A survey of US students conducted at University of California (Berkeley) has revealed that the student respondents who said they were deeply interested in the "Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories" were unable to place Israel on the map, or recognize basic dates in the history of the conflict.
The survey was conducted among 230 undergraduates at the prestigious university by Professor Ron Hassner, Chancellor's Professor of Political Science and Helen Diller Family Chair in Israel Studies at UC Berkeley. Hassner reported the results last week in an article on his blog, entitled, "Passion, ignorance, and teaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
The survey rated the students' approach to 18 issues, including US-Iran relations, civil war in Yemen, attack drones and others. Students were asked to rate their responses, ranging from "not at all" to "deeply interested."
Forty-three percent of the students surveyed expressed the highest interest in the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Most expressed little if any interest in other issues relating to the Middle East, such as the Western Sahara struggle for independence or the Kurdish struggle for their own state.
Of the students who expressed deep interest in the Palestinian issue, 84 percent did not know in what decade Judea and Samaria ("West Bank") came under the control of Israel.
Moreover, 75 percent of the respondents failed to place Judea and Samaria ("West Bank") on a map, with 14 percent of the students locating the region in the heart of the Mediterranean.
Only 16 percent of students who said they "care deeply" about the Palestinian issue were able to provide the correct decade for the Six Day War, he said.
The students also did not know the population figure of the State of Israel was and only 17 percent were able to make a "guesstimate" to the closest figure. Others offered totally unrealistic responses, such as 100,000 or 150 million.
The real surprise came when students who expressed less interest or care in the "occupation" of the Palestinian Authority territories nevertheless seemed to have more extensive knowledge of what is happening in the area: 28 percent were able to place the "West Bank" on the map, compared to 25 percent of students who actually had an interest in the subject.
"The questions most accurately answered by students were actually about places where they did not express any special interest, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Morocco," Professor Hasner wrote.
"If misinformation is both a cause and a consequence of political passion, then good teaching is the antidote," he wrote.
"Good teaching, in turn, requires the presence on campus of scholars who exemplify both academic excellence and nonpartisan professionalism. And it requires students that are unwilling to permit their political passions to get in the way of a good education."