ARABS, ISRAELIS, & UNDERDOGS
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
A foremost example of the Arabs' public relations prowess lies in their ability to transform the map of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the early decades, maps of the Arab-Israeli conflict showed Israel in a vast Middle East, a presence so small, one practically needed a magnifying glass to locate it. These days, however, the conflict is typically portrayed by a huge Israel looming over the fractured West Bank and Gaza areas.
This shift in size implies a shift in underdog status; whereas Israel's weak-actor status once came through clearly, the Palestinians have now usurped that position, with all its attendant benefits.
A recent study by Joseph A. Vandello, Nadav P. Goldschmied, and David A. R. Richards -- "The Appeal of the Underdog," in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin -- takes as its starting point the assumption:
The trio then tested this hypothesis by looking, in part, at the Arab-Israeli conflict. To uncover the possible advantage of being perceived as the underdog, the authors conducted an experiment in which they operationalized underdog status by subtly reinforcing physical size disparities through maps that shifted the perspective to make salient Israel as large, surrounding the smaller occupied Palestinian territories, or conversely, by making Israel appear small by showing it surrounded by the Arab countries of the greater Middle East.
Having set up the experiment with two maps, the authors "predicted that this shift in visual perspective would create perceptions of underdog status, which would in turn predict support for the underdog side."
They predicted correctly. Small size turns out to be key to being perceived as the underdog:
Participants were asked which side they considered the underdog in the conflict. When Israel was portrayed as large on the map, 70% saw the Palestinians as the underdog. In contrast, when Israel was portrayed as small on the map, 62.1% saw Israel as the underdog,
Being perceived as underdog does indeed confer advantages for winning political sympathy:
Participants were also asked toward which group they felt more supportive. When Israel was portrayed as large on the map, 53.3% were more supportive toward the Palestinians. In contrast, when Israel was portrayed as small on the map, 76.7% were more supportive toward Israel.
That's a 23 percent difference, which is huge. Small size, they found, also has a "significant" impact on intensity of support:
Participants were asked to rate how much sympathy they felt toward each side in the conflict on a 1 (none) to 5 (a lot) scale. When Israel was portrayed as large on the map, participants expressed slightly more sympathy toward the Palestinians (3.77 vs. 3.73), but when Israel was portrayed as small on the map, participants expressed more sympathy toward the Israelis (4.00 vs. 3.30).
(1) There is something peculiar about rooting in a life-and-death situation for the underdog, as though there were nothing more at stake than a sporting championship, but so be it. Modern life asks one to make decisions on many issues where knowledge is lacking; and the views of a poorly uninformed public then can drive the poll-driven politics of mature democracies.
(2) Pulling for the underdog fits into a larger context. For example, I documented in 2006 (in "Strange Logic in the Lebanon War") that "taking casualties and looking victimized helps one's standing" in the battle for public opinion.
(3) Wanting to appear the underdog or to be taking heavier casualties inverts the historic imperative "whereby each side wants to intimidate the enemy by appearing ferocious, relentless, and victorious."
(4) This inversion is one of the many ways in which warfare has fundamentally changed during the past 60 years, turning into a nearly unrecognizable variant of its historic identity.
(5) The framing of a war – shaping how it is perceived – has reached such importance that, as I put it in 2006, "the Clausewitzian center of gravity has moved from the battlefield to the op-eds and talking heads. How war is perceived has as much importance as how it actually is fought."
(6) Weak but innovative organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas have better adapted to this new reality than have powerful but tradition-bound Western governments.
(7) Those governments need to wake up to the fundamental importance of public relations in war.
© Daniel Pipes 2009
Originally Published in Front Page Magazine, April 21, 2009
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, April 1, 2009
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
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Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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