Today, a report of a comprehensive comparison between Palestinian and Israeli textbooks was released in Jerusalem. For decades, the common wisdom among politicians has been that Palestinian schoolbooks reinforce hatred towards Jews and Israel. Newt Gingrich once said the Palestinian texts teach math by discussing dead Jews. But is this true?
Today, a report was released (see documents here) on the findings of a scientific study of incitement in Palestinian and Israeli textbooks. The study, titled “Victims of Our Own Narratives? Portrayal of the “Other” in Israeli and Palestinian School Books” was funded by a half a million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of State and was commissioned by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a consortium of senior Islamic, Jewish and Christian religious figures based in Jerusalem. The study was designed by Bruce Wexler, a professor of Psychiatry at Yale University’s School of Medicine. It examined 94 Palestinian and 74 Israeli books, selected from an evaluation of more than 3,000 textbooks, as well as photos and maps.
Based on the research, the religious council is expected to make recommendations for necessary reforms. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which is represented on the council and had previously endorsed the textbook study, disassociated itself from its findings in a statement last week, citing what it called serious methodological flaws. Two Israelis on a 19-member scientific advisory panel, which included international experts in textbook analysis, also dissented from the study’s conclusions.
Israel’s Ministry of Education called the study’s results “biased, unprofessional and significantly lacking in objectivity.” It also called it slander, demeaned the study by calling it a “study”, wrote that it did not reliably reflect reality and affirmed that The Ministry of Education chose not to cooperate with it.
So what did the study find?
The study found that, as is typical of any country, the unilateral national narrative of history prevails, although Israeli textbooks made efforts to include parts of the narrative of the Palestinians. Events are selectively included that present the enemy or the Other in negative terms, reinforce one’s own national narrative, and present one’s own people in positive terms.
Only 2% of Palestinian book had passages related to peace. 25% of books in the Israeli public school system contained words of peace, and 7% of books in the Orthodox Jewish had items mentioning peace.
In both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks, maps do not delineate boundaries in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Only 4% of Palestinian books studied showed boundaries between the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel; and more than half label the entire area as Palestine. Compared to the 4%, only 24% of Israeli books surveyed showed boundaries between Israel and Palestinian areas, the remaining 76% suggested they were part of Israel.
15% of Palestinian books referred to Judaism, while 50% of books in Israeli public schools mentioned Islam. 7% of books in the Orthodox Jewish school system had texts that mentioned Islam. The study’s premise is schools that lack information on other cultures and religions serve to deny the legitimate presence of “the other.”
The study found that “dehumanizing and demonizing characterizations of the other were very rare in both Israeli and Palestinian books” Israeli textbooks were also found to have self-criticism, criticizing the nation for failures in human rights than the Palestinian books, providing examples of actions that were criticized internally, such as attacks on Arab civilians by Jewish militias in the pre-state era, or the massacre of Palestinians at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon by Israeli-backed Christian militiamen in 1982.
Palestinian books more often described as Israelis appropriating land and seeking to dominate – not destroy – Palestinians. Israeli books generally stated that Palestinians aimed to destroy Israel.
Was Gingrich correct? No book was found that taught math using dead Jews.