Several members of the Scientific Advisory Panel, the body that was to review and critique a controversial report on incitement in Palestinian and Israeli schoolbooks that is set to be presented by several researchers in Jerusalem on Monday, say they were not given a final copy of the report prior to the announcement of the upcoming press conference.
One SAP member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this document had the potential to be “another Goldstone Report,” a reference to the UN report on the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza that was released in 2009.
In addition, the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land complained that it was also not given the opportunity to see a final copy of a report, despite being the body that launched the project, a source within the Chief Rabbinate said.
The textbook project, which began in 2009, was funded by a grant from the US State Department and was conducted by an Israeli-Palestinian team of academics led by Professors Bruce Wexler of Yale University, Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University.
“The Israeli-Palestinian schoolbook study is among the most comprehensive, fact-based investigations ever done of school textbooks.
The scientists developed a new research methodology that employed a standardized, manualized, multi-rater system in order to produce a transparent and scientifically rigorous analysis of current Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks,” Wexler, Bar-Tal and Adwan said in a statement.
“The study represents the first phase towards the critically important goal of developing education for peace, as specified by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which initiated the study, and as highlighted in the Oslo II Agreement in 1995.
All funding for the study came from a single public source, the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.”
Washington appears, however, to have distanced itself from the research with one official at the US Embassy telling The Jerusalem Post that “it’s not a State Department thing.”
Dr. Arnon Groiss – a member of the advisory panel and the former director of IMPACT-SE, a research center focusing on peace and cultural tolerance in school education – told the Post that last week he received “a body of quotes” from textbooks that were cited in the study but no copy of the final report for review.
“I haven’t seen the final product [and] I haven’t compared the final results with the body of evidence. I was given more than any other member of the panel. None of the others got it. We don’t know what they are going to say in the press conference,” said Groiss.
He also said that there is information missing from the report.
“I checked the quotes and found some missing and now I am in a debate with the researchers about that,” he said.
Rabbi Daniel Sperber, an Israel Prize laureate and another SAP member, also told the Post that he felt blindsided by the announcement that the findings are set to be announced this week, and said that he received “no notification in advance” of the press conference. The announcement is “premature,” he added, as neither he nor “members of the [interreligious] council have seen a final version.”
“I told Professor Wexler that I won’t come and be a presenter of a document that I haven’t seen,” Sperber said, despite his name being prominently placed in a public statement by Wexler, Bar-Tal and Adwan.
Dr. Elihu Richer, the head of the Genocide Prevention Program and Injury Prevention Center at the Hebrew University, who also participated in the advisory panel and said that he too had not seen a full copy of the report, stated that he conditionally endorsed the document based on what he believed were its “shortcomings.”
While Richter said that he “commends” Wexler’s efforts, he also indicated that the study “did not examine the content of the overall formal educational environment of children.”
Wexler and his colleagues praised Israel for “the fact that some of the books in the Israeli state schools have taken steps toward a balanced examination of historical events,” and that that “both Israeli and Palestinian communities should be commended for the absence of extreme dehumanizing characterizations of the other.”
Wexler, speaking to the Post by phone from his hotel room in the capital on Saturday, stated that all of the members of the SAP and the council had been shown a full copy of the report during a Jerusalem conference in May. He asserted that he took their suggestions for changes into consideration, and sent the relevant researchers copies of the changes before deciding to go ahead with the press conference.
According to Wexler, in May “the advisory panel reviewed it all and agreed on it all and there were just these two additions. I sent the text of these two additions to them in decent time for them to review it.”
“To my surprise and to their credit, they unanimously agreed on a statement that they presented to the religious leadership council that day. In that statement, they commended the study and they agreed with every one of the findings.”
A senior official at the Chief Rabbinate who is a member organization of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, said, however, that Wexler and his team were not authorized to reveal their findings at this time.
Speaking with the Post by phone on Saturday evening, the official said that the researchers were bound by a “secret agreement” with the council regarding publication and were therefore not allowed to “publish anything without our permission. Only we would decide when and where.”
The official also said that Wexler exceeded the bounds of his authority and that the research was only supposed to deal with portrayals of members of different faith communities in textbooks, rather than wider issues of incitement.
In a press release, Wexler and his colleagues announced that “repeated invitations were extended to both the Israeli and Palestinian Education Ministries to examine the methods and further advise on the study from the start, and we hope ministry staff and experts from both communities review current and future books in light of the study findings.”
The rabbinate official disagreed, saying that while he had seen a short summary of the results in May, along with members of both the council and the SAP, it was decided that the research “was not complete yet and that many details are missing and therefore it has to be completed in order to present it to the public.
“A few months passed and all of a sudden I heard from other people that a worldwide press conference is called to present this research. That’s very peculiar, because it’s completely contrary to our decision,” the official said. “I can tell you one thing; I’m sure that Bruce [Wexler] has his own agenda.”
Strategic Affairs Ministry deputy director-general Yossi Kuperwasser, who obtained an advance copy of the report, called the document “political research” rather than “academic research.”
According to Kuperwasser, the report cited Israeli textbooks that linked Palestinians to the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre as a negative portrayal.
“By mentioning that this was a terror attack performed by Palestinians, this is a negative description of the Palestinians? I mean, how far can you go?” he asked.
“You can’t present this [report] as [being] done for the interreligious council and as being American-funded [if no one approved it]. Say the full truth and not 20 percent of the truth. Anybody who tells you 20 percent of the truth is actually a liar,” Kuperwasser said.
Despite his colleagues’ assertions, Gershon Baskin, the founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information and a member of the SAP, said that they all saw copies of the report in advance.
“We received a final copy a few days before it was issued. I stand by the results and think that it was an excellent study done with professionalism and objectivity. There were no predefined results prior to the study. The team of researchers and the scientific committee treated the study with the highest degree of professionalism,” he said.
“The response of the Israeli government is completely bewildering. The study actually gave higher grades to the Israeli textbooks than the Palestinian.
I have always claimed that the major problem with the textbooks on both sides is the crime of omission. I would challenge the Israeli side to conduct an honest research and come up with different results.”
The Ministry of Education issued a press release attacking the final report as "biased, unprofessional and severely lacking objectivity...Attempts to create a parallel between the Israeli and Palestinian educational systems is baseless...The Ministry of Education chooses not to cooperate with those looking to defame the Israeli educational system."