Success: PBS Amends “Dying to Be a Martyr” Lesson Plan

Last month CAMERA wrote about PBS’ online lesson plan for high school students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, titled “Dying to Be a Martyr.” The lesson plan included video clips of interviews with three young Palestinian men who either committed terror bombings against Israelis or who planned to commit them. Yet, it did not include any denunciation of terror. In addition, both the videos and the written materials that were included were extremely one-sided, prompting students to sympathize with the Palestinian side. Even though its own (now-former) Ombudsman Michael Getler had previously criticized the lesson plan, PBS had neither removed it nor altered the content.

Many CAMERA members wrote to PBS, and the network took notice. Thanks to CAMERA letter-writers, PBS has now added a fourth video to the lesson plan – a three-minute clip from a PBS NewsHour report about the 2014 Har Nof synagogue attack. The clip shows the shocking, bloody aftermath of the attack, as well as Hamas celebrating the attack. It also includes then-President Obama condemning the attack unequivocally, and then-Secretary Kerry calling on Palestinians to restrain incitement.

PBS has also added the following statement near the beginning of the lesson plan: “We encourage teachers who use this lesson to strongly condemn terror and any assertion that it is ever appropriate.”

The lesson plan is vastly improved and CAMERA applauds PBS for these steps. There are, however, still problems remaining. Moreover, the NewsHour clip, while overall a good addition, has problems as well.

The clip shows then-Secretary of State John Kerry condemning the Palestinian Authority’s failure to restrain incitement, and we learn from anchor Judy Woodruff that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned this incitement as well. Yet, both the NewsHour report and an accompanying student handout include the Palestinian claim that “Jewish assailants” were responsible for the hanging death of a Palestinian bus driver shortly before the Har Nof attack. There was no credible evidence for such a claim, and forensic examiners concluded that the death was a suicide. The competing claim that the death was a homicide relied on the theory that the driver was “sprayed with some anaesthetizing agent,” but even if that were the case, there was no evidence that pointed to Jewish assailants. PBS could have highlighted the baseless claim as an example of the very incitement from which, earlier in the segment, Secretary Kerry asked the Palestinians to desist. Instead, first the NewsHour, and then the lesson plan, treat it as a credible claim.

Similarly, when we see, in the same segment, PA President Mahmoud Abbas condemn “Israeli aggression on the holy sites, like burning mosques and churches,” PBS NewsHour and the PBS lesson plan both fail to inform viewers that Israel does no such thing, and that in cases of arson, perpetrators – regardless of religion or ethnicity – are arrested. This statement, by Abbas himself, is, again, exactly the type of incitement that Kerry and Netanyahu condemned. PBS, however, let it pass as a legitimate accusation and failed to show any examples of the incitement that is rampant in Palestinian media.

In contrast to Israel’s arrests of perpetrators of attacks, the Palestinian Authority pays Palestinian attackers. There is still no mention in the lesson plan of the salaries paid to terrorists and their families, including the families of the Har Nof attackers. Without this information, students still cannot fully accomplish the plan’s stated goal of “explain[ing] why individuals and groups sometimes turn to tactics of terrorism.” They also will not understand why they are shown a clip of the Israeli Prime Minister saying he will destroy the terrorists’ homes – a means of deterrence to counteract the financial incentive supplied by the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, there is also still no mention of the Palestinian Authority’s rejection of multiple opportunities to create a Palestinian state, or of the multiple times Israel was attacked by Arab armies. Students are still kept in the dark about the fact that Israel came to control the West Bank only after Jordan used the area as a base of attack. The problems with the written materials that prompt students to incorrectly conclude that the UN’s proposed partition was unfair to Arabs and that encourage the students to sympathize with the Arab side remain.

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