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One adviser to the study warned Wexler, who is Jewish, that he was in danger of becoming “another Goldstone,” a reference to Richard Goldstone, the South African Jewish jurist who became a pariah among many fellow Jews for chairing a United Nations report that criticized Israeli military actions in Gaza.
Wexler stands by his group’s findings. “The goal was to provide the information so discussion can be informed by facts,” he said. “We have done that, and that is why I am shocked by the vehement response to discredit us.”
The study, which has been four years in the making, began in 2009, when the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land — a consortium of the senior leaders of Islam, Judaism and Christianity based in Jerusalem — commissioned Wexler, who is American, and his Israeli and Palestinian colleagues to design and conduct the research project with a $590,000 State Department grant.
Following years of regular but fragmentary attacks by Israel and its supporters — including testimony before Congress — on alleged hate passages that they claim permeate Palestinian textbooks, this study was designed to be nothing if not comprehensive. And unusually, it was designed to examine the textbooks of both sides, not just the Palestinians.
The researchers examined 94 books from Palestinian school systems in Gaza and the West Bank, and 74 books from the Israeli state secular and state religious school systems, analyzing 1,000 categories of information, such as narrative passages, poems and photos.
While the relative absence of “extreme negative characterization” of the other by both sides rose to the top of the researchers’ findings, the study found that both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks portrayed the other as the enemy, and each collection of textbooks presented their own respective group in almost exclusively positive terms.
The study also found a deep lack of information about the other in each side’s books. The negative depictions and omissions of the other are most pronounced in books used in Israel’s Orthodox religious schools and in Palestinian books. Israeli secular books were found to be the most self-critical of the three categories.