Moral Narcissism at the National Education Association
A teacher’s union blames Israel for the pathologies of Palestinian education.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
On May 19th, the 6200-member United Educators of San Francisco teacher’s union passed a grotesque “Resolution in Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” committing its members to sign on with the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, stating “that UESF endorses the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel,” thereby becoming the first K-12 teachers’ union in the United States to endorse the BDS movement.
Not to be outdone by its union brethren further north, chapter chairs of the United Teachers Los Angeles, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the second largest teacher’s union in the country, also voted overwhelmingly in May in support of a statement, almost identical to the San Francisco version, that expressed its “solidarity with the Palestinian people and call for Israel to end bombardment of Gaza and stop displacement at Sheikh Jarrah . . , [called] on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to stop aid to Israel [and endorsed] the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel.”
The engagement of public school teachers in activism against the Jewish state continued unabated in June when the 3-million member National Education Association proposed two anti-Israel resolutions, New Business Item 29, which committed the NEA to “publicize its support for the Palestinian struggle for justice and call on the United States government to stop arming and supporting Israel,” and NBI 51, which would create a campaign to “use existing digital communication tools to educate members and the general public about the history, culture, and struggles of Palestinians.”
The rectitude of the NEA educators pushing for condemnations of Israel manifests itself as what has been termed “moral narcissism,” the tendency of members of the well-meaning, intellectual elite to align with causes and ideological positions which are based, not on the actual viability or justice of a cause, but on how the moral narcissist feels about him- or herself by committing to a particular cause or movement.
So, apparently, vilifying Israel and focusing singularly and obsessively on the Jewish state make the NEA’s moral narcissists feel that they are standing up for something important and making a moral cause for a people they see as victimized and oppressed, even when so many much more pressing and tragic social upheavals are taking place around the world. But it is Israel that the NEA puts in its crosshairs.
Not Syria, where over 400,000 of its citizens have been slaughtered in a five-year carnage of internecine warfare, including some 12,000 children and millions more out of school. Not China, where more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims are severely repressed and detained and made to suffer in “re-education” camps. Not Yemen, where famine has threatened over 24 million people and has already caused the deaths of 85,000 children. More relevantly, not the United States itself, where the pandemic has seen school-aged children suffer emotionally, physically, and intellectually from not being able to attend school in many cities for almost the entire school year, largely as a result of the intractability of teacher unions and a selfish refusal to get back to in-person instruction long after even government officials had deemed it safe.
Yet, the NEA chose only Israel, the Jewish state, to be targeted for opprobrium and denunciation, and one has to wonder why, of all the nations on earth and all the calamities and human disasters and tragedies, America’s education unions have decided it is the sovereignty of the Jews they will decide to make a pariah among nations and the Palestinian cause they will elevate as one deserving support and admiration, despite its obvious use of terror as the primary means of “resistance.”
One of the items presented for a vote in New Business Item 51 called for the NEA to “recognize the existence and sovereignty of Palestine and Palestinian children and families and their human right to access a quality education and live freely as outlined in United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.” It is astounding that an American union of educators would take it upon itself to declare Palestine a sovereign nation, given that that is something it has neither the justification nor right to even discuss, much less consider a diplomatic fact.
But the union’s desire to address the educational needs is at least in its wheelhouse, given its role as an organization for educators. But the suggestion engendered in Item 51 is that Israel somehow hobbles the Palestinian’s right and access to a quality education, that the Jewish state and its policies contribute to a dearth of rights and Arab childrens’ ability to seek and obtain a good education.
Those Palestinian students who the NEA pretends to care for so deeply, something NEA members evidently believe to be solely the fault of Israel’s, what circumstances of those students’ current conditions are the direct result of the culture and ideology of the Palestinian Arabs themselves? Is any part of the Palestinians’ lives their own responsibility, or is all of their existence defined by Jewish occupation, dispossession, and brutality, that banality of evil NEA apparently can see in no other state on earth than in Israel?
The NEA has obviously overlooked the pathologies of Palestinian society, crystallized and made more malevolent by the rule of Hamas itself, in which Palestinian children are inculcated, nearly from birth, with seething, blind, unrelenting, and obsessive hatred of Jews, so that kindergartners graduate with blood-soaked hands while toting plastic AK 47s and dedicate their lives to jihad, and older children and college students are recruited to hide explosives on their bodies to transform themselves into shahids—a new generation of kindling for radical Islam’s cult of death.
Parents of these children NEA care so much about, in fact, glorify death and martyrdom and seek the death of their children if they distinguish themselves by murdering Jewish civilians in part of that “heroic struggle” to which the resolution alludes. Hamas also broadcasts children’s TV shows with animal characters who repeat hateful propaganda about Israel, and who encourage children to attack and kill Jews, behavior the NEA, of course, never mentions and fails to condemn.
Instead of making broad, unsupported accusations about Israel and its alleged pernicious role in affecting Palestinian education and society, the NEA members might well concentrate on working to improve the quality and standards of Palestinian classrooms instead. If the organization was authentically interested in the quality of education being received by Arab children and cared enough about that goal to stop libeling and slander the Jewish state, there are many areas of toxic teaching, indoctrination, and incitement that could be ameliorated with the input of concerned experts in education, which NEA members supposedly are.
A good starting point might be the findings of a 2020 study by Dr. Arnon Groiss of The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, “Israel, Jews and Peace in Palestinian Authority Schoolbooks and Teachers' Guides,” which examined some 400 textbooks and more than 100 teachers’ guides published by the Palestinian Education Ministry from 2013 and 2020. “These schoolbooks,” the report noted, “are in use in the Palestinian Authority's territories in Judea and Samaria, in the territories under Hamas' control in the Gaza Strip, and in most schools in East Jerusalem. Their use is mandatory in all Palestinian private schools and in the schools operated by UNRWA.”
The report revealed troubling facts about the educational materials used in Arab classrooms, particularly their use as a way to inculcate children with a loathing of Israel, to encourage them to despise Jews as thieves and usurpers of Muslim land, and their suggestion that Israel itself is an illegitimate regime constructed for the sole purpose of subjugating an indigenous people under a repressive, brutal military occupation.
The report points to a three-prong process used to teach children about the perfidy of Israel, including a “Delegitimization of the State of Israel and the very presence of Jews in the Land of Israel, including the denial of the existence of Jewish holy places;” the “Demonization of Israel and the Jews;” and an “Encouragement of ‘violent struggle’ for the ‘liberation’ of the Land of Israel, with no mention of peace and coexistence.”
While the familiar narrative among diplomats and the public face of the Arab street has long voiced for support for the notion of “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace,” the reality is that maps in textbooks used by Arab children do not even show Israel; in other words, it does not exist as either a geographic or political entity. So, the idea that children or their parents have been raised to think that a reconciliation is possible between both peoples is a fantasy, something that apologists for the Palestinians, like the NEA, blindly ignore.
“In none of the P.A.’s schoolbooks has any call for the resolution of the conflict peacefully, or any mentioning of co-existence with Israel been found,” Groiss wrote. “The ‘Zionist enemy,’ according to the description appearing in the schoolbooks, is wholly evil and constitutes an existential threat to the Palestinians who are depicted as the ultimate victim, with no shared responsibility for the conflict.”
“Moreover,” the report noted, “Israel itself is taught to be completely illegal and illegitimate,” and “The name ‘Israel’ has been replaced most of the times by the epithet ‘the Zionist occupation’ so that children are taught that “the struggle against the State of Israel has thus become a struggle against Zionism that is perceived as a mythical and a wholly evil entity, which creates feelings of fear and hatred.”
The inevitable conclusion that children reach after being raised on this false narrative which makes them the perennial victim of a usurping colonial occupier, the defiling Jew, is that liberation can only be obtained through a prolonged struggle, that “resistance” to occupation—in fact, to the very existence of a Jewish sovereignty in a sea of Muslim territory—is mandatory for all Muslims and that terror, and martyrdom, are an integral and noble part of the effort.
When in 2007 then-Senator Hillary Clinton reviewed some of the teaching materials used in Palestinian schools, she saw their use as being tantamount to child abuse, observing that “Children were encouraged to see martyrdom and armed struggle and the murder of innocent people as ideals to strive for.” And the Groiss report affirmed that assumption, suggesting that the lessons in the texts encourage and perpetuate both a justification for terror and the likelihood that it will continue to be used. “Reference to terror is more explicit in the newer schoolbooks,” the report noted. “Terrorist operations perpetrated throughout the years of conflict with Israel are presented [in words echoing the ghoulish sentiment of the NEA resolution] as heroic actions in the framework of the ‘revolution,’ ‘resistance’ and ‘self-sacrifice.’" [Emphasis added.]
The report made it clear that unless incitement and the teaching of hate, both in classrooms and on the Arab street, are curbed, and educators make authentic attempts to improve the educational quality and the lives of Arab children—not just by denouncing the existence and behavior of Israel but through substantive, real change in what is taught and what the social, cultural, and moral messages are in that teaching—the Palestinian cause will be eternally hobbled by its own blind loathing of the Jewish state.
For Groiss, if teaching materials are not changed dramatically, children will continue to be marinated in hatred and no peace and Palestinian statehood will ever evolve. “The schoolbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority indicate, then, the essence of the narrative as far as the conflict with Israel is concerned,” the report noted. “It is learned from the PA schoolbooks and teachers' guides that the education of the younger Palestinian generation prepares it consciously for a continuous and long-range confrontation against the State of Israel in order to achieve the final goal, which is the establishment of the State of Palestine that will stretch on the entire territory of the Land of Israel.”
As long as Palestinian children cling to that impossible fantasy, they have condemned themselves to further generations of disappointment, disillusionment, and a tragedy of their own making. While the toxic resolutions were ultimately voted down, the NEA has shown it is complicit in those delusions and malignant goals.