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Misrepresentations of Israel By: Steven Plaut
Middle East Quarterly | Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Daniel Bar-Tal and Yona Teichman,
Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: Representations of Arabs in Israeli Society,"
Cambridge University Press, 483 pages

If you are of the opinion that stereotypes dictate and determine all of human achievement and conflict, if you believe that psychobabble offers the most promising way out of the Middle East conflict, then this book is a must for you.

Both authors are professors of psychology at Tel Aviv University and have worked for many years on studying "stereotypes."   There is an enormous literature in sociology and psychology on stereotyping in general and in textbooks and the media in particular.  Much of it is cited in this tedious book, which contains a reference list that is nearly 50 pages long.

The book's thesis goes something like this.  Whatever the past causes of the Middle East conflict, today the violence and conflict are being perpetuated by the fact that stereotypes of the "other" are common, inculcated by the schools and the media.  The only stereotypes that matter are those held by Jews concerning Arabs.  The authors' evidence of widespread racist stereotypes of Arabs held by Jews?  Mainly it is studies of drawings of Arabs made by pre-schoolers or very young Jewish children, plus some tendentious parsing of the Israeli media.

Now the real problem in this book is that it has a thinly-disguised political agenda and its bias shows up everywhere.   There is no serious evidence that "stereotypes" affect economic achievement and success.  While citing negative stereotypes about Chinese held by Americans (p.41) the authors forget to note the phenomenal educational and economic success by Chinese Americans, who out-earn whites.   There is no evidence that all those "reverse stereotypes" ubiquitously found in politically-corrected textbooks, about women lumberjacks, Jewish hockey players and Cherokee nuclear scientists, have had any impact on social mobility.   The authors use the term "ethnocentric" as a synonym for ethnic, and anyone identifying themselves as belonging to an ethnic group must suffer from "ethnocentricity", especially if they are Jews.

The authors consider stereotypes as racist and evidence of intolerance, never mind how true they are.  The fact that nearly all Palestinians endorse suicide bombers should not be regarded as legitimate empirical grounds for Israelis drawing conclusions about the savagery of most Palestinians.  The fact that almost all Israeli Arabs vote for pro-violence anti-Zionist Arab political parties having Stalinist or fascist orientation should not serve as empirical evidence for any conclusions regarding Israeli Arabs held by Jews.  The authors use "prejudice" and "stereotypes" interchangeably, but what happens when an ethnic group actually exhibits certain traits?   The willingness to dismiss all group characterizations as "stereotypes" proves that the authors suffer from an acute prejudice regarding such things.

More generally, the authors hold that only Jewish stereotypes about Arabs matter, citing Edward Said (p. 94).  Those discussions in the Palestinian media of Jews drinking blood for Passover, poisoning Palestinian food, spreading AIDS, etc. etc. do not interest the authors.  Not a single cartoon drawn by a Palestinian child of a Jew is included in the book.  It is only Jewish stereotyping of Arabs that is an obstacle to peace, not Palestinian textbooks and radio stations calling for genocide of Jews.  And the fact that pre-schoolers might hold stereotype images about EVERYTHING in their toddler world, from teachers to tricycles, has not occurred to the authors, who never examine any pre-schooler drawings about anything besides Arabs.   The scientific evidence that pre-school cartoons signal emerging racist attitudes in adults is that the authors believe this to be true.

And while the learned duo were out the parsing Israeli media (under the near-totalitarian hegemony of Israel's far-Left, by the way) and schoolbooks, they just never got around to examining which OTHER stereotypes were being inculcated purposely there, such as about Orthodox Jews, Jewish settlers, kibbutzniks, homosexuals, environmentalists, etc.

The bias is not surprising.  While Teichman seems to be blessedly uninvolved politically, Bar-Tal is smack in the center of Israel's Far Left, as seen in such things as his joining the anti-Zionist fringe in signing his name to political petitions, including one calling for international armed intervention in the Middle East conflict to impose a settlement on Israel, or one condemning Israel for using arms against "unarmed demonstrators."[1] Bar-Tal has written for the anti-Semitic far-Leftist web magazine "Counterpunch", blaming Ariel Sharon there for the current violence and justifying Palestinian terrorism.[2]   Bar-Tal's work is commonly cited as "evidence" that Israelis are racists, including by scores of Bash-Israel and anti-Semitic web sites and even in the UN's anti-Zionist Report on Racism and Xenophobia.[3]

Most of the "findings" in the book are old hat.  Other
previous studies making essentially the same arguments about Israeli schoolbooks include Adir Cohen's  An Ugly Face in the Mirror,  articles by Hebrew University's Eli Podeh,[4] the "Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace",[5] and quite a
few earlier articles by Bar-Tal or Teichman themselves.

One indication of the bias in the book is that the PLO's official web site sings its praises for proving how racist Israelis are.

Notes:

[1]  
http://oznik.com/petitions/010427signers.html

[2]    http://www.counterpunch.org/bartal0422.html

[3]
http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/d96d50d790ad4a47c1256b760047dac7?Opendocument

[4]   http://www.teachkidspeace.com/doc213.php

[5]   http://www.teachkidspeace.com/doc210.php

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Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.


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