(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israeli textbooks aim for peace, maintain messages of tolerance and coexistence with Palestinians and do not incite against them, according to a study released by IMPACT-se.
The report, conducted by Dr. Yael Teff-Seker from the University of Haifa, evaluates the treatment of Palestinians, Arab Israelis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Israeli textbooks.
“The Israeli curriculum meets UNESCO-derived standards of peace and tolerance in education,” Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday “In a year where there was a lot of debate and discussion in the Israeli media over the new civics book and the curriculum in general, we felt it was important to conduct this review,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of noise regarding the curricula,” he said, referring to accusations of incitement and exclusion of minorities, and the controversy surrounding the approval of the new civics text book, “but when you look at it empirically, you find that this is not the case.”
IMPACT-se, founded in 1998 and based in Jerusalem, is a research center that monitors and analyzes education around the world and determines compliance according to UNESCO standards for tolerance.
The study examined 123 Israeli textbooks recommended by the Education Ministry for grades 7-12 from the state [secular] and state-religious school systems in the 2000- 2017 academic years.
The books reviewed cover a wide array of academic subjects, including history, civics, geography, Jewish heritage and religious studies, Hebrew language and literature, and Arab language for the Jewish sector.
According to the findings, Israeli textbooks “see peace as the ultimate goal, and depict it as highly desirable and achievable, while war is considered a negative event, though at times necessary.”
The study further found that textbooks acknowledge a Palestinian presence in Israel before 1948, as well as various aspects of the Palestinian narrative and experience. This is evident, for example, by the inclusion of a poem by the Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish in the new civics textbook.
“It might surprise many that Israeli students are even asked to put themselves in the place of Palestinians in 1948, and are encouraged to imagine what it is like to be a Palestinian refugee,” Sheff said.
The findings also indicated that Israeli textbooks recognize Palestinian territories and cities and clearly mark them on maps.
With regards to Arab and Muslim citizens, the report found that textbooks promote a “clear message of tolerance and coexistence” and include a “respectful representation of Arab and Muslim culture and heritage, including direct and personal narratives.”
Sheff said that the Israeli curriculum has undergone a major “evolution” since 2000.
“You see a more sophisticated evolution in relation to the way Palestinians are discussed and how Israeli students are asked to think and talk about them,” he said. He added that the study did find some instances of textbooks which included themes such as “ethnocentrism,” and a perception that Israel and Jews are the victims of Arab or Palestinian hostility.
“This is not an illegitimate discussion,” he said. “Though if you stress victimhood too much then you eventually pass the buck over to the other side and push the peace process further away.
“What we really should take away from this report, is that the Israeli education system is so remarkable because it is so robust – it is able to withstand all the debates and the highpitched politics and doesn’t just retain its standards but improves them,” Sheff said.