A Study in False Moral Equivalence
Jonathan S. Tobin
The New York Times reports today that a new study is attempting to downplay the role that incitement to hatred in Palestinian schools is playing in fueling the conflict. The study is the product of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a left-leaning ecumenical group that is partially financed by a grant from the U.S. State Department. The group claims as its goal to promote peace and understanding and their study’s conclusion purports to be as even-handed as their approach to peace.
But the report’s claim that there is a rough moral equivalence between the attitudes of the Israeli and Palestinian education systems toward the promotion of hate is so far removed from reality as to render it useless as a measure of the problem. That study, which was rejected by a number of the academics who were part of the group commissioned to analyze the issue, must therefore be considered a contribution to the propaganda war against Israel rather than an effort to pave the way for accord between the two peoples.
As the Times noted:
Arnon Groiss, another Israeli member of the advisory panel, an Arabist, and the researcher and author of many previous reports critical of the Palestinian Authority textbooks, also refused to endorse the report, saying last week that he had not seen a final version. But he insisted that the authority’s textbooks “prepare the pupils for a future armed struggle for the elimination of the state of Israel.”
To seize on two points brought up in the Times article highlights the dishonesty of such a conclusion. The report claims that both school systems publish textbooks with maps that do not always show the other side’s claims. In practice this means that some Israeli books have maps that do not show the “green line” that marks the border between the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel while all Palestinian books depict both Israel and the territories as the state of Palestine.
That sounds like the same thing but it really isn’t. Israeli books depict the reality that the Jewish state does have control over the entire area. Asking them to show maps that show a state of Palestine that doesn’t already exist is absurd. On the other hand, what the Palestinians are showing not only contradicts reality but also shows their dream of destroying Israel.
The other example is even more egregious. The Times skims over the fact that the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority honors suicide bombers and other terrorists not just in schools but also in other venues. But it then compares this to the way Israeli schools honor the memory of Josef Trumpeldor, the hero of the defense of Tel Hai. Trumpeldor famously said after being fatally wounded that “Never mind, it’s good to die for our country.” The report compares this to the ethos of suicide bombers but the difference is that Trumpeldor died fighting to defend Jews from slaughter at the hands of Arab attackers, not deliberately sacrificing his life in order to kill innocents as the terrorists do.
It needs to be understood that the research on Palestinian education and media is voluminous and has left little doubt about the fact that the PA uses the schools as well as TV and radio to promote a nationalist spirit that sees the Jews as interlopers in the land which must be cleansed of their presence. If that has changed, there needs to be evidence that is not forthcoming. By contrast, peace education has been an integral part of the curriculum in Israeli schools since the beginning of the Oslo process 20 years ago. That means any assertion that there is any comparison between what is going on in the schools seems to hinge on the idea that telling the truth about the Palestinians will undermine the tenuous hope for peace.
This kind of thinking is similar to the mistakes made by both the United States government and some Israeli leaders who spent the 1990s ignoring Palestinian violations of the peace accords because they thought holding them accountable would derail negotiations. But, as veteran peace processor Dennis Ross later admitted, this was a cardinal error that only encouraged the Palestinians to trash any hope of peace and led to the violence of the second intifada.
The point here is not just that this report is wrongheaded but that it undermines hopes for peace rather than encouraging them. True interfaith understanding rests on facing the facts about the two different cultures, not pretending they are both the same when the differences are so powerful.