From Congress to Classrooms: Reframing the Israel Narrative
JNS.org – Concern about resurgent antisemitism has been at a fever-pitch among Diaspora Jews for years.
In Britain, the veteran Jewish Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman resigned this week from the party to which she has belonged for more than half a century. A leaked Labour headquarters report on her Liverpool Wavertree constituency party showed that in 2017, there was a “worrying amount of anti-Semitism” and a “toxic atmosphere,” with members fearing for their physical safety.
If far-left party leader Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister, says Ellman, he would be a danger to both the Jewish community and the country.
Labour’s Jew-baiting and Israel-bashing have become mainstream in the party. This is blamed largely on Corbyn’s open hostility to Israel, his support for Palestinian terrorists, and his refusal to acknowledge the scale of his party’s bigotry against Israel and the Jewish people.
In America, a similar phenomenon surfaced with “The Squad” of four Democratic Congresswomen who are also virulently hostile towards Israel, two of whom have made prejudiced remarks about Jews.
These views are generally ascribed to the far-left, with more than a dash of Muslim anti-Jewish attitudes fermenting the mix to reach toxic levels. Beyond the political class, they are associated principally with higher education.
On both sides of the pond, anxious Jews have been agonizing for years over how to combat the appalling levels of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish discourse on university campuses — with their “Israel apartheid” weeks, harassment of Jewish students, and the platforms they provide for virulent Israel-bashers, while depriving Israel supporters of a platform.
All this is bad enough. Yet in both Britain and America, what’s been largely overlooked is the even more devastating indoctrination of pre-college students on these murderous falsehoods.
In Britain, the pro-Israel investigative blogger David Collier wrote this week about a textbook, The Middle East: Conflict, Crisis and Change, 1917-2012, that is used in schools as part of the history curriculum for the 16-and-over public-education exam.
On reading this textbook, Collier found a systematic loading of the narrative to sanitize the Arab war against Israel, disproportionately mention violent Zionist responses, and obscure the overwhelming legal, historical and moral Jewish claim to the land.
The book is said to muffle the fact that the Jews are the only people for whom the Land of Israel was ever their national kingdom, instead calling the ancient Israelites “settlers” and thus implying that they just happened to live there.
Since the West’s animus against Israel is founded upon the chronologically absurd and factually wrong belief that the Palestinian Arabs were the indigenous people of the land — displaced by Jewish invaders or “settlers” — this itself programs children to believe the big lie that fuels murderous hatred against Israel and the Jews. But the book warps the narrative much further.
For example, it terms Jewish attacks on the British during the Palestine Mandate period as “Zionist terrorism,” even though the intended targets were military; yet it calls the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians during the so-called “Second Intifada,” when they were being blown to smithereens on buses and in cafes, merely “Palestinian attacks.”
It refers to “angry clashes” in Mandate Palestine between Jews and Arabs without explaining that the Jews of Palestine were being subjected to repeated Arab pogroms against which they tried to defend themselves.
It even describes as “Arab-Jew clashes” the 1929 Arab massacres of Jews in Hebron, Tzfat and Jerusalem, when dozens of Jews were hacked to death.
More astoundingly still, it makes no mention of Hitler’s ally, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, who did more than anyone else to incite the Arab mobs against the Jews.
America is seeing a similar attempt to indoctrinate schoolchildren into anti-Israel falsehoods and, worse yet, into outright hatred.
In Newton, Massachusetts, parents discovered in 2011 that a textbook used by ninth-graders called the Arab World Studies Notebook was telling pupils: “Over the past four decades, women have been active in the Palestinian resistance movement. Several hundred have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed by Israeli occupation forces.”
The Newton parents discovered worse. History teachers were receiving training workshops from prominent anti-Israel critics, including a leader of the BDS campaign. Tenth-graders were being shown versions of the Hamas charter that were censored of its eye-watering antisemitic passages, materials asserting that Tel Aviv was Israel’s capital and Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, and claims of Israel occupying Palestinian land that made no mention of Palestinian attacks.
A battle royal developed between the Newton parents and the education authorities, which still continues. Yet when Charles Jacobs of Americans for Peace and Tolerance turned to Jewish communal organizations to help fight the parents’ cause, he encountered an adamant refusal to take on the battle.
Similar attempts to subject pupils to anti-Israel propaganda have been identified in California, Chicago, New York City and elsewhere.
The drift to political extremism among the Democrats and in Britain’s Labour Party is not sufficient to explain this animus. The deeper reason is that support for the Palestinian cause is now the default position across the West’s progressive classes, including for many Jews. Those who consider themselves to be centrists because they back a “two-state solution” may not grasp the full extent of the big lie about Israel because they themselves have swallowed it, at least in part.
For fundamental to this benign-sounding rubric is a lethal misreading of the problem to which it is the purported solution. It assumes that this is a conflict over the parceling out of land between two sides with a legitimate claim to that land.
Not so. This is an Arab war of extermination against the State of Israel. The only proper response to such a war is to defeat it. A State of Palestine that was instead created for those still bent on Israel’s destruction would merely hand them the means to achieve their unconscionable aim.
Reconceptualizing this existential war as a conflict over territory creates a false moral equivalence between the actual Arab aggressors and their actual Israeli victims. As a consequence, Israel’s refusal to accept what would be terms of surrender to those still aiming to destroy it has been transformed into a stance of unforgiveable belligerency.
This, in turn, has facilitated the whole narrative of colonialist dispossession, illegality, occupation, aggression, abuses of human rights and all the rest of the crimes so falsely laid at Israel’s door, in addition to the anti-Jewish venom that inevitably bubbles up to the surface in that particular sewer.
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the path to the resurgence of antisemitism in the West — now so brazenly paraded by the hard-left — has been laid by the so-called centrist advocates of the “two-state solution.”
That’s why this resurgence would not be stopped by the disappearance from the political scene of either Jeremy Corbyn or “the Squad” of US Congresswomen. It will not be stopped by better pro-Israel advocacy on campus. It will not even be stopped by removing certain education materials from British or American schools, desirable or necessary as all such developments are in themselves.
This poisonous tide will only begin to be turned if those who think themselves to be custodians of the center-ground realize the extent to which they too have drunk the Middle Eastern Kool-Aid.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy,” in 2018. Her work can be found at: www.melaniephillips.com.