Op-Ed in The Jewish Advocate June 14, 2013
New evidence of the same old problem for schools
Last November, the Vice Chairman of the Newton School Committee reassured the public that there was no reason to believe that anti-Israel materials were used in Newton schools to teach about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. He rhetorically asked, "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 current instructional material offers new evidence of the problem.
Two weeks ago, copies of handouts used in the 10th-grade honors class in the Newton schools to teach about the Israeli Palestinian conflict were forwarded to me for review by concerned residents. Included was 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 Negar Katirai, during a two-year post-undergraduate internship. Nothing in Katirai's experience as a legal-aid advocate or her educational background indicates expertise on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Katirai thanked Professor Mark LeVine of UC Irvine for reviewing the document. LeVine is an outspoken critic of Israel whose columns regularly appear on Al Jazeera's English website. In a guest column in The Huffington Post on Jan. 13, 2009, he compared Hamas' 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 POV timeline presents a biased history that 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 U.N. 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 Jewish sovereignty on any portion of the land, or of Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin Al Husseini's use of religious and racial bigotry to inflame Arab sentiment against the Jews.
An accompanying handout for guiding class discussion called "Class notes for Israel Palistine (sic) (Student & Teacher Discussion)" dismisses the religious and ideological component of the conflict as unimportant, stating that "This is a conflict over land." What lies behind the downplaying of the religious component is an apparent attempt to cast Israel as a neocolonial 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 dean of America's Middle East historians, Bernard Lewis, exposed the historical fallacy behind this dogma in his seminal work "Semites & Anti-Semites." Lewis reminds us that the Arabs arrived as conquerors and later as economic migrants. In response to Zionism, they reformulated their history to depict themselves as indigenous liberators. The class discussion 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 attempt at evenhandedness promulgates a falsehood; for in both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas covenants, the fulfillment of nationalist goals requires the dismantling of the Jewish State. In fact, an accurate account of the genesis of Palestinian nationalism shows that opposition to the Jewish State came first, while the demand for a Palestinian Arab State emerged only later as part of the "Phased Plan" for destroying Israel.
Newton students deserve to benefit from the wisdom of distinguished scholars such as Lewis, Efraim Karsh, Michael Curtis and Barry Rubin. Instead, students are exposed to the dogma peddled by Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) activist Paul Beran, formerly of Harvard University Extension's outreach program, to the partisan accounts of anti-Israel academics such as UCLA's James Gelvin or to error-riddled 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," leaving it unclear who was the aggressor. In fact, the surrounding Arab states attacked the Jewish State on the day after it was formally recognized by a resolution of the United Nations.
U.N. resolutions that form the basis for resolving the conflict are misrepresented. The careful wording of Resolution 242 to not require Israel to withdraw from all of the territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War is portrayed as only the English-language version of the resolution. 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.
There is a persistent failure to straightforwardly discuss Palestinian extremism and terrorism. The first terrorist act inside Israel and the West Bank to garner specific mention is the 1994 attack on Palestinian worshipers by Baruch Goldstein. Prior terrorist attacks by Palestinian Arabs, such as the murder of 37 Israelis in the coastal road massacre on March 11,1978, or the slaughter of 22 Israeli schoolchildren and four teachers in Ma'alot in May, 1974, are not mentioned. Students are not told that while Goldstein is reviled in Israel for his heinous act, Palestinian Arab perpetrators of mass terror attacks, like Palestinian terrorist Dalal Mugrabi, are held up as role models to be emulated by Palestinian children.
The word terrorism first appears in the timeline under the year 1988, when "Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemns all forms of terrorism and recognizes the state of Israel." The perpetrators of the Munich massacre are "Palestinian gunmen" and those who carried out the Entebbe hijacking are just "Palestinians."
The Oslo Accords, students are told, 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." Yet students are not informed about the Fatah Party Congress in 2009 where participants cheered as Palestinian Authority officials vowed to never recognize the Jewish State and reaffirmed their commitment to armed struggle. In addition, the messages emanating from Palestinian media, mosques and officials exhorting the public to oppose coexistence and to destroy Israel are ignored.
A complete and accurate account should not be sacrificed on the altar of evenhandedness and not taking sides. In light of the current challenges we face from upheaval in the Middle East, parents should object to their children being fed Pollyannaish revisions of reality.
The Newton School Committee needs to stop circling the wagons, admit there is a problem and start to address it with school administrators. Most of all, parents whose children attend the Newton public schools need to awaken to the seriousness of the problem and start demanding accountability.
Steven Stotsky is Senior Research Analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).