(July 1, 2013 / JNS) Controversy continues to simmer in the upscale Boston suburb of Newton over the use of biased and substandard instructional materials to teach students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recently, the town spared no expense renovating one of its high schools at a cost of $200 million. But Newton’s commitment to its schools has not translated into ensuring that factually accurate material is used to teach students about the Middle East.
The controversy began two years ago when a parent, looking over his daughter’s reading assignment, discovered a handout that accused Israeli soldiers of abusing and murdering imprisoned Palestinian women. The selection came from a textbook called The Arab World Studies Notebook. This textbook had already been exposed for its advocacy of Islam and for making ludicrous claims—for example, that Muslim explorers discovered America and that Iroquois Indians had Muslim names. The outcry that followed prompted the school administration to remove it.
But that turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. A more widespread problem was revealed when it was learned that a leader in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel had given a seminar to history teachers on teaching about the Middle East. Soon, more evidence of inaccurate and anti-Israel materials used in the schools came to light.
Last November, in an attempt to head off the controversy, the vice chairman of the Newton School Committee published an op-ed in local papers offering reassurance that anti-Israel materials were not systematically used in Newton schools. He denounced town residents who had raised the issue for engaging in “McCarthyesque” tactics and added, “Does it really sound plausible that for years virtually everyone has unknowingly been the victim of the teaching of such horrible material?”
Sadly, the most recent batch of handouts used in the 10th-grade honors class offers new evidence of a continuing problem. It contains a timeline titled “POV: History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” that purports to cover both “An Israeli Perspective” and “A Palestinian Perspective.” It was compiled in 2001 by a young intern with no apparent expertise on the subject.
The author thanked Professor Mark LeVine of University of California, Irvine for reviewing the document. LeVine is an agitator against Israel who publishes on the English website of Al Jazeera. In a guest column in The Huffington Post on Jan. 13, 2009, he likened Hamas’s fight against Israel in Gaza to “the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.” LeVine contended that Israelis have an “addiction” to violence and suffer from “collective mental illness.”
The timeline ignores the religious and ideological component of Arab rejection of the Jewish state. For example, the only reason given for the Arab rejection of the United Nations partition resolution in November 1947 is that the Arabs “considered the proposal unrepresentative of the demographic distribution of Jews and Arabs living in Palestine.” There is no discussion of the religion-sanctioned rejection of the Jewish state, or of Palestinian leader Haj Amin Al Husseini’s use of religious and racial bigotry to inflame Arab sentiment against the Jews.
An accompanying class discussion guide called “Class notes for Israel Palistine (sic) (Student & Teacher Discussion)” also dismisses the religious component, stating, “This is a conflict over land.” What lies behind the downplaying of the religious component is an attempt to cast Israel as a neo-colonial state usurping the land of the indigenous population. This narrative, fashionable among anti-Israel academics, designates the Arabs as indigenous people while denying that status to the Jews whose continuous history on the land goes much further back.
The class guide asserts, “Jewish nationalism (Zionism) and Palestinian nationalism seek essentially the same goal: a state that can provide security, economic opportunity, and a connection to a land.” This feigned evenhanded approach promotes a falsehood, for both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas charters call for the dismantling of the Jewish state. An accurate recounting of Palestinian nationalism shows that opposition to the Jewish state came first, while the demand for a Palestinian Arab state emerged only later.
Newton students should read the works of distinguished scholars. Instead, students are exposed to the dogma peddled by anti-Israel activists at teacher workshops, to fringe academics or to error-prone pages pulled from the Internet. One such handout from a website called “Flashpoints” identified Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine (a non-existent state) and incorrectly labeled Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel (it’s actually Jerusalem).
The POV timeline typifies this agenda-driven approach. Students are told that in 1948, “Fighting breaks out between the newly declared State of Israel and its Arab neighbors,” and not that the surrounding Arab states attacked the Jewish state on the day after it was formally recognized by a resolution of the United Nations.
The careful wording of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 to not require Israel to withdraw from all of the territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War is described as only the English-language version. The handout contends that altered versions in other languages are equally valid.
Students are told that “rightwing Israelis” call the West Bank “Judea and Samaria”— without being informed that the label “West Bank” originated with the Jordanian occupation from 1949 to 1967.
Palestinian terrorism is downplayed, while rare instances of Israeli violence are highlighted. The first terrorist act inside Israel and the West Bank specifically mentioned is the 1994 attack on Palestinian worshipers by Baruch Goldstein. The murders of 37 Israelis in the coastal road massacre in March 1978 and of 26 Israeli schoolchildren and teachers in Ma’alot in May 1974 are not mentioned. Students are not told that while Goldstein is reviled in Israel, Palestinian perpetrators of terror attacks, like terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, are held up as role models to be emulated by Palestinian children.
Students are told that the Oslo Accords meant that the two sides “were no longer claiming that the other did not have the right to exist as a state of peoples on that land.” Students are not informed that at the Fatah Party Congress in 2009 participants cheered as Palestinian Authority officials vowed never to recognize the Jewish State and reaffirmed their commitment to armed struggle.
A complete and accurate account of the conflict should not be sacrificed on the altar of evenhandedness and the refusal to take sides. With all the upheaval in the Middle East and its impact on America, parents unfortunately cannot count on schools and town officials to ensure that accurate and quality instruction occurs. Parents need to make their voices heard so that their children aren’t fed Pollyannaish revisions of reality.
Steven Stotsky is a senior researcher for the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Any opinions expressed above are solely his own.