A Textbook Study in Moral Equivalence

For some years now the Israeli government has been monitoring the Palestinian educational system and media and decrying the relentless, vicious propaganda against Jews in general and Israel in particular. It has tried to call the world’s attention to the egregious duplicity of a purported partner for peace who daily indoctrinates a generation of children to become martyrs for jihadist terror.

Yet the world has shown little interest in the true face of its international cause célèbre. Until this week, that is, when a group of academics released a study on the subject — though the findings were not exactly what one might have hoped.

The study turned out to be the latest adventure in moral equivalence. Conducted by a team of American, Israeli and Palestinian researchers, it claims that both educational systems are at fault, largely presenting one-sided narratives of the conflict between the two peoples and tending to ignore the existence of the other side. Just two peoples caught up almost inextricably in a “conflict narrative.” In other words, everybody is guilty — and nobody is guilty.

The results are dramatically at odds with the abundantly-available evidence of a one-sided situation; of anti-Israel Palestinian propaganda, totally unlike anything which can be found in Israel regarding Arabs.

In a detailed 21-page response, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs dismissed the research as “biased, unprofessional and profoundly unobjective,” challenging the study’s methodology, as well as its claim to U.S. government sponsorship.

“The study omits important examples of incitement and delegitimization of Israelis and Jews in official Palestinian Authority textbooks, whether in an intentional attempt to blur the differences between the two educational systems, or due to poor research,” the response said.

In their search for moral equivalence, the researchers offered examples of Israeli and Palestinian “negative descriptions” of the other side. For example, they equated Israeli texts which mentioned pogroms and terrorist attacks against Jews with PA texts describing Zionism and the founding of the state of Israel as illegitimate.

And while the Palestinians in their textbooks glorify martyrdom through murderous attacks on Israelis, and the Israelis teach about the martyrs who died in such attacks, the study characterized both as “negative descriptions,” and equally objectionable.

Despite the academics’ claims to impartiality (researchers worked in a kind of double-blind scheme, without knowledge of what their colleagues were finding) the Israeli rebuttal noted that the research was misleadingly selective.

“The study provides a distorted picture… by focusing only on textbooks, [ignoring] official PA educational publications, exams, summer camps, children’s media programs, and cultural events” which “glorify terror and demonize Israelis and Jews.”

It was also revealed that the report’s authors are misleading the public regarding sponsorship and support. “It states that it received funding from the U.S. State Department, creating the impression of official U.S. support for the study. Indeed, both Reuters and The Associated Press accepted that self-description, and headlined the study as ‘U.S.-funded.’”

While the project did receive a State Department grant in 2008, the U.S. government had no involvement in its preparation and has not lent its support to the actual report.

They also assert that it was commissioned by the “Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land,” which obscures the fact that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate retracted its support for the study, along with 5 of the 14 research members — those who had the integrity to withhold their signatures from this shameless pretense of intellectual truth-seeking.

“On both sides, the chief problem is the crime of omission. It’s the absence of a clear, outright recognition of existence and the other side’s right to exist,” said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli member of the study’s scientific advisory panel.

That Israelis are prepared to live side by side with a Palestinian state (provided some show of good faith is made and adequate security guarantees are in place), something which cannot be said about the Palestinians, is beside the point for him. Time and again, Palestinian leaders have refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist — indeed, they openly seek its destruction — yet somehow Baskin and his colleagues find it possible to blame both sides.

There is no law of nature which says that in any given conflict both sides are equally at fault. One side may be right and the other wrong. But if you are committed to a worldview which holds everyone equally guilty, it becomes virtually impossible to acknowledge the disturbing fact that sometimes, as in this case, there exists a moral asymmetry.

Fomenting hatred and violence can be, and often is, a one-way street. The “cycles of violence” so often referred to in the media can be, and often are, started by one side. The refusal to negotiate a peaceful settlement can be, and in this case certainly is, the fault of one side and not the other, despite endless references to an “impasse” in the peace process — as if some impersonal force were blocking the way, as if a tree had fallen across the road, too heavy for anyone to remove.

The report is a textbook study in moral equivalence, which for all its academic posturings has little to do with academic research, and nothing to do with the truth.