Newton Schools Fail to Ensure Factual Middle East Educational Materials

July 5, 2013 12:37 am 0 comments

The anti-Israel "Arab World Studies Notebook," pictured, has been used to educate Massachusetts students in the Newton schools. Photo: Amazon.

JNS.org - Controversy continues to simmer in the upscale Boston suburb of Newton over the use of biased and substandard instructional materials to teach students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recently, the town spared no expense renovating one of its high schools at a cost of $200 million. But Newton’s commitment to its schools has not translated into ensuring that factually accurate material is used to teach students about the Middle East.

The controversy began two years ago when a parent, looking over his daughter’s reading assignment, discovered a handout that accused Israeli soldiers of abusing and murdering imprisoned Palestinian women. The selection came from a textbook called The Arab World Studies Notebook. This textbook had already been exposed for its advocacy of Islam and for making ludicrous claims—for example, that Muslim explorers discovered America and that Iroquois Indians had Muslim names. The outcry that followed prompted the school administration to remove it.

But that turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. A more widespread problem was revealed when it was learned that a leader in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel had given a seminar to history teachers on teaching about the Middle East. Soon, more evidence of inaccurate and anti-Israel materials used in the schools came to light.

Last November, in an attempt to head off the controversy, the vice chairman of the Newton School Committee published an op-ed in local papers offering reassurance that anti-Israel materials were not systematically used in Newton schools. He denounced town residents who had raised the issue for engaging in “McCarthyesque” tactics, and added, “Does it really sound plausible that for years virtually everyone has unknowingly been the victim of the teaching of such horrible material?”

Sadly, the most recent batch of handouts used in the 10th-grade honors class offers new evidence of a continuing problem. It contains a timeline titled “POV: History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” that purports to cover both “An Israeli Perspective” and “A Palestinian Perspective.” It was compiled in 2001 by a young intern with no apparent expertise on the subject.

The author thanked Professor Mark LeVine of University of California, Irvine for reviewing the document. LeVine is an agitator against Israel who publishes on the English website of Al Jazeera. In a guest column in The Huffington Post on Jan. 13, 2009, he likened Hamas’s fight against Israel in Gaza to “the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.” LeVine contended that Israelis have an “addiction” to violence and suffer from “collective mental illness.”

The timeline ignores the religious and ideological component of Arab rejection of the Jewish state. For example, the only reason given for the Arab rejection of the United Nations partition resolution in November 1947 is that the Arabs “considered the proposal unrepresentative of the demographic distribution of Jews and Arabs living in Palestine.” There is no discussion of the religion-sanctioned rejection of the Jewish state, or of Palestinian leader Haj Amin Al Husseini’s use of religious and racial bigotry to inflame Arab sentiment against the Jews.

An accompanying class discussion guide called “Class notes for Israel Palistine (sic) (Student & Teacher Discussion)” also dismisses the religious component, stating, “This is a conflict over land.” What lies behind the downplaying of the religious component is an attempt to cast Israel as a neo-colonial state usurping the land of the indigenous population. This narrative, fashionable among anti-Israel academics, designates the Arabs as indigenous people while denying that status to the Jews whose continuous history on the land goes much further back.

The class guide asserts, “Jewish nationalism (Zionism) and Palestinian nationalism seek essentially the same goal: a state that can provide security, economic opportunity, and a connection to a land.” This feigned evenhanded approach promotes a falsehood, for both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas charters call for the dismantling of the Jewish state. An accurate recounting of Palestinian nationalism shows that opposition to the Jewish state came first, while the demand for a Palestinian Arab state emerged only later.

Newton students should read the works of distinguished scholars. Instead, students are exposed to the dogma peddled by anti-Israel activists at teacher workshops, to fringe academics or to error-prone pages pulled from the Internet. One such handout from a website called “Flashpoints” identified Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine (a non-existent state) and incorrectly labeled Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel (it’s actually Jerusalem).

The POV timeline typifies this agenda-driven approach. Students are told that in 1948, “Fighting breaks out between the newly declared State of Israel and its Arab neighbors,” and not that the surrounding Arab states attacked the Jewish state on the day after it was formally recognized by a resolution of the United Nations.

The careful wording of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 to not require Israel to withdraw from all of the territories captured in the 1967 Six-Day War is described as only the English-language version. The handout contends that altered versions in other languages are equally valid.

Students are told that “rightwing Israelis” call the West Bank “Judea and Samaria”— without being informed that the label “West Bank” originated with the Jordanian occupation from 1949 to 1967.

Palestinian terrorism is downplayed, while rare instances of Israeli violence are highlighted. The first terrorist act inside Israel and the West Bank specifically mentioned is the 1994 attack on Palestinian worshipers by Baruch Goldstein. The murders of 37 Israelis in the coastal road massacre in March 1978 and of 26 Israeli schoolchildren and teachers in Ma’alot in May 1974 are not mentioned. Students are not told that while Goldstein is reviled in Israel, Palestinian perpetrators of terror attacks, like terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, are held up as role models to be emulated by Palestinian children.

Students are told that the Oslo Accords meant that the two sides “were no longer claiming that the other did not have the right to exist as a state of peoples on that land.” Students are not informed that at the Fatah Party Congress in 2009 participants cheered as Palestinian Authority officials vowed never to recognize the Jewish State and reaffirmed their commitment to armed struggle.

A complete and accurate account of the conflict should not be sacrificed on the altar of evenhandedness and the refusal to take sides. With all the upheaval in the Middle East and its impact on America, parents unfortunately cannot count on schools and town officials to ensure that accurate and quality instruction occurs. Parents need to make their voices heard so that their children aren’t fed Pollyannaish revisions of reality.

Steven Stotsky is a senior researcher for the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Any opinions expressed above are solely his own.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    JNS.org – Many young Jewish artists struggle to define who they are personally, artistically, and religiously. Against the backdrop of that struggle, the recent Asylum Arts International Jewish Artists Retreat provided a space for some 70 young Jewish artists to explore Jewish ideas, to build community and a culture of reciprocity, and to learn skills to assist their career development. “We are trying to encourage and excite people to engage in Jewish themes,” says Rebecca Guber, director of Asylum Arts. [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    JNS.org – Has the era of large-scale biblical epics returned? Not since “The Ten Commandments” has there been so much torrential water on the big screen (not counting weather-related disaster films such as “The Impossible”) than in “Noah,” the latest blockbuster from writer and director Darren Aronofsky. “Noah” takes the traditional tale and splices it in an eco-friendly and psychologically driven plot. After Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden of Eden and after Cain killed Abel, mankind [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Israel Israeli Arab Microbiologist Wins on Israel’s ‘MasterChef’ Reality Show

    Israeli Arab Microbiologist Wins on Israel’s ‘MasterChef’ Reality Show

    JNS.org – An Israeli-Arab microbiologist and mother of three won the fourth season of Israel’s most popular reality TV show, “MasterChef.” Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, 32, who holds a PhD in microbiology and is from the Israeli-Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, described winning as the “the most exciting moment in her life.” She said she plans to use the prize money to open up an Arab-Jewish cooking school. MasterChef is a popular reality TV show that originated in the U.K. It is [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Theater Play About Muslim Man Who Discovers His Parents Are Jewish Seeking Funds

    Play About Muslim Man Who Discovers His Parents Are Jewish Seeking Funds

    Jewish comedian and writer David Baddiel is seeking public support to help produce a musical based on his film about a British Muslim man who discovers his parents are Jewish. London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East is in development to premiere The Infidel in October, London’s Evening Standard reported on Wednesday. However, the theater needs another £55,000 on top of around £200,000 already raised in order to produce the show. Baddiel, 49, retained the stage rights to the story when he wrote the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.