How American Textbooks Mislead on Jews and Israel

By Gerstenfeld, Manfred | Jewish Political Studies Review, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

How American Textbooks Mislead on Jews and Israel


Gerstenfeld, Manfred, Jewish Political Studies Review


How American Textbooks Mislead on Jews and Israel The Trouble with Textbooks: Distorting History and Religion, by Gary A. Tobin and Dennis R. Ybarra, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008, 209 pp.

Reviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld

In recent years there has been increasing analysis of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic events, as well as biased academic teaching, on American campuses. Little however is known about prejudiced teaching in high schools. Evidence of its extent is mainly anecdotal.

One source of information on this topic is Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice-president of the Orthodox Union. The organization's youth group, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), has developed culture clubs in over 150 public schools across the U.S., and reaches thirty thousand Jewish youngsters. Weinreb says, "we find that many children are very anti-Israeli. They have been very much brainwashed by an extremely anti-Israeli educational establishment."1

Anti-Semitic incidents in American schools now receive more press attention. In October 2008 one which took place at the Parkway West Middle School in the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield was even internationally publicized. Students there announced a "Hit a Jew Day," on which they struck Jewish classmates.2

Many books used in schools are a major source of biased antiIsraeli teaching. Fifteen years ago Mitchell Bard published a study on eighteen of the history textbooks most widely used in American high schools, Rewriting History in Textbooks. He found them "full of factual errors, oversimplification, omission, and distortion, consistently to the detriment of Jews and Israel. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that the authors are prejudiced."3

Bard added that "high schools are, as far as anti-Israeli teaching is concerned, even worse than universities. This problem has grown since the Arab terrorist attacks of 9/11. They prompted a desire to better understand the Muslim world. The people who are producing the information about it in textbooks are largely funded by the Saudis. They are presenting a version of Islamic history that is often very selective, to put it mildly We have tried during the last couple of years to produce texts on the history of Israel and found it surprisingly difficult to get them into public schools."4

Dr. Gary Tobin and Dennis R. Ybarra 's new book, The Trouble with Textbooks: Distorting History and Religion, confirms Bard's findings. It makes an important and updated contribution to understanding better the dangers which teaching bias may present to American Jewry. Dr. Tobin is President of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, and Dennis R. Ybarra is a research associate there. Their research for the book reviewed twenty-eight high school textbooks from major publishers, focusing on four subjects: Jewish history, theology, and religion; the relationship between Judaism and Christianity; the relationship between Judaism and Islam; and the history, geography, and politics of the Middle East. …

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