Direct Hezbollah rocket hit leaves Israeli/Arab ‘peace school’ in pieces

The one school in Acre that took a direct hit from a rocket during the war happens to be the only school in the city that serves both Jewish and Arab pupils — the el-Mahaba (“love” in Arabic) kindergarten for mentally and emotionally handicapped kids.


Teens Find Peace On and Off Stage

“We don’t care about politics; we just like each other,” says Shira Ben Yaakov, a cheerful brunette who is an eighth-grade student at Tel Aviv’s A.D. Gordon Junior High School.

Ben Yaakov is referring to Israeli-Arab friends she has met through the Peace Child Israel drama group, which meets weekly, alternating between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. The group consists of 20 Arab and Jewish teens from Jaffa and Tel Aviv, proof that friendship between Jews and Arabs can exist, even in post-Intifada Israel.

“Even though Arabs live close to me, I have never had the chance to get to know them. I have always been afraid of Arabs as a group and now I know this fear has been unjustified,” Ben Yaakov says.

Maya Smolian, another member of the group, says she was “thrilled” to meet Arab kids her age. Having the opportunity to perform together is just another incentive to be a part of the group.

Peace Child Israel was founded in 1988 by the late Israeli actress Yael Drouyanoff and uses theater and other art forms to encourage dialogue between teens who might otherwise never meet. So far, seven groups have been formed, pairing Jewish and Arab towns throughout Israel, among them Misgav-Sakhnin, Raanana-Qalanswa, and East and West Jerusalem.

In January, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa group toured the United States, visiting Philadelphia and communities throughout New Jersey. Their hosts were Jewish families in each of the cities, as well as students from Changing Our World (COW), a teen drama and arts group with similar methods and objectives. Students from the two countries bonded quickly.

Deb Chamberlin, a singer, songwriter and co-director of COW, initiated the venture. She contacted Peace Child after two visits to Israel, where she was touched by the country and its people.

“I looked to cooperate with a group similar to my own. Once I heard about Peace Child, I knew this was the group I was looking for,” she says. “When I returned to the States, I looked to share my feelings with other people, [to] let them know what Israel is all about.”

Chamberlin wrote Peace Child’s new anthem “The Time Has Come for Peace,” which the group sang on a Philadelphia television morning show and then subsequently recorded with help from some local singers.

“We made a beautiful CD and now wish to promote this anthem as a song for global tolerance and peace,” Chamberlin says.

The group’s original musical, “On the Other Side,” was also adapted for American audiences and has been performed in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The play is inspired by the students’ personal experiences in their native Israel and addresses the sensitive issue of Israel’s security fence from the teens’ point of view. The two groups found they share many of the same challenges in overcoming barriers between cultures.

“The COW group brings together students from different backgrounds,” Chamberlin explains. “Our group consists of Latin, Afro-American and Jewish students; they study in a public school of 3,000 students, most of whom are white Christian Americans. Before meeting with Peace Child, the students would usually socialize with their ‘own kind.’ When they witnessed the beautiful friendships that exist between the Jewish and Arab members of Peace Child, they realized what they were missing. As a matter of fact, many stereotypes were broken on that tour.”

“During one of our workshops, Hiba Salila an Arab student, admitted that before coming on the tour, she was convinced the Americans would prefer the Jewish students to the Arab ones,” Chamberlain says. “It surprised her when they didn’t. Another Jewish student says COW students form a bridge between Arab and Jewish students with their love for us.”

Language was not a barrier. “Though the Jewish kids had better English, the Arab students compensated with their Spanish, so they could all communicate,” Chamberlin says. “On the bus from Washington to northern New Jersey, the students cried because it was their last journey together. We promised to keep in touch and start making arrangements for our visit to Israel. The hosting families intend to help me found ‘The American Friends of Peace Child’. Knowing there are more people willing to work for the success of this project was quite a relief for me. I delivered this baby but now a whole new future awaits it.”

The 10-day tour culminated at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where groups of American teens joined Peace Child along with an appreciative audience of 500.

“People were deeply touched by the show,” says Melisse Lewine-Boskowich, director of Peace Child, who noted that North Star, an African American teen group, and Intellectual Journey, a band of Jewish and Arab musicians working in the U.S., joined them on stage. “The tour opened many … opportunities for us and now the sky’s our limit.”

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Sima Borkovski is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem.


Sowing Islamic Seeds in Students

Chairs are lined up in neat rows. Coffee is brewing, muffins arrayed. The table is thick with handouts.

One of them is Saudi Aramco World, a magazine published by Aramco, the Saudi government-owned outfit that is the largest oil company in the world.

“The Arab World in the Classroom,” published by Georgetown University, thanks Saudi Aramco on its back cover. Alongside it is the brochure of The Mosaic Foundation, an organization of spouses of Arab ambassadors in America, whose chairwoman and president of the board of trustees is Her Royal Highness Princess Haifa Al-Faisal of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

If you think this is a meeting of Saudi oil executives or Middle Eastern exporters or Saudi government officials, you are wrong: It’s a social studies training seminar for American elementary and secondary teachers, held last year at Georgetown University.

It’s paid for by U.S. tax dollars, as the organizer points out in her introduction.

“We are grateful to the grant we have under Title VI of the Department of Education that underwrites these programs,” Zeina Azzam Seikaly, outreach coordinator of Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, tells the more than three dozen current and former teachers at the seminar.

Georgetown’s Middle East outreach program is one of 18 affiliated with federally designated national resource centers, each of which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds under Title VI of the Higher Education Act.

Much has been written about the biased nature of Middle East studies programs at universities around the country.

Less known is that with public money and the designation as a national resource center, universities such as Georgetown, Harvard and Columbia are dramatically influencing the study of Islam, Israel and the Middle East far beyond the college campus.

As a condition of their funding, these centers are also required to engage in public outreach, which includes schoolchildren in Grades K-12. Through professional development workshops for teachers and resource libraries, they spread teaching materials that analysts say promote Islam and are critical of Israel and the West.

Georgetown’s outreach and the materials it disseminates are singled out for special praise by Dar al Islam.

Its Web site lists four other outreach centers it admires: the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.

Professional development workshops like the one at Georgetown provide the most frequent paths for the dissemination of supplementary materials to history and social studies teachers, according to education expert Sandra Stotsky’s “The Stealth Curriculum: Manipulating America’s History Teachers.”

The problems with many of the supplemental materials, Stotsky said in her report, stem from “the ideological mission of the organizations that create them.

“Their ostensible goal is to combat intolerance, expand students’ knowledge of other cultures, give them other ‘points of view’ on commonly studied historical phenomena and/or promote ‘critical thinking,'” she wrote.

But an analysis of the materials convinced her that their real goal “is to influence how children come to understand and think about current social and political issues by bending historical content to those ends.

“They embed their political agendas in the instructional materials they create so subtly that apolitical teachers are unlikely to spot them.”

Among the materials Stotsky cites is “The Arab World Studies Notebook,” which has been widely criticized for bias, inaccuracies and proselytizing.

Two school districts have banned the book, and the AJC has urged others to follow suit.

“Notebook” editor Audrey Shabbas rejects the criticism.

“We’re providing the Arab point of view,” she said.

Responding to criticism that the material paints an overly rosy picture of Islam, she said, “My task is not to defend what Muslims do in the world” but to focus on the “difference between what people call themselves and what they do.”

Experts say the materials are popular because they’re recommended by the national resource centers of prestigious universities.

In an interview with JTA, Stotsky recounted that in the summer of 2002, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Massachusetts Department of Education decided to offer a seminar on Islam and the Middle East for area teachers. They accepted a proposal from Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies that “looked very promising.” One of the organizers of the seminar was Barbara Petzen, the center’s outreach coordinator.

But when Stotsky and other officials saw the syllabus, which included the “Arab World Studies Notebook,” they requested that the course present a more balanced view of Islam. Officials wanted at least to include a book by Bernard Lewis, a Princeton University professor emeritus who is considered one of the pre-eminent authorities on Islam.

But Petzen and her colleague “ducked recent history” by agreeing only to include one of Lewis’ older books from the 1970s, rather than one of his more recent critical perspectives on Islam, Stotsky said.

Petzen could not be reached for comment.

Stotsky was further shocked when she saw the lesson plans created by some of the seminar participants. One, which required the students to learn an Islamic prayer and design a prayer rug to simulate a mosque in the classroom, crossed the line. “It’s really indoctrination to have students do such religious things,” she said.

While there is no way to know the extent to which the teachers from 20 Massachusetts schools ultimately incorporated their proposed lessons into the classroom, the assumption of the Education Department, which paid for the seminar, “is that the teachers use the material they learned,” Stotsky said.

In New York City, meanwhile, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has barred the head of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute from lecturing to city teachers enrolled in professional development courses on the Middle East.

Klein’s move in February against Rashid Khalidi, who holds the Edward Said Chair at Columbia, was in response to “a number of things he’s said in the past,” said Michael Best, the department’s general counsel, according to The New York Times.

Khalidi declined to comment on the issue.

A spokesman for Klein said last week that “nothing has changed” in Khalidi’s status, meaning that he still is barred from lecturing at teacher-training seminars.

For Stotsky, a major problem with the teacher-training seminars is the lack of oversight.

“What teacher or principal is going to challenge [material that comes] “with the sterling credentials of Harvard?” she said.

While she doesn’t claim to have all the answers, Stotsky recommends halting public funding for professional development until there is “strong evidence that most history teachers learn something useful from a majority of workshops they attend.”



Tainted Teachings

Community Briefs

U.S. Withdrawal From Iraq Could HurtIsrael

Middle East expert and former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack told an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) audience that Israel would have to endure an emboldened Arab terrorist culture and other brutal, long-lasting side effects if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq now.

“That would be absolutely the most irresponsible thing we can do,” Pollack said to an audience of about 60 at the ADL’s Oct. 25-26 Fall Weekend Institute in Century City. “If this thing goes south, it’s going to be a disaster for us.”

A research director at The Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East in Washington, D.C., Pollack wrote last fall’s broadly influential book, “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.”

For Israel, a democratic Iraq would have a lasting effect on the Middle East by becoming the Arab world’s version of postwar Japan. “Before Japan, East Asians had never seen a democracy,” said Pollack, explaining that Japan’s successful mix of Western democracy and Asian values showed South Korea and other East Asian nations that democracy was not so foreign.

A similar merging of Arab values and Western democracy must occur because, Pollack said, when the Arab world currently thinks of democracy, “they think of Britney Spears, sex on TV and hip-hugger jeans.”

“Arab society has constructed an alternative universe,” Pollack said in an interview with The Journal.

Arab universities discourage students from medical, hard science and engineering degrees, pushing them instead into the humanities, Islamic studies and law. However, Islamic studies graduates find themselves unemployable, and their bitterness and poverty are a calling card to anti-Semites and terrorist recruiters.

“The Arab world isn’t creating jobs,” Pollack said, noting that the Arab world needs to create 800,000 new jobs annually but only creates 200,000. “They’re falling behind Asia and Africa — and now China.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

CSUN Gets a Taste of Sukkot

Recently, students at Cal State Northridge had a chance to shake a luvav and etrog and take in a little shade on their way to class. Throughout the week of Oct. 13, CSUN students could escape the heat, grab a piece of fruit and learn about Jewish tradition courtesy of a small on-campus sukkah sponsored by the school’s Hillel center. Focusing on the theme of world peace, the canvas and bamboo dwelling stood proudly by the school’s Student Union along Matador Square. Students and faculty members stopped by between classes to explore the sukkah and view a large collage created by Hillel students, which related to their hopes for peace.

“We figured that since Sukkot is a time of rebirth and harvest, it was a good time to talk about peace and starting new,” said Joy Werner, CSUN’s Hillel Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corps fellow, as she manned the sukkah and helped Hillel students put the final touches on the “Sukkah of Peace” collage.

Throughout the week, Hillel organized special events under the sukkah, including a special lunch and a Jamba Juice break. Several non-Jewish students dropped in to ask about the significance of the sukkah and read the display of bright-colored signs explaining the holiday prayers.

“It’s a good way to educate the campus community about Jewish culture,” Werner said. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

Persian Parents Learn to Strengthen FamilyUnity

A discussion on the growing religious gulf between Persian parents and children drew more than 1,200 to Beverly Hills High School on Tues., Oct. 21.

Pouran Moghavem, 64, was inspired to organize the event after one of her daughters became observant and cut her connection to the family in 1995. The discussion focused on finding a solution to re-establish family unity, and the audience consisted of concerned parents and some well-known Persian rabbis who sought to defend their positions.

“When we immigrated to the U.S., in order to keep our children away from drugs and immorality, we decided to put them in Jewish schools,” said Esther Naiim, a parent. “But now they have become so religious that they do not consider us kosher enough to sit at our Shabbat table. What kind of Jewish religion is this which has separated our children from us?”

The rabbis at the event said that religion is a human need and religious instruction is of benefit to the families. However, Jewish Persian immigrants, raised with traditional Jewish education in Iran, have found the various branches of American Judaism alienating.

Houman Kashani, a 26-year-old UCLA resident, told The Journal: “Since Persian rabbinical students go to Ashkenazi yeshivas and try to convey their instructions to the Persian younger generation, the parents find them contradictory to the traditional Judaism that they know, and that makes a problematic gap.” — Mojdeh Sionit, Contributing Writer

Harvard Campaign Against Hate

Feeling frustrated about Arab anti-Semitism? Upset by people’s insensitivity toward Jewish concerns? Think you’re powerless to influence your school or community? Think again.

A group of Harvard students spoke out against hate speech in the Middle East, and, thanks to the support of the community, achieved results. I helped organize the group, and our efforts resulted in shutting down an Arab League think tank that distributes hate speech against Americans and Jews.

It all started last year when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School. In December, I helped organize a panel on the rise of global anti-Semitism. One panelist, Dr. Charles Jacobs, president of the David Project, stunned me with the pervasive, Nazi-like imagery and calumnies directed against Jews that are spread throughout the entire Islamic world, funded by oil money from the Gulf. I was surprised not only by the extent of the hate education, but also by how little the usually well-informed people at the Harvard Divinity School knew about the issue of hate speech in the Middle East.

Most shocking, however, was what Jacobs explained next: Harvard Divinity School itself was complicit in the problem by accepting money from a purveyor of hatred in the Middle East.

Harvard Divinity School — my school — had accepted a $2.5 million endowment from Sheikh Zayed, ruler of the United Arab Emirates. Zayed funds a United Arab Emirates think tank of the Arab League called the Zayed Center that disseminates anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism throughout the Islamic world. The center published a book claiming that the American government masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks, hosted notorious Holocaust deniers and featured a lecture by a Saudi professor who claimed that Jews use non-Jewish blood for holiday pastries. The Los Angeles Times quoted the center director as saying the "Jews are the enemies of all nations."

I knew I had to take action. Just as Harvard would refuse funds from a Ku Klux Klan financier, the university should also reject the hate money of the sheikh.

Soon after the talk, a group of students and I founded Students for an Ethical Divinity School and petitioned William Graham, dean of the Divinity School, to live up to the university’s ethical standards and return Zayed’s gift. Graham told us he would "study the issue." I tried to imagine him making this comment if we were African Americans, gays, or women defamed by a donor. I couldn’t.

Three months later, after an aggressive media campaign brought the issue to CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and CNN, and exposed Harvard’s connection to the center, and after thousands signed a Web-based petition, the president of the United Arab Emirates shut down the Zayed Center. Harvard responded cautiously, announcing that the university was pleased that Zayed had taken action and that Harvard will delay for a year making a final decision regarding whether to accept the money. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jo-Anne Prokopowicz expressed satisfaction that Zayed had shut down a center that "espouse[d] intolerant views, including questionable programs and publications containing anti-American and anti-Semitic content."

There are several important lessons here: The first is that hate funded by Arab leaders or anyone else can and must be countered. This is a victory for people of conscience of all faiths and backgrounds. We should never ignore, rationalize or underestimate hate speech.

The second lesson is that many people shrink from these battles. It’s sad and a little frightening to experience the indifference toward Jewish concerns and Jewish students that so many Harvard professors and the dean of the Divinity School exhibited. Equally frustrating and disappointing is to see the reluctance of some Jewish professors and students to speak out against the institutional insensitivity of Harvard Divinity School.

Ultimately, a willingness to stand up and speak up can make a difference. We won the battle through persistent campaigning, good research, and community support. We thoroughly researched the Zayed Center’s Web site and downloaded the hate speech before the center got wind of our efforts and began deleting it from their site; we learned more about Zayed Center publications with help from MEMRI (, an organization that translates Arabic press into English. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center helped us gather important documents. We received the most instrumental support from the David Project, the on-the-ground campus activists in Boston.

It is unfortunate that the responsibility to wage a campaign against the Zayed Center’s hate speech should have fallen on a small group of Divinity School students. American moral leaders and human-rights groups should live up to their own standards. There can be no free pass for incitement of hatred and genocide. Hatred is a weapon of mass destruction.

A few weeks ago, Sheikh Zayed explained that once it came to his attention that the center had "engaged in a discourse that starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance, directives were issued for the immediate closure of the center."

Zayed’s statement is encouraging, and I hope that other Arab leaders will follow his example and understand that demonizing Americans and Jews is unacceptable and intolerable.

As a result of our success, I have seen greater willingness among Jews on campuses and in communities to participate in campaigns against anti-Semitism. I am heartened by the courage of others to stand up for what’s right.

After graduating from Harvard,
Rachel Fish joined the David Project in New York City (