Will the American Psychological Association Ever Join the Ceasefire Call?

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 8 Jan 2024

Roy Eidelson – TRANSCEND Media Service

2 Jan 2024 – The shocking numbers of Palestinian civilians, many of them children, subjected to unimaginable horrors in Gaza—death, displacement, disease, starvation, and more—grow larger every day. And yet it seems that urgent calls for a humanitarian ceasefire still can’t be heard inside the headquarters of the American Psychological Association (APA), an organization that for years infamously failed to forcefully oppose the degrading abuse of U.S. war-on-terror prisoners and the involvement of psychologists in that abuse.

At this point, the APA has already missed the opportunity to be part of the civil society vanguard calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Hundreds of organizations—including Amnesty InternationalDoctors Without BordersOxfam InternationalSave the ChildrenUNICEF, the United Nations General Assembly, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and many other human rights groups, faith-based organizations, and labor unions—have taken that step, weeks ago.

But it’s not too late for the APA to add its voice to this movement, and to encourage other influential professional associations—organizations the public looks to for guidance on contentious issues—to do the same. After all, beyond the unrelenting destruction of Gaza that’s starkly visible for all to see, APA leaders possess a heightened awareness of the dreadful psychological consequences of seemingly unfathomable violence and the intergenerational trauma that will inevitably follow. To state the obvious, remaining silent at this time casts doubt on the APA’s avowed commitment to “respect and promote human rights.”

Hamas’s October 7th attacks that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians—with 200 more taken hostage and facing perilous prospects—were undeniably brutal and horrific. Nevertheless, these atrocities and the anguish of a grief-stricken nation do not justify the disproportionate and indiscriminate response from Israel’s government over the past three months. This is especially clear in light of public statements from Israeli officials that raise concerns of genocidal intent behind the bombardment, ground invasion, and siege of Gaza.

For example, from the very outset Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “mighty vengeance” and described the conflict as “a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle.” Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible.” Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari  explained that “we’re focused on what causes maximum damage.” Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared, “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed…we are fighting human animals.” And Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council,  wrote that “Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.”

Yet not only has the APA’s leadership failed to join others in calling for a ceasefire, it has also taken steps to block—or at least indefinitely postpone—the publishing of this brief statement in support of a ceasefire from the APA’s own division of peace psychologists (emphasis in original):

We, as peace psychologists, join the calls from all around the world for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

We join the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in his appeal “for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, together with the unconditional release of hostages and the delivery of relief at a level corresponding to the dramatic needs of the people in Gaza, where a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in front of our eyes.”

We, as peace psychologists, remind the world that there is no military solution to the current crisis. There can be no peace without justice.

We urge leaders around the world to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to end the indescribable suffering and indiscriminate killing in Gaza.

What exactly do APA leaders find problematic about this statement? Most striking is their reported concern over whether the call for a ceasefire is antisemitic. Unfortunately, this false equivalence has become a popular and manipulative silencing tactic within certain circles, spurred on by today’s extremist government in Israel and various U.S. organizations that blindly support it. But the claim that any criticism of Israel’s actions is antisemitic has consistently been rejected by serious scholars and human rights groups worldwide. For example, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism—developed two years ago by over 200 experts in the fields of Holocaust history, Jewish studies, and Middle East studies—defines antisemitism this way: “discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews” (emphasis added). Furthermore, the declaration stresses that criticism of Israel is not inherently antisemitic.

Moving beyond abstractions, one doesn’t need to look very far for other evidence that calls for a humanitarian ceasefire are not expressions of antisemitism. Thousands of American Jews support a ceasefire and have joined Jewishorganizations like Jewish Voice for PeaceIf Not Now, and Rabbis for Ceasefire in demonstrations across the United States, with impassioned pleas of “Not in Our Name!” In short, distinguishing opposition to Israel’s obliteration of Gaza from hostility toward Jews isn’t really hard at all. The APA’s leadership is fully capable of recognizing the difference. Indeed, any failure to do so distracts from very real and dangerous instances of actual antisemitism—of which there are far too many—and the important fight against them.

I can only speculate as to why the APA’s leadership seems to find it so uncomfortable to publicly support a humanitarian ceasefire. Certainly, I know firsthand how, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks over 22 years ago, the APA was quick to embrace the Bush Administration’s so-called war on terror despite ominous signs that human rights and international law would be secondary considerations, at best. Is the current context yet another case where APA leaders are reticent to take a stand that could alienate powerful interests and jeopardize the organization’s prized “seat at the table”? Is the APA placing calculated expediency above its mission to apply “psychological science and knowledge to benefit society and improve lives”? And is the APA ignoring its own Resolution Against Genocide, which affirms “the basic human rights of all people for survival, equality, dignity, respect, and liberty” and calls for “awareness raising of psychologists and psychologists-in-training”?

These are questions worth asking, in part because it would seem the urgency of a ceasefire should be especially apparent to the APA as an organization with so many health professionals among its 100,000 members. As has been widely reported, Israel’s assault has included the targeting of Gaza’s entire healthcare system, which has now collapsed. Almost 500 health professionals have been injured or killed in the attacks, thousands of patients have been deprived of necessary care, most hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, and essential medical supplies are now unavailable to forestall further loss of life. During a recent visit to Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical facility, a team from the World Health Organization described the emergency department there as resembling a “bloodbath.”

With so many lives in the balance, I fervently hope that APA leaders will begin 2024 by carefully considering these issues and joining the call for a ceasefire. As a start, I encourage them to recall this still timely observation from Martin Luther King Jr. about the Vietnam War, offered five months after his Invited Distinguished Address at the 1967 APA annual convention and two months before his death:

Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus. On some positions cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.

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Roy Eidelson is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and was a member of the American Psychological Association for over 25 years, prior to his resignation. He is a clinical psychologist and the president of Eidelson Consulting, where he studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, former executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Roy is the author of Political Mind Games: How the 1% Manipulate Our Understanding of What’s Happening, What’s Right, and What’s Possible and can be reached at reidelson@eidelsonconsulting.com.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 Jan 2024.

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