“Lies in the library” and Comic book controversy

June 24, 2005

* Bernard Lewis warns that we live in times when “great efforts are being made to falsify the record of the past and to make history a tool of propaganda.” We have seen this process at work in parts of the mainstream media, and now we see it in children’s library books and textbooks about Israel and the Middle East.

 

CONTENTS

1. “Lies in the Library” (By Andrea Rapp, Reform Judaism magazine, Summer 2005)
2. “Comic book depiction of Holocaust upsets Jews” (By Roger Boyes, Times of London, June 21, 2005)

 


CREEPING HISTORICAL REVISIONISM

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach two articles. The first charts creeping historical revisionism about Israel in American library books for both adults and children. The second concerns criticism in Germany of comic books on the Holocaust.

LIES IN THE LIBRARY

In her article (below), Andrea Rapp, a librarian in Ohio, outlines how an increasing number of books being bought by and stocked in American libraries contain the same kinds of lies and myths about Israel that have been common in recent years in parts of the mainstream media.

For example in her book on the killings of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics (Rosen books, 2003), author Liz Sonneborn is reluctant to identify Israelis as victims and one of the killers is said to have felt “proud that for the first time his life had meaning.”

Sonneborn “explains” that at the birth of Israel, Israeli soldiers forced hundreds of thousands of Arabs into “camps.”

As I have pointed out before on this list, news organizations such as the BBC, who at the time the Munich Olympic massacre took place correctly called the perpetrators “terrorists” have in recent articles on BBC online, gone out of their way not to refer to them as “terrorists.”

It seems that the distortion by news organizations of current events is now being mirrored by library books that distort history.

I have argued previously, both in published articles and on this email list, that media distortions are not just unpleasant; they set back hopes for a diplomatic solution and for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The same can be said in regard to other forms of literature be they books for children or academics.

COMIC BOOKS: FROM DONALD DUCK TO AUSCHWITZ

The second article below, from the Times of London, concerns two comic books that are to be published by the German firm Ehapa, the same comic book company that publishes comics with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. These two comic books “Auschwitz” and “Yossel” have been criticized for portraying such a serious topic in this light form.

Both the articles below illustrate a worrying trend of historical revisionism that could leave an indelible mark on many generations to come. There are summaries first for those who don’t have time to read them in full.

-- Tom Gross

 

MARK STEYN ON RACHEL CORRIE (An additional note)

As I mentioned recently (in one of the dispatches on Le Monde), I don’t usually point out the full extent to which notes, commentaries and items on this list are subsequently used by many of the journalists who subscribe to the list.

But because Mark Steyn is such a brilliant writer, I am happy to report his referral to and repetition of parts of what he calls “Tom Gross’s withering internet post” in his new article on the play “My Name is Rachel Corrie.”

Steyn, who is best known as a political commentator (his work regularly appears in north America, the UK, the Middle East and Australia), is also the theatre critic for the distinguished American monthly The New Criterion.

(Because Mark Steyn is often sympathetic to Israel, many of his detractors have assumed he is Jewish. In fact he is a Canadian Baptist, born in the Caribbean and resident in New Hampshire.)

 

SUMMARIES

LIES IN THE LIBRARY

“Lies in the Library” (By Andrea Rapp, Reform Judaism magazine, Summer 2005)

A few months ago, I ordered a collection of recently published children’s books on Israel for our temple library. Much to my dismay, after reviewing the works I discovered that many books contained flat-out incorrect information reported as fact, demonstrated a blatant anti-Israel bias, or sometimes both. These are the library books on Israel that students across the country will be consulting for reports and class assignments. It’s frightening...

In A Historical Atlas of Israel (Rosen Publishing Group, 2003), Amy Romano does mention the 1947 UN partition resolution but editorializes: “Although the Jews accepted the decree, they had no intention of honoring it.”...

In The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Abdo and Daughters, 2004), Cory Gunderson asserts that “the Israeli military killed hundreds of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon.” In fact, it was Lebanese Christian militiamen who committed the killings in the camps...

Sometimes a single word was enough for me to consider a book inappropriate for our temple library. In an otherwise lovely book for middle-grade students, Welcome to Israel (Chelsea House Publishers, 2002), Meredith Costain and Paul Collins write: “A group of Jews known as Zionists wanted Palestine to become a state where only Jews could live.” The use of the word “only” presents an entirely false and sinister picture of Israel’s founders...

Aside from factual errors, something else is afoot in books on the Arab-Israeli conflict: the acceptance of creeping historical revisionism promulgated by Palestinian media sources. The most common untruths are the assertions that the Palestinian Arabs are the inheritors of the ancient Canaanites (or the Philistines) and that Jews and Arabs (now reborn as “Canaanites”) have been at war with each other for millennia--both fictions seeking to show that Arab ties to the land are deeper than those of the Jews...

Many books put forth a sinister image of Israel. Israel’s former Prime Minister Menachem Begin is frequently labeled a “terrorist,” while Yassir Arafat is described as “moderate” or “mild-mannered.” Photographs depict Israelis as gun-toting soldiers and Palestinians as hard-working farmers or fearful-looking women and children. The photo caption in “I Remember Palestine” by Anita Ganeri is typical: “Palestinians demonstrate for the right to rule themselves in the Occupied Territories, free from the daily restrictions imposed by Israeli soldiers, barricades, and barbed wire fences.” The caption fails to explain that barricades are measures to protect Israelis from Palestinian terrorist attacks...

Sometimes it happens unintentionally. With rare exceptions, these books are not written by scholars or historians, but by writers who are not necessarily experts in their published area...

 

COMIC BOOK DEPICTION OF HOLOCAUST UPSETS JEWS

“Comic book depiction of Holocaust upsets Jews” (By Roger Boyes, Times of London, June 21, 2005)

Jewish leaders in Germany are deeply upset by attempts to use comic strips to depict the horrors of Auschwitz. Two new comic books confront young Germans with the most graphic accounts ever of their country’s Nazi past. “You think it’s just going to be another story,” said Andreas Munch, 11, “and then, pow!” German officers are shown screaming at prisoners as they pile up corpses retrieved from the gas chambers. “All this has to be converted into cinders and ashes by the evening!” says the speech bubble in the story Auschwitz by the French artist Pascal Croci.

A second comic book, Yossel, by the American artist Joe Kubert, shows a boy being electrocuted as he tries to escape beneath the wires of a concentration camp fence. No concession is made to the sensibilities of the young readers; the dead bodies are portrayed as graphically as if they were the fictional victims of Batman or some other superhero...

The fear in the Jewish community is that comic books could end up as collectors’ items for far-right activists. Crude anti-Semitic comics already circulate in the neo- Nazi underground in Germany and Italy. Camp commanders depicted as monsters in the comic strips are perversely often attractive to teenagers with ultra-nationalist sympathies...

 


FULL ARTICLES

LIES IN THE LIBRARY

Lies in the Library

Libraries have become the latest battleground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Israelies are getting bibliographically battered.
By Andrea Rapp
“Reform Judaism” magazine
Summer 2005 edition

www.reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=1038&pge_prg_id=5213&pge_id=1001

A few months ago, I ordered a collection of recently published children’s books on Israel for our temple library. Much to my dismay, after reviewing the works I discovered that many books contained flat-out incorrect information reported as fact, demonstrated a blatant anti-Israel bias, or sometimes both. These are the library books on Israel that students across the country will be consulting for reports and class assignments. It’s frightening.

Here are a few examples of the falsehoods and errors I found:

In The Six-Day War by Matthew Broyles (2004), one of The Rosen Publishing Group’s new series of books on the Middle East wars, Broyles states that the 1917 Balfour Declaration proposed to divide Palestine between Jews and Arabs and make Jerusalem an international city. Actually, these proposals were not in the Balfour Declaration, but in the UN partition resolution of twenty years later; the Balfour Declaration declared that the British government favors “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Broyles goes on to say that the Jews “boldly” declared their state in May of 1948, then “war began.” The author makes no mention of the UN partition resolution; instead, he writes, “the home of the Palestinians was now the home of the Jews,” and so the homeless Palestinians fled. Here, as in many other books, the entire Arab-Israeli conflict is portrayed as one long frustrated Palestinian attempt to achieve statehood, rather than as Arab resistance to the State of Israel.

In A Historical Atlas of Israel (Rosen Publishing Group, 2003), Amy Romano does mention the 1947 UN partition resolution but editorializes: “Although the Jews accepted the decree, they had no intention of honoring it.”

In Virginia Brackett’s biography, Menachem Begin (Chelsea House, 2003), Brackett relates how the Arab-Israeli conflict came before the UN in 1947, but she omits the fact that the UN passed a partition resolution calling for a Jewish and an Arab state, which the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected. By her account, the sequence was as follows: In April of 1948, Jews killed Arabs at Deir Yassin, Arabs fled the land, David Ben Gurion declared the new State of Israel in May, and the British departed immediately. Thus was the State of Israel born.

In The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Abdo and Daughters, 2004), Cory Gunderson asserts that “the Israeli military killed hundreds of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon.” In fact, it was Lebanese Christian militiamen who committed the killings in the camps.

In Tracey Boraas’ generally accurate book Israel (Capstone Press, 2003), she asserts that the 2000 Camp David talks collapsed because “both Israel and the Palestinian Authority insisted on control of East Jerusalem.” In fact, the Israelis agreed to cede control of Arab East Jerusalem to the Palestinian side. Since the Palestinian delegation walked out of Camp David without presenting a counterproposal, it is impossible to pin the collapse of the talks on any one issue.

Sometimes a single word was enough for me to consider a book inappropriate for our temple library. In an otherwise lovely book for middle-grade students, Welcome to Israel (Chelsea House Publishers, 2002), Meredith Costain and Paul Collins write: “A group of Jews known as Zionists wanted Palestine to become a state where only Jews could live.” The use of the word “only” presents an entirely false and sinister picture of Israel’s founders.

Aside from factual errors, something else is afoot in books on the Arab-Israeli conflict: the acceptance of creeping historical revisionism promulgated by Palestinian media sources. The most common untruths are the assertions that the Palestinian Arabs are the inheritors of the ancient Canaanites (or the Philistines) and that Jews and Arabs (now reborn as “Canaanites”) have been at war with each other for millennia--both fictions seeking to show that Arab ties to the land are deeper than those of the Jews.

Consider these two examples:

In the introduction to I Remember Palestine (Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1995), Anita Ganeri writes that “Palestine is the historical name...A country called Israel is now in this area,” and that “Palestine was taken over by the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans.” In fact, it was in the 2nd century CE that the Romans, in retribution against the Jews for their revolt against Rome, cynically dubbed the Jewish land “Palestine,” after the Jews’ historic nemesis, the Philistines. The Philistines were an Aegean people, not Arabs. The Babylonians never inhabited “Palestine,” although they did conquer ancient Judah. And “Palestine” did not exist at the time of the Greek conquest in the 4th century BCE.

Donald J. Zeigler’s Israel (Chelsea House, 2003) reports that while modern Israelis trace their roots back to the ancient Israelites, the Palestinians’ “namesakes appeared on the map as residents of Canaan.” Here too we have the Palestinians-as-Philistines. A full-page illustration of David brandishing the severed head of the Philistine Goliath appears to demonstrate the supposed three-thousand-year old conflict between Jews and Arabs.

Many books put forth a sinister image of Israel. Israel’s former Prime Minister Menachem Begin is frequently labeled a “terrorist,” while Yassir Arafat is described as “moderate” or “mild-mannered.” Photographs depict Israelis as gun-toting soldiers and Palestinians as hard-working farmers or fearful-looking women and children. The photo caption in I Remember Palestine by Anita Ganeri is typical: “Palestinians demonstrate for the right to rule themselves in the Occupied Territories, free from the daily restrictions imposed by Israeli soldiers, barricades, and barbed wire fences.” The caption fails to explain that barricades are measures to protect Israelis from Palestinian terrorist attacks.

This reluctance to identify Israelis as victims is evident even in Murder at the 1972 Olympics in Munich by Liz Sonneborn (Rosen, 2003). One of the killers is said to have felt proud that for the first time his life had meaning. Sonneborn “explains” that at the birth of Israel, Israeli soldiers had forced hundreds of thousands of Arabs into camps, living in tin huts that did little to protect them from scorching heat and harsh winds, and this led them to vow to “liberate” Palestine.

How It Happens

How can reputable American publishers routinely release children’s books replete with factual and insidious errors?

Sometimes it happens unintentionally. With rare exceptions, these books are not written by scholars or historians, but by writers who are not necessarily experts in their published area. Publishers commission writers to compose one or more titles for their nonfiction “series,” such as a series on holidays, on zoo animals, or on nations of the world. A single author might be called upon to write one book on Mother’s Day customs for the holiday series, a second book on polar bears for the zoo animals series, and a third on the Arab-Israeli conflict for a world history series. Indeed, in 2002 Boraas wrote books on Australia, Columbia, Sweden, England, Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, and Sam Houston in addition to her book on Israel. Similarly, in 2003 Sonneborn wrote books on German Americans, the Cherokee, and Miranda v. Arizona.

As some authors are less rigorous than others in their research, publishers sometimes engage academic experts to oversee the content of series books, but this additional step does not guarantee correction of errors and/or bias. Of the twenty-five books on Israel I considered, four cited on their title pages the names of university academic advisers or consultants, yet I rejected three for my library because of major factual errors.

In certain cases, biases in educational materials appear to be intentional. In her examination of high school social studies textbooks for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, New York University professor and Brookings Institution fellow Diane Ravitch found that most of the textbooks she researched were replete with half-truths, distortions, and double standards. When slavery was discussed in a Western context (the enslavement of Africans by the West) it was condemned as evil, but when reported on in the context of non-Western cultures, it was described euphemistically as a path to upward career mobility or as a chance to join a new family. Ravitch also discovered disparities in textbook attitudes towards dictators of fallen and current repressive regimes; authors were quick to criticize Hitler and Stalin, but showed deference to 21st-century tyrannical regimes, such as those in Communist China and present-day Iran. In addition, her review of textbooks reporting on the September 11 attacks yielded not a single account of the history of Islamic fundamentalism or other background information to provide a context for the acts of terror. The forward to her Fordham Institute report notes that textbook readers will scarcely discern that someone had actually organized these attacks. In the textbooks Ravitch examined, as in the books I reviewed, there is a startling lack of exploration as to the causality of current world events. Wars “break out,” peace conferences “fail”--all rather mysteriously, without historical context.

Ravitch concluded that the simplified, sanitized, dumbed-down, poorly written, and often inaccurate material in today’s textbooks reflect a culture that has suffused American textbook publishing. The bias and sensitivity review panels employed by publishers and by state education agencies (i.e. the purchasers of textbooks) issue guidelines for the purpose of ensuring that textbook writers do not inadvertently use “politically unacceptable language” or language that would offend feminists or advocates for conservative religious interests, disability groups, or ethnic activist organizations. Such guidelines mandate the excision of many hundreds of words and concepts that have been deemed “biased” or potentially offensive such as “fireman,” “actress,” “landlord,” “brotherhood,” and “cowboy,” and publishers willingly submit to this censorship. Ravitch did not say whether Israel’s enemies have won a slot on the not-to-be offended list, but it is clear from the books I have seen that Israel has no such favored spot in the world of educational publishing.

The American Textbook Council (ATC), an independent research organization which examines textbooks and seeks to promote civic education, came to conclusions similar to those of Ravitch. Its 2003 report, “Islam and the Textbooks,” compared history textbooks’ treatment of Islamic history and culture with the scholarly writings of historians such as Bernard Lewis and concluded that world history texts mislead students about the nature of important Muslim concepts and issues such as jihad, sharia (Muslim law), slavery, and the role of women. The textbooks, they discovered, did not inform students of the traditional meaning of jihad (an obligation to bring the world under Islamic law) or that, according to sharia, the state is the agent of the Muslim faith. Consequently, from these books, students would not be able to discern the large gap separating American jurisprudence from the system of Islamic law. A California-based advocacy group called The Council on Islamic Education, self-proclaimed to act as Islam’s liaison to the nation’s public schools, has worked with publishers “to ensure that they meet a certain standard of sensitivity,” the ATC reports. As textbook editors are doing the Council’s bidding, “history textbooks accommodate Islam on terms that Islamists demand.”

After the authors, consultants, and publishers come the final “schoolbook gatekeepers”--the reviewers in library journals. Librarians rely on reviews published in their professional journals as a basis for acquisitions. Reviewers, however, may be lacking in expertise in the area of review or may have their own biases. School Library Journal (SLJ), a very popular selection source for children’s materials, found Abdo’s series on World in Conflict, which includes Gunderson’s books, to be “politically balanced” in presenting the historical and political factors “contributing to the separate identities of Israel and Palestine.” Never mind that there is no nation of Palestine. SLJ also recommended Cath Senker’s new book, The Arab-Israeli Conflict, describing it as “nonjudgmental.” In contrast, the Association of Jewish Libraries’ children’s books reviewer Linda Silver found that the book “reflects the anti-Israeli sentiment that is prevalent in Europe [where this book was originally published]...The format is attractive until one notices the preponderance of armed and menacing Israeli soldiers juxtaposed with poor, peaceful looking Palestinian Arabs, mostly old people or children.... The text’s point of view is entirely pro-Palestinian as well. On the very first page, it is stated that ’Israel is an enemy of the Arab states. Israel was established through war. ’ “Silver has offered to write a column for School Library Journal that would discuss the reviewing of books on Israel. At the time of this writing, SLJ’s editors have not responded.

Changing the Status Quo

What can be done to change this culture of censorship and bias?

First, we need to become better informed. Good sources include Diane Ravitch’s book, The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003); the American Textbook Council’s report on “Islam in the Textbooks,” accessible at www.historytextbooks.org; and websites such as www.memri.org, which posts translations from the Middle East media outlets, and www.pmw.org.il, the Palestinian Media Watch, not to be confused with the pro-Palestinian Palestine Media Watch.

Second, we need to become involved with organizations that are committed to correcting anti-Israel bias in library books and other media--organizations such as CAMERA and the recently established Librarians for Fairness (www.librariansforfairness.org).

Third, we as a community need to call for transparency in the educational publishing business. Book publishers should publicly release their sensitivity guidelines, along with the names and credentials of the members of their bias and sensitivity review panels. Diane Ravitch believes that “many things that are done surreptitiously cannot withstand the light of day.”

Bernard Lewis warns that we live in times when “great efforts are being made to falsify the record of the past and to make history a tool of propaganda.” We can see this process at work in our children’s library books and textbooks about Israel and the Middle East, and it’s time we act to stop it.

(Andrea Rapp is temple librarian at the Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio. A Judaica librarian for more than twenty years, she holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in History from Northwestern University and a Master’s in Library Science from the University of Minnesota.)

 

COMIC BOOK DEPICTION OF HOLOCAUST UPSETS JEWS

Comic book depiction of Holocaust upsets Jews
By Roger Boyes in Berlin
Times of London
June 21, 2005

www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-1662391,00.html

Jewish leaders in Germany are deeply upset by attempts to use comic strips to depict the horrors of Auschwitz.

Two new comic books confront young Germans with the most graphic accounts ever of their country’s Nazi past. “You think it’s just going to be another story,” said Andreas Munch, 11, “and then, pow!” German officers are shown screaming at prisoners as they pile up corpses retrieved from the gas chambers. “All this has to be converted into cinders and ashes by the evening!” says the speech bubble in the story Auschwitz by the French artist Pascal Croci.

A second comic book, Yossel, by the American artist Joe Kubert, shows a boy being electrocuted as he tries to escape beneath the wires of a concentration camp fence. No concession is made to the sensibilities of the young readers; the dead bodies are portrayed as graphically as if they were the fictional victims of Batman or some other superhero.

The cartoon versions of the Holocaust, published this week, are intended to introduce younger Germans to the tragic fate of Jews. The Holocaust is taught at all German schools and visits to a concentration camp are compulsory for older children, but pupils complain that the subject is too drily and too cautiously presented.

Now Ehapa, a German firm that also publishes Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, has translated the French and American works to make the subject more accessible.

The project has sparked a nervous, sometimes angry response. “A comic strip is not the appropriate form,” said Ezra Cohn, 64, of the Jewish community in Dusseldorf. “The subject is too serious to portray in this way.”

Paul Spiegel, 67, chairman of the German Jewish community, said: “We will have to watch very carefully indeed whether this kind of treatment really does address the people it is aimed for.”

The fear in the Jewish community is that comic books could end up as collectors’ items for far-right activists. Crude anti-Semitic comics already circulate in the neo- Nazi underground in Germany and Italy. Camp commanders depicted as monsters in the comic strips are perversely often attractive to teenagers with ultra-nationalist sympathies.

The first attempt to break the Holocaust comic strip taboo, Maus by Art Spiegelman, tried to get round this problem by drawing Jews as mice, Poles as pigs and Nazis as cats. In the US, Spiegelman won a Pulitzer prize, but in Germany, until the mid-1990s, police were still confiscating posters displaying Spiegelman’s Jewish mouse hero over the Nazi swastika symbol.

Croci’s book comes the closest to the conventional comic book form, and as such has attracted the sharpest criticism. “Can you really show the savagery of the Holocaust as a comic?” asked the newspaper Bild. Croci’s argument is that Auschwitz has to be placed in the framework of current politics and be described in a form that leaves little scope for the imagination: it is time, he believes, to be direct with the younger generation.

“Growing up, I was repeatedly told, you are too young to understand,” said Croci. The turning point arrived at a Paris exhibition about the deportation of the Jews.

“An old woman approached me and I saw that she had a number tattooed on her arm - she was my first eyewitness.”

Croci interviewed more than 15 survivors. His story is told through the eyes of the fictional Kazik and Cessia and he complicates the storytelling by blending in scenes from Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah. The point is to show that the memory of the Holocaust has become a blend of images, some real, some an imaginative leap.

The test of fire of both books will come this week. If they become bestsellers, they could be introduced into schools. One German state, Thuringia, already uses Art Spiegelman comics to teach history.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.