Holy Moley Batman—Palestinian textbooks don’t demonize Jews!

If you are quiet and can hear a loud cracking noise in the distance, that’s the sound of the Hasbaraniks losing one of their favorite stock charges against the “big, scary, bad” Palestinians. To quote Hillary Clinton when she was held captive to local interests and regularly said stuff she didn’t believe a U.S senator in NY, Palestinian textbooks don’t, “give Palestinian children an education, they give them an indoctrination.” This oft-heard charge about Palestinian textbooks filled with horrific portrayals of Jews has been a lynchpin component of the Israel-as-innocent-victim narrative which AIPAC and company promote everywhere from churches to Congress. All to keep the dollars and protection flowing.

Well, and wait for the deliciously panicked backlash on this, the first scientific study of Israel and Palestinian textbooks, funded by the U.S. State Department, concluded that the stories about all Palestinian textbooks calling Jews pigs and so forth, are just that, stories. As Bruce Wexler, the Yale psychiatry prof who led the study told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “The type of testimony that’s been presented to Congress and to our national leaders has been one person reading selected passages from the books. As a medical doctor, I don’t make decisions based on that type of information.”

And just as important, though not news to any of us who have friends or family with kids in Israeli schools—Israeli textbooks are a serious mess.

It’s hard not to wonder what Freud would say about all this—the Israel-aligned lobby has for years been justifying daily and violent Israeli dehumanization of Palestinians by making the world believe that Palestinians dehumanize Israelis in their textbooks. In fact, the entire campaign of going before Congress, on TV etc.. and repeatedly reducing all Palestinian children to a few lines in some random horrid textbooks is demonization of the worst kind. (Note other demonization offenders like Hasbara line #6, “They don’t love their children the way we love ours.”) And now there’s proof!

The super science-y study with thousands of data points concluded that, as Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Forward, “for the most part, neither Palestinian nor Israeli schoolbooks demonize the other people or refer to them as subhuman.”

Of course there were a few notable but statistically insignificant exceptions – I love the charmingly retro depiction in an Ultra-Orthodox text of a destroyed Palestinian village, now home to a settlement, as a “nest of murderers.” Wow! (Sadly for us and the OMG factor, the study did not also analyze language to describe Mizrahi Jews from Arab countries, women, gays, and Goyim) And a Palestinian book referred to an Israeli interrogation room as a “slaughterhouse.”

It also turned out, neither Palestinian nor Israeli textbook maps are particularly good about showing, um, reality, but one thing you won’t see in a hearing on Capitol Hill or in an American Jewish Committee brochure, the Israeli schoolbooks are significantly worse: 58% of the Palestinian books don’t mention Israel, it’s all Palestine, but 76% of the Israeli books don’t mention the Palestinian territories— it’s all Israel from the River to the Sea. (Remember when newly minted Israeli Minister of Education Yuli Tamir was greeted with open arms howls of derision when she announced that textbook maps of Israel would actually include the Green Line? That was an idea that went nowhere fast. And of course there is today’s defacto administrative form of annexation via cartography, the new Israeli practice of stamping West Bank visitors’ passports with Judea and Samaria.)

There were more harsh depictions of Jews in Palestinian textbooks (84%) than harsh depictions of Palestinians in ultra-Orthodox (73%) or Israel books (49%). That said, given the fact that Palestinians are still living under occupation and in refugee camps, getting illegally evicted from their homes and losing their orchards, it’s hard to imagine a more surreal demand than asking them to portray their occupiers more nicely.

Because of the central role the textbook argument plays in Israeli government propaganda, look for the science-minded Wexler to get a mini-version of the Dershowitz-perfected Goldstone treatment. It will start with attacks on the methodology and move to personal smears. In fact, the Israeli government has already disavowed the report—which is just so predictable and sad. In a world that made sense, you’d think they’d greet the study with a sigh of relief.

—Cecilie Surasky