German, Israeli Historians to Study How Textbooks Portray Each Country

Israel, Germany to establish a joint committee to study how school textbooks in each of the countries portrays the other country.

Israel and Germany have agreed recently to establish a joint committee to study how school textbooks in each of the countries portrays the other country.

"It is important that students in Israel learn about modern Germany, until and after reunification, and for us it is an opportunity to present Israel to German students in various aspects, not only the Palestinian conflict," Ilan Mor, former political attache at the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, said.

Mor is one of the founders of the initiative, which is expected to begin on the German side at the end of this year.

In November 2008 the German parliament passed a resolution that the German government would fight anti-Semitism more vigorously, including education toward greater awareness of the Jewish faith and culture as well as of "modern Israel."

The decision was the catalyst for the establishment of the joint committee for the study of the school books.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar met about two months ago with the education minister in the German state of Pomerania, Henry Tesch, who is president of the German states' council of education ministers.

"The two countries have developed and changed, and the content of textbooks should change accordingly. The younger generation no longer has direct contact to events and experiences from the period of National Socialism, and therefore we must make sure that the chain of memories is not broken," Tesch said.

A similar committee was active for a time in the 1980s, and the Education Ministry said a similar project was also undertaken with Poland.

The Israeli textbooks will be studied in Germany by the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, which has evaluated textbooks in Poland, France and the Czech Republic.

The institute's director, Dr. Simone Lassig, told Haaretz that in German school books, "there is of course extensive reference to the Holocaust, but the modern State of Israel is presented in only a few pages."

According to Lassig, the committee would examine how textbooks show the "varied social reality in Israel and in Germany, like, for example, the question of immigration, various ethnic groups and the challenge of globalization, and how books encourage students to deal with these issues."

According to the University of Haifa's Dr. Arie Kizel, Germany was for many years a "symbol of total evil" in Israeli school history books. History curricula and textbooks tend to stress the period of Bismarck, the Weimar Republic and Nazism, Kizel said.

"The subjects selected for teaching and testing are intended to strengthen the memory of the Holocaust and highlight the connection between the various events and the establishment of Israel," Kizel said, noting that Germany after 1945 is not studied significantly, "which means that students identify Germany only with the Holocaust."

Kizel added that additional issues that should be studied include the Cold War, internal debate in Germany over the Holocaust and unification in the 1990s.