Tony Greenstein | 20 March 2013 | Post Views:

It’s not Palestinian but the Israeli Education system that Teaches Racism

Palestinian schoolchildren studying at the UNRWA Gaza Elementary School in Gaza City in 2010. IRIN/Creative Commons

A new study by Israeli and US and a Palestinian academic finds, unsurprisingly, that contrary to Zionist propaganda, Palestinian textbooks do not contain an incitement to hate Jews.  This has not gone down well with the Israeli government. An Education Ministry spokesperson, in a good example of someone whose education has been blighted, said that ‘the results of the ‘study’ reveal that the decision not to cooperate with these bodies was right.” The ministry called the study “biased, unprofessional and significantly lacking in objectivity.”

Clearly Israel’s Education Ministry has a problem with elementary logic. The fact that a result is not to your liking doesn’t therefore mean that the process leading up to it was ‘biased, unprofessional’ etc. No proof is offered to support this allegation nor can there be. The obvious explanation for the Israeli government refusal to co-operate was that it knew its propaganda had no factual basis.

A new US-led study found that while Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks contained bias, most don’t resort to outright hatred as had been suggested previously. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

However that does not mean that the study itself was unproblematic, as the article by Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan for Electronic Intifada ‘Biased new study skirts around racism in Israeli school books’ argues.

I am not an expert in education or pedagogy, but it seems to me that research which simply involves the examination of texts, without taking into account the sub-culture and relationship between the two education systems is flawed. To ignore the occupation and to compare the education system of the occupier with the occupied is to indulge in the superficial.   Indeed to hold that mentioning the occupation in Palestinian books is itself an example of bias is to demonstrate an enormous arrogance and inability to understand by the said academics.  Is it seriously suggested that an education system under occupation should not mention the occupation?  Would not that be not only biased but absurd and unrealistic?  Should nothing have been mentioned to Jewish children in the ghettoes of Poland about why they were there?  It demonstrates the stupidity of the colonial academic.

In particular, simply examining the written word without also examining how Arabs are portrayed in Israel school books, is certain to omit more than it includes. For example the fact that Arabs are regularly portrayed as villains, aggressors, whereas Jews are the victims, wouldn’t be picked up in a pure textual study. Professor Elahanan’s Nurit Elhanan-Peled, ‘Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education’ Library of Modern Middle East Studies, 2012 is well worth reading.  see How Zionism Tried to Portray the Arabs as Hitler’s Successors

Tony Greenstein

The New York Jewish Week 02/05/13

Washington — An in-depth comparative study of Palestinian and Israeli school textbooks is offering some conclusions that already are making some Israeli government officials very unhappy: Palestinian textbooks do not have as much anti-Israel incitement as often portrayed.

While this finding might appear to be welcome news for supporters of Israel, it also 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.

Titled “Victims of our own Narratives?” and funded by the U.S. State Department, the study finds both Israel and the Palestinians lacking in making the case for the other side’s presence in the Holy Land. It also scores Israeli books as better than Palestinian ones at preparing schoolchildren for peace.

But in the same pages it praises both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for publishing textbooks virtually free of “dehumanizing and demonizing characterizations of the other.”

“Both the Israeli and Palestinian communities should be commended for this important positive aspect of their books,” the study says. “Extreme negative characterizations of the other of his sort are present in textbooks elsewhere in the world.”

The study was launched in 2009 by the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, a multifaith body that aims “to prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict, and to promote mutual respect,” according to its website. It is comprised of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, the Palestinian Islamic Waqf, and the heads of Christian churches in Israel and the West Bank.

The Israeli government did not formally cooperate with the study; Palestinian Authority officials did.

Yale University psychiatry professor Bruce Wexler convened the study team, which was headed by Daniel Bar Tal of Tel Aviv University and Sami Adwan of the University of Bethlehem. They assigned Hebrew-Arabic bilingual research assistants to plow through more than 3,000 passages from textbooks — 74 from the Israeli side and 96 from the Palestinian side.

The assistants assessed the passages based on criteria developed in part by an advisory panel that included Palestinian and Israel academics and outside experts, including those who have critiqued Palestinian books.

Most of the advisory panel, including several Israelis, signed onto a statement Sunday endorsing its findings.

“We agreed that the methods of the study were of the highest scientific standards and agreed on the main study findings,” the statement said.

At least one Israeli member, Arnon Groiss, said he has reservations about the methodology and could not attach his name to the final report, which he said he has not seen.

It’s not clear whether the study will alter fundamentally the standard Israeli narrative about Palestinian schools laying the groundwork for future conflict with Israel, and the study does not absolve either side.

The study quantifies textbooks’ negative depictions of the other side and identifies a lack of positive depictions of the other side as an obstacle to peace.

“This presentation bias, along with the general lack of information about the other’s culture, history and religion, creates an image of the other only as aggressive enemy to whom it is not possible to relate or respect, with whom there can be nothing in common,” the study says. “This lack of information even more than the negative information constitutes a lack of recognition of the other’s legitimate presence.”

Wexler said the goal of the study was to test according to rigorous statistical standards allegations that each side has made about the other’s texts.

“The type of testimony that’s been presented to Congress and to our national leaders has been one person reading selected passages from the books,” Wexler told JTA.

The study found that textbooks in Israel’s state schools were likelier to depict Palestinians in a positive light and to include criticism of Israeli actions, while books in Palestinian and haredi Orthodox schools were overwhelmingly negative in their depiction of “the other.”

Critics, including some of the Israelis on the advisory panel, said this equivalence fails to take into account how each culture responds to such depictions.

“The problem is, he makes comparisons between promotion of education for peace on the one side and education that calls for the annihilation of the other side,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, the director of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, referring to Wexler. “It’s like comparing apples and giraffes.”

A statement from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs picks out passages in Palestinian textbooks it says the study ignores; many of them implicitly negate Israel by referring or depicting the entire territory as “Palestine.”

The study, however, addresses that issue at length and finds that maps on both sides tend either to depict the entire area as “Israel” or “Palestine.”

Detractors of the study say its rigorous analytical methodology rips biased and sometimes inflammatory passages from each cultural context. They contend that triumphalism is more incendiary in a Palestinian society that they say is more forgiving of terrorism.

Kuperwasser has been leading the charge against the study.

It omits important examples of incitement and delegitimization of Israelis and Jews in official PA textbooks, whether in an intentional attempt to blur the differences between the two educational systems or due to poor research,” he said.

Israel’s Education Ministry said in a statement that “the results of the ‘study’ reveal that the decision not to cooperate with these bodies was right.” The ministry called the study “biased, unprofessional and significantly lacking in objectivity.”

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Biased new study skirts around racism in Israeli school books

Nurit Peled-Elhanan
The Electronic Intifada

12 February 2013

Mention of Israeli colonization in Palestinian textbooks was faulted in biased study.

Mention of Israeli colonization in Palestinian textbooks was faulted in biased study.
(Mahfouz Abu Turk / APA images)

A new report on Palestinian and Israeli school books has elicited much debate (“Israel shoots back:
 ‘Look beyond the textbooks,’” The Times of Israel, 6 February).

The report — by academics in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and the American university Yale — is short.Yet it raises some poignant questions (“Victims of our own narratives? Portrayal of the other in Israeli and Palestinian school books,” Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, 4 February [PDF]).

Israeli educators who hastened to pronounce it biased were quite right. Such a study cannot be symmetrical, for it examines two education systems, one of which is entirely subjugated to the other. A reminder of this situation is found in the introduction of the report. It notes that the Wye River Memorandum — signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1998 — included an “explicit statement about incitement.”

The agreement states that “the Palestinian side would issue a decree prohibiting all forms of incitement to violence or terror, and establishing mechanisms for acting systematically against all expressions or threats of violence or terror. This decree would be comparable to the existing Israeli legislation which deals with the same subject.”

No such caution is mentioned with regard to the Israeli regime of occupation, even though Israel is regularly taken to task by the United Nations for its aggressive behavior.

As textbook researcher Samira Alayan from the Georg Eckert Institute for the Study of Textbooks has shown, Palestinian textbooks are severely controlled and censored not only by Israel but also by European and American bodies that finance their production (see an abstract of the book: “Images of identity: Self and other in school text books of the Palestinian Authority,” June 2011 [PDF]).


Nevertheless, the new report prides itself for having engaged “objective” evaluators who come from the US and Europe, although the US denies tourist visas to most Palestinians — including the  ambassador of the PA to the European Union, Leila Shahid, who was not allowed to attend the NewYork session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in October last year — and many European states and companies profit from the occupation of Palestine. Why not recruit evaluators from Pakistan or South Africa?

The report relies on content analysis but neglects the ways in which the content — both visual and written — is used to persuade readers of its ideological message. For instance, it praises Israeli textbooks for relating the details of massacres but does not discuss how these books try to legitimize the massacres as part of the “big picture” — to Israel’s benefit.

One Israeli textbook, we are told, acknowledges that most of the Palestinians killed by Zionist forces in the village of Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem, in 1948 were women, children or elderly. Yet the book cites claims that the victims died because they refused to leave their homes and that the massacre “still serves as an excuse for Arab propaganda against Israel.”

This excuse bears a chilling similarity to the one used by Israel when it subjected Gaza to a three-week bombing campaign in late 2008 and early 2009. And this excuse is not confined to one work.
The 2009 book Israeli Nationalism and Nation: Building a State in the Middle East — by Eyal Naveh, Naomi Vered and David Shahar — stated that the residents of Deir Yassin failed to evacuate their village because the loud-speaker from which they were supposed to receive a warning was not functioning properly.

Taboo of occupation

Two main categories are missing from the analysis: occupation and racist discourse. Perhaps that is why describing the dire facts of the occupation seemed to involve “negative characterization of Israelis” to the researchers.

Israeli school books do not address the occupation because their message is that there is no occupation. They inculcate what sociologist Stanley Cohen — in his 2002 book States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering — termed the “Zionist kitsch” about the eternal historical rights of the Jews on the whole land of Israel and Palestine. This explains why the researchers behind this study were offended by how Palestinians use the term “colonialism” to describe Zionist settlement on their land. In Israeli mainstream books, illegal settlements like Ariel or Alon Shvut are presented as no different to Tel Aviv.

The green line — the 1949 armistice line separating Israel from the territories captured in 1967 — is never shown or discussed. The only Israeli geography book I found that discusses the issue of the green line is Sfat Hamapa (The language of maps) by P. Dina (published in 1996).

In Israeli textbooks, the cruel practices of occupation such as administrative detention, military checkpoints and house demolitions are presented as necessities in our “defensive democracy.”

Since racist “teaching tools” of a visual or verbal nature are not part of the analysis presented in this study, racist Israeli representations of Palestinians are reported to be “neutral.” Since Palestinians are never presented in Israeli textbooks as persons like us — modern professionals — only as negative stereotypes of terrorists, nomads and primitive farmers, one must conclude that these racist representations seemed “neutral” to the researchers and to the “objective” western evaluators.

Better times?

The report concludes that the books on both sides fail to relate the “better times” when there were good relationships between Arabs and Israelis. This must refer either to the good relationships between Jews and Muslims in Morocco, Tunisia and Iraq, prior to the “redemption” of Zionism — a reality Zionist education in Israel has always done its utmost to conceal — or to the years between 1967 and 1987 when oppression of Palestinians was considered by Israelis to involve an “enlightened occupation.” I found one reminder of that “idyllic” time in a geography book published a decade ago but still used — Israel: The Man and The Space by Zvia Fine, Meira Segev and Raheli Lavi: “Some of the foreign workers are Palestinians who come from the areas controlled by the Palestinian authorities. They are employed in unprofessional jobs and their wages are lower than that those of the Israeli citizens who work in the same jobs … This is characteristic of all developed countries.”

The conclusions of the new study reflect the Israeli bon ton that brought the success of Yair Lapid in the recent elections — to wrap up Arabs and Orthodox Jews together and slander them. But, as usual, there can be no comparison.

While Orthodox Jewish textbooks present Arabs — all of them — as evil forces, a sort of biblical Amalek we must eliminate with the help of God, Palestinian textbooks never resort to such discourse. They respect Judaism as one of the three monotheistic religions but relate — as accurately as they can under so much censorship — the true and horrid facts of life under Israeli military rule.

The new study — or at least the part that has been published — seems quite problematic and biased but not in the way Israel is trying to spin it. Let’s hope the full study, when published, will clear up some of this confusion.

Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a lecturer in language education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education ‏(I.B. Tauris, 2012).

See also How Zionism Tried to Portray the Arabs as Hitler’s Successors

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