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Tel Aviv University
Professor of Psychology Daniel Bar-Tal finds some "Supremacism and Racism" in Israeli School Textbooks, not in Arab books


Thursday, June 21, 2007

In the article "The Arab Image in Hebrew School Textbooks" by professor Dan Bar-Tal of the Tel Aviv University makes a study of 124 textbooks used in Israeli schools and reports that "over the years, generations of Israeli Jews were taught a negative and often delegitimizing view of Arabs." The two main traits of Arabs in the textbooks are "primitiveness, inferiority in comparison to Jews" and "their violence, to characteristics like brutality, untrustworthiness, cruelty, fanaticism, treacherousness and aggressiveness." - Wikipedia

Such demonisation appears reminiscent of what one would expect to find in Nazi Germany. In fact after reading the following, one could easily conclude that Israeli textbooks present the Arabs as the 'Untermensch' of Palestine.

1) Israeli school textbooks as well as children’s storybooks, according to recent academic studies and surveys, portray Palestinians and Arabs as “murderers,” “rioters,” “suspicious,” and generally backward and unproductive. Direct delegitimization and negative stereotyping of Palestinians and Arabs are the rule rather than the exception in Israeli schoolbooks.

Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University studied 124 elementary, middle- and high school textbooks on grammar and Hebrew literature, history, geography and citizenship. Bar-Tal concluded that Israeli textbooks present the view that Jews are involved in a justified, even humanitarian, war against an Arab enemy that refuses to accept and acknowledge the existence and rights of Jews in Israel.

“The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were delegitimized by the use of such labels as ‘robbers,’ ‘bloodthirsty,’ and ‘killers,’” said Professor Bar-Tal, adding that there has been little positive revision in the curriculum over the years.

Bar-Tal pointed out that Israeli textbooks continue to present Jews as industrious, brave and determined to cope with the difficulties of “improving the country in ways they believe the Arabs are incapable of.”

SOURCE: "Israeli Textbooks and Children’s Literature Promote Racism and Hatred Toward Palestinians and Arabs" - Washington Report on Middle East Affairs - September 1999.

2) In “The Arab Image in Hebrew School Textbooks,” an article drawing from his study of 124 textbooks, Professor Dan Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University reports that “over the years, generations of Israeli Jews were taught a negative and often delegitimizing view of Arabs.”

Bar-Tal found some positive Arab images. But he reports two major themes of Arab characteristics. One taught “primitiveness, inferiority in comparison to Jews.” The other related to “their violence, to characteristics like brutality, untrustworthiness, cruelty, fanaticism, treacherousness and aggressiveness.”

Referring to Israeli texts of the ’80s and ’90s, Bar-Tal reports: “Geography books for the elementary and junior high schools stereotype Arabs negatively, as primitive, dirty, agitated, aggressive, and hostile to Jews … history books in the elementary schools hardly mention Arabs … history textbooks of the high schools, the majority of which cover the Arab-Jewish conflict, stereotype the Arabs negatively. Arabs are presented as intransigent and uncompromising.”

“The parents and the grandparents of the present generation,” says Bar-Tal, “were provided with the same negative image of the Arabs in their school textbooks as we see today, within the context of the prolonged Jewish-Arab conflict. One might add that it takes many years to rewrite school textbooks and a few generations to change the societal beliefs about the stereotyping and delegitimization of the Arabs.”

SOURCE: "Reports on Palestinian kids’ hatred grossly exaggerated" - By Len Traubman -Jewish News Weekly of Northern California - February 2004

3) In conclusion, it is possible to say that almost all the Israeli school textbooks that referred to Arabs in the context of the conflict have continuously stereotyped them negatively, and even delegitimized them following the Jewish experience of continuous violent confrontation with the Arabs over more than a hundred years. This conclusion is based on the finding that Arabs are mostly presented in the context of the conflict and, in this context, they are almost always negatively stereotyped.

The conflict provided a problem to the Jewish educators - how to present Arabs. It began with the first textbooks written at the end of the 19th century, which, if they acknowledged the existence of the Arab population in Palestine, did not recognize its national entity.


The question that can be asked, then, is what kinds of representation of Arabs do students find in school textbooks? The great majority of the books at best stereotype Arabs negatively, but often they also delegitimize them in the context of the conflict. From these descriptions, students can learn two major themes of Arab characteristics. One concerns their primitiveness, inferiority in comparison to Jews, backwardness and ignorance. The other theme relates to their violence, to characteristics like brutality, untrustworthiness, cruelty, fanaticism, treacherousness and aggressiveness.

The books provide graphic descriptions of Arab pogroms, murders and riots, the result of agitation and incitement of the Arab masses by their leaders. Arabs are usually presented as a threat to Jewish existence and this stereotype is assumed to arouse feelings of insecurity, fear and hatred. Positive stereotyping is rare. Some of the books refer to positive characteristics, which appear mostly in a particular ethnocentric framework, whenever Arabs help Jews or recognize their superiority. Even so, some books describe Arabs‘ hospitality and friendliness.

The books almost never present Arabs of middle class, professionals, or intellectuals. This is especially puzzling in view of the fact that the Arab professionals, citizens of the State of Israel, occupy a noticeable place in Israeli society, for example in hospitals as doctors or auxiliary personnel, or in schools in the role of teachers. Also, in the occupied territories, there is a considerable segment of intelligentsia, which does not appear in the books. Finally, the books relatively ignore the fact that, since 1979, Israel has had a peace treaty with Egypt. This dramatic event could have led to a better acquaintance with Egyptian society and culture.

The negative stereotyping, which is still evident, and the delegitimization, which was common in earlier periods, are transmitted to the students from the first early years of their formal education in the elementary school up to their last classes of high school, when they are in advanced adolescence.

SOURCE: "The Arab Image in Hebrew School Textbooks" - Professor Daniel Bar-Tel; professor of political psychology at Tel Aviv University - Palestine/Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture.


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