Poisoning the Well

Published: December 27, 2023
Click here to see article originally published on jewishpress.com

In a disheartening sign of the times, the gifts my brother gave at this year’s Chanukah party were pocketsize cannisters of pepper spray. They elicited their share of gallows humor but as Jewish New Yorkers we welcomed them.

Not a day goes by without another media or anecdotal account of marauding anti-Israel protesters disrupting another area of New York City. On any given day, my nephew strategically plans his exit from his Midtown office to avoid the often violent and always intimidating pro-Hamas activists in keffiyehs with bullhorns.

On Christmas Day, arrests were made in Midtown as hundreds of pro-Palestinian protestors marched through Midtown and clashed with police.

Ordinary citizens are stunned at how October 7th catapulted our city streets into antisemitic anarchy at lightning speed. Rampant Jew-hatred in American universities and among Muslim communities seemingly caught us as unaware as the massacre in Israel itself did on Simchat Torah.

What appears to be stunningly swift demonstrations of Jew hatred, however, should hardly be surprising. Nor did it start at the college level, where virulent expressions of anti-Semitism are now a known quantity.

Bigots aren’t born; they’re bred. If Americans had been closely following the education system in Gaza and the West Bank, they would have recognized how anti-Israel indoctrination takes root at the earliest levels of schooling. In addition to glorifying terrorists and calling for the eradication of Israel and Jews, students are brainwashed into believing that that Jews invented ties to their historic homeland. Textbooks in Palestinian Authority schools, including those run by UNRWA, routinely delegitimize and demonize Jews.

The Center for Near East Policy Research documents how Palestinian students in 3rd grade are taught that “Jerusalem is an Arab city built by our Arab ancestors thousands of years ago.” In 5th grade, students learn that “Al-Aqsa Mosque, including the wall, is a Palestinian land and an exclusive right of the Muslims.” And in the 10th grade, they learn that “[The occupier] has built for himself an artificial entity that derives its identity and the legitimacy of its existence from tales, legends and phantasies.”

If education is largely the culprit, it is also the answer. Americans need to pay close attention to the effects of such incitement if they want to uproot what has been transplanted here and counter it. But therein lies the rub. Many students, who shout “From the river to the sea” without being able to identify either on a map, are the products of gross incompetence but also of conscious intent.

While many public schools recognize the need to combat rising antisemitism and implement curriculum designed to address it, much of what is being offered is an antithetical lesson. Case in point: in an effort to explain the Israel-Palestinian conflict, New York State Education Department currently provides a suggested curriculum called The Israeli-Palestinian Crisis: Resources for Educators, Caregivers, and School Leaders. Much of it is culled from resources known for their anti-Israel bias.

In one recommended New York Times piece by The Learning Network called, “The Israel-Hamas War: A Forum for Young People to React”, a moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas predominates. “Sometimes, the bloodshed has been incited by Israel targeting militant leaders or responding to protests. Other times, violence has been set off by attacks from Hamas or other militants.”

According to the authors, Israel and Hamas are both to blame. There is no terrorism and there are no terrorists.

A similar proposed article for educators from Education Week states, “Israel and Hamas have exchanged attacks for decades.” Without providing necessary context about Hamas perpetrators, an unsuspecting student would assume, as the authors must intend, equal culpability.

More of the same appears in a Vox video called “The Israel-Palestine Conflict: A Brief, Simple History”. It’s so brief, that it completely omits the 1929 Hebron Massacre, the Yom Kippur War, the attacks on Israel that led to the Lebanon War, the buildup and use of tunnels and weaponry that led to the “suffocating blockade” on Gaza, the PA’S Pay to Slay, and antisemitic incitement in PA run territories.

Perhaps most egregious is a piece from UNICEF titled, “How to Talk to your Children about Conflict and War”. In it, UNICEF urges educators to avoid using labels like “bad people” and “evil” when discussing the conflict with children. Instead, it proposes to use the “opportunity to encourage compassion, such as for the families [in Gaza] forced to flee their homes.”

Teaching children that there is no such thing as evil is teaching them that there is no such thing as right and wrong. Such an amoral approach to education explains how pro-Hamas protestors celebrate Hamas attacks against Jews and even against their own people by using them as human shields. It also explains how a majority of Americans between the ages of 18-24, according to Harvard-Harris poll, want “Israel to be ended and given to Hamas and the Palestinians” and believe that the October 7th terrorist attack was “justified by the grievance of Palestinians.”

This underscores the dire need to take the Middle East curriculum away from historical revisionists in our school system. Teachers who persuade students that Israel is guilty of genocide, turning the term on its head, are likely the same teachers who encouraged their students to march in support of Hamas, as they did several weeks ago in New York City.

Absence the merit of truth, or at a minimum of context, anti-Israel activists brazenly reprocess history as it unfolds so that the events of October 7th themselves are denied. Even Holocaust deniers laid low as survivors stumbled out of Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen in 1945.

In a Wall Street Journal column on Tuesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu spelled out three prerequisites for peace – “Hamas must be destroyed, Gaza must be demilitarized, and Palestinian society must be deradicalized.” Of these goals, the last is the most difficult. And the most crucial.

King Solomon wisely said in Ecclesiastes, “That which is crooked cannot be made straight.” How do you straighten out a generation reared in radicalization? It cannot be done without ousting the radicalizers, both in Palestinian society and the society of Palestinian supporters.

For educators that means going back to the drawing board. And starting with the truth.