At the conclusion of the latest installment of the endless Arab war against Israel, the leaders of Hamas simultaneously accused Israel of “genocide” against the residents of Gaza and took to the streets, dancing, ululating, and jubilating in celebration of their “victory” over the Zionist enemy. That is to say, what the novelist Thane Rosenbaum called Hamas’s “civilian death strategy”—deliberately bringing about the greatest possible number of Arab (as well as Jewish) deaths—had achieved a political triumph in the court of world opinion.
What is naively called the “Arab-Israeli conflict” has a deep-seated pathological fanaticism at its core. American secondary school students will learn nothing about it from a new curriculum that amounts to a regimen of crude indoctrination depicting Israel as the devil’s very own experiment station, black as Gehenna and the pit of Hell. But this is what a duo of Washington State Palestinophiles named Ed Mast and Linda Bevis, founders of the local Palestine Solidarity Committee, have been promoting with passionate intensity for some time.
In early October, Bevis appeared, by invitation, at the Washington State Council for the Social Studies, the annual meeting of the state’s social studies teachers, to preside over a workshop in which she could recommend the Bevis and Mast curriculum as a replacement for the material in currently used textbooks. (The conference’s keynote speaker was a zealous Israel-hater named Jen Marlowe, stalwart of the “Jenin Freedom Theater.”) Bevis is a regular at similar conferences and held forth a week later at the “Teaching for Social Justice” gathering in Portland. At least three schools are known to have adopted her materials; Bevis has not divulged the names of schools where she has been active.
The tawdry character of the Bevis and Mast curriculum is inherent in its bizarre title: “The Palestine Teaching Trunk.” Its designers noticed that the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center had packaged materials relating to the Holocaust in one of the trunks used by Jews who were shipped off to the death camps of Europe. But how dare the Jews monopolize all that beautiful Holocaust suffering which other groups, and none more so than the Palestinian Arabs, would very much like, ex post facto, to claim for themselves? And so it came to pass that Bevis and Mast collected their own CDs and sacred relics of the “Palestinian cause” into an online “trunk.”
Palestinian appropriation of Jewish symbols and Jewish history, especially the Holocaust, is, along with the importing of rockets and building of underground tunnels into Israel, a flourishing industry in Gaza. Nobody could have been surprised when a filmmaker arrived there in August to begin work on a “Palestinian” version of The Diary of Anne Frank. It has often been noted that the most important date in Palestinian calendars is not any Arab, Muslim, or native Palestinian event but May 14, 1948, the day Israel was founded. The depiction of Palestinian Arabs as Jews naturally involved turning Israelis into Nazis, a practice in which Mahmoud Abbas, the first elected president of the Palestinian authority, received expert training in the Soviet Union, where he earned a Ph.D. for a dissertation arguing that Zionist Jews encouraged Nazism in order to gain sympathy for Jewish immigration to Palestine. The level of “scholarship” in Abbas’s dissertation is emulated in a very large proportion of the books on the Recommended Reading List of the trunk.
What we get in this proposed curriculum for an American public school system is not dispassionate analysis but (at a generous estimate) the half-truths of propaganda, a good deal of which calls to mind the material studied by Max Weinreich in his 1946 book Hitler’s Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany’s Crimes Against the Jewish People. Yes, Palestinian Arabs are among the world’s most ruined people. But why? Where, in the Mast and Bevis trunk, in the unwholesome stew of Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, Noam Chomsky, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, Robert Fisk, and Alexander Cockburn that this curriculum will force-feed students, is the following crucial question ever posed: What might have been the fate of Palestinian Arabs if their assorted leaders—Arafat, Abbas, Hamas—had been working to improve education, health care, governance, commerce, and public works in their own society instead of constantly trying to destroy someone else’s society? What does the Bevis and Mast curriculum have to say about the fact that, throughout this past summer’s war, Israel continued to provide Gaza with its electricity because Hamas’s leaders spend their Satanic energy and vast millions to acquire rockets and build underground tunnels for no other purpose than the raw murder of Jews, as called for in the Hamas Charter quoting the Koran?
Another half-truth in the trunk is that Palestinian Arabs suffer grievously from “occupation” (even in Gaza, from which Israel departed many years ago) and hate Israel because of it. But which came first—the so-called occupation or the hatred? For 19 years, from 1948 to 1967, the disputed territories were entirely in Arab hands, theirs to do with whatever they pleased. Yet somehow it never occurred to them to establish a Palestinian state there, but only to use every meter of land as a launching pad for attacks on Israel. Since those territories became Israel’s as a result of Arab aggression in June 1967, they could not retroactively have become its cause.
The glossary of terms provided by the packers of the trunk at first seems to offer comic relief from the ferocity of its other contents, as well as another kind of insult to the intelligence of its prospective users, teachers as well as students. “Breach of the law,” we learn, means “Breaking of the law”; “Flotilla” means “a group of ships sailing together.” But even in this collection of solemn idiocies lurks malice (to say nothing of ignorance or dishonesty):
Anti-semitism: Semites are people from the Middle East. Although “anti-semitic” is often used to mean “anti-Jewish,” the term literally means being against people from the Middle East. People who are against the policies of the Israeli government are sometimes confusingly accused of being anti-semitic, thus mixing up politics with religion/ethnicity.
Antisemites, I am sorry to tell Bevis and Mast, do not hate “Semites”; they hate Jews. The term originated in the nineteenth century as a pseudo-scientific euphemism when old-fashioned “Jew-hatred” had begun to sound barbaric. As for that last sentence, the straw man who equates criticism of Israeli policies with antisemitism has yet to be discovered. There is, of course, a resurgence of antisemitism in Europe more pervasive than at any time since the Hitler era. The old continent is unable to cope with the Israelophobia and generalized Jew-hatred of its rapidly multiplying and increasingly violent Muslim minority except by blaming its woes on its (peaceful) Jewish minority, who are once again fleeing the lands of their birth. But the trunk is the very last place you are likely to hear mention of it.
In examining the interminable lists of hole-and-corner organizations (including, e.g., “Women’s’ [sic] Peace Service” and “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid”) and books recommended by Bevis and Mast, I thought about the accusations long made against the Catholic church for dogmatic intolerance; but what struck me was not the similarity but the contrast. The Roman church, even at the canonization of a saint, admits and listens patiently to “a devil’s advocate,” a person formally assigned by the church to prepare arguments in opposition to the proposed beatification and canonization. But Bevis and Mast have not the slightest interest in assuring representation of diverse views. Their recommended reading includes not a single articulate voice making the case for Israel. Indeed, it dare not risk impartial voices. Where, for example, is the book by Conor Cruise O’Brien called The Siege (1986), long deemed indispensable for understanding the history of the conflict? It is nowhere to be found. O’Brien, a highly skilled writer and editor, was deputy chief of the Irish delegation to the United Nations from 1956 to 1961, and well placed in more ways than one to provide an evenhanded picture of the conflict between Israel and its belligerent neighbors: Sitting in the Irish U.N. chair, he found himself between Iraq and Israel. But, apparently because O’Brien’s book gave no evidence of authorial unwillingness to share the globe with a Jewish-majority state, he disqualified himself from inclusion in the trunk.
It goes without saying that works of the late professor Edward Said, and also books by his acolytes, are the most prominent ones recommended in this scandalous curriculum. Since Said is represented by no fewer than five titles, let us take a sampling of what Seattle’s ninth- or tenth-graders might learn from him about Jews, Zionism, and Israel. In The Question of Palestine, Said asserts: (1) Jews are not truly a people because their identity in the Diaspora is entirely the result of external persecution; (2) the Holocaust served to “protect” Palestinian Jews “with the world’s compassion”; (3) “The historical duration of a Jewish state [in Palestine] was a sixty-year period two millennia ago.” In other writings, for example in the journal Critical Inquiry, Said declared that
the U.N. Charter and every other known document or protocol entitles a people under foreign occupation not only to resist but also by extension to deal severely with collaborators. Why is it somehow OK for white people . . . to punish collaborators during periods of military occupation, and not OK for Palestinians to do the same?
Touching and beautiful words—which may help to explain the recent photos showing hooded Hamas agents shooting Arab “collaborators” in the head in the streets of Gaza, but will not tell our students much about anything else Said mentions. Indeed, his double career as literary critic and ideologue of terrorism is a potent argument against those who still believe in the corrective power of humanistic values.
Since Bevis is herself a schoolteacher, she shows some solicitude for those students—produced in such abundance by our high schools—who can neither read nor write nor speak English. In trunk class they can play games like “The Occupation Game,” which uses “action cards.” Here are two representative examples:
You try to prevent a soldier from inappropriately touching your sister at a checkpoint. Spin the wheel:
1-2: go to ARREST
3-4: go to BEATING
5: go to Action Card #21
6: they berate you and let you go
Action Card #21 (referred to frequently in the game) says:
You are shot by Occupation soldiers and die instantly.
You hover over the world for some time, unable to leave because you love and fear for your family and friends.
You have desires but no power. You wait, along with the living, for the Occupation to end.
Matthew Arnold, who as a school inspector in England knew a thing or two about secondary education, on which subject he wrote several books, used to say that there must be “such a thing as conscience in intellectual work.” Where is the conscience in people who would corrupt the young by imposing “The Palestine Teaching Trunk” upon (relatively) innocent junior-high or high-school students? And where is the American electorate that will vote for school levies to support curricula that catechize young people in the ideology of a murderous fanaticism with which this country is now at war? Better to recognize that “contemporary issues” should not be at the center of education at all. The parochialism of the contemporary not only distorts the perspective of students but is poor preparation for a thoughtful life.
Edward Alexander’s most recent book is The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal (Transaction Publishers, 2013).