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Thursday, September 25, 2008
[Palestinian Jesus] Study says US textbooks misrepresent Jews and Israel

For a summary of the study:

Study says US textbooks misrepresent Jews and Israel
Haviv Rettig , THE JERUSALEM POST Sep. 25, 2008

American elementary and high school textbooks contain many "gross
misrepresentations" of Judaism, Christianity and Israel, according to a
book-length study released this week by the San Francisco-based Institute
for Jewish and Community Research.

"It is shocking to discover that history and geography textbooks widely used
in America's elementary and secondary classrooms contain some of the very
same inaccuracies about Christianity, Judaism and the Middle East as those
[used] in Iran," the IJCR said in a summary of the findings of the five-year

In examining the 28 most widely-used history, geography and social studies
textbooks in America, researchers Dr. Gary Tobin and Dennis Ybarra found
some 500 instances of "errors, inaccuracies and even propaganda" on these
issues. Tens of millions of schoolchildren in all 50 states use the
textbooks, according to Tobin.

Among the "outrageous misrepresentations" the study found was "a denial of
the Jewish roots of Jesus," as when the textbook The World relates that
"Christianity was started by a young Palestinian named Jesus."

"Textbooks include negative stereotypes of Jews, Judaism and Israel," the
authors write. "For example, textbooks tend to discredit the ties between
Jews and the land of Israel."

According to Tobin, "you're much more likely to learn about Jewish terrorism
before the founding of Israel [in the textbooks] than about terrorism
against Israel since that time."

Among the claims made about Israel in some of the textbooks are that Arab
countries never initiated wars against Israel, Arab nations desire peace
while Israel does not and that it was Israel that placed Palestinians in
refugee camps in Arab lands, not Arab governments. No mention whatsoever was
found relating to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab
countries who were forced out after the establishment of Israel.

In their treatment of Judaism, too, the textbooks showed a negative bias,
according to the study. They often expressed a view that "Jews and Judaism
are legalistic," and that "Jews care only about the letter of the law and
ignore its spirit," the study found. The Jewish God is presented as "stern
and warlike," and not compassionate, as is highlighted in other religions.
In some instances, Jews are charged with deicide in the killing of Jesus.

The study also found that 18 textbooks used "unscholarly and disparaging
'Old Testament' terminology for the Jewish scriptures when discussing the
origins of Judaism."

The study compared language used in describing Jewish and Christian belief
with that describing Muslim belief. "The textbooks tend to be critical of
Jews and Israel, disrespectful about Christianity, and rather than represent
Islam in an objective way, tend to glorify it," says Ybarra.

"Textbook publishers often defer completely to Muslim groups for their
content [on Islam] because they want to be sensitive to Muslim concerns," he
explained. "So they write that Mohammed is a prophet of God, without the
qualifier you should have in a public school that shows you're teaching
about religion, rather than teaching religion."

One example among the many cited in the study is in World History:
Continuity and Change, in which a glossary entry on the Ten Commandments
describes them as "Moral laws Moses claimed to have received from the Hebrew
God Yahweh on Mount Sinai."

The same glossary describes the Koran as a "Holy Book of Islam containing
revelations received by Muhammad from God" - without a conditional

"Islam is treated with a devotional tone in some textbooks, less detached
and analytical than it ought to be," the study finds. "Muslim beliefs are
described in several instances as fact, without any clear qualifier such as
'Muslims believe... .'

"No religion should be presented in history textbooks as absolute truth,
either on its own or compared to any other, or they all should be."

"All in all, there are repeated misrepresentations that cross the line into
bigotry," the authors write.

The textbooks examined in the study are published by some of the largest
publishers in America, including Pearson, an $8 billion dollar company which
is one of America's largest textbook publishers, and Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt Publishing Company, a global corporation with revenues totaling
some $2.5 billion.

The publishers, however, are not bigots, Tobin emphasizes. "I learned in
graduate school that you should never try to explain something with
conspiracy when you can account for it with incompetence," he says. "That's
what you've got here. The fact that publishers don't use scholars to write
the textbooks, but amateurs," is a major source of the bias in the texts.

"If the person writing about the founding of Israel isn't an expert in the
field - and he's not - he'll go to whatever sources he can find, such as
Google. Any misinformation he finds can get into the textbooks."

The lack of expertise among the writers is only one of the many "systemic
ills" the study found in the textbook publishing process. "Developing a
textbook and getting it adopted in the major states of Texas and California
is so expensive that only those competitors with the deepest pockets stand a
chance of succeeding. Only three mega-publishers (down from nine in less
than twenty years) control the K-12 textbook market, meaning that more and
more titles are concentrated in fewer hands. Errors in one book now stand a
greater chance of replicating themselves across other books because they may
originate from the same source."

These structural weaknesses leave the textbook industry susceptible to
pressure from certain groups. "We do not believe that textbook publishers
are 'out to get' anybody or any group," the authors note in the study.
Rather, "they are subject to all kinds of external pressures so that the
higher pursuit of truth and accuracy can be sacrificed to narrow interests."

"Arab and Muslim interest groups... promote a pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian
agenda in textbooks' lessons on the Middle East," the study finds. "For
example, the Council on Islamic Education has weighed in during adoption
processes to oppose the direct and unconditional use of the term 'Israel'
for the Israelite monarchy in textbooks, lest anyone make the connection
between modern Jews' claims to Israel and the kingdom that existed in the
same location 3,000 years ago."

Says Tobin: "If the president of Iran wants to blast Israel at the UN, he
can use American textbooks to do so."

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