School quiz is political propaganda

I am writing with regard to your quiz no. 9 (May 2003, Basic), which my 13-year old son enjoyed doing this morning.

I would like to congratulate you on putting together a well-expressed and highly topical quiz that trains the spotlight on current events in an interesting and easy to understand way, yet without talking down to youngsters.

I do, however, take serious issue with one of the questions in this quiz:
The first question asks: “Yassir Arafat is the President of Palestine. Now the country also has a Prime Minister. What is his name?”

While it is highly laudable to draw attention to such a topical event of great current interest and potentially far-reaching importance, I strongly object to what is at best perhaps an unintentional error, at worst an invidious departure from fact designed to indoctrinate impressionable young children: there is no country called Palestine.

The facts of the matter are that Arabs of former Jordanian and Egyptian colonies – people who never previously expressed a wish for independence while under Arab occupation – now express a wish to create an independent state on lands currently administrated by Israel, lands that were secured from the aforementioned two Arab countries by Israel following a series of wars aggressed against Israel by these and other Arab states. Before that, Palestine was a geographical area (not a politically defined entity) administrated by Britain, and before that by Turkey. This historical Palestine included all of what is today Israel, as well as parts of the Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, all of Jordan and Egypt.

It is an unequivocal fact that local Arabs on the West Bank and in Gaza identify themselves as Palestinian Arabs. Equally so, it is an unequivocal fact that the region as a whole stands to reap immense benefits from a solution to the conflict that would grant the Palestinian Arabs the right to determine their own future once they stop perpetrating suicide-bombing massacres and armed ambushes against Israeli civilians. There is a wide gap, however, between this highly desirable theoretical state of affairs, on the one hand, and the presentation of “Palestine” as an already existing fact, on the other – this simply smacks of the indoctrination of impressionable schoolchildren.

Until the current state of conflict is resolved, might I suggest the use in future of the internationally accepted definition for the area under advisement? It is referred to by all the foremost authorities, including the UN, as “the Palestinian Territories” or “the Palestinian Authority Area”. I feel sure you would not wish to put yourselves forward as a greater authority on the subject than even the UN – the very body under whose auspices the conflict erupted in the first place.

The BBC continues to wage war against Israel

On Tuesday the world witnessed yet another atrocity perpetrated by young British Muslims against innocent civilians and non-combatants, following in the footsteps of actions such as the attack against the USS Cole, the beheading of Daniel Pearl and the attempted shoe-bombing of a civilian airliner.

Yet the BBC continues its highly one-sided reporting as though it plays no part in creating the climate in which these misguided young people are nurtured and sucked into the path of violence.

Our TV screens came alive (Thursday 1st May at 9 am UK time), with close-up images of the grief of Palestinians after an Israeli incursion into Gaza which left six people dead and a number of others injured. There was no mistaking the anguish of the civilians – and the numerous armed militants – as the camera caught every line of bitterness and sorrow on their distraught faces. The cameras really were that close.

Of course, this came just 24 or so hours after two young Muslim assassins – by all accounts holders of British passports – killed 3 innocent bystanders and maimed about 50 others in a bar in Tel Aviv. No pictures on the BBC of anguished Israeli civilians, of distraught survivors looking for loved ones or friends amid the rubble. Only a few fleeting images of broken concrete, smashed furniture, torn curtains. The inanimate detritus of any violent action – a tropical storm, a hurricane, an earthquake. Not much graphic connection to the human perpetrators, not much graphic imagery of the human suffering.

It is about time the BBC publicly acknowledged its responsibility in the creation of the climate of violence that many young extremist Muslims find so appealing. This climate is a direct result of the asymmetrical image of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict that this publicly funded public-service organ conveys with such unbounded enthusiasm and unwavering determination.

With an ever-sharper focus on the need to combat terror and prevent the targeting of civilians, there may well be a case for fighting a legal case against those responsible for encouraging the perpetration of such acts. A terrible shame if the BBC were to become embroiled in a legal battle to save its face when it should instead be following its charter – reporting the news, not shaping it.

The strategy of accumulated abuse is permissible – depending on who you choose as its hapless victim

To the programming editors at Sky News,

I wish to draw your attention to the following quote, as close to verbatim as I can manage:

These proceedings can take anything up to a year or a year and a half, but in the meantime the damage will have been well and truly done.”

Mr al Bari, editor of Al Quds newspaper and a frequent guest on Sky News, made the above statement in the channel’s newspaper review just before 9 am on Wednesday, 23 April.

At the time, Mr al Bari was reflecting on allegations of financial impropriety that have been levelled at British Labour MP George Galloway. The point Mr al Bari was making was that even if the allegations were refuted in a court of law and ultimately proven to be totally unfounded, the accumulated damage caused by their constant repetition in the interim would be irreversible.

Mr al Bari does of course know what he is talking about – he is an incessant practitioner of this effective tactic. He employs it in a constant barrage of attacks against Israel. In my (admittedly incomplete) records of Mr al Bari’s appearances on Sky News, he has never to my knowledge ever – ever – spoken on TV without in one way or another abusing the opportunity by casting slurs on Israel, however tenuous the links between that country and the subject under current discussion.

This time, for instance, in a review of the press coverage of the as yet unproven allegations against Mr Galloway, Mr al Bari actually managed to shoot off at a tangent and mention – of all things – a mayor of Nablus on the West Bank who lost his legs in a bomb attack purportedly carried out by Israel about 25 years ago. Mr al Bari thereby did – yet again – exactly what he protests is unfair in the case of Mr Galloway – whom he reveres.

What is at issue here is not the substantive content of Mr al Bari’s allegation – he may well be entirely right or abysmally wrong in his claim. What is at issue is his constant barrage of attacks against Israel whenever he is privileged to appear on TV. Can he not be persuaded to focus at least nominally on the subject at hand? There is, surely, a time and a place for everything – including criticism of Israel, the PA, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, the Lebanon, Zimbabwe. Every occasion can surely not be hijacked to pursue a highly personal agenda bordering on a private vendetta?

For the sake of scientific repeatability, may I suggest that Mr al Bari be invited to comment on the Sky News weather forecast or your channel’s excellent traffic updates – his skill at weaving negative comments on Israel into such a neutral context would be put to the ultimate test.

At the end of last week (January 2003), there were media reports that Palestinian terrorists used live donkeys as mobile bombs in their attempts to kill Jews in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

Whatever one’s political affiliations, it is outrageous that innocent animals be used as live carriers of bombs, to be blown up by remote control.

Anti-Jewish sentiment spreads in Swedish schools

The following case-history highlights creeping anti-Jewish sentiment in Swedish society.

On the 11th of September 2001, four civilian aircraft were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon headquarters in the USA.

The shock of this event prompted many head teachers in Sweden to advise their staff to take time from scheduled school classes to discuss this event with students. School students of all ages were arriving at school not knowing, not understanding, looking for guidance and reassurance from the adults in their lives.

My thirteen year old daughter’s teacher came into the class and announced that the lesson would be spent discussing the previous day’s events.

The teacher started by explaining that these were terrorist actions, that they were terrible events, and that many civilians had undoubtedly died – the figures in those first hours were very uncertain. She then went on to explain, by way of background, that although actions of this sort are terrible, it is nonetheless important to understand the justifiable anger of the Arab and Muslim world against everything American (it was already at this early stage clear that the aircraft had been hijacked by people with an Arab connection). This justifiable anger stemmed from general Arab and Muslim hatred of the Americans because, a few decades previously, the Americans had given the Jews the land that had previously belonged to the Palestinians, so that the Jews could build their own country of Israel. The Arab and Muslim world (continued the teacher) did not accept this outside interference by the Americans, which explained their hatred of everything American and probably prompted the previous day’s terror action.

My daughter returned home in a state of shock. When I later phoned the teacher to discuss the issue, she denied saying anything of the sort and accused my daughter of lying. I replied that I was prepared to attend a meeting with the entire class at which all students would be given free opportunity to confirm or deny my daughter’s version. The teacher declined to participate. I pointed out that any further attempt to indoctrinate the children would prompt me to make a formal complaint to the Swedish Ministry of Education, and I left it at that.

It is now about 7 months later, mid-April 2002, the political and security situation in Israel and the West Bank/Gaza Strip is very precarious. In Sweden, the media attitude towards Israel is extremely offensive, openly biased towards the Palestinian cause. The media’s and the public’s distinction between Israeli and Jew is becoming increasingly clouded. Jewish institutions like the synagogue and school, and individuals going about their lives, have been targeted in a variety of ways, including bomb threats, beatings and vandalisation. There is an increasingly aggressive public stance towards everything Israeli, and to a growing extent everything Jewish.

On Sunday the 7th of April, a large pro-Palestinian demonstration is held in the city centre. My by now 14 year old daughter is walking home with her best friend – a classmate from the class in which the above explanation of the Twin Towers action was given by the teacher. The friend says that she thinks the demonstrators are absolutely right, that “the country should be given back to the Palestinians since it was the Americans who gave you Jews the country in the first place”. My daughter is stunned. She wants to explain to her friend how she sees Israel’s rights and entitlements on this issue, she wants to explain that there are two sides to every dispute, that there is scope for both sides to come to an agreement if only the violence would stop. Perhaps most importantly, she wants to explain the distinction between Israelis and Jews. Her friend fends off her explanations with virtually the same words that the teacher had delivered all those months ago – they seem to have made a strong impression. The friend then leaves, having heard nothing and denying my daughter the opportunity to explain anything.

My daughter is extremely upset. The day before, she had attended Shabbat services in the synagogue – guarded by armed police patrols on foot and in squad cars – and the day after is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Her grandmother was her family’s only survivor from Ravensbruck and Auschwitz, weighing 40 kilos when the camp was liberated and she was granted a new lease of life in Sweden. My daughter wants to explain all this and much more to her best friend. Instead, she can do nothing but watch her friend walk away.

My wife now writes to our daughter’s class teacher (not the same teacher as the one above) and sketches the background to these distressing events, taking care not to mention names. My wife asks permission to come to the class or to ask someone from the Jewish Community’s staff unit to come to the class and help put both the political and – in particular – the religious/social aspects into a more accurate perspective. She states that she does not in any way wish to influence the students’ opinions in any direction, only to give them balanced facts so that they can draw their own conclusions – whatever those conclusions may be. She also wants to talk about the importance of respect, of listening to one another’s opinions before deciding whether to accept or reject them. The class teacher declines to deal with the request, although this is her home class, and she instead passes the note on to the school management – the headmaster.

One day later, my wife gets a single-sentence reply: “Your request has been denied.” No explanation, no justification.

This is Sweden, the year is 2002.

My wife and I – and our daughter – feel this is a frightening sign of the creeping anti-Jewish sentiments that are becoming increasingly widespread throughout Swedish society. When these sentiments spread throughout the school system – when teachers express themselves as above and their students repeat their words virtually verbatim 7 months later – and there is no forum for discussion or balanced presentation of facts, we feel that the situation needs to be illuminated.

I’m not sure we can blame the school, however. The press in Sweden are blatantly anti-Israel, letters to the editor with a pro-Israel stance are virtually always refused, there is no forum in the public media where Jews with a moderate profile or Jews who support Israel can be heard, although there is always editorial space for Jews who are critical of Israel. Anti-Jewish activity is concealed behind ostensibly anti-Israeli opinions. The media do not support the position of the country’s Jews, nor of Israel, they refuse to point out the difference between Jew and Israeli, and they will not accept Jewish input that explains any of the above.

The school takes its cue and follows suit.