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Gabor Mate, can I still learn from him?

Gabor Mate, one of my great inspirations has recently been doing the rounds in the media sharing radical anti Israel ideas that endanger the lives of the Jewish people and lend a voice to those that seek to de-legitimise the rights for safety and security of our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel.

Gabor has had an incredible influence on my life for a few years now. His teachings through his several best seller books, his podcast appearances and many online interviews - have had a profound impact on me, on the way I understand myself, on my self awareness and on my practice and journey with self compassion. Gabor has influenced the way i view other peoples complex emotional challenges, addictions and on my own personal healing journey. 

Dr Mate's understanding around “ask not why the addiction but why the pain” his teachings about the safe emotional attachment all children need and deserve and his holistic approach to mental health - through the prism of trauma has impacted the world. Gabors understanding of trauma through things that have happened to us, but importantly the often overlooked trauma caused by things that didn't happen to us. As well, Dr Gabors profound teaching that Trauma is not actually what happened to us, but rather what happened inside of us as a result, this teaching has had a powerful and empowering impact on me as it serves as a guide and roadmap of where to look for healing and empowers us to be agents of our own healing regardless of the source of our pain.

Over the past few weeks a few people, knowing how much I respect Dr Gabors teachings, have been reaching out to me in shock at his comments and rhetoric in regards to Israel. Many people who admire him and his teachings on mental health are having a difficult time listening to him or learning from him after hearing about his radical views on Israel. Some have asked me, how can you look up to and learn from such a person who holds such misguided views? How can you trust such a person's moral compass? One person even said to me, "if he's so wrong and misguided on Israel, how can you listen to a word he says about mental health?"

These are all very legitimate questions. And I've been forced to sit with these questions and come to some kind of understanding around all of this. How can a Jewish Doctor who I look up to so much, who himself is a child survivor of the Holocaust be so anti-Israel? How can I hold space internally for respect and admiration for his teachings on mental health while he carries and spreads such dangerous views on an issue that is so dear to my heart?

Interestingly, much of my understanding around this question has actually come from watching his son Daniel who has been posting a lot of radical anti Israel content on social media. I’ve found myself watching his live videos with genuine curiosity while trying to find some compassion and understanding towards him and his views despite my strong disagreement with him on this issue.

While watching his videos I slowly came to understand that his intention may in fact be coming from a good place. He may be coming from a loving and caring place - despite being very morally misguided in my opinion. I managed to open my heart and find some compassion for him and his views.

I came to understand that his approach to what is happening in Israel is based on his view of the Palestinians as the oppressed, as those experiencing incredible suffering. While Israel is in his view, the all powerful country with a military, the oppressor. Through this narrow lens, the Palestinians deserve compassion, support and understanding and the strong “oppressor” Israel needs to be doing more to alleviate the pain and suffering of the Palestinians. This often general world view is an emotional response of compassion towards those suffering from the actions of the powerful. Quite similar to an abusive parent whose child is suffering and deserving of compassion and support while the parent deserves to be punished and held to account for the child's suffering. This worldview also has its roots in the way some people view the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and throughout various tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. Some view Jewish suffering through the narrow lens of an oppressed people suffering at the hands of the powerful German Nazi’s - while the world ignored the oppressed who were deserving of support and compassion.

This moral lens however is obviously limited, often mistaken and can be radicalized and used either knowingly or unknowingly to cloud one's moral judgment. As is the case with Israel and the Palestinians. Yes Israel is Powerful, yes the Palestinians are suffering. But beyond that narrow lens, Israel seeks peace and values life and seeks to protect all life, while also having the important, often difficult moral responsibility to ensure the safety and protection of its people, even if that unfortunately and unwillingly means going to war and using power on a population that has suffered and is in pain. The moral responsibility of Israel to protect its people from the dangers of terrorism the likes of October 7’th is the greatest moral value possible - protecting human life and safety. Not at the expense of innocent Palestinians of course - but while doing whatever is possible to protect innocent Palestinians from harms way, whenever possible. Groups like Hamas intentionally make this difficult on purpose, in order to elicit a compassionate response from people who feel compassion for the oppressed and are easily manipulated into blaming whoever is the powerful when there is a power imbalance at play.

So is Gabor a bad guy for getting lost in compassion? I’d argue no.

Is he wrong on the issue of Israel, yes.

I think Gabor is coming from a good place emotionally, yet his moral compass has been clouded by compassion based on this narrow lens of a perceived power imbalance.

Can I hold space for the valuable teachings he offers on addiction and mental health while also holding space for some compassion and understanding for how wrong he is in Israel? That's a challenge, and I'm trying to hold space for both truths.

May we all try to find compassion and respect for others even and perhaps especially those who we disagree with.

Pinny Super

Nefesh Healing Melbourne


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