Would You Really Accept a Racist Chapter in Your Kid’s Textbook?

Marcus Sheff
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Hashmonaim Elementary School in Jaffa, which both Arab and Jewish students attend, in June.
Marcus Sheff

In his recent opinion piece, entitled “No, Palestinian textbooks are not antisemitic,” Dr. Assaf David railed against a study published by the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research on the Palestinian Authority’s textbooks. David set out to do battle against an imaginary “conservative” conspiracy whose goal is to tarnish the image of the occupied Palestinian people, apparently by scrutinizing its textbooks.

In the process, he also attacks The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) accusing it of “generalizing and exaggerated conclusions based on methodological shortcomings” – his confused translation of criticism that appeared in GEI’s report.

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IMPACT-se is a research and policy institute that analyses education to encourage standards of peace and tolerance as derived from international declarations and resolutions and presents policy recommendations to decision-makers. School education is the key to fostering the development of peaceful, tolerant societies. But also where negative influences, like skewed historical narratives, hatreds of the other, gender inequalities and political violence, take root.

David has decided, based on absolutely no evidence at all, to smear IMPACT-se with the label “conservative”. However, opposing hate education does not however make one right-wing, or any-wing. This is lazy thinking, lacking any intellectual rigor. The many studies IMPACT-se has published over the course of decades about textbooks in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian authority, Syria, Jordan and others are based on UNESCO values - respect for the other, peacemaking as the way to resolve conflict, gender equality, LGBTq equality - and the premise that resolving disputes peacefully is a supreme value that contributes to advancing human rights, tolerance and educating toward the acceptance of others. These values aren’t the exclusive property of anyone’s political worldview. Academic integrity means seeking the truth, even if it isn’t what we would like it to be.

IMPACT-se studies are quoted annually in U.S. State Department reports and by governments and major media outlets around the world – including this paper. IMPACT-se cooperates frequently with leading academic and research institutes worldwide, including the GEI, which it assisted in conducting studies of textbooks in Israel and Tunisia.

David’s article is rife with mistakes and inaccuracies, some of them shocking. He praises comparative studies of Israeli-Palestinian textbooks, like the one conducted by researchers Adwan, Bar-Tal and Wexler, for presenting a balanced picture. If he has bothered to read the study in question, he would see that the study found no symmetry between educational content in Israel and the PA. The “problematic” Israeli examples cited by the research team were taken from the ultra-Orthodox school system – which IMPACT-se has also criticized. And the Palestinian texts surveyed were all removed from use in 2016.

Germany’s Georg Eckert Institute was commissioned by the European Union to conduct a study of PA textbooks. While it is always exciting to imagine conspiracies and political motivations, the decision to review Palestinian education stems from the fact that the EU finances the Palestinian education system while a solid and convincing body of evidence shows that these books systematically and unambiguously violate international standards of education for tolerance. Had David read through one our studies or contacted us, he would have seen this for himself.

The GEI report found copious amounts of antisemitic content in Palestinian textbooks, as David himself admitted. This content ranges from depicting Jews as traitors and deceivers to claiming that they have fabricated their origins to promote Zionism.

EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the British government have all acknowledged the antisemitism in Palestinian textbooks. The Palestinian Education Ministry has never denied it.

Why then does David assert that these textbooks “are not antisemitic”? Does he have his own  numerical threshold  - an acceptable amount of antisemitic material in textbooks? Would he be willing to accept a single racist chapter in his children’s textbooks?

Human rights, tolerance and nonviolence are universal values. These principles apply to all people equally and without exception. There is no amount of antisemitsm, hate and incitement to violence that can be justified in children’s textbooks.

Marcus Sheff is the CEO of The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), a research and policy organization.

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