Israeli-Palestinian textbook study sparks controversy

A U.S. State Department-funded study on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks released in Jerusalem has set-off a wave of insults, charges and counter-charges. Israel’s Ministry of Education called the detailed report “biased and unprofessional” while the International Society for Political Psychology called the Israeli government’s description “highly distressing.”

It was yet another example of how anything concerning Israelis and Palestinians sets tempers flaring. The three-year study, written by a joint team comprised of an Israeli and Palestinian researcher and Dr. Bruce Wexler of Yale University, found that textbooks on both sides present one-sided narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but rarely resort to demonization of the other side. The report was issued by the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land.

The researchers analyzed 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian textbooks in-depth, covering grades 1through 12 in subjects such as literature, geography, and civics. It did not include physical sciences such as biology and chemistry, or religious subjects such as Quran or Bible.


“There was very little dehumanization on both sides,” Dr. Daniel Bar Tal, the report’s author, told The Media Line. “But we do find that both ignored the existence and the legitimacy of the other. It is a minimal requirement that Palestinians should recognize the existence of the state of Israel and Israelis should recognize and acknowledge the legitimacy of the Palestinians.”

When it comes to Israeli textbooks, the study separates those used by the state secular system (the majority) from those used by the ultra-Orthodox (an estimated 25 percent of the Jewish students in Israel). The textbooks of the state secular system are more critical of Israel, mentioning incidents such as Deir Yassin, in which Jewish paramilitary fighters attacked a village near Jerusalem in 1948, killing more than 100 villagers.

Israeli books also had some positive descriptions of Palestinians.

“The positive references we found appeared mainly on an interpersonal level,” Bar Tal said. “We find stories about a friendship between an Israeli and an Arab or an Arab who would help an Israeli Jew. But we did not find any positive description on a collective level.

Palestinian author Prof. Sami Adwan said Palestinians only began writing their own textbooks in 2000. Until then, they used Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks which had far more negative stereotypes of Israelis than the current books. Yet, he says, there is still more to be done.

“Both sides should integrate part of the narrative of the other in their own textbooks,” Adwan told The Media Line. “They should talk about the other side’s culture, society, religion and history.”

The researchers also looked at hundreds of maps, almost all of which simply ignored the existence of the other side.

The Israeli Ministry of Education declined to help the researchers and leveled some serious charges against both the researchers and their methods.

“The report is biased and unprofessional,” Michal Zadoki, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, said in a statement. “The conclusion of this ‘research’ was known before it was carried out, and it certainly does not reflect reality…The Ministry of Education chose not to cooperate with those elements who are interested in maliciously slandering the Israeli education system and the state of Israel. The results of the ‘research’ show that the decision not to cooperate was correct.”

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs was even more harsh, saying that the study “omits important examples of incitement and delegitimization found in official Palestinian Authority textbooks,” although they do not offer specific examples.

Not included in the report, the Ministry says, are formal and informal educational frameworks, summer camps, and television programs with negative messages.

“The ultimate goal is to eliminate the Jewish state and reclaim the historic Land of Palestine,” it charges as well as “Jews/Zionists/Israelis possess demonic characteristics.”

Dr. Nir Boms, a board member of Impact-SE, The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, told The Media Line that while the report is commended it ignores the most critical issue – denying the other, particularly on the Palestinian side. The report suggests statistical analysis on a broad view of quotes in a computer system but it fails to focus on some of the more problematic references that encourage violence and glorify martyrdom and terrorists. Boms said there are no direct calls for violence with the exception of the Waqf [Muslim Trust] literature which was not included in the study, which is used in a small number of schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to train future clerics.

The response from the Palestinian Authority was far more positive. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the results.

“From the onset, we took all measures to extend the highest degree of cooperation with the researchers, especially from the Ministry of Education. This cooperation stemmed from our firm conviction of the significance of the issue and the need to discuss it on objective and professional bases, rather than pre-conceived notions and stereotypes,” he said.

Mohammad Abu Zaid, Deputy Minister of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, told The Media Line that a committee will be set up to review the study and write up a response.

Ziad stated that as of three months ago, the Ministry began the process of changing their textbooks, but added, “I have to take into account the building of the state — the identity becomes essential. I don’t think we can continue peace curricula while Israelis are arresting people, and demolishing homes. Peace requires a peaceful environment.”

Ziad said, “The PLO recognizes Israel but feels Israel needs to respect the Palestinians’ existence. The situation is getting worse.”

The report’s American author, Dr. Bruce Wexler, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist at Yale, rejected the Israeli Ministry of Education’s criticism.

“They seek to discredit me and my colleagues,” Wexler told The Media Line. “The idea that the results were pre-determined is just total nonsense. The Minister of Education on the Israeli side seems uninterested in the facts of what’s in the textbooks, and unencumbered by facts when he makes his statements about the project.”

During a news conference, Wexler went further, saying that he was born in 1947 and grew up parallel to the state of Israel, which was founded in 1948. “I did not do anything to attack the state of Israel,” Wexler insisted.

Both Bar Tal and Adwan hope that the study can help contribute to peace education.

“We hope it is a step towards creating a generation that recognizes the humanity and legitimacy of each other on this land,” Adwan told The Media Line. “If we both start looking at what we teach our children, we will see a better future here.”

Paul: cuts to Israel assistance would not be ‘immediate, dramatic’

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he does not favor immediate cuts to defense assistance to Israel and favors intelligence and development cooperation, but he believes that Israel would ultimately benefit from economic independence from the United States.

Paul, in a conference call Wednesday marking his return from a week-long visit to Israel, said his first priority in targeting foreign assistance would be those nations where people “burn the American flag and say death to America.”

Israel, he said, has been a “great friend” to the United States.

“Something I would be in favor of would not be immediate, dramatic or draconian, it would be evolving,” he said of his favoring cuts in assistance to Israel. “I'm for an independent, strong Israel that is not a client state and not a reliant state.”

Asked particularly about missile defense cooperation, he said there was a “great argument” for such programs and he believes that American cities should have missile defense infrastructure.

Of Iron Dome, the Israeli anti-missile system that Israel says repelled 80 percent of rocket attacks during the recent Gaza War, Rand said: “There's a great argument for the Iron Dome,” although he would want to examine “exactly how it is funded.”

Currently, Iron Dome is funded by hundreds of millions of dollars in grants on top of the $3 billion Israel receives annually in defense assistance from the United States. 

Paul said he understands how his calls for reducing aid to Israel make him an outlier among fellow senators, but that he believes his position is more pro-Israel than theirs.

Paul also said it was “presumptuous” of American politicians to dictate to Israel where it should build, and that he leans toward recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, although he understands arguments that such recognition could be “provocative.”

Paul, who met with Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his trip, said he was concerned about defense assistance to Egypt, in part because its president, Mohamed Morsi, has in the past made anti-Semitic remarks, but also because such sales fuel an arms race with Israel.

Paul has gently distanced himself from the positions of his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a perennial presidential candidate who also has favored cutting assistance to Israel, but who has often cast those arguments as criticism of Israeli policies. The younger Paul is seen as likely to bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Morsi answers amen to imam’s prayers for destruction of Jews

A video shows Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi saying amen to the prayers by an imam calling on Allah to “destroy the Jews and their supporters.”

Morsi in last weekend's service is seen praying with great concentration at a mosque in the Matrouh governorate. The service was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

“Oh Allah, absolve us of our sins, strengthen us, and grant us victory over the infidels,” prayed Futouh Abd Al-Nabi Mansour, the local head of the religious council. “O Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. O Allah, disperse them, rend them asunder. O Allah, demonstrate Your might and greatness upon them. Show us Your omnipotence, O Lord.”

The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern about the anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of Egypt.

“The drumbeat of anti-Semitism in the 'new' Egypt is growing louder and reverberating further under President Morsi, and we are increasingly concerned about the continuing expressions of hatred for Jews and Israel in Egyptian society and President Morsi's silence in the face of most of these public expressions of hate,” Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director, said in a statement.

The prayer service came just days after Morsi sent a letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres calling him a “great and good friend,” and requesting that the two countries continue “maintaining and strengthening the cordial relations which so happily exist between our two countries,” according to the Times of Israel, which published a photo of the letter. The letter was presented to Peres by Egypt's new ambassador to Israel.

A founder of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, Ahmad Hamrawi, over the weekend left the Muslim Brotherhood over the letter, calling it “national and religious treason to millions of Egyptians” and alleging secret ties between Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The ADL wrote to Morsi last week urging him to reject statements made by the supreme authority of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, who called for violence against Jews and Israel.

Anti-Semitic messages left on Jewish Agency Facebook page

The Jewish Agency for Israel's Facebook page was inundated with hundreds of explicitly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic messages.

The attacks earlier this month were confirmed Thursday by the Jewish Agency. The messages were deleted soon after they were discovered, it said.

The attack of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic messages coincided with the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, which began on Oct. 6, 1973. Many of the message writers were Egyptian, according to the Jewish Agency.

The messages included swastikas, violent imagery and anti-Semitic messages in Arabic, English and poor Hebrew. One message read, “WE ARE COMING FOR U … JUST WAIT THE EGYPTIAN HOLOCAUST COMING VERY SOOOOOON.” Another read, “May Allah help the Mujahideen in Palestine kill and destroy your nations, your people, your army.” Some of the messages referred to the war as an Egyptian “victory.”

Australian Foreign Minister tells Tehran delegates to walk out if anti-Semtism

Jewish community leaders in Australia are angry that the government is sending delegates to a summit in Iran, though they have been instructed to walk out at the first sign of “anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said the attendance of two Australian officials at the Non-Aligned Movement’s summit in Tehran next week sends the wrong message to a regime that “sponsors terrorist groups around the world.”

“The Iranian regime does not deserve the kind of legitimacy it will derive from Australia’s presence,” Lamm said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr defended Australia’s decision to send Australia’s Ambassador to the United Nations and the Prime Ministerial Special Envoy but instructed them Thursday to walk out if there’s any “anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

“If there is any of that anti-Semitic rhetoric, that inflammatory anti-Israeli rhetoric, from the president of Iran, our ambassador at the UN is under instruction from me directly to be the first on his feet to walk out,” Carr told reporters.

Lamm said Carr’s decision to order a walk out was “reassuring,” but added, “The entire Iranian regime rests on a political ideology that is corrupted to the core with anti-Semitism. It would therefore have been preferable for Australia to have no representation at all.”

The NAM is a group of 120 nations not aligned to any major bloc. Australia is not a member.