One organization has tossed out the books on the traditional battle against anti-Semitism in exchange for a new strategy – using a cognitive approach that aims to form new brain patterns when it comes to perceptions of the Jewish people and Israel.
The brains behind the operation – no pun intended – is Leo Sucharewicz, a communications and political psychologist who contends that inflammatory, head-butting arguments have not been persuasive in changing mindsets.
“At the end of the rainbow, you find the pot of gold. Right now I’m very close to finding the end of the rainbow and it’s in social sciences, it is in neuroscience and psychology,” Sucharewicz said in an interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS.
For Sucharewicz, who is passionate about staunching the evils of anti-Semitism, this mission seems to come from his proverbial heart. But, he insists, “There are more organs involved than my heart. First of all, my brain.”
Based on his studies of human behavior and the brain, Sucharewicz has developed an approach of disseminating positive information in order to inform and train the human brain when it comes to perceptions of Jews.
“It’s all about information, it’s a war on information,” Sucharewicz said. “Anti-Semitism is, first of all, information – it is toxic information, it is untrue, it is offending, discriminating information. But, it is information.”
Sucharewicz aims to counter disinformation using cognitive dissonance and modern persuasion mechanisms. Promoting the Jewish people – presenting them in a positive light just as they are: people among people, many of whom have succeeded in certain vocations and all of whom are human – marginalizes feelings of anti-Semitism for many, Sucharewicz believes.
“Neuropsychologists know how the brain works and its certain dynamics,” Sucharewicz explained. “The brain drives itself into a channel and works like a filter and more intensively to… confirm existing knowledge, which could be a prejudice – and that could become cement. The belief then becomes part of the ego, part of the identity.”
MATTERS OF THE BRAIN
Along this vein of beliefs and brain patterns, Sucharewicz has developed several projects – “We Jews,” a website; the 1948 Project, a traveling exhibition about Israel’s establishment; and an academy to train representatives – that counter anti-Semitism from a cognitive standpoint. These initiatives are under the umbrella of his NGO, Democracy and Information, and supported by the Federal Ministry of Interior, the German Jewish Council, Jewish communities and Christian and Jewish sponsors.
Sucharewicz explained how our brains process information from trusted sources: “When we hear something first, it is more resilient. Whoever informs first to a certain topic is ‘right.’”
For instance, if a person is told by a friend, an acquaintance they trust or even an influencer that Jews participate in satanic rituals or other blood libels, the statement would stay with them and likely prompt negative feelings about Jewish people even if they didn’t fully believe it. Later, if that same person heard a statement like, “Jews control the media,” they would be more prone to believe it.
“It triggers the memory, the existing information about it,” Sucharewicz said.
To counter that, he said, “We could simply put out the truth – then its information versus information, head-to-head. But that’s not working.”
What makes it even harder to break through ingrained anti-Semitism is that people tend to hold on to negative thoughts more voraciously, Sucharewicz said.
“You can lie, make propaganda and you can create intrigues – that is how kingdoms and monarchies fell. Our brain reacts faster and stronger and more attentive to negative information,” he explained.
The website, “We Jews,” (only in German at the moment) does this by providing positive images that challenge long-held beliefs. The scope of Jewish influence in Germany and around the globe is astounding and is noted on the site’s many pages.
Featuring biographies of famous and less known scientists, soldiers, engineers, athletes, comedians, models, actors and even pirates who happen to be Jewish, the information is well sourced, and the reading is lively and fun. Some readers are surprised to learn that Jews were involved in inventing or developing many products which drove modern Germany to be a top economic power, including Volkswagen and the Zeppelin.
Another astonishing fact, most visitors to the site did not realize that Jews served alongside their countrymen in the German army in World War I – just two decades before being marked for extermination by the Nazi regime. In fact, many browsers admitted that they believed the Jews were cowards, which is why they presumed they didn’t enlist in the army. Neither did they know that 12,000 Jews were killed in service and a higher-than-average percentage received medals for their bravery.
“All of a sudden they see not just why they are wrong, but they see the Jewish contribution,” Sucharewicz said. “We had feedback from hundreds of German officers who didn’t know there were heroic Jewish officers in the army.”
Always the scientist, Sucharewicz built in a mechanism on the site whereby he can track whether the information was having the intended effect. Everyone exiting the site is presented with a survey – and the response rate is 90% positive.
One reader commented, “I always believed the Jews were God’s chosen people, but now after seeing the website, I know Jews are good swimmers too.”
Another said, “Before, I thought Jews were strange. Now I know they have a good sense of humor.”
One user admitted coming to the site with the belief that Jews are trying to control the world. Yet, after browsing, the user lauded Jews for their brilliance in science and other disciplines.
And, thankfully, most minds don’t have to be changed, Sucharewicz noted, “because they always thought Jews were normal people.”
His other project is a traveling and online exhibition called “1948,” which Sucharewicz says “crushes 80 years of Palestinian propaganda” about the Jewish state.
In a touch of irony, the exhibition was recently displayed at a Nuremberg courthouse where Nazis were tried after World War II. So far it has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. The exhibit may possibly be displayed at the European Parliament in Brussels this fall.
RECRUITING INFORMATION WARRIORS
Born in Poland and raised in Germany, Sucharewicz made his way to Israel and enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces in 1966 at the age of 18 – just in time for the Six-Day War. He eventually moved back to Germany for university where he married and raised his own children, two daughters – both of whom now live in Israel.
This is not his first foray into the battle against anti-Semitism. Sucharewicz, an ardent Zionist, organized the “I Like Israel” campaign – celebrations of Independence Day conducted both in Israel and Germany the early 2000s.
While being on this consuming and weighty mission, Sucharewicz is affable and quick with humor. He met with ALL ISRAEL NEWS twice in Tel Aviv to talk about his current initiatives and his desire to train many – including Evangelical Christians – to be “information warriors” against anti-Semitism.
In Germany, Sucharewicz’s staff is comprised of psychologists, historians and political scientists, both Jews and Christians. This, in itself, is an example of what he hopes to engender: affinity and kinship to overcome differences and stereotypes.
Sucharewicz is now seeking partners to help export his initiatives. He envisions the website in several languages, countering anti-Semitism in various countries.
He also wants to build a physical academy in Israel to train “information warriors.”
“When the whole planet becomes a little village with global communication – and propaganda spreads virally around the world, ‘Israel is an apartheid state and racist,’ then you will need professional, coordinated ‘counter propaganda’ on a strategic level,” he said.
The academy – which Sucharewicz admits is a vision – would train students from a curricula he has already written and coordinate global messaging.
“When you have limited resources you need to prioritize. You need someone to decide, ‘Leave Roger Waters (the Pink Floyd band member active in the BDS movement) alone for now and focus on Iran instead,’” he explained.
The timing, he emphasizes, is urgent as the world – and particularly Europe – are at a critical juncture.
“There is a possibility that anti-Semitism becomes again as it had been in the 1920s. It is a matter of who wins the struggle,” Sucharewicz said. “What we are doing, for example, with 'We Jews,' – I feel we are like a vacuum cleaner: We really are removing the dust on the small line we follow. But the whole of what we have to clean is very big.”
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS