A Global Game of “Pretend”

Kids playing "Pretend"
“Look mom I’m flying?” a healthy game of pretend.

The International Court of Justice is considering, and therefore giving legitimacy to, the claim that Israel is conducting a genocide in Gaza. To accept this case the court has to pretend that Iran, a genocidal regime, and Hamas, a genocidal terror group not party to the ICJ convention, are not behind South Africa’s actions. It must ignore the unprecedented lengths to which the Israeli army will go to protect civilian lives. This global charade requires a great deal of pretending. But it should not surprise us at all. It’s been quite some time that “Pretending” is the name of the global game.

pre·tend (VERB)behave so as to make it appear that something is the case when in fact it is not.

When my kids were little, I loved watching them play “pretend”, a wonderful use of the imagination. However, after a certain age the persistent fabrication of reality, or living in a world of “pretend,” may indicate what psychologists call a ‘maladaptive coping mechanism’. It can lead to dissociation from actual experiences, impacting mental well-being and interpersonal relationships.

I asked ChatGPT how this behavior can impact national or international policy. This was the answer: “When leaders engage in widespread fabrication of reality, it can have profound consequences on national and global scales. It may lead to distorted decision-making, erosion of public trust, and the manipulation of narratives for political gain. Such behavior can foster misinformation, undermine democratic processes, and contribute to social instability. In the long run, these impacts may hinder effective governance and impede the development of sound policies.”

3 examples come to mind:

  1. Iran’s nuclear aspiration – For years the Obama and Biden administrations and our European allies negotiated a path for Iran to develop nuclear capabilities. The West had to pretend that Iran is not threatening to destroy Israel on a regular basis and is developing the means to do so. They released billions of dollars that flowed into the Iranian governments’ coffers pretending they don’t murder dissidents, oppress women, execute gay men in public or rape imprisoned women as a matter of course. They believed that if only the Iranian economy did a little better the Iranian government would behave better; all the while pretending that all that cash is not promoting terrorism, funding the revolutionary guard and Iran’s proxies in the middle east.
  2. The Two State Solution – The long-standing paradigm in global discourse for the end game of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a Two State Solution in a Land-for-Peace formula. This paradigm was compounded by an additional long held belief by many professional diplomats and would-be experts that Isarel’s capture of lands previously occupied by Egypt and Jordan in 1967 is the root cause of the conflict and there can be no further peace between Israel and other Arab countries until such land-for-peace deal. The Abraham Accords shattered that paradigm and proved them wrong. Still, many Israelis, myself included, share the vision of two states living side by side in peace. For most Israelis, however, this vision has lost favor, not because they have lost the desire for peace with the Palestinians but because, in face of Oct. 7th, we lost our belief that such a solution is currently viable. To continue to insist on the two-state solution now requires pretending there is a large enough Palestinian body politic that wishes to live next to Israel in peace, aspire to the two-state paradigm rather than hold the “from the river to the sea” mentality. It requires pretending that Hamas is somehow an ex-territorial group of people who did not grow up from within Palestinian society reflecting its values and beliefs; or further pretending that a majority of Palestinians in the West Bank don’t support Hamas. It requires pretending the Palestinians will accept an offer for statehood after rejecting at least 5 similar offers in the past, and that they will agree to a demilitarized, neutered state unable to threaten its neighbors. Advocating for a Palestinian state now further requires pretending that a future Palestinian state will not be, like the West Bank, Gaza and other Arab countries are now, a despotic, corrupt, oppressive, anti-liberal, failed state, nor a radical Islamic Jihadist state.
  3. The Clash of Civilizations – Many countries in the world are valiantly pretending the war is limited to Israel and Gaza. They are rightly concerned that the conflict in Gaza and the humanitarian disaster brewing there can spark a world war; but they wrongly conclude that a swift end to the war without an immediate release of Israeli hostages and – more importantly – a decisive Israeli victory, will prevent such an escalation. To reach this conclusion they must pretend the Arab world actually cares about the growing humanitarian disaster in Gaza. They must pretend that Egypt does not have a long border with Gaza and is able to dramatically alleviate, even end, the humanitarian crisis within a day. They must pretend not to be able to read the Houthis’ intentions plainly written on their flag (Allah Hu’Akbar. Death to America. Death to Israel. Cursed are the Jews. Victory to Islam.) nor understand Hizbullah’s clearly announced intention in Lebanon, both Iranian proxies. They must pretend Russia, Iran, China and North Korea are not aligned and watching with keen interest how the West will respond, that the BRICS economic system is not threatening the US dollar, that Ukraine and the rest of Europe, Taiwan, the South China Sea and Japan are not under threat, or in short, pretend that the West and its allies are not already at war with a new axis of evil.

There are more examples of course, for instance pretending Lebanon is a sovereign country with a government that has a monopoly on the use of force, that Jordan is an ancient kingdom or that UNRWA is an unbiased UN aid organization. Or pretending that Qatar is acting in good faith and is not one of the biggest sponsors of terrorism and anti-American propaganda in the world.

Then there is the oldest “Pretend” of them all. The one stating “the Jews are to blame”. A growing belief around the world concludes that the friction between the West and the Islamic world has its roots in the existence of a Jewish State in Israel, and therefore can be solved by the elimination of Israel. It requires pretending than non-Western peoples and specifically Palestinians are void of religious beliefs, political agendas, aspirations and agency. It means treating them like children pretending they are not responsible for their own actions. Rather, their bad behavior is simply a response to bad Western/Israeli behavior, colonialism and occupation, real or imagined. It is the pernicious “subtle racism of diminished expectation”, the pinnacle of liberal Western pretentiousness.

Isn’t it time we all stop pretending?

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close