Levin analyzes Middle East psyches in Oslo Accords

Combining psychiatric analysis with international relations, Dr. Kenneth Levin spoke about his new book analyzing Israeli psychological responses to the Palestinians in a Monday night speech sponsored by Chabad.

Levin, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School and frequent commentator on Israeli politics, claimed that groups living under such stressful situations — the “chronically besieged” — often choose to accept even the most improbable offers of relief in hopes of ending their mistreatment.

“The chronically besieged tend to embrace the indictments of their accusers in hopes that by accepting them, by reforming, they will escape their predicament,” Levin said.

The Oslo Accords, a series of agreements between Israel and Palestine in an attempt to end the Israeli-Arab conflict peacefully, were signed in 1993. They made little progress in their attempts to bring peace to the Middle East and saw increased violence between the two countries.

“The Oslo process was supposed to bring peace, and instead it led to, at that point, the worst terror that Israel had ever seen. The obvious question is why,” Levin said. “People haven’t answered the basic whys because when you answer them, you realize that Oslo was doomed from the beginning.”

Levin’s book, “The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege,” analyzes why so many Israeli Jews saw promise in the Oslo Accords peace negotiations despite Yassar Arafat’s public refusals to renouce terrorism.

Making use of his expertise in psychiatry, Levin compared the Israeli mindset to that of an abused child blaming himself for beatings. The son of an alcoholic father who physically abuses him knows that he is being abused, Levin said, but the child will almost invariably think he is at fault.

“No matter how many times his father beats him, that child will steadfastly believe, ‘If I reform, if I do better, it’ll stop,'” according to Levin.

The same mentality led to the Israeli embrace of Arafat’s false promises of peace, Levin said. Jews embraced these false promises because of the pathology associated with chronic ill-treatment.

Levin cautioned that the psychological response was in no way exclusive to Israel or the Jews; it occurs when any state or minority is oppressed.

He discussed the book with the modest crowd and then opened the floor up to a heated question-and-answer session. Levin did not hesitate to engage his audience in arguments or boldly disagree with audience members’ sentiments.

Audience members, intrigued by Levin’s contentious theories, stayed long after the question-and-answer session, which went on for so long it had to be cut off.

“I thought that it was well presented and well thought out,” David Nutt ’09 said. “Dr. Levin has obviously given considerable thought to the situation. Even though I didn’t necessarily agree with what he said, I thought his reasoning was fascinating.”

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