State Department-Funded Study on Israeli, Palestinian Schoolbooks Stirs Up Maelstrom

Israel's Education Ministry said the study's findings were 'libel.'

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Palestinian boys and girls play educational games on the computer at the Al-Qattan Centre for Children in Gaza City on June 18, 2009.
Palestinian boys and girls play educational games on the computer at the Al-Qattan Centre for Children in Gaza City on June 18, 2009.

The three scientists who led an academic study of Israel and Palestinian Authority textbooks defended their work at a briefing in Washington Wednesday, saying they were "shocked" by the negative response.

The study, commissioned by multi-faith group the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, and funded by a $500,000 grant from the State Department, has sparked a maelstrom that State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has said the department won't wade into.

Though the study found that both sides are at fault for characterizing the other side as an enemy, it sparked immediate controversy in Israel for seeming to discredit Israeli claims that Palestinian schoolbooks teach their children to hate their neighbor.

In a statement, the Israel Education Ministry called the study "biased, unprofessional and profoundly unobjective." And several members of a scientific advisory panel of experts that oversaw the research and approved its findings have now come out against it.

[READ: Palestinian Leader: Obama Wrong to Take Israel's Side]

Palestinian boys and girls play educational games on the computer at the Al-Qattan Centre for Children in Gaza City on June 18, 2009.
Palestinian boys and girls play educational games on the computer at the Al-Qattan Centre for Children in Gaza City on June 18, 2009.

Among them is Rabbi Daniel Sperber, a professor of Talmudic research at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, who told the Jewish daily news site The Forward that the release of the study was "premature" and that he found some of its methodology problematic.

Dr. Bruce Wexler, the Yale professor who led the study, along with an Israeli and Palestinian professor, said he was surprised by the criticism.

"He knew the results... he said he would sign a statement saying he supported it... and then he didn't," Wexler said in Washington Wednesday.

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Among the controversial excerpts from an Israeli schoolbook cited in the study was the sentence: "Like a little lamb in a sea of seventy wolves is Israel among the Arab States." An excerpt from a Palestinian schoolbook similarly asserted that Israel was an enemy, writing that "the Zionist occupation and its usurpation of Palestine and its people's rights comprise the core of the conflict in the Middle East."

Wexler professed hope that one day the Israel Education Ministry would change its views of the study's findings. As part of the study's recommendations, the scientists urged ministries in both Israel and Palestine to create a committee to review current and future books.

The three-year study analyzed 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian schoolbooks in the subjects of geography, literature, social sciences, religion, Arabic, and Hebrew.

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