Racism and Propaganda in Israeli Textbooks

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has devoted much of her scholarship to detailing how incredibly racist and propagandistic Israeli school books are.

The European Parliament awarded Peled with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2001. She is the daughter of Matti Peled, a former Israeli Major General and member of Knesset, and the granddaughter of Avraham Katsnelson, an Israeli “founding father” who co-signed the nation’s 1948 Declaration of Independence. Former Zionists, Nurit and her brother Miko Peled have become leading human rights advocates and Palestinian solidarity activists in Israel.

In an interview discussing her work, Peled details chilling facts about Israeli textbooks—and about Israeli society overall.

The following are some of the scholar’s findings:

  • Most recent history textbooks are really, you can say, military manifestos.”
  • Maps of Israel often leave the occupied Palestinian territories blank, implying no people live there.
  • Various demographics statistics are divided between Jews and non-Jews (and sometimes even between Jews and Arabs)—and are distorted to reaffirm and reify racist stereotypes.
  • There is a frequent propagandistic use and absence of pictures, terminology, colors, etc.—e.g., pictures of Palestinians are often in black and white, and often depict rural, non-industrial areas, propagating racist stereotypes about “backward” Arabs.
  • The Israeli government destroys all extant copies of textbooks that do not fit its censorship requirements, and forbids selling these books in any stores in the country.

Yes, you read that right; Israel resorts to book-banning and to the destruction of books. I will resist making historical parallels.

In the conclusion of the video, Professor Peled reflects on Israeli politics overall. She says that there’s “increasing racism, not only toward Arabs,” but also toward Ethiopian Jews, African refugees, and even toward Jews from Arab countries (Mizrahim).

Peled adds

The future looks very bleak. … The state is approaching fascism in a speed that you wouldn’t believe.

Politically, things are very bad and very frightening. Very frightening.