Most students who care strongly about the "Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories" do not have knowledge of basic facts surrounding the subject, and do not share similar concerns about other geopolitical conflicts, a recent study has suggested.
The survey, carried out among 230 undergraduates at the University of California, Berkeley, was conducted by Ron Hassner, the Helen Diller Family Chair in Israel Studies at the school who published an essay on his results on Monday.
It asked respondents to rate their attitude on 18 issues, "including US-Iran relations, the civil war in Yemen, drone warfare, etc., on a five point scale, ranging from 'I'm not that interested' (1 point out of 5) to 'I care deeply' (5 points out of 5)," explained Hassner, who also included a series of open-ended questions "on history, geography, and current affairs."
One hundred of the participating students, or 43 percent, expressed the highest rate of interest in Israel's control of Palestinian territories, while simultaneously caring "far less about other Middle East occupations, such as the Kurdish struggle for independence, the occupation of Western Sahara, or the occupation of Northern Cyprus," Hassner found.
Of the 100 students who said they "care deeply" about the Palestinian territories, only 10 also reported the same level of interest in the Sahrawi independence movement in Western Sahara, while only six were equally enthusiastic to learn about all Middle Eastern independence movements.
The students' professed level of interest also did not appear to correlate with their understanding of the Palestinian issue. Eighty-four percent of those in the most passionate cohort could not name the decade when Israel captured the West Bank, while 75 percent could not locate the Palestinian territories in question on a map. Twenty-five percent "of these students placed the Palestinian Territories west of Lebanon, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea," Hassner wrote. "The class average for this blunder was 14%."
The professor pointed to another finding in the survey data, which indicated that students who expressed the most interest in the Palestinian issue were less informed than more moderate peers, who "are more likely to admit gaps in their knowledge and, as a result, are less likely to hold erroneous beliefs."
"For example, like the rest of the class, only 25% of passionate students placed the Palestinian Territories, correctly, south of Lebanon. But students with more moderate levels of enthusiasm provided the correct answer 28% of the time."
The most passionate students were also the least likely to leave questions unanswered and "the most likely to offer a wild guess," marking them as the most overconfident respondents.
The same pattern was present in all answers related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Only 16% of students who 'care deeply' about the Palestinian issue provided the correct decade for the Six Day War and only 17% were able to guess that the population of Israel was somewhere between 8 and 12 million people," Hassner shared. "The others offered guesses ranging from as low as 100,000 persons to as high as 150 million persons."
While acknowledging that his survey could not answer why students were driven to profess strong opinions on issues they were not particularly knowledgeable about, Hassner posited that "it does indicate, strongly, that education and moderation go hand in hand."
"The questions that students answered most accurately involved Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco, all countries for which they expressed moderate but not extreme interest," he wrote. "If misinformation is both a cause and a consequence of political passion, then good teaching is the antidote."