Jerusalem — Controversy quickly engulfed a new study that said Palestinian textbooks do not incite hatred for Jews with Israel blasting the report — with some members of the report’s advisory panel claiming they were blindsided by its release.
Bar Ilan University Talmud professor Daniel Sperber, a member of the panel, slammed the decision to release the report when Israeli-Palestinian relations are strained and when Israel is in-between governments. “These are tense times in the Middle East and the idea [of the study] was not to increase tensions,” he told the Forward.
He added that the release was “premature” and that some of the steps that were supposed to be completed before the information went public were not. Sperber, who was among the advisory panel members who said they didn’t receive the report, also suggested that as far as the methodology of the report is concerned “considerable areas [are] certainly problematic”
Several other panel members said they had not seen the study, and were shocked to read about its release.
Jerusalem reacted furiously to a U.S.-funded study on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks, which was made public this morning.
The study cleared the Palestinians of demonizing Jews in school textbooks and contends that both Israeli and Palestinian teachers use classroom materials that distort the history of the Middle East conflict.
A statement from Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry claimed that the study’s “approach methodology and findings are highly problematic and strongly misleading.” It claimed that the study “omits important examples of incitement and delegitimization found in official PA textbooks” and that it “provides a highly-distorted depiction of the PA’s systematic efforts to educate and indoctrinate Palestinian children to hate, violence and non-acceptance of Israel’s existence.”
The Education Ministry denounced the findings in a press release, calling the study “biased, unprofessional and significantly lacking in objectivity,” adding: “The attempt to create a parallel between the Israeli education system and the Palestinian education system is completely unfounded and lacks any basis in reality.” The ministry claimed that the results of the study showed that “the decision not to cooperate with [it] was correct.”
Bruce Wexler, the Yale University psychiatry professor who designed the study, lashed back at Israel’s response to the report, singling out Israel’s Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
“Frankly I think that the minister of education is a great example of the power of these unilateral narratives,” Wexler said in an interview with the Forward. “That man cannot see beyond the blindness that has come in to his mind.”
Wexler added: “By the way, national leaders who have those blind spots like he does because of their national narrative make for poor and dangerous national leaders.”
Mohammed Dajani, a professor at Al Quds University in the West Bank and member of the study’s advisory panel, claimed that things have moved from a situation in the mid-1990s when the Palestinians refused to acknowledge problems in the textbooks they were using to one where Israeli authorities are in a “state of denial” about their schoolbooks.
In contrast to the cold Israeli reaction, the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad released a statement saying that he “expresses his satisfaction with a main finding of a study … that confirms that Palestinian textbooks do not contain any form of blatant incitement, which is based on contempt towards the ‘other’.”
The statement said that he “issued his instructions to the Ministry of Education to study the report thoroughly and to use its conclusions as a guide in the ongoing efforts to develop school curriculums aimed at keeping up to date with developments and achieving total harmony with our people’s deeply rooted principles of coexistence, tolerance, justice, and human dignity, which constitute a principal component of the system of moral values on which the independent state of Palestine will be established.” He called on Israel to do the same.
Despite the attempts by Wexler to maintain an academic tone at the press conference, another of the professors who led the research, Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University, veered in to Palestinian advocacy, prompting Wexler to react irritably and attempt to shush him. Adwan argued that in view of the hardships of life under occupation the mildness of Palestinian textbooks is “amazing.”
“Talking about the atrocities that Palestinians are living under it’s unimaginable,” he said. “I would invite all Israeli Jews to come and live with us for one day.”
Adwan commented to the Forward that he believed that the Palestinian textbooks actually lacked content about the difficulties that Palestinians have faced in the conflict, which should be described more “because you have the right to teach your own history.”
Wexler, who is Jewish, spoke of his personal sadness at Israel’s non-cooperation with the study and dismissal of its findings.
“When you’re born in 1947 you grow up reading Exodus and with Golda Meir and Abba Eban and giving money for trees to grow Israel, and you develop a deep connection with the State of Israel,” said Wexler. “On a personal level it’s very hard, painful. And it’s painful to think that the Israeli government would rather hold on, it seems, to a propaganda point that they know to be false than they would to get real change in the Palestinian books.”
He added that it was frustrating to watch Israel dig in its heels on an issue that could lead to positive change.
“We have people lining up to use their influence to make the Palestinian books better,” he said. “It’s the Israeli government that’s threatening to undermine the validity of the study that other people want to use to get Israel on the maps of the Palestinian books. That’s frustrating.”