As we witness the dramatic transformation of Arab states from bitter enemies to peace partners with Israel, a generation of American students is being indoctrinated in the opposite direction by teachers promoting a retrogressive version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An example of this is found in a controversial course taught at Newton North High school called the “Middle East, Asia and Latin America” (MEALA) course. Despite public dissent over the perceived radical agenda of the teacher who created the course, school officials refuse to enact oversight procedures to ensure that students receive an accurate treatment of the topic and are not subjected to indoctrination.
The MEALA course was conceived by David Bedar, an outspoken history teacher who apparently sees nothing wrong with using a public school classroom to promote his political viewpoint. The course came to light after the discovery in 2018 that Bedar had also organized a Middle East Day at Newton North High School and invited an advocate of the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) to address students without allowing informed rebuttal. This reignited a longstanding controversy over Newton’s teaching of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
CAMERA’s review of the MEALA course materials used in the 2019-2020 school year reveals an absence of mainstream historians and a reliance on politically tainted accounts that distort the history of the conflict. As a result, the course fails to provide a straightforward factual account of the conflict’s history. Instead students are fed inaccurate accounts of the history of the conflict, distortions of the basis of Zionism and falsely benign depictions of Palestinian intentions.
Indigenous vs. Colonizer
Bedar promotes a version of the conflict that favors Palestinian arguments and diminishes Jewish claims. A crucial element to this skewed version is the claim that the Palestinians, and not the Jews, are the indigenous people to the land.
- Students are fed a formulaic account in which Israel is portrayed as the colonizer/aggressor and the Palestinians as the indigenous victims of this aggression.
- Students are encouraged to accept that a distinct Palestinian homeland pre-existed Zionist settlement and was dismantled by Jewish aggression. An examination of this illusory past is provided by Benny Morris, “The War on History,” Jewish Review of Books, Spring 2020.
- The historic presence of Jews on the land is diminished to reinforce the notion that the Arabs are indigenous and the Jews are invaders.
Sources used in the MEALA course promote each of these key elements of the Palestinian account.
For example, the narrator of one of the assigned films from Brown University’s Choices program tells students “Israel is a foreign colonizer and the Palestinians a colonized people…” The film narrator, Sreema Mitter, then offers an anti-historical summary of the conflict, stating that
the Arabs are not fundamentally antisemitic or barbaric… or that they want the Jews thrown into the sea. That’s not at all it. They just don’t want to be thrown out of their land… (The Arabs) thought (the Jews) would come and live side by side with them… There were a lot of Zionists who felt that there was going to be coexistence and that the land of Israel did not have to be this exclusive thing that would require throwing out the people who live there. Those Zionists lost out, the other Zionists decided that Israel had to be a state for the Jews and only for the Jews.” (Sreema Mitter, What are some common misunderstandings about the Middle East, Brown Choices Program)
This account inverts the actual positions of the two sides.
Contrary to Mitter’s denial, the Arabs did threaten to throw the Jews into the sea, choosing war in 1947-1948 to extirpate the nascent Jewish state. Evidence of anti-Jewish sentiment rife among Arabs and their capacity to descend into barbarism is readily found in the pogrom of 1929, in the wartime collaboration of Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini with the Nazis and in the well-documented antisemitic utterances and incitements to violence of contemporary Palestinian leaders and Palestinian media.
Mitter’s contention that the Palestinians were “thrown out of their land ” misrepresents a complex situation during the 1947-1949 war in which Arabs fled for different reasons and the majority who did so were not expelled by the Jews (see Efraim Karsh’s “Palestine Betrayed” for an in-depth examination and enumeration of the Arab flight.) Mitter conceals that it was the surrounding Arab states who confined the Palestinians to refugee camps and who rejected UN Resolutions seeking a peaceful settlement of the conflict in 1947, 1949 and 1967. And it is the Palestinian leadership who rebuffed peace overtures in 2000 and 2008 because they refuse to peacefully coexist with the Jewish state.
Furthermore, contrary to Mitter’s assertions that Israel is only a state for the Jews, Israel has Arab citizens, while the Palestinians refuse to allow any Jews to reside within the boundaries of their jurisdiction.
The MEALA course emphasizes the larger Arab population in Palestine in comparison to the Jews at the start of the modern Zionist movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. Erased from this narrative are three millennia of Jewish history, during which the land’s identity became closely intertwined with its Jewish inhabitants. The Jews alone established sovereign states several times spanning hundreds of years on the land.
The course does not delve into the enduring Jewish religious attachment to the land and the patrimonial claims in the Bible. There is no mention that foreign conquerors separated by centuries, from Cyrus, to Alexander, to the Romans, acknowledged the Jewish claim to the land. Even the fact that the Jewish people repeatedly returned to their homeland to re-assert sovereignty is not mentioned in the course materials. It ignores or consigns to myth the vast evidence of Jewish presence on the land that preceded Arab and Islamic conquest.
Nor does the course acknowledge the continuing presence of Jews on the land. Instead, the biased account rendered in the course’s only textbook falsely states that the Jews were severed from the land in the first century CE. It is clear from what follows in the text that this distortion is intended to seed doubt about the connection of contemporary Jews to the land.
The course ignores the drastic depopulation that occurred over centuries of neglect under Turkish rule. According to various sources that have attempted to enumerate the population of the land over the centuries, by the late 19th century, the residual population was a fragment of what it had been prior to the Islamic conquest.
The MEALA course vaults over this long history of population decline in order to select the ethnic population breakdown as it existed at the dawn of the 20th century as the baseline for assessing fair land apportionment going forward. In fact, this chosen time period featured a historically unrepresentative ethnic demography due to the overall diminished population, especially its Jewish component.
Narrowing the Scope of the Conflict
As a consequence of the course’s focus on this major element of the Palestinian narrative, other crucial elements are relegated to insignificance or are ignored entirely. Students are discouraged from thinking critically and more expansively about the conflict.
For example, a once sizable Jewish population residing throughout the Middle East was compelled to flee to Israel. The 850,000 Jews who fled from their homes and went mainly to Israel exceeds the number of Palestinian Arab refugees from 1947-48. A PowerPoint presentation by David Bedar for the course mentions Jewish refugees only fleetingly. None of the films and assigned readings delve into this issue.
Nor are broader geographic considerations brought into the discussion. For example, Arabs, of whom the Palestinians are a subset, control territory that is 600 times larger than Israel. Students are not asked to discuss how this geographic reality weighs upon demands that Israel cede portions of its limited land.
There appears to be no discussion or exploration of how a return to the pre-1967 armistice lines leaves Israel vulnerable to attack.
An inversion of how Israel and its antagonists are portrayed is accomplished by narrowing the focus from the broader Arab and Islamic war on Israel to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students are not told that Arab propagandists intentionally recast the Arab war on Israel as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the 1967 war in order to portray Israel and not the Arabs as the belligerent. Students do not learn of the repeated Israeli offers of Palestinian statehood to achieve a peaceful resolution to the conflict — and Palestinian rejection of those offers without even making counter-proposals.
Omitting Antisemitism and the Religious Component of Conflict
Anti-Jewish bigotry is a core feature of the conflict that makes it so unique and longstanding. Absent from the course materials is a frank discussion about how Palestinian schools, mosques and media, vilify Jews and nourish a culture of vengefulness. Exemplifying Bedar’s failure to delve deeply into Palestinian animosity towards Israel is his perfunctory dismissal of the religious component as a secondary matter in his Powerpoint presentation. In doing so, he can readily steer students into accepting his view of the conflict as a conventional land dispute between two competing nationalist movements. Bedar then proceeds to render Zionist claims to the land less persuasive by omitting significant portions of the historic record.
A recurring characteristic of purveyors of the biased account favored by Bedar, is the tendency to minimize the role of Palestinian political and religious leader Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini in shaping the Palestinian national movement. Students learn little or nothing about his role in fomenting anti-Jewish violence during the 1920s-1930s, or about his collaboration with Nazi Germany during World War II.
In his lengthy Powerpoint presentation covering the history of the conflict, Bedar includes one slide of the Mufti’s meeting with Hitler, and it is unclear how he presents this to the class. What is clear, however, is that the slide presentation immediately shifts its focus onto the violent activities of those described as Jewish terrorists during and immediately after World War II and the Holocaust. Bedar devotes several graphic slides to this message in comparison to the single slide of the Mufti.
Amplification of rare violence by marginalized Jewish groups, while minimizing or explaining away the exhortations to violence by the central Palestinian leadership exemplifies the distortion embedded in the account that Bedar passes on to students.
By tossing aside anti-Jewish bigotry and crucial religious context and by portraying the Arabs as the indigenous people, Bedar’s presentation of the dispute conforms to a familiar template in which the Jews, cast in the role of European colonialists, usurp the land from its indigenous people and force upon them an unfair agreement. According to this partisan narrative, the Arabs could not accept such unfair apportionment of land. In the same vein, the newly declared Jewish state forced out most of its Arab population and has made life intolerable for Palestinians living in adjacent territories that it later captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. In response to such ostensibly unjust treatment, Palestinian ‘resistance’ (violence) is essentially justified as understandable.
The extent to which Bedar’s distorted portrayal of the conflict has become obsolete in the Middle East itself can be seen by comparing it with an article recently published in the United Arab Emirates. In this article, published in the UAE daily, Al-Ittihad, Salim Hamid writes,
“Our problem in the Arab world is our mindset and our hatred of the Jews. We have failed to learn the lesson of history, when other nations before us expelled their Jewish citizens…
“This hatred for the Jews did not begin with the establishment of the State of Israel. It is an ideology that is still disseminated in the books that teach our heritage, which reflect the personal fatwas of bygone eras, and were suited to those times which lacked the openness of today. This hatred will therefore continue to exist, so long as our heritage [text]books continue to incite hatred against the Jews, as early as elementary school.
“A fundamental change to educational programs across Arab countries is required: all inciting elements should be erased, the language of tolerance should be fortified, and any fanaticism of any particular school of thought or ideology should be avoided – because hatred is an infectious disease which negatively affects societies and both simple and learned folk…” (https://www.memri.org/reports/uae-writer-arab-countries-expulsion-jews-was-disastrous-mistake)
The Gatekeepers is one of two films shown in the classroom that explore the topic of Israeli self-criticism and self-doubt over the measures taken to protect themselves (the other film not discussed in detail here, Encounter Point, also fails to show any parallel exploration of a Palestinian role in or responsibility for the situation).
The Gatekeepers exemplifies a longstanding problem with the Newton schools’ handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students are misled into seeing the core problem as the Israeli government’s refusal to negotiate in good faith. Students are not informed that it is Palestinian leaders – not Israeli leaders – who refuse to budge from their maximal demands and demand acceptance of these as preconditions to any negotiations. Viewers who are knowledgeable about recent history, might recognize the film as a critique of mainstream Israeli politics coming from the political left. American high school students, however, who are unlikely to be familiar with the film’s political context would not likely understand that the film is not an objective one, but was created by a film-maker who chose to feature only those officials who would lend weight to his own fault-finding perspective of Israel.
The film fails to convey the scope of the terrorist campaign that engulfed Israel from 2000-2004 which led to the imposition of intrusive measures affecting Palestinians. American students will not recall its horrific apogee culminating in a series of suicide bombings in March 2002 that killed over 100 civilians, including 30 elderly Jews celebrating Passover. It was this escalation in carnage that compelled reluctant Israeli political leaders to impose the measures criticized in the film.
The film shows live scenes of Jews expressing extreme religious and ideological views and includes graphic clips of Israeli military actions. This contrasts with a few still-photos of Palestinian suicide bombings.
But students are not shown examples of the societal and government-sanctioned hatred expressed by Palestinians. Concealed from the students is the evidence of worsening Palestinian radicalization. Students are not shown the disturbing trend of naming public squares, summer camps and schools after terrorists who took part in massacres. For example, they are not informed about the public veneration of the young female terrorist, Dalal Mugrabi, whose participation in the massacre of 38 Israelis, including 13 children, on a commuter bus made her into a heroic icon in Palestinian society. Nor do they see the TV programs aired on state-run Palestinian television urging young girls to emulate Mugrabi’s act.
There is no discussion of the thousands of potentially lethal attacks that Israeli security measures have thwarted since the measures were imposed. Nor does the film address Palestinian culpability for their current predicament.
As historian Gil Troy observed in his review of the film:
My 16-year-old son noticed that the audience reacted viscerally to descriptions of the beating deaths of two Palestinian terrorists during the horrific Bus 300 scandal, but seemed blasé about photos of suicide-bombing carnage.
Troy concluded that the security officials’
cherry-picked excerpts to tell a simplistic, black-and-white, one-sided story, blaming Israel and robbing Palestinians of their responsibility, culpability and dignity… I know of no Palestinian movies agonizing about similar dilemmas. (Jerusalem Post, April 30, 2013)
Students are not made aware that while Israeli society carries on a vigorous debate over what must be done to achieve peace, Palestinian leaders have refused to prepare their population for compromise.
In fact, none of the MEALA course materials depict the disturbing phenomenon of the veneration by Palestinians of ‘martyrs’ (individuals who carried out terrorist attacks). Fed exaggerated images of Jewish extremism and mainly benign images of Palestinians, Newton students are easily misled to accept simplistic and highly deceptive formulations.
There are numerous documentary films that reveal the tragedies and agony Israelis suffered from Palestinian terrorism. Films like Décryptage (2002), Suicide Killers (2006), Road to Jenin (2003) and The Impact of Terror (2004) might provide another aspect of the conflict that would fill in the contextual gaps. But such films exploring Israel’s predicament are not included in the curriculum.
Misrepresenting the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Mainstream
The MEALA course avoids delving into the toxic beliefs and uncompromising attitudes inculcated into Palestinians by Palestinian Authority leaders, media and schools. Instead a deceptive inversion of the two sides is promulgated. Several sources, including the previously discussed Youtube video from the Brown University Choices Program and the Middle East Islamic World Reader textbook depict Zionism as seeking to expunge the Arabs from the land and expropriate their land, while Palestinians are depicted as simply reactive and seeking peaceful coexistence.
Several of Bedar’s materials draw a misleading distinction between the religious hardliners of Hamas in Gaza and the more secular Palestinians of the West Bank, who are depicted as only seeking to end Israeli occupation. The message conveyed is that there’s a moral equivalence between the current Israeli government’s hardline approach and Hamas’ rule in Gaza. The PA and mainstream Palestinians are depicted as caught somewhere in the middle.
In fact, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank share the same goal of eliminating Israel. Students are not told that the “secular” Fatah Party, from which the Palestinian leadership is drawn, remains unreconciled to peaceful coexistence. PA leaders have consistently made it clear that referring to “two states” is not the same as accepting two states for two people — a Palestinian state for Palestinians and an Israeli state for Jews. On the contrary. In a television interview, former PA Foreign Minister/chief negotiator Nabil Shaath made it clear that the formula of two states for two peoples is entirely unacceptable to the Palestinian Authority, explaining:
They can describe Israel itself as a state for two peoples, but we will be a state for one people. The story of “two states for two peoples” means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this – not as part of the French initiative and not as part of the American initiative. (ANB TV, July 13, 2011)
And PA President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly categorically rejected any recognition of a Jewish state. In fact, President Abbas is prone to extreme prejudicial rhetoric.
An example of this occurred in a June 2016 speech to the European Union by current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas claimed Israel intended to wipe out the Palestinians by engineering pathogens and poisoning water supplies.
An investigation by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education examined the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish composition of Palestinian Authority textbooks and found that the most recent revisions of the PA’s textbooks are more extreme than they have ever been. According to the lead reviewer, “ideas of peace [with Israel] have been entirely removed.” Palestinian children receive the message that “death is a privilege” and that their lives are worthless outside of the struggle against Israel.
Teaching History through Journalism and Excluding Mainstream Historians
The newspaper articles that Bedar assigns to his students often reinforce his political perspective. Many are from The New York Times, a newspaper with a pronounced bias against Israel (See CAMERA’s comprehensive analysis of the newspaper’s coverage). The newspaper is especially antagonistic toward long-serving Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
No balancing journalistic accounts are provided, despite the wide availability of such accounts by notable commentators (such as the aforementioned Fouad Ajami). Instead, in one that purports to be balanced, Bedar presents cursory versions of ‘parallel’ Palestinian and Israeli accounts of Israel’s establishment. Students are asked to judge which account is the “real truth.” But the problem is that the students have not been provided with a complete and factual account that would enable them to knowledgeably determine which account better reflects the truth.
When Bedar presents the Israeli opinion, disproportionate emphasis is given to a far-left perspective that is critical of Israel. For example, he assigns an article by opinion columnist and commentator Chemi Shalev from Haaretz, with a circulation of barely 4% in Israel and known for its critical stance toward Zionism and Israeli policies. It faults the Trump Administration’s peace plan, mocks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as President Trump’s “bridegroom” and insinuates that both leaders were driven by base motives. Such a partisan piece does not advance student understanding of the issues.
The above-mentioned gaps and inherent bias in Bedar’s depiction of the conflict could be partially addressed by providing students with a complete and accurate chronological account of the disposition of the land over the centuries and an unbiased recap of the events surrounding Israel’s establishment. However, the textbook used by Bedar, The Middle East and Islamic World Reader ( Edited by Marvin Gettleman and Stuart Schaar, Grove Press 1997), presents a decidedly Arabist perspective.
Where are the mainstream historians who are not anti-Israel polemicists or advocates of the Palestinian side of the conflict?
There is a striking absence of mainstream historians whose methodical scholarship has withstood critical scrutiny. As a consequence, when students read important original documents, like the Balfour Declaration, key UN Resolutions, and the Hamas Charter, they must assess these without historical context or guidance from scholars who have studied the documents and their history and who could therefore help students accurately distill their meaning.
How does such an approach that fails to provide true balance and does not distinguish authoritative factual accounts from readily refuted accounts promote informed ‘critical thinking,’ a target outcome of Newton education?
Some of the assigned materials named in the FOIA request were not accessible. Our experience suggests that these are often the most troublesome.
The majority of the materials reinforce the teacher’s political agenda. This is especially the case for those materials given priority in the classroom. The inclusion of a few objective articles and opposing opinions does not compensate for the overwhelming unbalanced presentation of the underlying fundamentals of the conflict at the outset. This incomplete and misleading account is sustained by excluding the works of highly regarded scholars that document and detail the full history of the land and the modern-day conflict. Students are denied the eloquent prose of notable Arab-American professor and commentator Fouad Ajami and the insights of meticulous scholars like Bernard Lewis, Barry Rubin, Efraim Karsh and Martin Kramer. As a consequence of these shortcomings, the MEALA course still fails to give students a balanced account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Bedar has reacted to criticism of his materials as a personal attack, claiming critics were threatening academic freedom.
The problems described here contradict the Newton superintendent’s written assurances to parents that the school adequately vets its history course materials to ensure factual accuracy and inclusion of diverse views in order to promote informed critical thinking.
This misuse of the education process to promote a political agenda is enabled by school administrators and school committee members who have displayed indifference and sometimes, seemingly, contempt for the concerns of citizens.
A review of items assigned or used in the MEALA course provided by Newton in response to CAMERA’s FOIA request of February 2020:
I. Biased materials that are either inaccurate, lack context or misleading due to omission of important information:
- Max Fisher, “The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened,” The New York Times (Dec. 29, 2016)
Although this Times article is entitled “The Two-State Solution: What It Is and Why It Hasn’t Happened,” the author devotes not even a sentence to the rejection of multiple peace offers by Palestinian leaders. When asked why an article purporting to explain why the two-state solution hasn’t come to pass doesn’t even bother to mention any of these rejections, which are among the most important of reasons why there is not a Palestinian state today, the newspaper told CAMERA that “not everything can be in every story.”
The misstatement of the Palestinian position on two states for two peoples is perhaps more disturbing than any such omission. By telling readers the Palestinian Authority supports two states for two peoples, The New York Times didn’t just ignore an inconvenient truth. It actually reported the obverse of the truth. A complete critique of the article can be found here.
- Chemi Shalev, “Trump’s Peace Plan is Ludicrous, Dangerous and One-Sided,” Haaretz (Jan. 28, 2020)
This is a very one-sided critique from a newspaper that bitterly opposes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria (West Bank). The partisan political nature of the article is exemplified in the following quote:
In what might be described as a virtual putsch, Netanyahu accepted Trump’s peace plan lock, stock and barrel, without consulting his party or any of his cabinet colleagues and, more importantly, despite being constitutionally constrained as prime minister of an interim government – never mind his status as suspected criminal.
Using words like “putsch” and “criminal” demonstrate the hostility of this columnist toward Netanyahu. The rest of the article proceeds in a similar tone of contempt, contending for example that:
Trump and his peace plan talk the talk and walk the walk of Israeli hasbara, but pretend to be mortified when Palestinians refuse to engage.
This is a misleading statement, as the Palestinians have consistently refused to engage for years. The Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations confronted similar intractability from the Palestinian side.
- Unit 2 Review Timeline: The Middle East, 1948-1979 Answer Key
The timeline omits important information and contains factual errors.
- There is no information on the activities of Haj Amin al-Husseini from the 1920s through the 1930s. There is nothing on the 1929 pogroms he incited or the assassinations of Arab leaders inclined toward accommodation with the Jews.
- Husseini’s meeting with Hitler is mentioned but no further information is provided concerning his collaboration and active participation in the Nazi extermination of the Jews and his involvement in atrocities in Yugoslavia.
- The Arab rejection of the UN partition plan is not mentioned.
- The timeline states that the Palestinians view UN Resolution 194 as assuring their Right of Return, but fails to mention that the Arabs rejected the resolution because it stipulated that the returning refugees would have to agree to live in peace.
- It identifies the beginning of the settlements in the West Bank with the Likud party accession to power. That is incorrect, settlements had already begun under the Labor party.
- It incorrectly states that Jimmy Carter shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.
- ADDITIONAL INFORMATION is a densely worded handout that discusses a report by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace that reviews Palestinian Authority school textbooks. The study found anti-Western and anti-Semitic elements as well as suggestive support for suicide bombers.
This material could have been an opportunity for the teacher to delve more deeply into Palestinian cultural pathologies that present an enduring obstacle to any resolution of the conflict. However much of the write-up is devoted to the report’s critics who assert that the newer textbooks were an improvement over prior Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks and that Israel also had biased textbooks.
That assessment is not shared by Marcus Sheff, a UK-based reviewer of both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. Sheff describes Israeli textbooks as mainly presenting a “leftwing” perspective and confirmed that they discuss the Palestinians and their perspective of the ‘nakba’. Sheff assessed the Palestinian Authority textbooks to be far more problematic in their role of inculcating anti-Jewish beliefs.
While students who read this 33-line paragraph learn that Palestinian students are taught to view Jews as villains and reject accommodation, the write-up exaggerates problems in Israeli textbooks to make it appear that the teaching of hatred is as much a problem in Israeli textbooks as it is in Palestinian schoolbooks. This contention is not supported by any documentation.
- What are some common misunderstandings about the Middle East, Brown University’s The Choices Program (Dec. 7, 2017)
Several short videos featuring, Sreemati Mitter, who presents a biased and deceptive explanation of the conflict. She presents the Zionists as intransigent and unwilling to coexist with the Palestinians and the Palestinians willing to coexist. This is an inversion of the mainstream positions of each side. It is the Palestinians who have steadfastly refused to live in peace with the Jewish state, while Israel has Arab citizens who fully participate in Israeli society and politics.
“I think I alluded to some common misunderstandings, I think the first one is a tendency today to think of it (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) as a sort of intractable conflict between two sides that are roughly equal. I think that is essentially a misunderstanding of the imbalance of power between a colonizer and a colonized people… The Arabs are not fundamentally antisemitic or barbaric… or that they want the Jews thrown into the sea. That’s not at all it. They just don’t want to be thrown out of their land… (The Arabs) thought (the Jews) would come and live side by side with them… Their were a lot of Zionists who felt that there was going to be coexistence and that the land of Israel did not have to be this exclusive thing that would require throwing the the people who live there. Those Zionists lost out, the other Zionists decided that Israel had to be a state for the Jews and only for the Jews.”
- “What is the Middle East,” Brown University, The Choices Program.
It describes the United States as an “Imperial power.” It does not define what an imperial power is, but the United States is not an empire (the conventional description of imperial) and has no colonies in the Middle East and arguably anywhere. Its description of Zionism is narrow. It states that the “Zionism is based on the idea that Jews were destined to return to the territory from which they had been exiled by the Romans in the first century.” This statement is not accurate. There is plenty of historical evidence that many Jews continued to live on the land after the first century, although the population waxed and waned.
The Choices Program was extensively critiqued by independent academic analyst group, Verity Educate, “Middle East Curricula in Newton Public Schools,” September 2, 2014. Verity Educate provides a comprehensive list of factual errors, too long and detailed to enumerate here, that in their aggregate demonstrate an overall bias in the Program’s materials. The analysis is available on request by contacting Verity Educate.
- Gettleman, Marvin and Schaar, Stuart, “Arabs and Zionists Struggle over Palestine,” Middle East and Islamic World Reader, Grove Press, 2003, pp. 146-234.
The book is edited by two professors with pronounced leftist political orientation and favors the Palestinian historical account of “Palestine.” This includes unsubstantiated “facts.” For example the following statement on page 149:
“After remaining stable for centuries, the population of Palestine increased by several thousand as Jews established new Zionist settlements there during the last decades of the nineteenth century. By contrast over 90 percent of the Palestinian Arabs descended from families residing there for centuries and only about 8 percent arrived recently.”
The above statement contains falsehoods and half-truths with the intention of implying that the Palestinians are indigenous to the land and the Jews are not.
It fails to establish the large population presence of the Jews that existed for many centuries, predating the arrival of Arabs. The text later mentions the ancient Jewish kingdom, but states that the population was expelled and implies there was no further Jewish presence. This is ahistorical, as many Jews did remain, diminishing in number over the course of many centuries due to persecution and Ottoman neglect of the land.
- There is no evidence presented that the population of Palestine was stable for centuries prior to the late nineteenth century –in fact this statement is false; the population diminished greatly over the centuries of Ottoman rule before it began to rise again in the 19th
- The statement that contends that 90 percent of Palestinian Arabs descended from families residing there for centuries is unsupported. Several scholarly sources establish that the population growth of the Palestine Mandate over many decades was a result of continual inflow from the surrounding regions.
- Much of the resident population was semi-nomadic. Furthermore, there was no “Palestinian Arab” identity, making such a claim even more problematic. Arabs living in “Palestine” routinely identified as Southern Syrians and by other identifiers well into the 20th “Palestine” was not a defined entity under the Ottomans, its borders were later delineated by the British under the Mandate.
- The history presented of the role of Haj Amin al-Husayni–the Mufti– is distorted and sanitized. The pogrom of 1929 is portrayed as the result of a Jewish provocation rather than religious incitement by the Mufti. His role in collaborating with Hitler is similarly sanitized. There is no mention of his urging the Nazis to expand their program of exterminating the Jews to the Middle East or his direct intervention to block a deal that would have spared the lives of 1000 Jewish children in 1943.
- The textbook then presents copies of numerous important documents, some reproduced in their entirety, others with only certain key passages, relating to the British mandatory rule, the UN resolutions and later peace negotiations and agreements. These are important and useful, but require careful explanation and context. The overall bias of this textbook precludes such a balanced treatment.
- Encounter Point, a film produced by Ronit Avni and Julia Bacha, 2006
A critique of the film can be found here.
From the critique: The documentary attributes the root of the conflict to the “Palestinians struggle to end Israeli military occupation and create an independent state.” The emphasis on ending the “occupation” throughout the film mistakenly emphasizes June 1967, when Israel gained control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as the pivotal point of the conflict. It takes the position that peace will be achieved if Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 lines. But in fact, prior to Israel’s acquisition of these territories, Arabs repeatedly rejected peace with Israel and instead attacked the Jewish state in 1948 and 1967, and Jewish communities prior to statehood.
Through the glossy rhetoric of peace and reconciliation, Encounter Point deceptively advances a political agenda blaming Israel’s presence in the West Bank for the lack of peace and consequently encouraging its audience to pressure Israel to withdraw unilaterally to the insecure 1967 lines. This distorted understanding of how to attain peace impedes efforts to reach peace because it de-emphasizes the real stumbling blocks—Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state and continued glorification of terrorists.
- The Gatekeepers, a filmproduced by Dror Moreh, 2012
A critique of the film can be found here.
Israelis watching it will be in possession of the background information necessary in order to view the film in context. Israelis will know, for example, that three of the former Shin Bet heads interviewed took up political careers after their retirement from that organization, and hence will be capable of contextualising their words within the framework of their various political views and aspirations. Israelis will also be only too aware of the important context of the security situations which form the subject matter of the interviews, but which are not represented in this film because there is no need to tell Israelis involved in this internal conversation that, for example, they are regularly bombarded by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
An average audience member watching this program…would go away convinced that the peace process is a one-sided affair in which only Israelis have a part to play, that Israelis have no interest in making peace and that the ‘two state solution’ is not a majority consensus in Israeli society.
In his critical review of The Gatekeepers, “The Banality of Dror Moreh“, Dror Eydar contends the film wishes to show complexity, but doesn’t deliver. The world is presented in black and white, and the historical parts lack context: The Six-Day War. Palestinian population. Occupation. That’s it. There’s no discussion of our (the Jewish people’s) historical, religious and cultural connection as a people to those regions. Not a word about our claim to sovereignty there…
One of the film’s focal points is the murder of Rabin, but not as a failure of the GSA (Israeli security service); Moreh doesn’t ask inconvenient questions. Not about the GSA’s involvement, not about sending the agent Avishai Raviv, who was close to Yigal Amir (Rabin’s assassin); not about the dilemma of the operations of provocateurs among the population of settlers. The settlers are presented only in context of madness, irrationality and threat. The Jewish underground is shown as a representative stereotype of the settlement movement…
The second intifada is also presented in a similar way. Ami Ayalon justifies it, and there’s no mention that it was planned ahead by Arafat. No historical context…
Moreh chose to conclude the film with a very meaningful scene: Palestinian detainees is underpants. Here, too, there’s no explanation to their nakedness, which was due to the fear that they carry explosives on them. What remains in the viewers’ memory is the picture of Palestinians, that the Israeli mechanism of evil made them arbitrarily to strip and walk through.
- Politico, Meridith McGraw,“ ‘Never had a better friend’: Trump touts Israel record at Jewish gathering“(Dec. 12, 2019), states, “Recently Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opened a door to its potential annexation after he announced that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not necessarily illegal, bucking decades of State Department policy.”
Critique: The State Department doesn’t have a policy. It carries out the policy of the United States Government, which has not held the Israeli settlements to be illegal. The following article “Financial Times corrects editorial alleging 40 years US policy calling settlements illegal” discusses the background to this oft-repeated misrepresentation in detail.
- Bedar still uses a lengthy PPT classroom slide presentation he put together that CAMERA critiqued for its historical bias.
The presentation repeatedly returns to the theme of the disproportionate allotment of land to the Jews in the UN partition agreement in contrast to the greater “indigenous” Arab population in the Palestine Mandatory territory at the start of the Zionist movement in the late 1800s.
Bedar’s choice of a starting date to cite population figures in order to claim a disproportionate allotment of the land to the Jews is narrative-driven.
First, it does not take into account the vast and under-populated territory of the Middle East ruled by the Palestinians’ fellow Arabs.
Nor does it delve into the ¾ of the Mandate that was given to Jordan, leaving only ¼ of the territory for the Jews and Arabs west of the Jordan river to divvy up.
Nor does it convey the full history; for centuries, the land was home to a large Jewish population that was forcibly dispersed, persecuted and diminished by centuries of land neglect under Ottoman rule.
Only the Jews have ever established a sovereign homeland in the territory and have regarded the territory in such terms. A fact that is underscored by the British establishment of Mandatory Palestine’s boundaries along the lines of the historic Jewish homeland.
- An Israeli and a Palestinian Historical Account: Students are assigned two parallel historical accounts of Israel’s founding and the origin of the Palestinian refugee problem. The students are instructed to decide which account is the “real truth” and discern how well each account adheres to the facts. One account is by Yisrael Harel, a Jewish leader in Judea and Samaria, and the other by Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian Authority official. Such an approach can be useful and informative, but only if students are given access to reliable authoritative facts that enables them to discern which account is more firmly lodged in fact. The students have not been provided with this factual foundation.
- “Israel’s Netanyahu Indicted on Charges of Fraud, Bribery and Breach of Trust,” The New York Times (November 21, 2019). Although the reporting was reasonable, the Times is hostile to Netanyahu and slants its coverage to put the Israeli Prime Minister in the worst light. The course includes no articles on Netanyahu from a news source favorable to the Prime Minister.
II. Materials that provide balance and/or are reasonably objective and factual:
- Isabel Kershner, “Are West Bank Settlement Illegal? Who Decides? ,” The New York Times (Nov. 19, 2019)
A critique of the argument put forward by the piece can be found here. The article offers a concise account that appears balanced. But it lacks historical context. It does not mention the clear opinions expressed by the framers of UN Security Council 242 that Israel has as much right to settle this territory as it does to settle pre-1967 Israel.
- Blake Flayton, “On the Frontlines of Progressive Anti-semitism,” The New York Times (Nov. 14, 2019)
A gay and progressive college student, Blake Flayton, writes of his discovery that widespread support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in the Progressive movement is a mask for bigotry against Jews.
The following brief articles were reasonably balanced in their handling of the specified topics.
- “The New Hamas Charter Would Name “Occupiers” not “Jews” as the Enemy“, The New York Times (March 9, 2017)
- “As Netanyahu Fails to Form a Government Benny Gantz Gets a Second Chance to Try” The New York Times (October 21, 2019)