A Newton South High School student in Massachusetts was alarmed recently when she received what appeared to her to be blatant anti-Israel propaganda from her World History teacher. This incident brings to the forefront once again the reality that, even at the pre-college level, the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is frequently contorted to reflect ideology rather than history, scholarship, and fact.
The high school’s World History teacher, Jessica Engel, had given a student a section on Palestinian women from the Arab World Notebook, which described the fact that “Over the past four decades, women have been active in the Palestinian resistance movement.”
What was their treatment at the hands of the "brutal Jewish state", for doing nothing more than ‘resisting?’ “Several hundred have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed by Israeli occupation forces since the latest uprising, ‘Intifada,’ in the Israeli occupied territories.”
The problem with this type of simplistic analysis as part a history curriculum, of course, is that it presents a one-sided, highly-biased view of the facts on the ground in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, completing ignoring some critical aspects of the conflict, namely, that “resistance” is a euphemism for terrorism, and that when Palestinian women are detained and arrested by Israeli defense forces it is a result of their actions, often successful, to murder Jews as part of the campaign to extirpate Israel.
In fact, the Arab World Notebook, the teaching tool used by Ms. Engel for this class, has already been discredited as a legitimate part of any history curriculum, precisely because its primary purpose is to whitewash the negative aspects of Arab and Muslim history while simultaneously assigning blame for the region’s pathologies on the colonialism, imperialism, the West, and Israel specifically.
A 2005 report on the Arab World Studies Notebook written by the American Jewish Committee, for example, “Propaganda, Proselytizing, and Public Education,” found that while the purported intent of the publication was to create “sympathetic views of the Arabs and Muslim religion in the American classroom,” the end product of the guide was to present “historical distortion as well as uncritical praise, whitewashing, and practically proselytizing.”
More relevant to the recent incident in Newton, the skewed view of the history and present-day politics of the Middle East as outlined in the guide “appears largely designed to advance the anti-Israel and propagandistic views of the Notebook’s sponsors, the Middle East Policy Council . . . and Arab World and Islamic Resources . . . .”
“While the Notebook pays lips service to presenting “different points of view,” the report concluded, “it provides only an Arab perspective . . . on Jerusalem, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the conflict between Western and traditional Muslim values.”
Teaching history with a political or ideological agenda, of course, does not make for true education, precisely because it does not put issues into context, distorts movements and ideologies, and uses events and facts selectively to insure that one interpretation of history, and only one, is taught to impressionable students.
One of the “women active in the Palestinian resistance movement” that the text, The Arab World Studies Notebook adoringly refers to, Ahlam Tamimi, was just released from prison in the Shalit exchange. 15 people died in the bombing she arranged.
For instance, one of those “women active in the Palestinian resistance movement” that the Notebook so adoringly refers to, Ahlam Tamimi, was just released from prison as part of the grotesque exchange of some 1000 terrorists for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The Hamas-recruited, unrepentant, psychopathic Tamimi, who was responsible for the 2001 bombing of the Sbarrro pizzeria in Jerusalem in which fifteen Israeli men, women, and children were killed and 107 wounded, recently appeared on TV and was asked whether she felt regret for having murdered innocent civilians while they ate pizza. "No,” she boasted, “Why should I feel sorry?"
Asked in the interview if she would repeat her murderous actions again, she unhesitatingly asserted, “Yes.” “I do not regret what I did.” Tamimi had also ghoulishly proclaimed that in a 2006 interview.
The AJC report also found that the Notebook “consistently distorts facts, applies the inappropriate and invidious paradigm of ‘colonialism,’ and brings emotion-laden poetry and short stories of victimization as the predominant voice of Palestinian culture. One of the writers critiqued in the report, for example, is the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, whose poem, “Identity Card,” is included in the Notebook, and ends with the genocidal lines, “The usurper’s flesh will be my food/ Beware—beware—of my hunger/and my anger!”
Whether Darwish’s cannibalistic references to consuming Israeli flesh—that is, murdering Jews as a necessary and inevitable by-product of the so-called occupation of Muslim lands—is appropriate, or even relevant, content for a history class may be debated; but it certainly suggests how history can be inverted to suit the ambitions of ideologues promoting one point of view in which Israelis are oppressive, brutal, in-human, murderous occupiers and thieves, and Palestinians are guiltless victims who passively ‘resist’ an unjust occupation by an insidious Zionist regime eager to spill Arab blood.
It has been much publicized that North American college campuses are also currently infected with this same radical anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, promulgated by the identical strain of politicized history and propaganda that animates the Arab Studies Notebook.
One would hope that a new generation of high school and college graduates—who enter the world as journalists, politicians, diplomats, professors, even parents—would not have been poisoned during their earlier education with distortions about Israel and its history, that young people do not learn about the Middle East by seeing only one side of history and leave school despising, distrusting, and vilifying a nation for no other reason than it happens to be lived in by Jews.