A new study of Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks led by Yale School of Medicine psychiatrist Bruce Wexler has come under fire from the Israeli government.
Produced by a team of Israeli and Palestinian researchers who surveyed over 3,100 excerpts from 168 Israeli and Palestinian textbooks, the study, titled “Victims of Our Own Narratives?”, found that the books generally put a nationalistic spin on historical events and frequently depict the other nation as the enemy. But the study also reported that “dehumanizing and demonizing” depictions of Israelis and Palestinians were rare in both groups’ textbooks, representing a break from past analyses.
In a statement released Jan. 30, the Israeli Ministry of Education accused the report of extreme bias. The Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs followed the Education Ministry by releasing a 21-page statement that accused the researchers of neglecting to analyze Palestinian propaganda outside of certain schoolbooks and provided several examples of anti-Semitic messages.
“The overall approach and tone of the study reflect an attempt to present an artificial and inaccurate picture of balance,” the second statement said.
Wexler, his co-authors and members of the study’s Scientific Advisory Panel — a group of 19 academics convened to assess the study’s scientific rigor as it progressed — have accused the study’s detractors, including the Israeli government, of being politically motivated.
A few members of the advisory panel, though, have sought to distance themselves from the study since before its publication. Wexler said Arnon Groiss, a panel member who has researched Palestinian textbooks, created a list of examples the researchers had allegedly missed when compiling their data. But Wexler said the research team reviewed Groiss’s quotes and found many of them to have been taken from sources outside the scope of the survey.
“Most of those examples aren’t talking about textbooks,” Wexler said. “They’re talking about incitement more broadly.”
Nathan Brown of George Washington University, who sat on the panel, said Elihu Richter, a professor at Hebrew University who was also on the panel, criticized the study’s methodology for neglecting to analyze media other than schoolbooks.
Professor Elie Podeh of Hebrew University, another member of the advisory panel, noted that the examples cited by Groiss and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs would have had little impact on the study even if they had been included.
“These are the numbers, these are the figures,” Podeh said. “If you find here and there some examples, they won’t dramatically change the results in any case.”
Sami Adwan, an associate professor at Bethlehem University and a co-author of the study, said Wexler kept the advisory panel informed of the survey’s progress, adding that the advisory panel, co-authors and researchers of the study openly discussed the study’s findings at a meeting in May 2012. Wexler said the study’s methods and findings were approved unanimously by the advisory panel.
“They agreed that the study was of the highest scientific quality,” Wexler said. “This business of dissenting is part of a political process to divert attention from these findings to the procedural issues.”
Wexler also expressed disappointment that Yale did not “stick up for [his] academic integrity.” University spokesman Tom Conroy did not return multiple requests for comment.
The study was funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department and was initiated by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land in 2009.