The Politics of Dehumanization

The science fiction writer William Gibson once observed that the "future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed." One place where the future has arrived may well be Israel. On Monday, the day the United States formally opened a new embassy in the divided capital city of Jerusalem, Israeli troops killed more than 50 and injured over 1,700 Palestinians protesters along Israel's border with Gaza. The protests, which began in March, are largely driven by Palestinian anger at Israel's economic blockade of Gaza.

In his new book Us. vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism, political scientist and author Ian Bremmer argues that Israel is the quintessential example of a society that works perfectly well — for those it chooses to include. "The Israelis right now have one of the most effectively run democracies in the world," he said last Thursday at Asia Society, where he discussed his book with Asia Society Policy Institute President Kevin Rudd. "Rule of law, anti-corruption, free media, an independent judiciary, you name it. And that’s even true for Arabs living in Israel."

But Bremmer argues that such a successful Israeli society exists through the systematic exclusion of Palestinians through physical border walls, defense technology like the Iron Dome, and extreme vetting at international airports. Essential to maintaining this system, he said, is "dehumanizing Palestinians":

You can’t live in Israel today and not care about the two-state solution unless, to a degree, you’re prepared to accept that Palestinians aren’t really people. Right? You have to. Because they have none of the economic opportunities, none of the personal security opportunities, none of the educational opportunities. And you have to be able to do that, otherwise, the cognitive dissonance would be too great. Otherwise, you’d say “how can I live like this, and allow these other people to live like that?”

A leader who keenly grasps this cognitive dissonance is U.S President Donald Trump —  whom Bremmer refers to as "the ne plus ultra of 'us vs. them' leaders." During his speech announcing his campaign for president in 2015, Trump attacked Mexico for bringing rapists into the United States, a remark that, under ordinary circumstances, might have constituted a fatal gaffe. Instead, Trump vaulted over a deep field of contenders to capture the GOP nomination. As president, Trump's remarks about Nigeria and Haiti exemplify his approach to who should and who shouldn't be American — and has contributed to the hardening of American attitudes against vulnerable people such as Syrian refugees. Said Bremmer:

"When I posted two weeks ago that there were 11 Syrian refugees that have been allowed into the United States, half of the Americans responding to my social media post (which I didn't comment on) said that that was 11 too many. Now, that’s not a country that has the Statue of Liberty. That can only be allowed by people who don’t believe Syrians are real people."

Bremmer predicts that these divisions will worsen as technology renders millions of jobs obsolete — a process he calls a "post-industrial revolution." How will society treat those who are unemployed? "It'll make us think very differently about who matters and who doesn't," he said.

Watch the complete video of Bremmer's appearance at Asia Society below:

About the Author

Profile picture for user Matt Schiavenza

Matt Schiavenza is the Assistant Director of Content at Asia Society. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Fortune, and strategy + business among other publications.