Tal Ben-Shahar ‘96, a lecturer on psychology, delivers an address entitled “Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict” in Sever.
Lecturer on Psychology
Tal Ben-Shahar ’96 advocated an “alternative framing” of the
Arab-Israeli conflict at a Harvard Students for Israel (HSI) event last
night, saying that taking a wider geographical, historical, and moral
perspective on events in the region is necessary before the Israelis
and Palestinians can reach peace.
“Frankly, I don’t know of a solution to this conflict,” said
Ben-Shahar, who teaches Psychology 1504, “Positive Psychology.” “But
for both sides to thrive, prosper, and coexist, the first step is to
understand the conflict in a fair and just framing.”
Ben-Shahar said that reframing the conflict would eliminate what he called the anti-Israel bias in academia and the media.
The geographical aspect of his alternative model involved
evaluating the Arab-Israeli strife as a power struggle and “not a
local, but a regional conflict” involving Egypt, Lybia, Syria, and
Iran [SEE CORRECTION APPENDED].
Ben-Shahar said the historical elements of his framework
relate to the problems Palestinian refugees have faced in Gaza and
Hebron [SEE CORRECTION APPENDED].
Ben-Shahar said that when the colonial European Jews [SEE CORRECTION APPENDED] purchased
these “uninhabited and uninhabitable territories” from Arab landowners
then living in Turkey, the land came with an official decree preventing
the displacement of Palestinian Arabs.
“It was the Arab leadership that did not allow [Palestinians
and Jews] to coexist then, and the Arab regimes are still perpetuating
the suffering of the Palestinian refugees,” Ben-Shahar said. “The
refugees deserve better and it can be better in a day if the Arab
leaders would stop getting in the way.”
Ben-Shahar also said that Israel has made multiple efforts to
attain peace since 1947, but that their overtures have been denied by
the Arab authorities.
Though Ben-Shahar said he has criticized Israel in the media,
he warned against conflating anti-Israel sentiment with anti-semitism.
“I’ve written op-eds against every single Israeli government,
and it is totally okay to criticize Israel, the settlements, or
[Israeli Defense Force],” he said. “But it is not okay to zoom in on
Israel and ignore the context—this is anti-Semitism...both sides will
suffer as long as this education continues.”
Ben-Shahar said that while he lectures on the pursuit of
happiness in his Positive Psychology class, he must also focus on
issues of life and liberty in Israel, because they are prerequisites to
But with many attendees interrupting him to criticize the
validity of his remarks, Ben-Shahar did not achieve as warm a reception
last night as in his “Positive Psychology” course, which has an
enrollment of 842 students.
“I didn’t really like anything about his speech,” said Rami R.
Sarafa ’07. “It was empty rhetoric with factual errors and dismissal of
But HSI President Amy M. Zelcer ’07 said that Ben-Shahar’s “fielding of challenging questions was a testament to his expertise.”
“His concept of ‘reframing the conflict’ is an interesting and
important one in the hopes of avoiding moral relativism,” said Zelcer.
“The event on the whole was a success.”
on Psychology Tal Ben-Shahar '96 did not classify pre-1948 immigrants
to present-day Israel as "colonial European Jews." And he did not
include Egypt among the countries engaged in a "regional conflict"
against Israel. In fact, Ben-Shahar noted that Israel and Egypt have signed a peace accord.
Moreover, as Ben-Shahar wrote in a clarifying e-mail today, "I spoke about the 1929
massacre of Jews by Palestinian Arab terrorists in Gaza and Hebron"; he
did not say that the historical elements of his framework related to the
problems faced by Palestinian refugees in Gaza and Hebron.
The print and original online version of the
Feb. 16 news article, "Psych Guru Examines Israel," mischaracterized
Ben-Shahar's remarks on all three accounts.