by Richard Baehr
The pattern of indoctrination and pressure to adopt narratives hostile to Israel are now common in high school, if not even earlier.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has published a new monograph: "Indoctrinating Our Youth," a case study of the bias in the high school curriculum in one U.S. city when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and teaching about Islam.
The booklet is of interest because it helps explains a dramatic shift in the attitudes toward Israel among younger Americans.
According to a study by the Brand Israel Group, in just six years, support for Israel has dropped from 73% to 54% among U.S. college students. The drop-off in support among Jewish college students has been particularly steep -- from 84% to 57%. It is no great secret that the environment for pro-Israel students on many if not most college campuses has become quite hostile. The movement to create an intersectionality of interests among various purveyors of identity politics -- the LGBT community, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims, among others -- now seems to have adopted anti-Zionism among its key tenets. The exclusion of Jewish women in Chicago from various rallies because they carried rainbow flags with the Star of David is typical of the increasingly fierce attempts to banish anything remotely connected to Israel from the movements on the Left.
Elements of the organized Jewish community have been working to fight the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on college campuses and to support, train and educate pro-Israel activists. It is clearly difficult for pro-Israel students to isolate themselves from accepted "wisdom" or belief among their peers and push back with an alternative viewpoint.
But the CAMERA study reveals that the problem begins earlier than college. The pattern of indoctrination and pressure to adopt narratives hostile to Israel are now common in high school, if not even earlier.
In a typically comprehensive, carefully footnoted study, CAMERA staffers took the time to evaluate all the materials used in teaching about Israel, as well as the Islamic faith, in the two high schools in Newton, Massachusetts, an affluent, heavily Jewish suburb of Boston. In some cases, materials had to be obtained through Freedom of Information requests. School administrators did what they could to impede efforts by local parents and a few local groups who pushed back after learning about the heavily slanted curriculum. Promises were made about changes in the class materials that proved to be false. The school system seemed committed to advancing a point of view, if not just circling the wagons when challenged.
One has to ask how this happened, and why. Newton, of course, is part of the Boston metropolitan area, which is densely populated with colleges and universities, including some of the most elite institutions in the country, if not the world. Not surprisingly, given the current orientation toward Israel on campus, the Newton school system relied on materials from the Outreach Center at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and invited a BDS supporter from the center, Paul Beran, to conduct teacher training activities to help develop the curriculum in the Newton high schools. The center also mainstreamed a textbook, "The Arab World Studies Notebook," by Audrey Park Shabbas, as a resource for teachers and students. This notebook was described as "replete with factual errors, inaccuracies and misrepresentations" in a study by the American Jewish Committee after parents in Anchorage, Alaska, complained about the book's bias against Israel back in 2004.
The AJC found the book to be riddled with "overt bias and unabashed propagandizing," such as depicting Israel as the aggressor in every Arab-Israeli war, and praising Muslim conquerors throughout the ages for their "gentle treatment of civilian populations."
The CAMERA analysis makes clear that the high schools presented a picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict in which Arabs had no agency, but were always victims of displacement and occupation. The Palestinian Arabs were shown as the indigenous people, dating back to the Canaanites, and the Jews the modern interlopers as a result of the Zionist movement and then European guilt over the Holocaust, leading to the 1947 partition resolution at the United Nations. Palestine Liberation Organization heads Yassar Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas were depicted as leaders who have always sought peace but were stymied by Israeli intransigence and reluctance to share the land. The dispute was always about land, not religion.
Discussion of terrorism as a political tool is almost entirely absent from the materials, and when mentioned, it is explained away as a product of frustration that the plight of the Palestinians was being ignored by the world.
The teachings about Islam naturally soft-pedal the violent history during the Prophet Muhammad's time, the meaning of jihad, and the growing strength of radical and violent movements within the religion in recent decades. The real threat today is always virulent Islamophobia.
In Newton, there was significant pushback against the school system, though some major Jewish institutions seemed fearful of rocking the boat. But in the time between the complaints by the Anchorage parents and the brouhaha in Newton, a large number of school systems have adopted the textbook, and similarly biased supplemental readings, maps and films, as their blueprint for teaching about the conflict and the region. Thousands of high school history teachers have been introduced and trained in presenting the materials. Other than Anchorage and Newton, there are few instances where parents objected in other locales. Tulsa, Oklahoma, is one of these.
The author of the "Arab World Studies Notebook" has bragged about its wide distribution and influence. According to a Jewish News Service report, "Shabbas has claimed that the Notebook has been distributed to more than 10,000 teachers, and 'if each notebook teaches 250 students a year over 10 years, then you've reached 25 million students.'"
JNS quotes Curriculum Watch's Dr. Sandra Alfonsi as saying that "the most important statistic is the number of workshops that Shabbas has given to instruct teachers in how to use the book. She has conducted hundreds of such three-day teacher-training sessions."
Further, JNS reports, "Shabbas' website names 211 schools where she ran teacher workshops from 2000-2006. Other years are not listed."
In essence, an entire generation of high school students has been exposed to this propaganda, with virtually no alternative views offered, nor any critical analysis of the bias in the textbook.
CAMERA's monograph is an important first step in providing such a critical commentary on the textbook and other materials that are now in wide use. Hopefully, both parents and the organized Jewish community will show more sustained interest in battling this insidious corruption of the curriculum, which has but one goal: to create a new generation of Americans far less favorably disposed toward Israel.
Richard Baehr is the co-founder and chief political correspondent for the American Thinker and a fellow at the Jewish Policy Center.
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