Tuesday, 5 February 2013
A Few First Impressions of the Israeli-Palestinian Textbook Study
We have yet to thoroughly comb through the new study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks, but meanwhile, here are a few first impressions.
The Framing (or Spin)
There are the findings, and then there are the ways they are presented. Notable, though hardly surprising, is the way the The New York Times chose to frame the study. For the newspaper it tends to be all about Israel looking bad, and its report in this case is no different: The study, they tell readers, is about Israel being wrong and Palestinians being vindicated. Its headline reads, "Academic Study Weakens Israeli Claim That Palestinian School Texts Teach Hate." (The article's URL, which refers to the study "belying" Israeli claims, suggests an earlier headline may have been even stronger and more off-base in its conclusions.
The newspaper could have more accurately reflected the contents of the researchers' press release, and of the study itself, if it chose any number of other headlines. One example: "Study Shows Israeli Improvement in State Textbooks; Ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian Texts Lag."
The study makes clear that "When the distribution or balance of positive, neutral and negative characterizations are compared, the Israeli State school books have a significantly less negative overall balance in characterization of the other than the do the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox (difference significant at p=.004) and the Palestinian books (p<.0001)."
Israel's state textbooks come out ahead in the study, but perhaps not nearly as much as they should. There are serious questions about the way passages with clearly distinct qualities are unfairly lumped together. At first glance, at least, it appears that moderate, factual statements in Israeli texts are considered equal to much more extreme statements in Palestinian texts, while positive, humanizing assertions about Palestinians in Israeli textbooks are lumped with sterile passages praising biblical figures revered by both Jewish and Muslims.
For example, under the heading "Examples of negative descriptions of the acts of the other," a straightforward description of the Farhoud, a massacre of Jews in Iraq, is presented as being akin to a claim that "the Zionist entity" was engaged in "imperialism" and in "exterminating" the Palestinian people.
Likewise, the "positive characterizations of the other" in Israeli books appear to be significantly more real, contemporary, and humanizing, whereas the one example the report provides of a positive characterization by Palestinians of the other is one about divine books being revealed to Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. The study does not point out that all of these figures are considered prophets in Islam, which makes the classification of them as "the other" much more dubious.
Other examples of the authors sloppily lumping passages with distinctly different qualities, and equating straightforward factual descriptions with ideological or even flatly inaccurate assertions appears, at first glance, to be all too common in the study.
More to come...
Posted on 02/05/2013 9:24 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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