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Asked about this, Wexler said that he carefully responded to Groiss’s queries, and that even if every one of his examples were added to the study, the statistical findings would have been the same.
Bar Ilan University Talmud professor Daniel Sperber, the third dissenting advisory panel member, offered a criticism more political than substantive: The release of the study during a time when Israeli-Palestinian relations are strained and when Israel is in-between governments was counterproductive.
“These are tense times in the Middle East, and the idea [of the study] was not to increase tensions,” he said.
The harshest criticism, however, has come from the Israeli government. In a press release issued before the study went public, the Ministry of Education attacked the very concept of examining both sides’ textbooks in tandem. “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 document read.
The statement said that the study’s findings legitimated the government’s decision not to participate in the research.
According to both Wexler and a source connected to the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, it was the Israeli government’s fierce response that forced the Chief Rabbinate, a member of the council, to walk away from the study. The Council source claimed that Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, “went ballistic” when he heard the findings of the study and pressured the rabbinate to “pull back.”
The source further claimed that Kuperwasser pushed the rabbinate to “character assassinate” the authors of the study in a statement, but that the rabbinate did not agree to this.
Asked about this, Kupperwasser told the Forward that he did speak to the rabbinate about what its response would be but did not “in any way pressure them.” He called the allegation of such pressure “baseless.”
The Rev. Trond Bakkevig, convener of the council, said the council had withdrawn its support because the researchers “widened the remit [of the study] beyond our competence and what we asked for.” But Wexler contested this adamantly.
“The original assignment given to me by the council was to look at how the other is portrayed, including, but not limited to religion,” he said. “That was in the grant from the State Department from the start.”