Few First Impressions of Israeli-Palestinian Textbook Study

Posted: 2/9/2013 4:57:00 PM
Author: CAMERA
Source: This op-ed first appeared on the CAMERA website on February 4, 2013.

Few First Impressions of Israeli-Palestinian Textbook Study
by CAMERA (Committeee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)

We have yet to thoroughly comb through the new study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks, but meanwhile, here are a few first impressions.

The Framing (or Spin)

There are the findings, and then there are the ways they are presented. Notable, though hardly surprising, is the way the The New York Times chose to frame the study. For the newspaper it tends to be all about Israel looking bad, and its report in this case is no different: The study, they tell readers, is about Israel being wrong and Palestinians being vindicated. Its headline reads, "Academic Study Weakens Israeli Claim That Palestinian School Texts Teach Hate." (The article's URL, which refers to the study "belying" Israeli claims, suggests an earlier headline may have been even stronger and more off-base in its conclusions.

The newspaper could have more accurately reflected the contents of the researchers' press release, and of the study itself, if it chose any number of other headlines. One example: "Study Shows Israeli Improvement in State Textbooks; Ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian Texts Lag."

The press release, too, seems to tend toward symmetrical language, with the effect of minimizing the overall finding that "the negative presentation of the other, the positive, non-critical presentation of the self, and the absence of images and information about the other, are more pronounced in the Israeli ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian school books than in the Israeli State school books."

The Study

The study makes clear that "When the distribution or balance of positive, neutral and negative characterizations are compared, the Israeli State school books have a significantly less negative overall balance in characterization of the other than the do the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox (difference significant at p=.004) and the Palestinian books (p<.0001)."

Israel's state textbooks come out ahead in the study, but perhaps not nearly as much as they should. There are serious questions about the way passages with clearly distinct qualities are unfairly lumped together. At first glance, at least, it appears that moderate, factual statements in Israeli texts are considered equal to much more extreme statements in Palestinian texts, while positive, humanizing assertions about Palestinians in Israeli textbooks are lumped with sterile passages praising biblical figures revered by both Jewish and Muslims.

For example, under the heading "Examples of negative descriptions of the acts of the other," a straightforward description of the Farhoud, a massacre of Jews in Iraq, is presented as being akin to a claim that "the Zionist entity" was engaged in "imperialism" and in "exterminating" the Palestinian people.

Examples from Israeli books:

Referring to a 1941 pogrom in Iraq: “On the holiday of Shavuot, Arabs attacked Jews and murdered them, including women and children…. The slaughter of the Jews of Bagdad continued for two days without interruption” ...

Examples from Palestinian books:

“…facilitating Jewish migration to Palestine to turn it into a Jewish state after evacuating or exterminating its people, and before this Zionist, imperialist plan... The struggle with the Mandate government and Zionism continued until the Nakba (Catastrophe) took place in 1948… The Palestine war ended with a disaster of which history had not seen the like, and Zionist gangs usurped Palestine and displaced its people from their cities, villages, land, and houses, and founded the state of Israel... The tragedy was exacerbated with the Zionist entity's occupation of what remains of Palestine...

Likewise, the "positive characterizations of the other" in Israeli books appear to be significantly more real, contemporary, and humanizing, whereas the one example the report provides of a positive characterization by Palestinians of the other is one about divine books being revealed to Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. The study does not point out that all of these figures are considered prophets in Islam, which makes the classification of them as "the other" much more dubious.

Examples of positive descriptions of the acts of the other from Israeli books:

One example from an Israeli State school book when discussing the pogrom in Hebron in 1929: “If not for the brave stand of a British police officer and moderate Arabs who physically defended their Jewish neighbors, the slaughter would have been more awful” (State secular schools, National World 2 - Building a State in the Middle East [ עולם לאומי ב' - בונים מדינה במזרח התיכון ], Grade 10, Part 2, p.30, LP345).
Another example: “‘I saw it as my obligation as a Muslim Arab to offer help to an Israeli soldier injured in an accident’ said Abdullah Yusef Yunes… who offered help and drove an Israeli soldier in his vehicle” (State secular schools, Through the Words: Book D [ דרך המילים: ספר ד'. כנרת ], 2009, Grade 4, Part 4, p.203, LP1892).
“Abu Salah had long been our friend and neighbor. Only a low stone fence separated our cemetery and his house. In the summer, Abu Salah would bring us coal for the bakery oven, and in the winter, when our car got stuck in the mud, he would bring the milk on his camels” (State religious schools, Open the Gate: Anthology for 6th Grade,[ פתחו את השער: מקראה לכיתה ו '], Grade 6, p. 304, LP1254). ...

An example of positive description of the act of the other from Palestinian books

The following divine books: 1 - "The messages of Abraham (peace be upon him) and Moses call for belief in God Almighty, worshipping Him, and following noble morals". 2 - The Torah: Was revealed to Moses (peace be upon him) to guide the children of Israel. 3 - The Zabour: Was revealed to David (peace be upon him) with sermons and guidance for the children of Israel. 4 - The Gospel: Was revealed to Jesus (peace be upon him) to guide the children of Israel, and to reaffirm what Moses (peace be upon him) had brought”. Islamic Education part 1 grade 3 p. 17

Other examples of the authors sloppily lumping together passages with glaringly different qualities, and equating straightforward factual descriptions with ideological or even flatly inaccurate assertions appear, at first glance, to be all too prevalent.