By Jonah Cohen
Public school officials in the state of Washington have inserted the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into mandatory fifth-grade lessons on Native American history.
Children as young as 10 are being taught to associate the Native American experience with the Palestinians’ “fight to be free from Israeli dominance.”
The lesson is part of an otherwise informative Native American curriculum called Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State, which was developed by the Tribal Leaders Congress on Education, the Washington State School Directors Association and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Subsequently, the curriculum was approved by all 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington State. It has since been widely used in K-12 public schools after state legislation in 2015 required the teaching of Native American history.
The bizarre inclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be at odds with the curriculum’s self-described “place-based approach,” in which teachers and students are supposedly encouraged to focus on “the context of tribes in their own communities.”
“Unfortunately, we’re finding this sort of politicization of Israel in public schools across the United States,” said my colleague Steven Stotsky, who investigates bias in K-12 education for the CAMERA International Student Leadership Institute.
“In this case, I find it particularly troubling that the curriculum is being used by anti-Israel activists to divert attention away from Native American history,” Stotsky said. “It’s as unfair to Native Americans as it is to Jews. And ultimately, it’ll damage the credibility of the entire curriculum, as people figure out what’s going on.”
Troubled as well, I contacted the organizations behind the curriculum.
In response to my questions, a school official from the Washington State’s Office of Native Education wrote in an email, “To clarify, the focus of the Since Time Immemorial curriculum lesson you are inquiring about centers student learning around the understanding of the struggles Indian Nations experienced with the founding of the US Colonies.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the focus of the lesson,” she stated.
But, although it is not the main focus, an assignment about Native American revolts against European encroachment tells students that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a useful “contemporary connection” for understanding the Indian Wars for Independence.
The assignment uses leading questions to teach that, like Native Americans, the Palestinians are struggling to have “their sacred homelands returned to them.”
While it is true that most Palestinian Arabs likely view their uprisings in that way, the ancient and unbroken Jewish residence in these same sacred lands is omitted from the lesson.
There is no mention of the evidence of Jewish indigeneity or the need for a sovereign Jewish homeland in the often violently intolerant Middle East.
The assignment’s language indicates that students will never hear anything about the archaeological and textual discoveries that place the Jewish people in the land more than a millennium before the Arab-Islamic colonial incursions.
Nor will students learn about the Jewish majority in Jerusalem dating back to the 1800s, or the genetic evidence indicating that most of the world’s Jewish population can be traced to the Levant.
Perhaps most disturbingly, the centuries-old oppression of Mizrahi Jewish communities in the Arab world, culminating in their brutal ethnic cleansing in the 20th century, is also left out. Nearly 1 million refugees were compelled by these antisemitic atrocities to find refuge in Israel.
Since students do not receive the above information in the Since Time Immemorial curriculum, those who complete the assignment will likely come away from it with two notions: First, that Israelis are analogous to Europeans who overran another people’s territory; and second, that the ethical position is to side with the indigenous Palestinians in their fight to reclaim their sacred homeland from Jewish usurpers.
True, the lesson does not explicitly assert either of those two propositions. The children are left to make obvious inferences for themselves. But no schoolchild will be able to avoid the curriculum’s suggestion that Israelis are the intruder and Palestinians the victim.
Those conclusions might not be a conscious deduction on the part of the child. The scandal behind the lesson is that it plays on the innocence of grade-schoolers: All those boys and girls who think that they are “just doing” their required Native American assignment, but have no clue of the controversial ethics, history and politics of the Middle East that are being smuggled into it — and into their subconscious.
Any intellectually honest adult can see that this assignment is not an actual lesson on Jewish-Arab history. It is the exploitation of Native American suffering in order to plant in the schoolchild’s mind an assumption about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
It is, in short, not a good education but a form of political conditioning.
Jonah Cohen is communications director for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA.org). This originally ran on JNS.org.