Israeli-German Research: Most History Textbooks in Germany Portray Israel as a Warlike Nation

Most textbook authors do not present 'historical complexity of Israeli-Palestinian conflict' and find it difficult to call Palestinian violence against civilians terrorism, researchers find.

Or Kashti
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, sings together with students during a visit at the Roentgen School in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. Credit: AP
Or Kashti

Most German history textbooks do not present the “historical complexity of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in an appropriate manner,” and relate to the State of Israel mostly in the context of a continued conflict. That is the finding of an Israeli–German report that examined history, geography and civics textbooks in both countries.

As a result, the report recommends that German textbook authors “present a broader and more multi-dimensional picture of Israeli history.” Dr. Arie Kiezel, the academic head of the Israeli-German Commission for Research of Textbooks, said: “The media agenda seeps into the schools in Germany and the students are fed by it; this trend is expected to strengthen in coming years.”

The German-Israeli committee’s report, published here for the first time, concludes five years of work, during which researchers from both countries examined some 150 books and chapters used in secondary education. Each team of researchers examined the books that were published in their countries. In Israel, the work was coordinated by the Mofet Institute, which is involved in research, curriculum and program development for teachers, while in Germany the Georg Eckert Institute in Braunschweig was in charge of the effort. The Israeli teams included the Education Ministry’s inspectors in charge of the three disciplines examined.

The German team found that German textbooks relate to Israel primarily in the context of the continued conflict. They said that in many of the books “Israel is presented as a warlike body and a country in crisis in the Middle East.” In most cases, “other aspects are missing, such as Israeli social development, Israel’s achievements and its uniqueness as a democratic nation.”

The German researchers also said that “occupation and settlements are mostly mentioned in the textbooks as being the main obstacles to the peace process,” and that a large number of the textbook authors “find it difficult to unequivocally call Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians acts of terror.”

The study recommends presenting Israel “not just in a one-dimensional fashion as part of the conflict in the Middle East, and to avoid a narrative that presents the conflict as unavoidable and unsolvable.”

The report says the Holocaust and Nazism are presented in German textbooks in a prominent manner, but many of them “create the impression of a system of an automatic killing machine, in which people played a secondary role, without responsibility and personal freedom of action.”

The Israelis involved found that in Israeli textbooks the Holocaust is phrased in an “academic, to the point and non-emotional manner, which is takes care to present factual information and is almost completely lacking in emotional expression.”

“An attempt is made to avoid including hair-raising stories by using original source materials and few pictures are presented of dead bodies as sections of visual sources,” say the Israelis about the Israeli Holocaust textbooks. In addition, these books relate to all the non-Jewish groups persecuted by the Nazis and not just to the Jews. As to the Germany after World War II, the researchers note that material is lacking and the Israeli student learns virtually nothing about Germany in the period of the Cold War, or the reunification of the country.

Kiezel, who is the head of department of Learning, Instruction and Teacher Education in the Faculty of Education at Haifa University, said: “The Germans are committed to education for critical thinking, they cannot ignore the Palestinian side of the conflict in the Middle East. This is one of the reasons we have recommended increasing the cooperation and jointly formulating educational units and educational materials. From this point of view, the Israeli tendency to withdraw and flee from a multitude of narratives is a serious mistake. The Germans may not change their range of viewpoints, but the picture for the students will be more balanced.”