The Media and Palestinian Textbooks

Posted: 2/14/2013 3:25:00 PM
Author: Michelle Whiteman
Source: This article first appeared in The Times of Israel website on Feb. 11, 2013.

The Media and Palestinian Textbooks
by Michelle Whiteman
Quebec Regional Director of HonestReporting Canada, a non-profit organization which ensures fair and accurate Canadian media coverage of Israel

Mainstream media coverage of the recent study on incitement in Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks by the Council of Institutions in the Holy Land this week was extraordinary and surprising. The issue of Palestinian incitement has long been considered a primary obstacle to peace by the Israeli government but virtually ignored by the media.

Yet, the media didn’t ignore the findings of the report which sought to draw a moral equivalency between portrayal of Israelis in Palestinian schoolbooks and vice versa.

However, some Canadian media outlets did cite the skepticism in some quarters which greeted the study’s findings. Indeed, it was revealed that the Israeli Ministry of Education refused to cooperate with the study, the US State Department distanced itself from the study, and at least three members 1of the study’s Scientific Advisory Panel refused to support the study, citing methodological and procedural flaws.

Unfortunately some investigative journalists who have written extensively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but have altogether ignored the issue of Palestinian Arab incitement, suddenly expressed an interest. Thus, Montreal’s La Presse columnist Agnes Gruda devoted a column to the study which had concluded that demonization does not exist in Palestinian textbooks. With blame assigned to both sides, Gruda highlighted a comparison of Israeli and Palestinian maps which purportedly demonstrated that while Palestinian maps do not acknowledge the State of Israel, Israel maps fare “no better” as they do not acknowledge the pre-1967 lines that separate Israel and the West Bank.

Except for the obvious difference that the West Bank still awaits resolution of its current status as a disputed territory, which is the purpose of negotiating a two-state solution. Gruda—and the study– ignored that the West Bank has two claimants and is a territory in which the Palestinians currently enjoy no absolute right. This error by Gruda is unsurprising given how often the media wrongly refer to the West Bank as “occupied Palestinian territory”. Drawing a moral equivalence between erasing the existence of the State of Israel from Palestinian maps and accurately rendering disputed territory over which Israel exerts control, reveals how the media routinely gets it wrong and can abet a campaign de-legitimizing Israel (or what the Palestinian Authority on its website calls “the so-called State of Israel”).

What really bothers, however, goes beyond the problem of moral equivalence that is endemic to those whose mono-causal theory of Israeli malfeasance makes them adopt absurd parallels. What bothers also goes beyond the merits of this study. Flawed studies are unfortunately not uncommon and the evidence of Palestinian incitement is so overwhelming and readily available ,its existence simply cannot be denied. Can a child on PA TV reciting a poem with the verse “Israel is Satan with a tail” be refuted as evidence of demonization?

While that evidence has been ignored, media has jumped at the chance to provide wide coverage of an isolated, perhaps flawed, study whose conclusions contradict longstanding claims of Palestinian incitement against Israel.

What about all the other studies and data that demonstrate unrelenting incitement and demonization of Israel but never get reported? Indeed, the media’s anathema to casting aspersions on Palestinian society was starkly revealed last summer with the media frenzy which erupted over then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s remarks that Palestinian society, in its glorification of terrorism, could benefit from moral refinement. Yet, in striking contrast, Egyptian President Morsy’s recent racist rants in which he called Jews ‘apes and pigs’ was studiously ignored in the mainstream media (until the New York Times was embarrassed into acknowledging this latest episode of Arab anti-Semitism by a Forbes journalist, and even then, it garnered relatively little media attention).

Clearly, the mainstream media prefers to downplay the problem of Arab incitement against Israel. Beyond its moral and journalistic failings, this approach shifts blame for the conflict to Israel’s doorstep. Media consumers are thus very familiar with the refrain that Israeli settlements are an obstacle to peace. But how many are aware of the other narrative considered by the Israeli government to be the primary obstacle to peace: the Palestinian glorification of terror, incitement and demonization of Israel? Once can only surmise the incitement to hatred against Israel spoils a good Palestinian-David and Israel-Goliath narrative and forces the liberal mindset to confront the reality that intractable hatred is not neatly amenable to ‘land for peace’.

The media attention devoted last week to an isolated study which negates years of accumulated evidence of incitement and hatred is really but the latest installment of a media narrative which appears guided by the principle ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ when it comes to Arab anti-Semitism. In so doing, the mainstream media reveals itself, once more, to be part of the problem.

This study was indeed instructive, but likely in a way its researchers did not anticipate.