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by Babs Barron


I support the right of self determination for the Arabs of Palestine if they are willing to live in peace and grant Israel her right to live in peace. However, Israel often seems to be supine and overly defensive in the face of propaganda against her. I want to bracket off the use she makes or does not make of hasbara/advocacy for the moment, and reintroduce it later in the context of the points I plan to develop.

Fendel, Darshan-Leitner, Ronen and Liebler offered an excellent analysis of the shortcomings of the Israeli establishment in respect of hasbara/advocacy in Arutz Sheva[1] of 21st February 2008. Having said this, I believe that a different approach might be as just helpful. Those of us who care about Israel's future and her place in the world also need to ask ourselves why this is happening and why now. I believe therefore that possible psychological explanations may have a place alongside the descriptions of the state of affairs.

Although one should hesitate before extrapolating psychological theories about the individual onto a whole people, I have found it useful to examine the existential threat to Israel as a psychological as much as a political one. I perceive this psychological threat to be more problematic now because of the increasing distance between Israel's shadow self as defined in Jungian terms, of which she is becoming more and more conscious and which is becoming the view of herself which obtains in Israel itself –– and her persona –– the mask she adopts in order to go about day to day living in an increasingly hostile environment. In the case of individuals, it is well-known that the greater the perceived distance between the persona and the shadow selves, the greater is the likelihood of severe emotional disturbance. In such cases, the persona is increasingly under threat and becomes more "brittle" and likely to be damaged. How this might affect Israel as a nation will be explored further below using the example of emotional bullying and the reaction to it.

Carl Gustav Jung (1968ii,[2] 1983iii[3]) first postulated the notion of aspects of the personality, which he called "archetypes",[4] and which he said were inherited predispositions to respond to certain aspects of the world. The main ones, for the purposes of this paper, are the persona –– the aspect of the self which comprises what a person appears to be to others, and which may contrast with what he/she actually is –– and the shadow self. Jung suggested that the persona is the role the person chooses to play in life, and the total impression which he/she makes on the world –– the "public mask" which Jung called the "social archetype" because it incorporates the compromises appropriate to living in a community and directs behaviour and thought towards the outside world. Jung also argued that the persona is heavily influenced by the person's profession or role in life and is available to consciousness.

The Jungian archetype opposite to the persona is that of the shadow, the so-called "dark side" of the personality which contains animal and sexual instincts, holds the parts of the self which the person feels ashamed and guilty about, and is often repressed from consciousness.

Jung argued that, in order for a person to be psychologically balanced, the shadow side must not be repressed totally but allowed into consciousness. It can be apprehended and worked through in dreams, and by, for example, learning to control anger, and, if successfully engaged with, can give a person a healthy mistrust of others as well as a sense of understanding and forgiveness and empowerment. In individuals failure to acknowledge and integrate the shadow aspect of the personality into ego consciousness can result in racial and religious prejudices ("shadow projection") as well as mental disturbance.

Jung importantly observed that becoming conscious of the shadow "meets with considerable resistance" and "frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period." It is painful, even humiliating, to acknowledge "primitive, inferior" emotions and impulses. He also argued that the shadow cannot be completely subdued by the persona and integrated into the psyche, but coexists with it in a complex interplay.

One suggested explanation for Israel's discomfiture is the distance between her persona and shadow selves, which is reflected in the apparent disorganisation in and lack of direction of her leadership. The distance between the persona and shadow selves may be argued to as applicable to Israel's government as it is to her people's psyches generally.

Israel's persona and shadow self

As has already been mentioned above, one should be cautious about extrapolating individual psychology onto the motives and behaviours of whole nations. Notwithstanding, an exploration of what can be called Israel's collective persona (ie her perception of her "being in the world" and how others in the world perceive her) and the effects of the world's perception of her, might be of use.

The Diaspora's view of Israel is that she is strong and brave, her people are hardy and courageous, having withstood decades of attempts to wipe them out, and her soldiers are reminiscent of the warriors in the Bible. This Jungian archetype, the Hero, became part of Israel's persona particularly after the Six Days War in 1967, when she was fighting the threat to her existence, the fears and unease about which resided then in her shadow self.

To all appearances Israel continues to live this out –– it is still part of her persona –– but these characteristics of strength and courage now seem to be more and more to be an act, and to be difficult to integrate at all collective psychological levels. In consequence this persona of hardiness and resilience has become more and more rigid and inflexible, perhaps as a reaction to her realisation of the shadow, in the shape of her growing sense of unease about how she is perceived and often, it seems, willfully misunderstood, by the rest of the world. The self-doubt which ensues whenever she is criticised has now become part of Israel's shadow self, but is more often within her consciousness and causes her and her leaders more and more unease and confusion.

This state of affairs has resulted in and is in turn exacerbated by the way in which her government spokespeople fail to represent her fully in the international arena, and, worse, often seem publicly to undermine their country's ethos. Examples of this undermining are set out in Tzafrir Ronen's and Isi Liebler's accounts in Arutz Sheva[1]. The Israeli government and the people of Israel know this at some fundamental level (whether they admit it or not) and their awareness of it and the insecurities which accompany it eventually attach themselves to the shadow self in the dichotomy, of which, as has been stated above, Israel is becoming more and more aware.

Added to this, in the absence of a government which is proven to have its people's best interests at heart, some people feel "unheld" and more and more of them split off into groups which actively criticise that government, providing propaganda wittingly or unwittingly for countries which oppose it, a state of affairs which in turn adds to the general existential anxiety. The distance between Israel's persona of invincibility and her increasing awareness of the growing strength of her shadow self which all too readily allows her insecurity into consciousness, is increasing, to Israel's detriment. She seems incapable of acting assertively in the face of it and relies more and more upon her supporters outside Israel to act as her advocates in order to try to influence world opinion in her favour.

I have been told that Israel is desperate to be liked, but, if that is the case, her government appears to believe that this will happen by magic and without its having to do anything to help the process along. It ignores the importance of the work done by the army of volunteer hasbara advocates throughout the world and seems to assume that the "nice guys really" message will somehow get out even when the government itself does not offer formal support for hasbara/advocacy. Similarly, the Israeli government appears to believe (equally magically) that if it apologises for imagined as well as real mistakes the world will once again accept it on equal terms. Israel's alleged involvement in the Gaza beach bombing is a case in point, where it apologised and took all the blame for having caused the deaths by shelling of eight Palestinians before the full circumstances which absolved it became known.

This last is, in fact, a typical response of the emotionally bullied (and Israel is increasingly aware of the reaction of her shadow self to emotional bullying over which she has no control). Indeed, I would argue that, far from being the bully in the Middle East as she is so often represented in the media, Israel seems more and more to take on the characteristics of the emotionally bullied.

The effects of emotional bullying on the persona and shadow:

Bullying represents a fundamental attack on both the persona (which may react or overreact against it) and the shadow (which may incorporate its negativity into it). The bullying takes the form of almost constant attacks on her in the United Nations and in the world press, where she is often damned if she behaves badly and equally damned if she behaves "well" (ie by not retaliating in kind each time her people are shelled and wounded or killed) –– in short she is caught in the classic double bind. The damage inherent in these bullying tactics is to her fragile sense of efficacy as a result of the Lebanon war debacle, and also to Israel's alleged invincibility which, as a result, is maintained at psychological cost within her persona. In addition continued bullying alters the construing of the shadow self and makes that darker and more threatening

Once more, I would remind the reader to take into account the reservations about extrapolation from individuals onto a whole society, but Field (1996)iv[5] in his seminal work, "Bully in Sight" provides an apposite description of the effects on the personality of stress from bullying on the individual, and can be used as a way of examining the effects of this emotional bullying on Israel. The most important, for these purposes, are:

As well as the constant sniping at her in the media since, Israel's most recent encounter with Hezbollah in Lebanon diminished her self-confidence, although it did not shatter it, and might have resulted in wide-spread personal loss of self-respect. The impoverished interpersonal skills show themselves in the Israeli government's failure/inability to take on board that it, rather than the voluntary hasbara/advocacy machine, is principally responsible for the dissemination of information about why it does what it does; it may have hung back from that because it had literally lost the skill to explain itself fully.

The loss, or confused sense, of self-determination is very well illustrated in Liebler's statement in Arutz Sheva[1] about the Knesset's attitude towards hasbara/advocacy, in particular:

" ...Next was that there was no coherency: Every minister began saying his own thing, without any coordination among them - while the Arabs were making their case in a professional and effective manner. But our biggest failure of all was in not showing the murderous nature of our enemies - how the suicide bombers' mothers took such pride in them, their kindergartens that educate towards killing Jews, and how they named their streets and football teams after the murderers, and the like......"

A prescription for action against bullying

Field (1996) suggests that assertiveness rather than aggression is the best defence against bullying in the workplace, but he accepts that this takes time to build. He quotes Eleanor Roosevelt:
"Remember, no-one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

If Israel buys too readily and mindlessly into the spurious assertion that she has wronged her enemies without cause then she comes to any negotiating table in an inferior position. Unfortunately, the more the world trumpets that erroneous information, the harder it may eventually become for Israel to reject this view of herself. There are potentially powerful antidotes:

One is for the Israeli government to be assertive by stating publicly again and again the true circumstances, accepting blame only where appropriate. If necessary, the "broken record" approach can be used –– repeating the same statement time and time again, as often as is necessary for the message to be got across. This may be seen as the reverse of, but uses the same psychological mechanism as, the "Big Lie" –– a common technique used by Israel's detractors and originally used by Goebbels in the Nazi era in the service of propaganda against Jews and other allegedly inferior races –– and which, if told often enough, is eventually accepted as the truth by the people who hear it.

Another antidote is to take action on a wider platform, and in this the Israeli government can, if it learns from its previous mistakes, take the lead by supplying hasbara/advocacy groups with the relevant counter information to disseminate, but only after having first made an official statement about that information.

I have argued that Israel's sense of her own power to overcome adverse psychological and political circumstances may be diminished by her perception of increasing distance and confusion between her persona (brave and invincible) and her shadow self (which might at times feel entirely the opposite) and her tendency, because she is under psychological stress, to introject the negative views of the world media into her shadow self, paradoxically becoming more aware of that altered shadow self. As a result of this, she has become less efficacious generally, and perhaps less effective in self-advocacy than at any time in her statehood. It bodes ill for her and her people if this is allowed to continue.


1.  Fendel, H. (21/2/2008) Glick: Israel's PR Efforts Have Collapsed. Arutz Sheva– see

2.  Jung, C. G. (1968). Collected Works, Volume 9ii. London: Routledge

3.  Jung, C.G. (1983) Memories, Dreams, Reflections. London: Fontana Paperbacks

4.  Jung, C.G. (1921/1971). Psychological Types: or the Psychology of Individuation, Princeton: University Press

5. Field, T (1996) Bully in Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge and Combat Workplace Bullying &8211;&8211; Overcoming the Silence and Denia Fl by Which Abuse Thrives. Didcot, Oxon: Success Unlimited

Babs Barron is the pseudonym of a chartered psychologist in independent practice. She lives in the United Kingdom. She writes under an assumed name "to separate her politics from her profession." The initial version of this article was submitted February 25, 2008


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