Politics and Israeli Psychologists: Is It Time to Take a Stand?/Commentary/Commentary: How Can We Facilitate Change?/Commentary: Political Activism: Should Psychologists and Psychiatrists Try to Make a Difference?/Author's Response: Who's Afraid of Politics? or, Psychotherapists as Political Entities

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Abstract: In Israel, it is quite rare for psychologists to relate to political and social issues. This remarkable tendency of psychologists to avoid dealing with such matters seems to supersede the common indifference or obtuseness of other groups in the Israeli public and similar groups in particular (e.g., physicians or social workers). Within this context, this paper focuses on the qualities and forms of reaction of the psychotherapeutic community in Israel to the national conflict that has been present intermittently since the late 1980s - namely, the two Intifadas. More specifically, as opposed to the current situation (the second Al-Aksa Intifada), in the course of the first Intifada (1987-1996), the voice of Israeli psychologists was clearly heard. Until now, this is the only exception to the rule of neutrality and passivity, in which psychologists in Israel became politically active. Specific elements of involvement of the therapeutic community is presented and discussed. Also, an attempt is made to suggest possible reasons to the very puzzling questions: Why then? Or what factors allowed for this change in position to occur? And more importantly, why did the protest of the psychologists in Israel vanish and their clear voices turn into silence?

In Israel, due to the intensity of the political and of politically related events, such as terror attacks and military operations, one cannot avoid the political. Naturally, this includes those who are involved in psychotherapy: "since the military situation permeates every aspect of Israeli life, its intrusion into the therapist's thoughts parallels its importance for clients" (1). Therefore, politics unavoidably penetrates the boundaries of therapeutic relationships and affects both parties. Similarly, being so widespread and influential, psychotherapy may have public (social and political) implications as well. It may amplify feelings of discrimination or frustration, for example, or facilitate processes of adjustment to and acceptance of an undesirable reality. Each course of action will then carry its own political consequences. Hence, psychotherapy cannot remain apolitical.

One aspect of this connection is described by Bar-On (2), who suggests that in spite of the apparent noninvolvement of Israeli psychologists in political processes, they are an integral part of the political system with which they identify:

The deep involvement of Israeli psychology in the military, accepting the dominant political claim that Israel was constantly under a strong security threat, may account for the conformity of most Israeli psychologists (p. 336).

That is to say, psychologists in Israel take an active, though covert, part in political systems, advance conventional or dominant political ideas and views, and contribute to the perpetuation of the existing political reality, whatever it may be. Thus, the questions remaining to be answered are not whether psychotherapy is or is not political and should or should not act politically, but rather what kind of an impact do psychologists have on social and political reality in which they function, and what kind of political involvement is desired?

Still, it is rare that psychologists relate to political and social issues. Within this context of what has been called "the silence of psychologists" (2, 3), one exceptional period stands out. It is a time of conflict for which the Israeli society was not prepared and therefore raised intense emotional reactions. This conflict is now widely known as the Intifada or the Palestinian uprising, which took place in the West Bank and in Gaza.

The First Intifada and Mental Health

The immediate pretext for the outbreak of the Intifada, on December 8, 1987, was a car accident involving one Israeli vehicle and one Palestinian vehicle, causing the death of four Palestinians. The Palestinians claimed that this was no accident, but a deliberate collision by the Israeli vehicle intending to murder the four passengers. …