Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: Representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish Society
by Daniel Bar-Tal and Yona Teichman
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 483 pp. $68.
Reviewed by Steven Plaut
University of Haifa
Middle East Quarterly
If you think stereotypes dictate and determine all human achievement and conflict; if you believe psychobabble offers the most promising way out of the Middle East conflict—then this tedious book is for you.
The authors, both professors of psychology at Tel Aviv University who have long worked on studying stereotypes, cite the enormous literature on stereotyping in general and in textbooks and the media in particular in a list of references nearly fifty pages long. Their 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.
What evidence do the authors provide? Mainly studies of drawings of Arabs made by very young Jewish children, plus some tendentious parsing of the Israeli media. This points to the real problem of Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: it has a thinly-disguised political agenda and bias shows up everywhere.
Bar-Tal and Teichman offer no evidence that stereotypes affect economic achievement and success. While citing negative stereotypes about Chinese held by Americans, they omit reference to the phenomenal educational and economic success by Chinese Americans, who out-earn whites. They offer no evidence that those "reverse stereotypes" found in politically-corrected textbooks about women lumberjacks, Jewish hockey players, and Cherokee nuclear scientists have had any impact on social mobility.
The authors consider stereotypes as racist and as evidence of intolerance, never mind if they are true. That nearly all Palestinians endorse suicide bombers should not be regarded as legitimate empirical grounds for Israelis drawing conclusions about Palestinians. That almost all Israeli Arabs vote for anti-Zionist political parties with Marxist orientations should not serve as empirical evidence. The authors use "prejudice" and "stereotypes" interchangeably, but what happens when an ethnic group actually exhibits certain traits?
Far from looking at both sides, the only stereotypes that matter to these professors, citing Edward Said, are those held by Jews concerning Arabs. Discussions in the Palestinian media of Jews drinking blood for Passover, poisoning Palestinian food, spreading AIDS, 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 text books and radio stations calling for genocide of Jews. And the fact that preschoolers might hold stereotypical images about everything in their toddler world, from teachers to tricycles, has not occurred to the authors, who never examine any preschooler drawings about anything besides Arabs.
And while the learned duo parse Israeli media (which is under the near-hegemony of Israel's far-Left, by the way) and schoolbooks, they just never got around to examining which other stereotypes are inculcated there, such as those about Orthodox Jews, Jewish settlers, kibbutzniks, homosexuals, environmentalists, etc.
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 and books by Hebrew University's Eli Podeh, the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, and quite a few earlier articles by Bar-Tal or Teichman themselves.
The authors' bias is not surprising. While Teichman seems to be uninvolved politically, Bar-Tal is smack in the center of Israel's far Left. He joined the anti-Zionist fringe by signing his name to a political petition calling for international armed intervention to impose a settlement on Israel. He has justified Palestinian terrorism, and his work is cited as "evidence" that Israelis are racists, including by the U.N.'s anti-Zionist report on racism and xenophobia. Another indication of this study's bias: the PLO's official website sings its praises for proving how racist Israelis are.
 Elie Podeh, How Israeli Textbooks Portray the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-2000 (New York: Bergin & Garvey, 2001).
 "Analysis of Israeli Textbooks," Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, accessed June 24, 2005.
 "Israeli Citizens for International Intervention, List of Endorsements," Oznik.com, Apr. 27, 2001.
 Daniel Bar-Tal, "Is There a Way Out? Occupation, Terror and Understanding," Counterpunch, Apr. 22, 2002.
 "Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and All Forms of Discrimination," Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, U.N. Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/2002/NGO/152, Feb. 18, 2002.
 "Israeli Textbooks and Children's Literature Promote Racism and Hatred toward Palestinians and Arabs," Palestinian National Authority website, accessed July 11, 2005.
Related Topics: Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, Israel & Zionism | Steven Plaut | Fall 2005 MEQ
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing list
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.