Study on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks leads to some surprises

It emerges that the Israeli Ministry of Education is outraged that its textbooks were compared with Palestinian textbooks, in a US State Dept-funded study — and an Israeli Education Ministry official has said this is “libel”.

The Israeli Education Ministry said in a statement:  the “attempt to create parallel between Israeli + Palestinian education systems is without any foundation… and has no basis in reality”.  [This sounds like the high-strung effort to parallel the argument that there's "no moral equivalence" between Israelis and Palestinians.]

The Education Ministry statement added that “this is a ”study’ the conclusions of which were known in advance … The Education Ministry chose not to cooperate with those…interested in maliciously slandering the Israeli educational system + the State of Israel”…

This study of how Israeli + Palestinian schoolbooks treat the “other” was funded by the U.S. State Department [over $500,000] , and took 3 years.  The first organizational meeting was held in August 2009 and it was basically completed in May 2012.  The time since then was spent on translating, researchers told journalists at a press conference in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim on Monday morning.  But, there was also fighting, and preparation for the fight that went public just a few days ago, in advance of the report’s launch today.

And, yes, the researchers said at the Jerusalem press conference/launch, the release of the study was delayed until after both the U.S. + the Israeli elections [the U.S. elections???  Somehow, this could hardly have been a major consideration...]

Dr. Bruce Wexler, American [+ Jewish] expert researcher on 3-year study of Israeli + Palestinian school books, revealed that he is having an outraged “Justice Goldstone” moment, as the prepared wave of criticism crested.

[South Africa's Justice Richard Goldstone was named to head the UN Human Rights Commission's inquiry into Israel's Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. But, under the organized criticism of his role in that report, he said he was not going to attend his own grandson's bar mitzvah, to avoid bringing the controversy there... He later recanted, a bit, but that was a personal stance and did not affect the fact that the report he worked on is still on file, intact, at the UN. Goldstone was on assignment for the UN, while Wexler was working in his personal capacity on a study funded by the U.S. State Department, on who Wexler does not depend, which probably explains at least in part why Wexler has been more candidly outspoken...]

Wexler said at the press conference Monday morning in Jerusalem  [with emotion] that the statement of the Israeli Minister of Education “is false at every level..I did not come into this study to attack Israel”.  He spoke of his loyalty to Israel, and claimed that when the results were conveyed to the two sides, “The Israeli Minister of Education became very aggressive. Frankly, he is a product of these text books …That means he [the Israeli Minister of Education] cannot see beyond the blinders that have come into his mind as a result of the national narrative…and, by the way , people like that [with blinders] “are poor and dangerous national leaders”.

Wexler, a Professor Emeritus at Yale University, said it seems “the Israeli Government would rather hold on to a propaganda claim they know to be false, than to get change in Palestinian books”…

UPDATE: Haaretz reported on 5 February that “Professor Bruce Wexler, the Yale University psychiatry professor who designed the comparative study of Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks, has blasted the ‘blind spots’ of Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar, saying: ‘National leaders who have those blind spots make for poor and dangerous national leaders’… Israel, which has made the condemnation of the anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish content of Palestinian textbooks a focal point of its hasbara efforts against the Palestinian Authority, lambasted the report as biased, unscientific and unprofessional”, This is published here.

And on Twitter, a comment from Mitchell Plitnick @MitchellPlit This textbook issue was always phony. So the hasbara crew goes ballistic as yet another of their lies is exposed http://bit.ly/Xkhhzg

Wexler said that this study on Israeli-Palest textbooks had two recommendations: 1) both sides should provide more info about the “other’s” culture, religion, history, and 2) the two ministries should conduct a joint evaluation of study + their own textbooks.

Professor Daniel Bar-Tal [Tel Aviv University] said that while Israeli textbooks do have some stories about individual warm, friendly personal relations, they do NOT on collective level.  Prof Bar-Tal: “We must take into account what is written in textbooks is seen as complete truth”; this “imprints” children’s attitudes early.

The study’s presentation notes that “School textbooks are public statements by governments”.

Researchers told journalists in Jerusalem this morning that Oslo + Taba agreements both included signed statements to deal with text books.  Professor Sami Adwan [Bethlehem University] told one questioner at the press conference this morning to “Ask parties why, despite agreement on trilateral US-Israeli-Palestinian Committee to look at school books, this trilateral committee has never met”.

The Israeli-Palestinian book researchers flatly denied claim [raised by some attending the press conference] that Palestinian school books contain “calls to go murder Jews” or “praise of those who murder Jews”.

The study said that “Dehumanization + demonization of the ‘other’ is rare is both Israeli + Palestinian schoolbooks”.

Professor Sami Adwan [Bethlehem Univrsity] said at the press conference in Jerusalem: “we have to learn to live with 2 sets of terms for holy sites, 2 diff names”; he noted that this happens elsewhere in the world, as well.

Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad said on Monday that the study “confirms “Palestinian textbooks do not contain any form of blatant incitement..based on contempt for the ‘other’… The Government of Israel should “desist from attempts to detract from the objectivity and professionalism of the study.”

The Palestinian Government appears to be very interested in meeting with the Israeli side to discuss this matter .. will it be a way to ease into the resumption of negotiations?

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It would be very interesting to see what would happen if the Palestinian Government were to host a press conference on this study, with the same speakers…

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What other media wrote:

Ron Kampeas wrote in JTA here that this study “threatens to undercut one of the central elements of the official Israeli narrative. For years, the charge that Palestinians ‘educate to hate’ has been an Israeli trump card in undermining claims that Palestinian statehood is overdue, and it is an article of faith among many lawmakers in Congress. ‘This obviously cuts down one of the pegs and a linchpin in the argument that the Israel government makes, that the Palestinian Authority is teaching hatred to their kids’, said an official who works closely with mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States. The official declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter”.

Akiva Eldar wrote in Al-Monitor that “Al-Monitor has learned that upon receiving a copy of the study, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, headed by Moshe Ya’alon, went to great lengths to prevent its publication, scheduled for this coming Monday, Feb. 4.  The Ministry of Education has also marshaled its forces against the study, with whose authors it refused to cooperate… Its reaction reveals the strong resentment the study has elicited among Israeli officials, who refused to cooperate with the researchers in keeping with Jerusalem’s official line. But why were these government ministries so angry? … As far as Al-Monitor could learn, the study did not find dramatic differences in how Israeli and Palestinian textbooks portray the other. In advance of the official publication of the study’s findings early next week, Ya’alon’s associates quickly called into question the researchers’ credibility. As noted, in recent days there has been an attempt to delay publication of the study. The prime minister’s office understands that the study’s findings are not in keeping with their boss’s picture regarding the issue of incitement. In a question and answer session by the Ha’aretz website earlier this month, Ya’alon said, “Quite a few studies were carried out to compare Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. Unequivocally, Israeli students are brought up in the spirit of peace while Palestinian children are brought up to hate Israel and embrace jihad. These are the facts. You don’t need a committee for that. Let them take those textbooks and deal with them” …

Eldar added: “A report presented by the Ministry for Strategic Affairs last December contended that ‘most maps in Palestinian Authority textbooks do not designate Israel or include the Green Line. Even on maps that do show the Green Line, Israel’s name is deleted.  Yet the ministry has now learned that a comprehensive study, funded by the US government, indicates that Israeli textbooks also ignore the Green Line, the line that separates the sovereign Israel from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Alon ordered the Green Line expunged from all the official maps as early as the 1970s. The omission of the Green Line is obviously not just a technicality: this was a salient way to brand into the minds of Israel’s youth the message that all the areas of the land of Israel — from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean — belong only to the people of  Israel and that the Palestinian people have no political or historical claims for any part of that land”.   Eldar’s report is posted here.

Isabel Kershner wrote in the New York Times that “An academic study of the contents of Israeli and Palestinian Authority textbooks, to be published Monday, finds that each side generally presents the other as the enemy, but it undermines recent assertions by the Israeli government that Palestinian children are educated ‘to hate’.”   This is published here.

Joel Greenburg wrote in The Washington Post that “A State Department-funded study released Monday on the contentious issue of how Israelis and Palestinians depict each other in textbooks says both are locked into narratives that portray the other side as the enemy and erase it from maps, yet do not dehumanize each other”.  His article is here.

Diaa Hadid wrote for AP that “The deputy Palestinian education minister, Mohammed Abu-Zeid, said the Palestinians will take the study’s findings to heart and make the needed changes, including a review of the maps. “At the same time, we are in the stage of building our state and in such a stage, education focus on building the identity,” he said…In contrast, the director of Israel’s Education Ministry, Dalit Stauber, blasted the research as biased, unprofessional and “complete libel” intended to stain Israel’s reputation. She said it is absurd to argue that a reference to historical facts — such as Palestinians taking Israeli athletes hostage during the 1972 Munich Olympics, where the Israelis were killed — means presenting the other side in a negative light.  Stauber said Israeli history books approved by the ministry demarcate the Palestinian-claimed territories, and that maps in books teaching other subjects are not relevant in this case. She said the ministry is reviewing texts used in ultra-Orthodox schools”… This AP report was published here.

Sigal Samuel wrote in The Daily Beast that the study showed “the Israeli books are not quite as flawless as previously imagined, and…the Palestinian books are not nearly as bad as the Israeli leadership has spent years suggesting. For a government that is wedded to a black-and-white portrayal of Palestinians, even this bit of nuance is unacceptable”.  While the study has gotten a positive reception from the Palestinian Ministry of Education, the Israeli Ministry has condemned it as “biased, unprofessional and significantly lacking in objectivity.”

Samuel also reported that “I was very surprised by the Israeli Ministry as an American Jew and very disappointed,” Wexler said. “I certainly didn’t enter this in any way as an adversary of Israel. I’ve had a deep attachment to the State of Israel my whole life. I was applying my scientific background to a problem that they themselves have identified as a very important one.”  But the Israeli Ministry, it seems, felt threatened by the study’s results. “Up until now, the word on the street was just fine for the Israelis: their books were good, the Palestinian books were bad,” Wexler explained. “Look at how frequently Netanyahu makes that point in his speeches. It’s a very common talking point for him.”  This is posted here.

On Twitter
Max Fisher @Max_Fisher — The State Department is doing backflips to avoid an Israel-Palestine fight over textbooks, sparked by a study it funded http://wapo.st/Wo4mi7

His Tweet linked to Anne Gearan’s piece on the Washington Post blog, in which she reported after the State Department briefing on Monday that Spokeswoman Vistoria Nuland said: “We don’t get ourselves in the middle … Let me just clarify what this is and what it isn’t … The U.S. government provides grants for independent textbook analysis and curricula development to a number of different organizations that seek to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance in educational curricula. These are not U.S. government studies. The results are not necessarily endorsed by the U.S. government, but we fund NGOs who are seeking to do independent analyses so that parties on the ground can use them in their own evaluation of these things … We haven’t done an independent analysis of this report ourselves. It was funded at the request of some of our Israeli partners. If it’s not useful to them, then they don’t need to use it”. This is reported here.

Other Tweets:
Hussein Ibish @Ibishblog — Think about the psychology behind this: Israelis are reportedly unhappy with the study

Hussein Ibish @Ibishblog — That means that Israeli officials prefer a reality in which Palestinian textbooks DO promote hatred & demonization. Fantastically neurotic!

Hussein Ibish @Ibishblog — I mean what you say when people are clearly disappointed find out the other side doesn’t hate them nearly as much as they think they do?

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