Israel-haters have a large toolbox of brainwashing and persuasion techniques to convince the world of what are effectively lies.
One that we have seen a lot in recent days is how they refer to the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. It is a variant of a sales technique called “thinking past the sale.”
“Thinking past the sale” is a persuasion tool where you get someone to think about what happens after they’ve made a decision or action. By doing so, you increase the odds that person actually makes that decision or takes that action.
There’s mounds of research showing that thinking about something increases the chances it happens. For example, there’s the Pygmalion Effect, where positive expectations empirically lead to positive performance. Similarly, there’s the Golem Effect, where negative expectations lead to poorer performance.
In everyday life, you hear people talk about these effects with phrases like “self-fulfilling prophecies” or “I thought it into reality”.
Thinking past the sale works because:
- The more you think about an idea, the stronger the neural pathways to that idea become in your brain (like in the Tetris Effect). The neural path of least resistance in your brain leads to that idea, and because your brain is lazy, you end up thinking about it more.
- By thinking about the idea more, you’re more likely to see opportunities to make it a reality. And thanks to the representativeness heuristic, you will think it’s more likely to happen the more you think about it.
- You also will consider the idea more significant, because you think things are more important than they actually are while you’re thinking about them.
- On top of this, your focus on an idea makes you functionally blind to alternatives; this is called inattentional blindness. By thinking past the sale, your brain will ignore alternatives.
Getting someone to think about an outcome makes that outcome more probable.
All of this increases the odds that thinking past the sale becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Importantly, these mechanisms affect you whether you’re aware of them working or not.
The more potent the “sale”, the more likely its effects will be. And one of the most potent ways to get someone to think past the sale is by using visualizations.
You can do this by using images that force the person to see the outcome you want. But you can also do this by describing, in words, what the outcome will look like.
The “sale,” so to speak, is the idea that Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted by Israel last Wednesday– assassinated in order to silence her because her reporting was critical of Israel.
The idea is absurd. Murdering a journalist is the worst way to distract people from what the journalist says. It gets massive amounts of bad publicity. Also, the idea that in the middle of a firefight with heavily armed terrorists in Jenin, Israeli forces decide that this is a great time to kill a prominent journalist is ridiculous.
But immediately after Abu Akleh’s death, the narrative from Al Jazeera and other Israel haters was that her murder wasn’t merely a fact – it was a given. They didn’t say, “Israel murdered her.” They said, “The world needs to punish Israel for murdering her.” They would say, “I am so upset that Israel murdered her.” Or that this was part of a pattern, as Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi said, "Palestinian journalists have been systematically targeted. It's really important to Israel that nobody see what's going on in the occupied territories."
This is all making the listeners are readers think past the sale – they think that Israel murdered Abu Akleh as a given, that it is a fact known by everyone, and now they should react to this information – to be angry or sad or upset at this fake murder.
It is a deliberate lie. There is no pattern of Israel murdering journalists, and Khalidi knows it. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 19 journalists have been killed in the Palestinian territories since 1992 with a known motive, and only one was deliberately murdered – by Palestinians.
This is a form of brainwashing that, as the description above notes, is highly effective. And in this version of the trick, the inattentional blindness is a huge factor – because by making people think and visualize Israel deliberately murdering her, it restricts people’s brains from thinking about alternative theories of what actually happened – whether it was an accidental shooting from Israel or one from the Jenin terrorists who were shooting constantly.
A variant of inattentional blindness that we see often is the use of a photo taken in Syria or elsewhere of a crying child in front of ruins, with a false caption saying that this was an orphan in Gaza. Once one’s brain makes that connection, that is now the most likely path one’s thoughts will continue to go on in the future, and when the technique is used repeatedly, it strengthens the ties in one’s mind between Israel and deliberate murder of innocents.
This is how propaganda works, and it is insidious because even if you know you are being manipulated, you are still picturing what they are saying – you can’t help it – and it tunes your brain to believe that this is how the IDF does things, even when you know it is not true.