Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Middle East Media Sampler 2/5/13: Are Israeli and Palestinian Textbooks Comparable?

From +David Gerstman:

The textbook symmetry

A number of news organizations have reported on a recent study of Palestinian and Israeli textbooks that was funded by the State Department.

The JTA reported New textbook study threatens to undercut argument that Palestinian schools preach hate:
“This obviously cuts down one of the pegs and a linchpin in the argument that the Israel government makes, that the Palestinian Authority is teaching hatred to their kids,” said an official who works closely with mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States. The official declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
That's a nice touch, suggesting that someone has been intimidated by pro-Israel forces. Joel Greenberg of the Washington Post reported Israelis unhappy with study of their textbooks and Palestinians’:

While various surveys of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks have been conducted over the years, organizers of the latest study said it was the most systematic and comprehensive of books from both sides. It examined 94 Palestinian and 74 Israeli books, evaluating more than 3,000 texts, as well as photos and maps. Funded with a grant from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the study was directed by Bruce E. Wexler, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University who worked with two Israeli and Palestinian experts on textbook analysis, subjecting books from both sides to identical evaluation questions, with results fed to a database. The study was initiated by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, an interfaith association of Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders that seeks to promote reconciliation. But the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which is represented on the council and had previously endorsed the textbook study, dissociated itself from its findings in a statement last week, citing what it called serious methodological flaws.
The spin here is that when something objective contradicts the official Israeli position, Israel denies its validity.

In a companion article Anne Gearan reports State Department strains to avoid Israeli-Palestinian textbook dispute:
The report came on Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s first day in office. He is expected to renew U.S. efforts to draw Israel and the Palestinians back to stalled peace negotiations. The findings presented in Jerusalem on Monday drew on research by Israeli, Palestinian and American academics who called it a definitive objective look at the way Israelis and Palestinians teach their children about the histories of both peoples. 
The report said outright demonization or incitement is rare, but that each side’s narrative is skewed and myopic. Palestinians quickly said the study showed that Israel is wrong to accuse Palestinians of racial or religious incitement in schools.
Here the implication is that Israeli objections to further negotiations are based on unsupported prejudices.

The New York Times reports Academic Study Weakens Israeli Claim That Palestinian School Texts Teach Hate. After establishing that the study is the product of unimpeachable academic research the article gives an example:
The textbook teachings on martyrdom and self-sacrifice are treated with similar evenhandedness. Palestinian sixth graders read in a language book that “every stone is violated, every square cries out in anger, every nerve is abuzz, death before submission, death before submission, forward!” 
Israeli second graders are told the story of Joseph Trumpeldor, who died defending an early Zionist settlement from Arab attackers in 1920 and was said to have uttered in his last moments, “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.”
If this is an example of the "evenhanded" treatment accorded both sides, it demonstrates the problem with the study. The phrase appearing in the Palestinian textbook is a call glorifying martyrdom. The Trumpeldor statement, though, is the acceptance of one's fate, not significantly different from Nathan Hale's reported last words.

Similarly, the Jerusalem Post reports the response of Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser who compiles an incitement index of Palestinian society:
According to Kuperwasser, the report cited Israeli textbooks that linked Palestinians to the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre as a negative portrayal. 
“By mentioning that this was a terror attack performed by Palestinians, this is a negative description of the Palestinians? I mean, how far can you go?” he asked.
Elder of Ziyon looked at several more examples and explains Why the textbook study is fatally flawed - on both sides:
Telling each side's narrative is not so terrible. Teaching children lies - especially when the lies are meant to incite - is contemptible. The study needed to concentrate on the truth above all, and only then look at the wording. By doing it backwards and sacrificing truth on the altar of political correctness, they are doing no one any favors.
Gidon Ben Tzvi critiques Harriet Sherwood's reporting on the story.

The New York Times mentions previous textbook studies, including one by Palestinian Media Watch, and dismisses them as "subjective." In contrast the new report is called "academic," "rigorous" and "scientific." Dissenters were strictly from the Israeli side.

In contrast, when the same reporter, Isabel Kershner wrote about Palestinian Media Watch a little more than a year ago, she presented dissents from both sides.

For example:
Some explain the overheated language as a natural expression of such a long-running conflict, and say that any real education in the language of peace is unlikely to come before negotiators resolve the core issues.
“Reconciliation comes only after matters have been settled,” said Radwan Abu Ayyash, a veteran Palestinian journalist and former director of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, the parent of the authority’s television and radio stations with headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“Thinking of Jaffa and Haifa is still there as an old dream, as history,” he said, referring to the Palestinian refugees’ desire to return to the homes they occupied before 1948, “but it is not reality.”
Some Israelis struggle with the practice of monitoring the Palestinian news media, acknowledging the importance of knowing what is being said in Arabic, yet disturbed by how its dissemination is exploited by those not eager to see Israel make concessions.
As the ambassador to Washington at the time, Mr. Rabinovich said he found himself in the awkward position of having to explain to anyone who would listen that jihad, usually translated as holy war, could also mean a spiritual struggle, in order to justify continuing the peace process.
Still, he said, it is not by chance that those focusing on Palestinian incitement and publicizing it are “rightist groups who use it as ammunition.”
In the New York Times when a study contradicts the official Israeli position it is "scientific"and above reproach, but Palestinian incitement is explained away and those bringing it up are disparaged.

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