SINGAPORE — Several members of parliament (MP) spoke on Monday (Nov 6) about the importance of facilitating a deeper understanding of the Israel-Hamas war in schools here, as Parliament unanimously passed a motion on the conflict.
Having such conversations in classrooms – including teaching students about Israeli-Palestinian history, and providing a platform for students to engage in discussions with their teachers’ guidance – could help to tackle the proliferation of misinformation regarding the conflict, said members of the House.
In a debate on Monday which spanned around six hours, MPs also said that humanitarian aid and assistance rendered to Gaza residents must go on for a longer term, beyond alleviating their current suffering.
Among other points made during the debate, members of the House also reiterated the need for a two-state solution, and collectively upheld the stance that the conflict is of a political, historical and territorial nature, rather than a religious one.
MPs also acknowledged Israel’s right of self-defence, while denouncing its disproportionate attacks on Palestine.
The motion – titled “Solidarity, Security and Peace – The Israel-Hamas Conflict” – was jointly filed by MP for Sembawang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Vikram Nair, Mr Alex Yam (MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) and Mr Zhulkharnain Abdul Rahim (MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC).
Twenty-one members of the House rose to speak in support of the motion. This included 17 MPs, nominated MPs and non-constituency MPs, and four political office holders: Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister of State for National Development Faishal Ibrahim.
DPM Wong said in his speech that extremist and terrorist groups in the region are using the Israel-Hamas war to rile up sentiments and radicalise more individuals.
Dr Balakrishnan, meanwhile, said that the war is a reminder for Singapore that it has national interests at stake, as he spelt out the principles underpinning the Government’s position on what he described as an “unfolding tragedy”.
SCHOOLS, IHLS COULD FACILITATE CONVERSATIONS TO FIGHT DISINFORMATION
Members of the House spoke of how schools can play a role in helping students deepen their understanding of the conflict, which would be key to fighting disinformation and helping Singaporeans understand viewpoints that differ from theirs.
In his speech, Mr Yam said that since the Oct 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, “online traffic and misinformation targeting Singapore has been on the rise”.
Given the risk Singapore faces as a nation, he added: “We must engage in an open and honest conversation about the situation.
“Misguided beliefs and distorted narratives can further escalate tensions and lead to divisions within our community. We must redouble our efforts to ensure that Singaporeans have access to reliable sources of information and are equipped to discern fact from fiction.”
Ms Joan Pereira, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, noted that social media plays a “pivotal role” in shaping the world’s perception of the conflict, given the nature of today’s modern welfare being “globally televised”.
“Therefore, our psychological defence is the most important,” she said.
“Just like how all of us are learning how to deal with scammers, we must also learn how to resist being influenced and blindly led along by social media in this conflict. We must not play into their hands, and we must not let ourselves get dragged into the conflict virtually.”
Recounting anecdotal feedback from residents, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Saktiandi Supaat told Parliament that youths had also raised their concerns around the influence of media – both traditional and social media.
“I know that different media channels seem to report different aspects of the conflict, and sometimes with a subjective spin,” he said.
Moving beyond the conflict, the authorities should also be concerned about how different segments of society receive their news, and to educate them on differentiating between facts and subjective views, he added.
Noting also the complexity and long history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr Leong Mun Wai, a non-constituency MP and secretary-general of the Progress Singapore Party, urged the Government to enhance education on the matter, so that Singaporeans could have “more accurate and complete information” on the conflict.
This would reduce the risk of Singaporeans being swayed by biased, inaccurate, or one-sided emotional discourse, Mr Leong added.
MP for Aljunied GRC Gerald Giam said that political debates – occurring within Parliament, in classrooms or at the Speakers’ Corner – could provide Singaporeans with a “safe avenue” to air their views and engage in discussions about international conflicts.
Such debates would also provide citizens with a “crucial pressure release valve for discontent”, which could aid in preventing individuals from falling prey to overt influence by extreme rhetoric from foreign sources, said Mr Giam.
To counter this, Mr Giam proposed that schools and higher education institutions also more actively promote classroom discussions on the topic.
“This will not only provide young people with a platform to voice their perspectives and express their frustrations with the situation, but also encourage them to respect different viewpoints,” he said.
“With teachers or facilitators guiding these discussions, the conversations will be kept balanced and will avoid becoming overly contentious.”
Dr Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah of Jalan Besar GRC spoke about how the phenomenon of doom scrolling, where individuals continuously scroll through distressing news on social media, has risen.
“This not only reflects our global interconnectedness but also brings to the fore mental health challenges that such crises and their digital portrayal can precipitate,” he said.
“Thus, it’s imperative that we take steps to address the mental health impact by accelerating digital literacy, encouraging balanced media consumption, and providing mental health support through safe spaces for discourse.”
Nominated MP Syed Harun expressed his disappointment at the authorities’ decision not to allow the conflict to be discussed more openly at the Speakers’ Corner, or as part of events or public assemblies.
“I can appreciate the initial concerns over public order, the sensitivity of the topic, as well as the volatility of the situation overseas, but I do hope that the Government will reconsider this position in good time, and I would suggest for this to be allowed sooner rather than later,” he said.
“There should be means for Singapore citizens to discuss and express their thoughts in a safe space about such delicate issues and raise their own awareness of such devastation and atrocities happening around the world.”
Dr Syed suggested that engagements could be conducted with security restrictions or in limited numbers.
Responding to this, Associate Professor Faishal said the National Parks Board (NParks) had rejected only seven of more than 400 applications received to use the Speakers’ Corner for events in the last few years.
Of these seven rejections, five were applications to hold events related to the Israel-Hamas conflict in October.
“(Such events) can spark off dissidence on the ground. They also have the potential to divide us as Singaporeans. Once we allow one event, we will have to allow others,” said Assoc Prof Faishal.
As such, he added that NParks would continue to reject applications to use the Speakers’ Corner for similar events, as long as there is a public safety and security risk posed.
LONG-TERM AID MUST GO ‘BEYOND ALLEVIATING IMMEDIATE SUFFERING’
MPs also spoke of the importance of long-term aid for Gaza, and why it should go beyond alleviating immediate suffering.
On what Singapore is already doing, Dr Balakrishnan said that the Government has contributed seed funding of S$300,000 to the Singapore Red Cross, which is working with its partners to support the relief effort in Gaza.
Dr Balakrishnan also noted that Singaporeans have donated nearly S$5 million to the fundraising drives by the Singapore Red Cross and the Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation.
Beyond this, the authorities would continue to engage the Palestinian Authority and support its capacity-building efforts through the Enhanced Technical Assistance Package, he said.
While lauding existing efforts, Ms Nadia Samdin, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, pointed out that humanitarian aid alone would not be enough to rehabilitate and rebuild a community.
Mr Giam of Aljunied GRC said that Singapore’s assistance has to “go beyond alleviating the immediate suffering of the Palestinians”.
Some ways Singapore could offer long-term aid include contributing to post-conflict reconstruction and development by offering more technical assistance to the Palestinians – such as in education, public housing, urban planning, water management and tackling corruption – he added.
Mr Zhulkarnain expressed his hopes that the Government would also consider providing critical vaccinations and other medication for the Palestinian population, who are “facing a health crisis”.