Don’t forget the role of stupidity in the debate about Israel

It’s especially prevalent when it comes to pro-Palestinian campaigners. While many are extremely clever at winning arguments, many of their fellow travellers are just stupid


Lady Maga USA interviewing Random Anti-Israel Activist.

June 05, 2024 10:16

I know it’s serious. I know the spectacular hatred directed against Jews since October 7 is absolutely not something to laugh about. But we’re Jewish. Of course we are going to find humour, somehow.

Which brings me to a video doing the rounds on social media, in which someone we will call Random Anti-IsraeI Activist (RAIA) is interviewed by a gay man (a drag queen with flowing blonde locks and a huge purple cape) called Lady Maga USA. The video is at his Twitter account, @LadyMagaUSA.

To describe the interviewee as thick doesn’t come close. I’m only sorry that the transcript below doesn’t convey her full asinine grimace as she struggles to comprehend what she is being told.

Lady Maga: Would you say you’re pro-Palestine or pro-Israel?

RAIA: Pro-Palestine.

Lady Maga: As a gay man I would be punished and or put in prison or killed if I were openly gay in Palestine. How do you react to that?

RAIA: I didn’t know that. So...

Lady Maga: It is illegal to be gay in Palestine. You are punished by prison or death.

RAIA: In Israel?

Lady Maga: No, Israel has gay pride. Israel is completely open to lesbian and gay people. Palestine puts them in prison or kills them. You weren’t aware of that?

RAIA: I was not aware of that, no. So that does pose an interesting aspect.

Lady Maga: Have you seen the Queers for Palestine movement? It’s a very common movement, but I don’t see any Muslims for Queer movements.

RAIA: Yes, that’s where it gets grey, right? Like, that’s where I feel...

Lady Maga: For me it’s not grey. I am fearful of Islam, because there is no Islamic country on Earth that embraces me as a gay man.

RAIA: So OK, OK, so maybe I’m confused because Israel, which is still an Islam country, right?

Lady Maga: No, no, no, Jewish.

RAIA: (Looking puzzled) OK. OK. OK. OK.

Lady Maga: So Israel’s Jewish Palestinians are Islamic?

RAIA: (Long sigh of incomprehension)

There is, of course, an important difference between ignorance and stupidity. But while RAIA is obviously ignorant, she is no less obviously stupid. The video brings to mind a saying of that indefatigable online warrior Simon Myerson KC, who regularly points out that we should not forget that 50 per cent of the population were in the bottom half of their class at school.

I’ve long been convinced that we underplay the role of stupidity in public life. I don’t mean this as an insult – simply shouting that someone is stupid tends to rebound on the person saying it. No, I mean that recognition that some people are simply not very bright is a tool that we should employ far more in order to understand why some people say or do things.

This is true and recognised in most walks of life, but somehow when it comes to politics or debates over aspects of public policy the idea that someone might act in a certain way because they are basically an idiot is rarely, if ever, cited as an explanation.

Since the wave of hate marches, student encampments and other protests began after October 7, social media has been full of examples of jaw-dropping ignorance about Israel and the Middle East that only a determinedly stupid person could embrace. As Martin Luther King Jr famously remarked, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

The entire Queers for Palestine movement, for example, is based on stupidity rather than ignorance. It doesn’t matter how many times these people are told – and can see with the evidence of their own eyes – that in Israel gay people are embraced while under Hamas they are murdered, they simply refuse to acknowledge anything.

It requires a really very stupid mind – and a determination to remain untroubled by information – to believe that gay people have a natural place alongside fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. As Benjamin Franklin is said to have put it: “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

If we are properly to understand the role of stupidity in the public realm, it’s important to be clear that it’s not about disagreeing with someone.

The commentator and broadcaster Mehdi Hasan, for example, is someone for whom I have near total contempt. But he is far from stupid; indeed it’s precisely his ability to (in my opinion) distort facts in order to shape them to fit his own agenda that makes him an opponent who cannot simply be swatted away as an idiot. George Galloway, likewise, is not stupid.

Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand – who I would imagine agrees with almost every word that comes out of Hasan’s mouth – is an all too obvious example of someone who is, I would contend, simply stupid. There has been no self-reflection, no development in his thinking, no intellectual growth in Corbyn’s mind since he emerged on the left political scene in the 1970s. And his positions on so many issues are based not so much on ignorance – it’s not as if he hasn’t been told! – but on stupidity, because he is simply incapable of understanding ideas or challenges to his worldview.

I don’t suggest that the entire pro-Palestine movement is stupid. Far from it.

Many are extremely clever, not least in winning minds.

But many of those minds are, we can surely agree, very stupid indeed.

June 05, 2024 10:16

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