By Rabbi Berel Wein
This article originally appeared on Rabbi Wein’s website
One of my daughters told me a wonderful story last week – a story that I have already used in one of my public lectures here in Jerusalem. The story goes as follows: A third-grade child that attends a Jewish day school in the United States has two teachers – one for religious Hebrew studies and one for the general studies program. The general studies teacher was trying to explain to her students the difference between a fact and an opinion.
She asked one of the students in the class to tell her a fact. The girl blithely said “Morah Leah (that was the name of the Hebrew studies teacher) is a better teacher than you are”. Taken aback, the teacher nevertheless bravely continued and said to the student ,”Well, that is really an opinion”. To which the bright young student replied,”No, that is a fact!”
There are many instances in life and certainly in our world society where opinions are almost instantly elevated to the level of fact without any empirical evidence or logic to support such a definition. The propagandists of Nazi Germany perfected the theory of the “Big Lie” and proved that George Orwell was correct when he postulated that people would come to believe that black is white, dictatorship is democracy and that wrong and evil are somehow correct and right.
The hallmark of the Communist world after World War II was its ability to convince millions that it was progressive and democratic when the facts proved just the opposite. It is the smugness and certainty of so many, especially in the media and academia, that their opinions are facts – for they can never be wrong – that everyone has to somehow to agree with them, which leads to much of the confusion, dishonesty and unfairness that mark international and even societal relationships.
The entire worldwide campaign against Israel and its legitimate right to exist is built upon the falsification of facts and the elevation of biased and hateful opinion to the realm of actuality and fact. The factual history of the Jewish – Arab struggle over the last century here in the Land of Israel has been so propagandized and distorted as to be almost unrecognizable when compared to the actual facts that truly occurred.
The attitude of much of the world and its governments can be summed up in the famous sign that appeared on the desk of an autocratic executive, which read: “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up!” To a great extent the world has made up its mind regarding the Jewish state and it seems that no amount of facts or felicity of hasbara can change that mindset.
There was a time not too long ago when newspapers seemed to content themselves with reporting facts accurately and leaving their opinions to be read on the editorial and opinion pages. That is no longer true. Almost all new stories are written with a bias and a clear agenda. In fact, and this is truly a fact, almost all worldwide major newspapers, television news shows and other forms of communication and information are now almost one hundred percent opinion.
Now there is nothing wrong in holding opinions, even when those opinions have no basis in fact and reality. But it certainly is wrong and misleading and dishonest to advance those opinions as being facts. And that is the sin of the world and its media against the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
It requires a great deal of sophistication, self-analysis and a strong sense of honesty to be able to allow one’s self the ability to intelligently differentiate between opinion and fact. The great Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant, commenting on the print media of his time, stated: “ Not everything that one thinks should be said. Not everything that was said should be printed. Not everything that is printed should be read. Not everything that is read to be believed.”
But, all of us are influenced by what we hear; what we need. And no matter how firmly we bolster our defenses against pure opinion, ideas and statements, which are pure opinion, they somehow bleed into being facts in our minds and attitudes.
That is the great challenge that we here in Israel face today. We have not done a very good job in restating the actual facts of our dispute with our neighbors. We have allowed them to frame the discussion and to promote their opinions as somehow being grounded in fact and reality. Regaining the ability to restore the correct definition of opinion and fact will go a long way in helping resolve the situation and lessen the tensions that exist here in our troubled part of the world.