Mitchell Bard 
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© Mitchell Bard 2016

Who’s Monitoring American Textbooks?

A lot of attention has been given to the negative content of textbooks in the Palestinian Authority vis-a-vis Jews and Israel and the implications this has for shaping the attitudes of young Palestinians. Meanwhile, little attention is being paid to how children in the United States are being indoctrinated and the impact of material in textbooks here on the attitudes of Americans toward Jews and Israel.

Almost 10 years ago I surveyed high school history texts and was appalled by what I found. The executive summary of “Rewriting History in Textbooks” states:

The anti-Israel bias is usually a result of factual inaccuracy, oversimplification, omission and distortion. Common errors include getting dates of events wrong, blaming Israel for wars that were a result of Arab provocation, perpetuating the myth of Islamic tolerance of Jews, minimizing the Jewish aspect of the Holocaust, apologizing for Arab autocrats, refusing to label violence against civilians as terrorism and suggesting that Israel is the obstacle to peace.

I had hoped that the Jewish community would take the issue of secular education about the Middle East, Israel, and the Jews seriously and not only monitor the material that was being produced and distributed in classrooms around the country, but also be proactive in approaching publishers and other providers of educational resources to offer technical expertise and information that would accurately relate events. Unfortunately, this has not occurred and the community continues to react in an ad hoc fashion only after especially egregious cases come to light.

Before speaking at a JCPA workshop on Israel advocacy last week, someone brought to my attention a series of packets being distributed in schools in California that were blatantly anti-Israel and full of distortions about the Middle East and Jewish history. I also learned that part of the post 9/11 education of students is focusing on teaching about Islam. This effort parallels the campaign by the Bush Administration and the media to counter the day to day accounts in the news of radical Muslims who are committed to hatred and violence in the name of Islam with a propagandistic portrayal of a benign Islam.

The educational market is huge. Materials are distributed to libraries and schools at all levels. Besides texts there are readers, workbooks, exams, and handouts of all sorts that all need to be scrutinized. Relationships need to be established by the institutions that produce these resources and pressure applied when necessary to insure that inaccurate and distorted information is not permitted to reach classrooms.

This may actually be a case where a new Jewish organization is needed. Loathe as I am to suggest yet another institution, the reality is that none of the existing agencies can handle this. A number of groups dabble and duplicate each other’s actions, usually becoming involved only when an outrageous example is brought to their attention, but this is really a full-time job that requires the ability to examine school policies and texts nationwide, to employ experts and consultants who can evaluate and write material and to generate pressure when necessary to force change.

It is important to monitor what the Palestinians are teaching their children and highlight the negative impact it is likely to have on relations with Israelis. It is even more important that we keep tabs on what’s going on here in our own schools.