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Israeli-Arab War Over Textbooks

A new study funded by the U.S. undercuts the notion that Palestinian schools incite violence against Israel

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Classrooms in Gaza City, left, and Kiryat Arba. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images (left) and Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Even before the outbreak of violence in the Second Intifada, Israeli governments and American Jewish organizations have pointed to Palestinian textbooks as Exhibit A of the Palestinians’ lack of seriousness about pursuing peace. How can we trust them, the argument goes, if they are inciting violence even among elementary-schoolers with books that fail to include Israel on a map and that glorify suicide bombers?

But a new study, financed by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. State Department and commissioned by the multifaith Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, claims that both sides are to blame for presenting the other as the enemy. While Israeli schools did get slightly better marks for even-handedness and the Israeli school system was praised for its increasing ability to be self-reflective and self-critical, the study undercuts Israel’s often-repeated accusation that “Palestinians teach their children to hate.”

Not surprisingly, Palestinian officials have embraced the results. In a formal statement, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said he had instructed the PA’s Ministry of Education to study the report and implement its findings, updating school curricula to express Palestinian values of “coexistence, tolerance, justice, and human dignity.”

But to the Israeli government, the study—and its overall finding that the Palestinians do not, in fact, incite violence with their textbooks—is tantamount to casus belli. The Education Ministry, run by Likud’s Gideon Saar, has aggressively criticized and dismissed the study. In a written statement, ministry spokeswoman Michal Tzadoky claimed that the conclusions of the “study” (her scare-quotes) were “known in advance, before any professional work was done” and that the research, therefore, “certainly does not accurately reflect reality.” The statement continued: “The Education Ministry chose not to cooperate with those elements who are interested in maliciously slandering the Israeli educational system and the State of Israel.” Appearing on Israeli TV, Strategic Affairs Ministry Director General Yossi Kuperwasser, who monitors Palestinian incitement against Israel for the Israeli government, took it further. The goal of the research, he claimed, “is to weaken the State of Israel.”

Israeli Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University, the study’s primary Israeli researcher, has issued a letter to the Israeli Education Ministry threatening to sue for defamation if the ministry doesn’t apologize. “It is the government that is weakening the State of Israel,” Bar-Tal told me over the phone this week. “They [the ministry] are presenting Israel as a country that is anti-democratic, where political officials try to create an atmosphere of fear in order to censor scientific findings. These are the first steps towards totalitarianism. This is very sad.” The ministry’s reaction, Bar-Tal added, has also had a boomerang effect. “The study is scientifically important, but if the ministry had not responded the way they did, the whole world would not be paying attention to it.”

***

Titled “Victims of Our Own Narratives?” the study was conducted by Bar-Tal, of Tel Aviv University, and Palestinian Associate Prof. Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University. According to Bruce E. Wexler, professor emeritus at Yale School of Medicine, who designed the format and managed the research, the study is among the most comprehensive, fact-based investigations ever done of school textbooks. The findings are based on an examination of 74 Israeli textbooks from secular, national religious, and ultra-Orthodox schools and 94 of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education’s textbooks used in the West Bank and Gaza. Some 3,100 text passages, poems, maps, and illustrations were analyzed in detail.

Characterization of “the other” as “negative” or “very negative” occurred 49 percent of the time in Israeli textbooks and 84 percent of the time in their Palestinian equivalents, the report said. Characterization of “the other” as “the enemy” occurred 75 percent in Israeli books and 81 percent in those of Palestinians. And maps quite literally erase the presence of the other side: Some 96 percent of the maps in Palestinian textbooks do not mention Israel, and some 87 percent of the maps in Israel do not mention Palestine. Although the report did not use the word incitement, it asserts that “dehumanization and demonizing characterization of the other… are rare in both Israeli and Palestinian books.”

The researchers worked with Hebrew-Arabic bilingual research assistants who subjected books from both sides to identical evaluation questions. Data were entered remotely into a database at Yale University, creating the equivalent of a blind study. The research, said Wexler, meets rigorous scientific standards, including high inter-reliability ratings, large samples, and robust findings.

Some Israeli media reported that the State Department had, under pressure from Israel and “American Jewish sources,” rescinded its support for the research. However, in a written statement, Peter Velasco, a State Department spokesman, said that studies such as this “are not U.S. Government policy documents, and are not endorsed by the U.S. Government. …We hope that the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land will use the report in a constructive manner, to pursue their stated mission of advocating for peace and religious tolerance.” The State Department, Velasco said, did not at any point withdraw or threaten to withdraw its funding for the project.

The research was supervised by a 19-member international Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) the majority of whom endorsed its findings. Several Israeli members of the SAP dissented. According to a memo provided by the Education Ministry spokeswoman, Professor Elihu Richter of the Hebrew University said that “questions remain concerning definitions of the variables, how they are classified and measured and counted and what materials are included and excluded.” Richter warned that some of the comparisons may be “sliding down the slippery slope to moral equivalence.” SAP member Dr. Arnon Groiss, author of a separate study on Middle Eastern textbooks, wrote that he has severe reservations about the methodology and that some 40 significant items, which attest to incitement on the part of Palestinians, were not included.

I spoke this week with Wexler, who was in Jerusalem to present the study. “I am appalled at these ad hominem attacks. I am an American Jew, born in 1947, just after the Holocaust. I certainly do not want to attack the State of Israel,” Wexler told me, his voice nearly breaking with emotion. “Frankly, I think that the minister of education is a great example of the power of unilateral narratives. He just can’t see beyond the blinders in his mind because he is the product of a single national narrative, and he can’t understand or accept the types of things we are talking about here,” he added. “This proves that national leaders who have these kinds of blind spots make for poor and dangerous national leaders.”

***

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Right off the bat, as a layman, I see a major flaw in the survey, and it deals with equivalence.

The author notes that “…maps quite literally erase the presence of
the other side: Some 96 percent of the maps in Palestinian textbooks do not mention Israel
and some 87 percent of the maps in Israel do not mention Palestine.”

Israel is a reality: a member state of the United Nations. When maps in Palestinian textbooks do not mention it–especially when all Palestinians live adjacent to it–that is a far greater incitement than to indict Israel for not mentioning a place that does not yet exist, with boundaries not yet determined

    Following your logic Switzerland wasn’t “a reality” untill 2002 when gained full member status in the UN. An obvious absurdity.
    Moreover, that an area (e.g. Western Sahara) isn’t recognized as a full fledged state doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be mentioned on a map.
    Contested borders also can’t be an objection. Otherwise countries like India, China and Pakistan shouldn’t appear on maps either.

      Even if I grant the validity of your arguments, (and I don’t), I refer to the overarching point made by Seth M. Miller, below, and echoed by many of the other commenters:

      “Some 96 percent of the maps in Palestinian textbooks do not mention Israel, and
      some 87 percent of the maps in Israel do not mention Palestine.”
      In other
      words, they rigged a study to try to make Israeli textbooks look as bad as
      Palestinian textbooks.

        I don’t see how I am not referring to that same passage; albeit by critisising your argument as to why it is misleading to equate the (not) showing of Palestine on a map and the (not) showing of Israel on a map. Neither do I see how the study was rigged.

          Tom, we are dancing around the problem.

          Here is an excerpt from Ha’aretz’s coverage of the report:

          According to government sources, the researchers made selective use
          of negative descriptions of the Palestinians in Israeli textbooks. A
          senior Israeli official noted that the study overemphasizes the
          textbooks used in the ultra-Orthodox private school system, and that
          much of the criticism of Israeli textbooks is detached from the
          historical context. As examples of the negative portrayal of the
          Palestinians, the study cites the 1929 and 1936 riots, and the massacre
          of Israeli athletes by PLO terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

          “The researchers come out against using the word ‘terrorism’ in the
          chapter about the Munich massacre, but nobody can change the fact that
          the massacre was perpetrated by a Palestinian terrorist organization,”
          the senior official said.

          Yosef Kuperwasser, the director general of the Strategic Affairs
          Ministry, tracks anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian media. He
          said the report was particularly scandalous because the researchers
          judged Israel and the Palestinians in the same vein. “The whole
          comparison is twisted,” he said during the meetings. “We’re not in the
          same class as the Palestinians. We’re not even in the same school.”

          Out of pure laziness I’m not going to look this up, but what if comparable decisions have been made in the research on Palestinian textbooks? I could also understand some of the decisions they made (depending on the context).

          Even if they had, I would wager that Mr. Kuperwasser’s comment would remain valid….and dispositive.

          I think it is a bit vague honestly. It constructs a hierarchy, but what sort of hierarchy I don’t know.

      genelevit says:

      Israeli books don’t put Palestine on the map because editors of those books don’t think that such state exists (as the matter of fact, USA government, including Obama, agrees with them: it doesn’t exist). (look at latest UN voting). Palestinians don’t put Israel on maps because they think that such state doesn’t exist. Who is right? It is up to you to decide.

        I think they are both wrong. There are daily interactions between PNA officials and Israeli officials. The decision by either side to omit each other are signs of ideological denial of daily experiences on the ground.

          genelevit says:

          Well, if you think that the state of Palestine already exists – think.

          I didn’t say Palestinian state. I said PNA. A very important distinction as you probably would agree with. And as you can see in my first comment I do feel that the fact that a governed area isn’t full fledged state doesn’t necessarily means it shouldn’t be mentioned on a map.

          genelevit says:

          I don’t think you are serious. If the country doesn’t exist and it doesn’t have borders – what are you going to put on the map? There are efforts to declare “green line” to be the border. But it is not the border yet. (right, no?) Should Israeli textbooks define the border of the future Palestinian state according to the desires of the members of EU parliament or mentioned above research panel? I don’t understand.

    LeilaM12 says:

    No, quite the OPPOSITE: Since only one of the two countries is a reality (and one that is running a siege against the other and keeps taking more land), if ISRAEL does this it’s a greater incitement. When a giant screams, it’s decidedly more scary than when a chihuahua barks. Palestine, as you yourself say, a place that doesn’t even have statehood, so no international protection whatsoever, is an international chihuahua. In addition, it is also far more irrational due to the power imbalance of Israelis to behave that way. Reminds me of Black-White race relations stateside, when Whites speak of “the dangers of reverse racism” as if it was a real threat to their vastly more cushy existence and power dynamics.

      OK, Leila, when you speak of one “running a siege against the other” you show your bigoted hand.

You might want to have mentioned that many memebers of the Israeli side resigned earlier in the project because of the unfair direction the project was going.

“The findings are based on an examination of 74 Israeli textbooks from secular, national religious, and ultra-Orthodox schools and 94 of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education’s textbooks used in the West Bank and Gaza. Some 3,100 text passages, poems, maps, and illustrations were analyzed in detail”

So we’re starting with apples and oranges — using the more moderate Palestinian faction’s textbooks and comparing them with a hodgepodge of Israeli non-standard textbooks.

Then we STILL find the vast majority of mentions of Jews in Palestinian textbooks are anti-Semitic, while most of our cherry-picked Israeli textbooks don’t mention Arabs negatively:

“Characterization of “the other” as “negative” or “very negative” occurred 49 percent of the time in Israeli textbooks and 84 percent of the time in their Palestinian equivalents, the report said.”

And almost all of the Palestinian textbooks deny the existence of reality, while about a quarter of the (remember! cherry picked!) Israeli textbooks recognize the aspirations of the Palestinian people:

“Some 96 percent of the maps in Palestinian textbooks do not mention Israel, and some 87 percent of the maps in Israel do not mention Palestine.”
In other words, they rigged a study to try to make Israeli textbooks look as bad as Palestinian textbooks. The Palestinian textbooks STILL come off looking worse (though the Israeli textbooks they found are clearly not ideal). And they’re going around telling the press this means that Palestinian textbooks — where 84 percent of the mentions of Jews are not problematic.

Gotcha.

jzsnake says:

I can’t believe Tablet let this hogwash be published.

Afrayedknot says:

I am confused. How does the subhead, “A new study funded by the U.S. undercuts the notion that Palestinian schools incite violence against Israel” square with what’s written in the 7th paragraph, namely:

“Characterization of “the other” as “negative” or “very negative” occurred … 84 percent of the time in their Palestinian equivalents, the report said. Characterization of “the other” as “the enemy” occurred … 81 percent in those of Palestinians. And maps quite literally erase the presence of the other side: Some 96 percent of the maps in Palestinian textbooks do not mention Israel… Although the report did not use the word incitement, it asserts that “dehumanization and demonizing characterization of the other… are rare in both Israeli and Palestinian books.” [I’ve elided the parts referring to Israel for brevity.”

Even though the report declines to characterize these findings as incitement, they clearly fall under that category using any reasonable definition of the word.

It seems that Ms. Prince-Gibson just saw what she wanted to see, or at least the headline writer did.

Habbgun says:

Equivalence, statistics which are based on subjective readings of phrases which appear in different languages and nothing about how Islam can create people willing to commit suicide in its cause which is a substantial difference between Islamists and even other terrorists. Yeah, and Yale has some supreme ability to come up with a means of judging not one but two different peoples.
Great Job!! Not.

Who was selected to conduct the analysis of Israeli textbooks? Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal. Unbiased and objective? Hardly. About Operation Cast Lead, he said that the war was: “derived from the continuous dehumanization of the Hamas organization.”

In fact he is on record as claiming that “most Israeli Jews do not know that Hamas was originally founded by the Israeli authorities.”

Wow. I think it’s fair to say he went into this task with a preconceived notion about the outcome.

(source: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=302229 )

The anti-Israel bias in the “study” is vividly demostrated by the way it deals with Palestinian terror. It compares the way the Palestinians honor suicide bombers to the way Israeli shcools honor the memory of Josef Trumpeldor, who was fatally wounded while defending his village from Arab attackers in 1920. Prior to his death he said: “It is good to die for one’s country.” This is very simulat to the way US students are taught about Nathan Hale, who told the British in 1776: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” The children are also taught about Patrick Henry, who said in 1775: “Give me liberty or give me death”
Is it possible to compare that to suicide bombers who deliberately sacrifice their life in order to kill innocents?

    Binyamin says:

    Why is Masada a shrine?

    Why does Israel venerate Begin and Shamir, who killed those innocents at Deir Yassin?

    When the IDF attacked Gaza with heavy weapons, they knew full well hundreds of innocents would be kiled. Spare us the crocodile tears for the 350 children killed in Cast Lead.

    Isn’t the point to get beyond the cycle of violence? Surely the study shows the PA has made a good faith effort to roll back the incitement, even if it has not been eliminated completely.

    It’s clear that another of Israel’s pretexts for continuing the occupation is crumbling.

      AbigailOK says:

      Well researched and worded. It strikes me how blind most of us prefer to be vis-a-vis the inconceivable destruction and evil we as a occupying power impose and create upon innocent’s heads. Look people at http://www.zochrot.org. There have been more than 400 villages wiped off the map in 1948. The inception of the state was violence filled. The occupation is about wanting all the land on which indigeneous people have lived for thousands of years. Injustice and the lack of social justice as wanton hatred also have been the main reason for our already more than 2000 years of exile. What have we learned if we are not willing to scrutinize our own not so beautiful role in this whole conflict instead of gulping down propaganda and seeing ourselves mainly as the victims of …(take your pick). Wake up, inform yourself and then act or be ashamed. The truth is rather different and very disturbing. http://www.btselem.org, http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il

genelevit says:

This article is a pure propaganda. In the beginning of it the author claims that before 2001 (“before the outbreak of the second intifada”) Israel criticized Palestinian textbooks for inciting violence. However, author states, this is not true since the “new study blames both sides”. In other words the author tries to present the issue in such a way as if the “new study” was done on the same old books (prior to 2001) and not on the new ones and thus implicate Israel of baseless accusations. This is a well-known trick from the Goebbels arsenal.

    Binyamin says:

    These Jewish scholars who seek reconciliation with Arabs who live under Israeli occupation are the equivalent of Goebbels? Oy gevalt.

    youngurbanamateur says:

    Your explanation of these propaganda tactics will unfortunately go over the heads of most people who read this magazine.

      youngurbanamateur says:

      Actually I take that back, you made no sense.

        genelevit says:

        Read the first paragraph: “Even before the outbreak of violence in the Second Intifada…have pointed to Palestinian textbooks as Exhibit A of the Palestinians’ lack of seriousness about pursuing peace… ” And now the first sentence in the second: “But a new study.. claims that both sides are to blame”. It makes an impression that this sentences references to the textbooks in Pal’s schools before 2001 (first paragraph) suggesting that Israeli blames were wrong and baseless. However, the study was done on the books issued 10 years later and not the ones Israel criticized.

Plumbline says:

A bigger problem on the horizon……..The anti-christ will arise somewhere in the middle east………his calling card is he will attack Israel, and persecute christians to the death………He will lead a confedarcy of 10 nations the bible says………Ahmadinejad also proposed forming a new group of 10 or 11 countries to work to end the 18-month Syrian civil war.

Revelation 17:12-14………. 12 “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast……….

Psalm 55:21……..
The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, But war was in his heart; His words were softer than oil, Yet they were drawn swords.

Can’t anyone see that Israel has work to do in eliminating bias from its school curricula–or is always us vs. them?

    Habbgun says:

    Actually we’re on the side of Christians, Druse and islamic minorities which are suffering under current conditions. People like you love equivalence in democracies and engagement with tyrants. That is the way of blood.

    genelevit says:

    Always. Good vs. evil, progress vs. stagnation, freedom vs. oppression, equal rights vs.discrimination… always.

Binyamin says:

Bravo to Tablet for reporting on this study.

There’s plenty of self-examination by Arabs of the hate rhetoric within their culture.

See, e.g., this excellent report by Al Jazeera:

http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/insidestory/2009/11/20091111141817912970.html

For another study (by an Israeli scholar) on incitement in Israeli textbooks:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/07/israeli-school-racism-claim

While it is never OK to label someone a self-hating Jew for being critical of the political state of Israel–as appears to have been the case with comments directed at the study’s author–this article and the presentation of the study is very confusing.

I haven’t read the study, but the statistics cited in the article contradict the headline. There needs to be some clarity here. Is the author (either of the article or the study) distinguishing between “negative” connotations towards the “other” and “inciteful” connotations towards the “other”? If so, that is a counter-intuitive finding that needs to be explained by Tablet.

RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

Dissenting voice on Advisory Council Israeli-Palestinian schoolbook research

http://israelbehindthenews.com/bin/content.cgi?ID=5332&q=1

Another voice on #Advisory Council #Israeli-Palestinian schoolbook research

http://israelbehindthenews.com/bin/content.cgi?ID=5332&q=1

#Center for
Near East Policy Research

Poupic says:

What do you expect? Arabists at the State department would sponsor a “study” supporting the truth about Palestinian text books? Come on! You know better than that!

I saw a text in Gaza in 1956 with hooked nose Jews with the question: You 5 Jews and you 2. How many Jews are left. P_robably the text books are more sofisticated today but their aim is the still the same. It explains young men in the dead of night slaughetering a Jewish family including a baby in his crib with his throat sliced.What do you expect? Arabists at the State department would sponsor a “study” supporting the truth about Palestinian text books? Come on! You know better than that!

I saw a text in Gaza in 1956 with hooked nose Jews with the question: You 5 Jews and you 2. How many Jews are left. Probably the text books are more sophisticated today but their aim is the still the same. It explains young men in the dead of night slaughtering a Jewish family including a baby in his crib with his throat sliced.

David Hillsborough says:

Leaving the “study” about textbooks aside, it’s beyond debatable that other avenues of influence play a role in shaping children’s minds. And on that score, one need not look far to find Palestinian children’s television shows filled with anti-semitism and calls to martyrdom.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrieBhaGgHM

Or Hamas training children from a young age to “liberate Palestine”

http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=300848

http://saraya.ps/index.php?act=Show&id=21479

Or the sermons in Mosques (which are also broadcast on TV).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7_LfghKTrk&noredirect=1

Or kids cartoons.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y4lBqIXaU0

And on and on and on…

So let’s stop pretending this “study” on textbooks is the be all and end all of what is taught to children.

JehudahBenIsrael says:

It ought to be noted: The influence on the young among the Arabs comes first and foremost from the home, then from the TV images, from the preachers at the mosque and only then from school.

Sadly, we keep hearing and seeing Muslim-Arab leaders spewing the hate of Jews from every possible street corner along with every town square and mosque. Arab TV are loaded with conspiracy theories about the Jews who are eager to take control over the world – in the form of the forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – which are echoed by political and religious figures and by heads of clans and family. The message is clear: There is no justification for Israel’s existence on ANY parcel of land of what we, Jews, consider the Jewish ancestral homeland.

Any attempt to hide from this ugly reality in the form of “studies” amount to a spit in the face of intellectual honesty.

sidney51 says:

This is typical Israeli modus operandi, repeated time after time: Don’t cooperate with the study allegedly because the results are “pre-determined”; object to the findings made by an unbiased, reputable, indeed esteemed group; plead discrimination and thus make a cause celebre out of the study, giving it wider attention than it would otherwise receive; condemn the group that conducted the study. The final part of this ad nauseam scenario will be to accuse the examiners of being anti-Semitic and/or self-hating Jews. Ho hum. Another day in Israeli politics.

Evidently there was no room to print any background information on Prof Daniel Bar Tal and therefore the author of this blim blam decide it wasn’t improtant. For those interested here is a wiki link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Bar-Tal. For those really interested, they should look at Bar-Tal’s prior work and see that the good prof has very set opinions about the Israeli-Arab conflict and the results of the “study” is just double down.

Everyone is entitlted to his opinion and I dearly hope the good prof does try to sue the State of Israel and that he should loose grandly. The State of Israel isn’t and can’t make Prof Bar Tal come to any conclusions than his own. Unfortunately, neither can the facts.

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Israeli-Arab War Over Textbooks

A new study funded by the U.S. undercuts the notion that Palestinian schools incite violence against Israel

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