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The Daily Show explains why discussing Israel-Palestine is so hard

Even if you see the joke coming, it's still pretty good. Jon Stewart begins to introduce a segment on the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict but on saying the word "Israel" is immediately shouted down by overly zealous supporters of Israel (what we in the business call "pro-Israel trolls") who accuse him of unfair double-standards, being a self-hating Jew, and so on. He says the word "Hamas" and is mobbed again, now told he supports the murder of Palestinian children and is a Zionist pig.

Just to be clear: this is a zero-exaggeration, 100 percent accurate portrayal of what it is like to cover Israel-Palestine during times of conflict.

An article about Palestinian casualties from Israeli air strikes is met with outraged accusations that the author hates Israel and secretly wishes for the deaths of Israelis; an article about Israelis suffering under Palestinian rocket fire is met with outraged accusations that the author hates Palestinians and is complicit in their deaths. On any given day during periods of conflict, the New York Times is accused of both.

To be clear, that's not to whine about how covering Israel can be difficult — Western journalists are obviously just bystanders in the conflict, which causes actual real-world harm to Israelis and Palestinians far beyond the mild annoyance of getting yelled at by people. But there is a serious point to be made here: starting and having an actual, reasonable public conversation about the conflict is made next to impossible by this effect, to the point that non-partisans have fewer opportunities to learn about it, and that partisans have almost no opportunity to discover the shades of grey, or god forbid the humanity of people on the "other side."

Why is the Israel-Palestine conversation so uniquely polarized, and so angry? There are many reasons: decades of enmity, broken agreements, and violence only explain so much. Partly, it's the stakes, which go beyond even the risks of death. Both sides see their very nation, and thus their identity, at danger of being wiped out, and they're not wrong. Both sides see themselves as the entrenched, encircled, endangered minority.

Crucially, both sides also believe that the world could be on the cusp of imposing an outcome either to their favor or disfavor; this sense of an imminent and decisive judgment from the outside world compels partisans on both ends to litigate their worldview as aggressively as possible. The fact that the world has not yet come around to your preferred side's obvious righteousness and moral superiority just proves that the media is unfairly skewing against you. And that makes shouting down any public conversation less 100 percent compliant to your worldview not just justified, but a moral imperative. Given that the outside world does play an important role in mediating the Israel-Palestine conflict, the fact that public discourse around it is broken has real-world implications way beyond just making it annoying for people in the media like Jon Stewart.

Read more: The social science that explains why every Israel-Palestine argument is so polarized.