Opinion: America's pastime game: Bashing Palestinians
By Daoud Kuttab
February 2, 2012
Apologists for Israel’s continued occupation and control over Palestinian lives have long contended that Israel is more interested in peace than the Palestinians. One exaggerated argument, repeatedly put forward to justify military rule, is that Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews.
Politicians in the US, especially during election campaigns, find that bashing Palestinians has no downside and, moreover, yields a vote (and donation) jackpot.
Palestinian textbooks are scrutinized for any hostile reference to Israel — or praise of Palestinian nationalism — and every frame broadcast on Palestinian television stations is analyzed by experts to see if it contains any incitement to violence.
Palestinian-Israeli committees spent hours researching these issues and concluded that there is no textbook glorification of violence or hate. European and bipartisan American committees reached similar conclusions.
But anti-Palestinian attacks never stopped. All the efforts to respond scientifically and comprehensively to the unsubstantiated attacks failed to change the narrative that anti-Palestinian forces, especially in the United States, were keen on perpetuating.
Self-declared professor and historian Newt Gingrich led the charge by negating Palestinian existence. Speaking on a Jewish online television station, Gingrich contradicted what the Israeli government did in 1993, when it recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. By cherry picking historical evidence to back his convoluted argument, Gingrich claimed that Palestinians are an "invented" people.
A few days later, when pressed by ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulus, Gingrich repeated the blood libel against Palestinians by saying that Palestinian math books use killing Jews as part of their numeracy education. "They have textbooks that say, if there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left? We pay for those textbooks through our aid money."
Of course, the textbook statement he referred to does not exist. The Associated Press went through the trouble of interviewing Israeli, Palestinian and American experts who have been deeply involved in the issue. Their conclusion was simple. According to researchers, Gingrich’s claim "is not in any of the texts".
AP went further and stated: "A review of some texts by the AP, as well as several studies by Israeli, Palestinian and international researchers, found no direct calls for violence against Israel."
Fact-checking sites, pundits and politicians failed to deal with the issue. And despite the AP story, no major American journalist, columnist, debater or think tank has called for or demanded that Gingrich admit and apologize for this brazen lie. Neither did the US government, which until recently funded Palestinian ministry of education projects, set the record straight even though the US presidential nominee implicated the US government in paying to print books that "teach terrorism".
Worse is what is happening in the US Congress. A hold has been placed on US funding for Palestinian health and educational programs. The hold, which was placed in September by a Republican congresswoman from Florida, is intended to punish the Palestinian Authority because its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, dared to ask the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a state.
Even more perplexing is what happened in early January when restrictions were placed on money already approved and allocated by the US Congress, including money for the Palestinian version of Sesame Street. The Washington Post and other US media outlets reported that $2.5 million committed for teaching Palestinian children tolerance and mutual respect was part of the hold instituted by congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
American politicians appear to be using precious little long-term thinking when it comes to Israel and Palestinians. Falsehoods declared on national television about textbooks are debunked by no one in the US government. The silence appears to be less a consequence of ignorance than of fear.
Politically, there is little to gain from saying an honest word regarding US policy on Israel and Palestine. Consequently, the Republican-controlled Congress proceeds merrily on its course and holds up the funding that could rectify what experts agree is a non-existent problem of Palestinian textbook incitement.
Bashing Palestinians remains an easy political pastime, especially at election time.
It is tragic, however, that demagogic electioneering — and outright lies — can lead to the loss of responsible children’s television programming for Palestinians. And it is telling that broader funding for Palestinian civil society can be stopped simply because Palestinian leaders asserted the right of Palestinians to live free in a state of our own.
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist and former professor of journalism at Princeton University.