Pro-Palestinian Students at UC Berkeley Woefully Ignorant of Facts

“In the age of fake news, it is crucial to respond with clarity and firmness to show the truth with accuracy”

By Yossi Aloni |
Photo: Ariel Hayat/Flickr/Creative Commons

A study conducted at UC Berkeley, a bastion of anti-Israel progressive left-wing activism and one of America’s top universities, found that students who were “extremely concerned” about the so-called Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories were awkwardly ignorant about the conflict, and are not aware of the most basic facts regarding the region and its history. 

A full 84 percent of the outspoken pro-Palestinian students did not know when Israel had captured the territories in question (52 years ago in 1967), and 75 percent could not find the West Bank and Gaza on a map. All of them showed a total lack of desire to learn about the geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East and around the world.

The study was conducted among 230 students at the University of California, Berkeley Professor Ron Hassner, who found that 25 percent of the pro-Palestinian activists placed the “Palestinian territories” in western Lebanon when asked to point them out on a map. Some even pointed to the island nation of Cyprus. A mere 14 percent of all the students surveyed knew the exact location on a map.

While 43 percent of the highly-opinionated students expressed a great deal of interest in and concern over the so-called Israeli “occupation” of so-called “Palestinian” territories, only 6 percent reported the same level of interest in or concern over other violent conflicts and war zones in the Middle East.

Only 16 percent of the students who “care very much” about the Palestinian conflict knew anything about the Six Day War, and just 17 percent could guess that between 8-12 million people live in the Land of Israel. The majority chose numbers ranging from 100 thousand to 150 million inhabitants.

Most of those students who are “concerned” about the Palestinians also left more questions unanswered, and many simply guessed at answers, indicating an excessive self-confidence in their knowledge of the subject.

The survey concluded that there is a direct link between the high level of enthusiasm of the students over the conflict, and their low level of knowledge of the facts and reality. Those who say that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is most close to their hearts are the ones who demonstrated the greatest ignorance on the topic. Students who expressed a moderate level of caring about the Palestinians are more well-informed about the facts, or at least admit their lack of knowledge.

Prof. Hassner said that his research may not answer the question of why these students hold such strong opinions about the subject without being aware of the facts, but it does indicate that education and more moderate perspectives do go hand-in-hand.  “If incorrect information is a factor and results in political passion, then a good education is the remedy,” concluded the professor.

Hassner said that it is tempting to conclude that current political trends on campuses require students to declare strong positions on controversial issues, regardless of their knowledge, or lack thereof, as a way of expressing their identities and values.

The head of public diplomacy at the Israel Foreign Ministry, Noam Katz, said in response: “The results are not surprising since in radical and closed groups the element of belonging to the group is what counts, and not knowledge. Members of these groups feel comfortable and easily adopt anti-Israel positions that correspond to distorted perceptions of the situation in our region. In the age of fake news, it is crucial to respond with clarity and firmness to show the truth with accuracy. The Foreign Ministry operates on both traditional media channels and new media channels to demonstration the truth and correct the false perceptions.”


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