How German schoolbooks present Israel
How German schoolbooks present Israel

Many German schoolbooks present Israel negatively

The more studies appear on anti-Semitism in Germany, the darker the picture becomes. This results from the many facets of hatemongering in the country against Jews and Israel. A new study addresses the structural elements of anti-Semitism in German schools. Its authors, are Samuel Salzborn of the Center for Research of anti-Semitism at the Technical University in Berlin and Alexandra Kurth from the Justus Liebig University in Giessen. The two universities published the study, which they call a ‘stocktaking’, jointly.

A prime conclusion of the study is that distorted schoolbooks are a crucial  problem. Many of them are pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. These deficiencies are one of the key topics of the study. It often quotes a German-Israeli schoolbook commission which investigated between 2010 - 2015 schoolbooks on geography, history and politics in the two countries.  

The part of the study concerning schoolbooks focuses on three issues. The first concerns the question of whether and how anti-Semitism is discussed. The authors state that in many schoolbooks the Shoah is mentioned as just one among a variety of aspects of national-socialism. By linking anti-Semitism exclusively to national-socialism, the connection with the long pre-history of hate mongering against the Jews as well as that of post-Holocaust anti-Semitism is diminished.  

Dealing with the subject of the hate of Jews in this way leads to another misrepresentation. It gives the impression that anti-Semitism belongs exclusively to the political right. Even there it is seen mainly as a historic event. This conceals the anti-Semitism in the political left and in society's mainstream. The authors stress that anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem but that of antisemites. Such hatred cannot be explained from the history and culture of Judaism, but only from the projections of antisemites on the Jews.

The second problematic issue concerning German school books is the way Judaism is presented. Salzborn and Kurth assert that it is crucial to represent the history, culture and religion of Judaism as parts of European and German history as well as of the country’s present. They believe that in this way one can immunize ignorant youngsters against prejudices before they become aware of them.

The third issue concerns how Israel is presented in German schoolbooks. This is the more important as current anti-Semitism is first of all directed against Israel. The authors note that Israel is often only mentioned in the context of the conflict with the Palestinians. They add that there are cases of erroneous misrepresentation of names in geography books. Also, military actions in reaction to Palestinian terrorism are often presented as equally problematic as terrorism. The long history of Arab exterminatory anti-Semitism is concealed. There is hardly ever mention that Israel is the only democracy in the Near East, a pluralistic society, a country of migrants and relevant to major technologies in the world. The German-Israeli commission stressed that Israel should be presented in schoolbooks as a multifaceted society and not with one-sided bias against the country.

A key criterion German schoolbooks have to meet is the “Beutelsbacher consensus.” This states that controversial issues should be mentioned as such. Instead, Israel is however often presented as only negative and the Palestinians as only positive. The authors of the study mention an example of suggestive questions in the books: whether pupils approve of the destruction of the houses of “alleged” perpetrators of suicidal attacks. The quotation marks on “alleged” are part of the book’s question. The authors wonder whether it would not be useful to create a special schoolbook on anti-Semitism.

All this is not new. The issue was already addressed in 2011 in an article by Gideon Böss in the German daily, Die Welt. It was titled “Obsolete, distorted and totally one sided.” He wrote that the three major German textbook publishers Cornelsen, Westermann and Klett present Israelis as perpetrators and Palestinians as victims.

The German authorities fight anti-Semitism and publicize those efforts. At the same time, they promote anti-Semitism. Two of these negative policy aspects are well known. One concerns immigration policy. The governments of the two leading parties, Christian Democrats and Socialists, have welcomed immigrants from Muslim countries among which there are hundreds of thousands of antisemites. A second important aspect of Germany’s antisemitic policy is the heavily anti-Israeli record of the country’s votes in the United Nations’ General Assembly. The current study reveals a third area - the approval of schoolbooks which present Israel negatively and the terrorism-rewarding and corrupt Palestinians positively.  

Other chapters of the study address the problems concerning pupils, the poor information teachers receive during their education about themes such as national-socialism and the Shoah, the failures of school principals and school supervising bodies.

The authors state that sometimes problems of anti-Semitism in schools cannot be solved in a pedagogical way. They do not exclude that in certain cases school principals should call the police to intervene.

The number of Jewish pupils in German schools is at most one or two in a thousand. The fact that a specific study has to be devoted to problems caused to such a small minority is yet another indication of how dysfunctional German society is toward Jews.