.

  10. oao says:

    there is a british BBC series called “Yes Minister” and “Yes, Prime-Minister”, a satire on british politics which is quite exquisite and I recommend to everybody. The reason it’s funny it’s because it takes matters to the utmost absurd, yet it still sounds like standard business.

    There is one episode on how to do a survey and get precisely the results you desire. It should be required watching for all survey researchers.

  11. Abu Nudnik says:

    Polls of Palistinians are worthless: you’d might as well ask questions to people holding a gun to their heads.

  12. Abu Nudnik says:

    Palestinians… forgive the misspelling… might you consider a “preview” option to avoid your readers’/ posters’ embarrassment in future?

  13. E.G. says:

    oao #10 and #11 –

    YES, Mr. President.
    Required for journalists, if I may add.

  14. Lorenz Gude says:


    Your experience with polls confirms my basic instinct – that even with the best will in the world it is very hard to get trustworthy results. We don’t really ever know unless it is an election poll confirmed by real outcomes. Even offering the poll in question with a strait face coming out of Palestinian after the recent festivities is absurd.

  15. Cynic says:


    The latest AIG scandal with the hypocritical outrage from the MSM/journalists given Chris Dodd’s bonus protection provision in the stimulus package implies that YES, Mr. President.
    Required for journalists,
    be implemented with a gun to their heads.

  16. E.G. says:


    To add to your basic instinct. This is 20 years old: one poll asks people what environmental features (e.g., clean water, air) they value most then, another, asks them how much they’re willing to pay for keeping/improving these features. Results (after systematically repeating the procedure with numerous samples): people are willing to pay more for features they value less (or pay less for features they value more). And it’s not only about the environment.
    The point is that often, we don’t really know what we want and a poll can reveal some preferences by triggering comparisons on a given scale (money). Yet another poll can reveal very different ones, by triggering comparisons on another scale (quality of life).

  17. E.G. says:


    I was referring to Prez oao ;-)
    But the O is terrifically skilled at wording and cascading implications. You’d think Sir Humphrey was his mentor.

  18. Cynic says:


    I was referring to the media types where “required” would not necessarily be adhered to without force, for in the case of O alibama the MSM which certainly should have known what was in the stimulus bill, signed in such haste, should never have acted in concert to provide cover for such Machiavellian machinations.
    Seems like they have appropriated Taquiya to push their agenda.

  19. Cynic says:

    Any chance that the series is available on DVD?
    BBC Prime does not seem to be in its … anymore.

  20. E.G. says:


    I got the whole series on DVD about 10 years ago at HMV (or Virgin?)in London. Have you tried Amazon or the HMV site? There are excerpts on Youtube.

  21. E.G. says:


    The media types are either too silly to get it, or sufficiently sophisticated to use it.

  22. Cynic says:

    Media types like this one?;

    How could CNN employ Rafa and how has she been able to push her political agenda on to other media outlets? Some more research reveals that the incident above is not an isolated one.

  23. oao says:

    given Chris Dodd’s bonus protection provision in the stimulus package

    that’s only the latest and most obvious evidence that 30-40 years in the senate corrupts absolutely.

    wtach the youtube excerpts of various powerful politicians who were spouting “hands off fannie mae and freddie mac, they’re fine” years ago; check out the amounts of political donations from the banks and from these 2 companies; barney frank and maxine’s waters conflict of interest by dumping money on banks with which they were personally and directly connected. and that includes alibama.

    which is part of the reason the US is in free fall. it has become corrupt and decadent to the bone. just like rome, it’s this which facilitates the barbarian soft jihad.

    we’re following in UK’s decay steps:

  24. oao says:

    people are willing to pay more for features they value less (or pay less for features they value more). And it’s not only about the environment.

    as i said i did not even talk about the problems with the population itself. there are problems of ignorance, stupidity and inconsistency across questions and over time. and guess what: it’s due to the collapse of education.

    have you ever watched those incidents on TV where americans are asked trivial questions on TV? makes you want to commit suicide. one person could not name a country whose name starts with U; another thought that hungary was what happens when you don’t eat. and these are not the worst examples.

  25. oao says:

    The media types are either too silly to get it, or sufficiently sophisticated to use it.

    they’re lazy and incompetent. they rely on pal stringers which become their friends and project their own western values on them — unable to conceive that those pals are activists, not journos.

  26. oao says:

    Any chance that the series is available on DVD?
    BBC Prime does not seem to be in its … anymore.

    are you familiar with torrents?

  27. E.G. says:

    £17.97 and you got the whole stuff, Kosher, the good old way.

  28. oao says:

    and this is about the church the archbishop of canterbury leads:

  29. Lorenz Gude says:

    Thank you oao and EG for your insights into polling, but I want to bring attention back to the original post. RL seems to me to asking for comments on two aspects of the article by Bar-Zohar. 1. Polls. 2 Mobius Strip of cognitive egocentrism. We have discussed the reliability of polls, but in this case the poll seems to have been done by a partisan organization. A quick visit to their website shows clear dedication to the Palestinian narrative. Second RL says that the article reminds him of Mobius Strip of Cognitive Egocentrism. It does me too. What is NOT clear to me is how RL or other readers perceive the resemblance. I read it that Bar-Zohar is clearly warning Westerners against cognitive egocentrism. But his incorporation of poll results from a highly involved source and referring to it as prestigious makes me wonder if I read him correctly. In short, am I missing something?

  30. Eliyahu says:

    * * * * * * *
    Rafael M, with all due respect, I think you make the mistake of assuming that the Left’s stated goals should be assumed to be their real goals, that is, you take them at face value. I would say that the Left in its origins, whether the utopian socialists derided by Engels [socialism, utopian and scientific] or the “scientific” Marxist socialists represented by engels himself and his comrade Karl and their idiotological offspring, VA, Vladimir, Leon, Iosif V and Tse-Tung, etc., began with a strong Judeophobic bias. In other words, they are were not and are not purely interested in building a classless society, ending imperialism, or any of the other blah blah goals that they assert in their slogans.

    Marx took a great deal from Kant and Hegel who believed that Jews were incapable of civilization and phoolosophy. This view derives ultimately from Marcion and Luther and various medieval Christian attitudes/responses to the Jewish refusal to accept the Christian dogmas. So the Marxists as well as the non-socialist Voltaireans [of similar philosophical provenance] had to be hostile to Judaism, Zionism, Jews etc.

    Today the situation is worse since the Marxists have almost totally deteriorated intellectually and most of today’s “Left” is now a manipulated body of public opinion irrationally responding to Pavlovian cues, acting like a thoughtless mass like the lock-step masses in Leni riefenstahl’s films of the Nuremberg rallies. For example, the enthusiastic response to now prez obama who promised CHANGE and gave the Americans old timers, some of them literally old, like Chaz Freeman and his apparent replacement Brent Scowcroft, plus Geithner’s prevarications, plus hilary, bob gates, etc.

    Whereas the Marxists 40 or 50 years ago used to find a money trail for everything which explained everything in politics [everything but their own policies and actions], today’s “Left” rejects even seeking a money trail because everything seems to derive from “feelings,” “resistance to injustice” and so on. The Muslim jihadists are always ready to assert that they act against “injustice” but the infantile or retarded “Leftist” of today never asks what the jihadist means by “injustice.” Superficiality is de rigueur among this crowd. As PT Barnum said: A sucker is born every minute.
    * * * * * * *

  31. Eliyahu says:

    Lorenz & oao, here’s a confession by a pollster of how he slanted a poll to get the answer he wanted. Best of all, this is the pollster for HaArets, one Camil Fuchs. See link:

  32. oao says:


    based on my background i don’t need them to tell me results are unreliable, i know they inherently are. even if they defend their work, i don’t trust it.

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