Palestinian textbook case closed, but more trumped-up Israeli charges expected

This week’s publication of a U.S.-funded study cleared the Palestinians of charges that their schoolbooks ‘demonize’ Israel. This was not, however, the first hoop they’ve been made to jump through, and it won’t be the last.

The Israeli and U.S. Jewish establishment reaction to the terrible news that the Palestinians don’t demonize Jews in their textbooks reminded me of the long-forgotten uproar over the Palestinian Covenant.  Same bullshit. The stout-hearted nationalist Jews in the U.S. and Israel were saying in unison, “How can we ever trust the Palestinians to make peace when their covenant talks about ”liberating all of Palestine’?” And they made this their cause celebre – they lobbied Congress, they lobbied Clinton (this was in the mid-to-late 1990s), and Clinton pressured Arafat, until finally Arafat convened the relevant PLO council and they voted to take out the offending phrases. Clinton even went to Gaza at the end of 1998 for the historic event. He told the assembly: “You have sent, I say again, a powerful message not to the government, but to the people of Israel. You will touch people on the street there. You will reach their hearts there.”

I loved that. Nobody in Israel, no Jew on earth gave a good goddamn that they changed the Palestinian Covenant. But then none of them cared about the original “liberating all of Palestine” Palestinian Covenant, either. As soon as the vote in Gaza to amend it was finally taken, the whole issue vanished for the Israeli and American Jewish right as if it had never existed. This particular orange had been squeezed dry, and now it was time to move on – to find another issue over which to put the Palestinians on the defensive, to keep the world’s flashlight in their eyes and not in Israel’s, to find another hoop for them to jump through before Israel might be asked to slow the occupation train down just a tad.

So it is with the Palestinian textbooks. All this supposed distress over what the Palestinians are teaching their children about Israel and the Jews, this insistence that they clean up their textbooks as a condition for “peace”  – it’s another one of the old “stop Oslo” ploys of the Israeli and American Jewish right. A bunch of right-wing propagandists like Itamar Marcus and Palestinian Media Watch have been harping on all this “demonization” in Palestinian textbooks, and the intended effect, of course, has been to discredit Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, to blacken the Palestinians’ name and thus make it harder for them to get Israel off their neck. And that’s what’s happened – right-wing Zionists everywhere who of course don’t know a word of Arabic have been hammering away at the Palestinian textbooks for nearly two decades, saying there can be no peace until those books are scrubbed good and thorough. Do right-wing Zionists want peace? No, they want the Palestinians to keep scrubbing.

But this week a three-year study of Palestinian and Israeli textbooks came out, backed by a $590,000 U.S. State Department grant and billed credibly by its authors as being “among the most comprehensive, fact-based investigations ever done of school textbooks.” It found that while neither side exactly educates its kids for peace, they don’t demonize or vilify the other side, either, except in “very rare” cases.

“Academic study weakens Israeli claim that Palestinian school texts teach hate,” wrote the New York Times. “New textbook study threatens to undercut argument that Palestinian schools preach hate,” wrote the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Oh no, what will we do? Maybe we can Goldstone these professors. “Whitewashing incitement,” said the Strategic Affairs Ministry. “Maliciously slandering the Israeli educational system and the State of Israel,” said the Education Ministry. “Distorted and counterproductive,” said Abe Foxman, a liberal compared to most other American Jewish machers. 

If these people were really concerned about demonization of Israel in Palestinian schoolbooks as an obstacle to peace, they would take the findings of the study as wonderful news – hey, we were worried for nothing, it’s not a problem, let’s make peace! Just like they might have taken the changing of the Palestinian Covenant as great news.

Or like they might have welcomed the PLO’s recognition of Israel 25 years ago, which answered their long-standing No. 1 demand for proof of the Palestinians’ good intentions.

Or like they might be convinced by the PA’s fight against terror under Abbas, which has been their No. 1 demand for the last 25 years.

But no. There is literally nothing the Palestinians can or ever could do to satisfy the demands of the Israeli and American Jewish right – which now have a lock on power – because these are not demands made with an eye toward peace, they’re weapons in an information war to keep the Palestinians down. If the Palestinians recognize Israel, they’ll be told they have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. If they fight terror, they’ll be told they now have to fight incitement. If they amend the Palestinian Covenant, they’ll be met with blank stares. And if they turn out not to be demonizing Israel in their schoolbooks, they’ll be told that yes they are, and even if they’re not, they’re demonizing Israel somewhere else. If this orange has been squeezed dry, not to worry – there are plenty more oranges where that came from.

Yet another litmus test for the Palestinians was exposed this week as a cynical fraud. Now, moving right along, what are these conditions (four of them, I believe) that Hamas has to meet before Israel will agree to negotiate with them? Same bullshit.