Comment | Do Israelis Teach Their Children To Hate?
Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 0:00 - 7 Comments
Civics exam question instructing students to “present two reasons” for Israeli girls not to “hang around with Arabs” (source: alternativenews.org)
One of the most common questions anyone who has ever written about Palestine or engaged in debate around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would regularly face is “Why do they [Palestinians] teach their children to hate?” This question is a favoured rhetorical tool of the pro-Israel propagandists because it neatly encapsulates a host of Orientalist and racist implications while never actually making them explicit.
By asking this question one is implying that Palestinians do not love their children the way every other culture loves theirs. The question dehumanises Palestinians and casts them as other and alien, in effect blaming them for their own oppression. Rafeef Ziadeh tackles and deconstructs that very question, while constructing an alternative more robust narrative in her spoken word piece ““We Teach Life, Sir””, culminating in the phrase “We Palestinians wake up every morning to teach the rest of the world life, sir”.
The question is largely based on misleading, and since proved false, reports by Israeli government sources and the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP). The Electronic Intifada described this group in an article entitled The Myth of Incitement in Palestinian Textbooks, published on 07/12/2010, as “a Jewish organization with links to extremist and racist Israeli groups that advocate settlement activities in the Palestinian territories, expulsion (transfer) of Palestinians from their homeland, and claims that Palestinians are all “terrorists” and that peace with them is not possible.”
These reports, which have been accepted at face value by proponents of Israel, particularly in the USA’s political and media spheres, claim that textbooks used in the occupied Palestinian territories are filled with anti-Semitic and inciting language. While these claims have been completely debunked by a variety of sources and have been shown to be pure fabrication, they keep being parroted and resurface whenever the occupation is questioned.
What is however missing from this discussion, but becoming more apparent, is that the reverse is actually true. The Israeli education system and Israeli textbooks are in fact filled with incitement and racist discourse. The latest example of this was a leaked civics preparatory examination question approved by the Israeli ministry of education. The text can be viewed on The Alternative Information Centre (AIC) news website.
The text of the question reads (translation used from AIC):
“The wives of rabbis published a letter calling on daughters of Israel not to hang around with Arabs. There are those who support this letter and those who think it’s not appropriate. Express your opinion about the letter. In your answer, present two reasons and explain using concepts you learned in civics.”
The most disturbing part of this story is that the sample answer provided takes the side of “the wives of rabbis” and provides racist arguments in support of that stance.
The sample answer reads as follows: “I support the letter of the wives of rabbis.
- If the daughters of Israel will hang around with Arabs, they are liable to have relationships and marry them. This would harm the Jewish majority of the state.
- If the daughters of Israel will hang around with Arabs, they are liable to fall victims of violence for nationalistic reasons. This would harm their right to life and security.”
The fact that the Education Ministry promotes openly racist stereotyping and discourse, particularly in a civics class, is indicative of the normalisation and prevalence of such forms of discourse within Israeli society at large and the education system in particular. This type of language and use of racist tropes is not uncommon in Israel. It is however, remarkable that it would be considered acceptable to use in an educational setting.
The Israeli political leaders commonly use these tropes to represent Palestinians as alien and other. Being referred to as “Arabs” as opposed to “Palestinians” is highly problematic, particularly when it is directed towards the Palestinian citizens of Israel. It is a strategy that aims at separating them and their struggle from that of the Palestinians within the occupied territories and the refugees and Diaspora Palestinians. It is also a way of diluting the specific Palestinian identity within a larger Arab identity, making it possible to argue that Palestinians can settle in any Arab country.
Another problem is the fact that “The daughters of Israel” is seen to represent only Jewish Israelis and not Palestinian citizens of Israel, even though around twenty per cent of Israelis are in fact Palestinian. Palestinians are thus marginalised and excluded. They are not seen to be legitimate citizens of the state of Israel. They are outsiders and alien to the state of Israel.
The third racist trope is the assumption of the threat of violence. Palestinians are seen as inherently violent. This assumption of violence is presented as fact.
The fourth and final trope is the representation of Palestinians as a demographic threat. There is nothing new in this statement, it is however extremely problematic. The portrayal of Palestinians as a demographic threat is very commonplace in Israeli political discourse. While this description can be traced back the early years of the Israeli state, It was first the Koenig Memorandum in 1976 and then Benjamin Netanyahu in 2003 who mainstreamed the use of the term in reference to the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
In 2003 the then interior minister, now prime minister, Netanyahu openly called the Palestinian citizens of Israel a demographic threat. He said: “If there is a demographic problem, and there is, it is with the Israeli Arabs who will remain Israeli citizens.” Since then, that language has become mainstream in Israeli political discourse and is regularly used to describe the native population.
The leaked civics examination question is not the only indicator that the Israeli education system is in fact filled with incitement and racist language. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli scholar, tracks the propaganda and racism in Israeli textbooks in her book “Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education”.
In an interview conducted by Alternate Focus last year she explains part of her findings in the book. She explains that Israeli schoolbooks tend to use and deploy strategies of racist discourse similar to the ones used to represent the third world in European textbooks and First Nations in US ones.
The first such strategy is that Palestinians in Israeli textbooks are completely absent. She says: “Palestinians are not represented at all in Israeli textbooks… In all the text books […] that I looked at you cannot find one photograph of a human being who is a Palestinian”
She continues by saying that “You never see a Palestinian doctor, or teacher, or child. And the only way they are represented are as the problems or threats… As terrorists… or primitive farmers… or in racist cartoons”, which is the second strategy to represent Palestinians. She explains that Palestinians are often referred to as “the Palestinian problem”, echoing the European anti-Semitic language prevalent in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, which described the Jewish population as “the Jewish Problem”.
She explains in the rest of the interview the various other strategies deployed by Israeli schoolbooks, which as a whole amount to a very disturbing picture of the Israeli education system. These strategies include representing the death of Palestinians “as the lesser evil if it brings any good consequences to us”. She also says that: “Israelis are really educated to worship death, to sacrifice themselves for the country”.
She also notes that the “demographic problem” is very prominent in these textbooks, in reference to the 1948 Nakba. The ethnic cleansing that took place in Palestine prior to and after the creation of Israel is represented as a just and necessary event in order to secure a Jewish majority in what had become Israel.
All these facts lead to the conclusion that if this deployment of incitement and racist discourse within the Israeli education system does not change, there is very little room for progress in resolving the plight of Palestinians.
What the mounting evidence shows is that the Israeli education system is a highly ideological system that institutionalises and normalises racist representations of the native population, i.e. Palestinians. In such a context, it seems more apt to reverse the perennial question and, instead, ask “why do Israelis teach their children to hate?”