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The Establishment of Israeli Identity through Racist Discourse

Nurit Elhanan-Peled, Tel Aviv University and David Yellin Teachers College, Israel
Abstract: Israel is an ethnic Democracy where one ethnic group dominates other ethnic groups while denying or ignoring
their social and cultural identities and rights. The Jewish Israeli identity is an artificial one. Since features such as common
territory, common language and common culture were not available to the modern Jewish nation which is composed of
many cultures and languages, they had to be manufactured through education, for the purpose of building a collective homogenous identity for all its members. This identity has been founded on the idea that Israelis are both the successors of
biblical Hebrews and have a Western culture. Israeli school discourse ignores and denies any other culture, both Jewish
and Arab. This tendency results in the ignorance of teachers regarding the culture and lifeworld of both their students
and their neighbours. The paper shows the ways in which others (such as Palestinians, Ethiopian Jews or ex-Soviet Union
Jews), are represented both in schoolbooks and in teachers talk. The paper will argue that Israeli education promotes
Elite Racism both towards the Palestinian citizens and subjects and towards Jewish new-comers.
Keywords: Racism, Classroom Discourse, Semiotics, Multimodal Analysis, Schoolbooks

HE DISCOURSE OF identity is also the
discourse of difference, inclusion and exclusion. The construal of identity includes
strategies of denying other identities that
seem threatening. The Jewish Israeli identity is
achieved, among other ways, through the exclusion
and rejection of different ethnic groups both Jewish
and Muslim - whose national, territorial and cultural
rights are denied. (Yona 2005, Shohat 1988).
The discriminated groups are those who lived on
the land before the establishment of the state of Israel, namely the Palestinians, the Druze, the
Bedouins and other non-Jewish groups, and those
who came after the establishment of the state, Arab
Jews, Ethiopian Jews, ex-Soviet Union Jews to name
the largest groups.
The nature of this paper is descriptive. Although
it relies on studies made in different countries, such
as Holland (Essed, 1991 Van-Leeuwen, 2000),
Sweden and Australia (Van-Leeuwen, 1992), it does
not compare Israel to other places, nor does it deal
in depth with the social and psychological reasons
for the racist discourse that is dominant in Israeli
society, but describes two types of racist discourse
prevalent in Israeli schools: Teachers talk about
Jewish new-comers and the racist discourse used in
textbooks of History and Geography for the representation of Palestinians. Teachers racist talk can be
defined, following Essed 1991, as everyday racist
discourse. It stems from an ideology of inclusion-

as-absorption for Jewish new comers, who are supposed to become Israelis as soon as they can. This
approach seems to contradict the official policy of
recognition and tolerance towards the (Jewish) other
that is propagated in Israeli schools. The racist discourse against Palestinians stems from an ideology
of exclusion and is overtly compatible with the official discrimination against Palestinians and other
non-Jewish populations.1
Both types reflect the Israeli dominant groups
insistence on exclusivity. They present reality from
the sole point of view of this dominant group and
are founded on the fundamental principle which
serves as the common ground of Israeli education,
namely that Israel is the state of all the Jews
wherever they dwell and not the state of its nonJewish citizens. As Smooha points out:
. It is a diminished type of democracy for it
takes the ethnic nation, not the citizenry, as the
corner-stone of the state[]At the same time
this democracy extends various kinds of [individual] rights to 1 million Palestinian-Arab citizens (16% of the population) who are perceived
as a threat. (Smooha, 2002:475-478).
One example is Israels language policy: Although
both Hebrew and Arabic are Israels official languages, there are no higher education institutes that
teach in Arabic. Another example is the very recent
law allowing the Jewish National Fund, which is responsible for foresting and for allocating land, not

Although racist discourse against Jewish immigrants is also manifest in school books I will concentrate only on the representation of
VOLUME 7, NUMBER 6, 2008
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to lease lands to Arab citizens. However, Jewish

people from other countries may buy land freely even
though they do not live in Israel.
Arab-Palestinian citizens are not recognized as a
national or cultural minority but as a religious one.
Therefore, though they enjoy a certain religious
freedom they do not receive many other social or
cultural benefits from the state because most benefits
are reserved by law to army veterans and the
Palestinian citizens are not allowed to serve in the
army. Most government posts are closed to nonJewish citizens and they are discriminated in terms
of budget both on the municipal and on the educational level. The Palestinians living in the occupied
territories are deprived of all human rights.

Kress and Van Leeuwen 1995,1996), especially VanLeeuwens work concerning the racist-visual representation of others in general and in text-books (1992,
The analyses of visuals in Geography text-books
will also rely on observations made by geographers
such as Bar-Gal and Henrikson, especially regarding
the manipulative use of cartography.
Note: All the quotes and excerpts from schoolbooks and from teachers talk were translated from
Hebrew by me and validated by professional translators. All bolds are mine.


School books are still powerful means by which the

state shapes forms of perception, of categorization,
of interpretation and of memory, that serve to determine national identity. Schoolbooks use an array of
visual and verbal modes in order to transmit values
and meanings. Therefore a multimodal analysis is
required in the study of school books.
Israeli textbooks, though they vary in the way they
teach the disciplines3, serve as relays of the Zionist
message regarding the exclusive historic rights of
the Jews on the Land of Israel which includes
Palestine4 (Bar Gal 1993a, Firer 1985). This ideology
is the common ground (Fairclough 2003:55) on
which facts are selected and narratives are carved.5
The existence of Israel as a Jewish state and the
crucial importance of a Jewish majority in Israel are
the milestones of education, the basis on which all
arguments and interpretations are founded. For instance, the importance of a Jewish majority serves
as justification for the reluctance of Israel to annex
the occupied Palestinian territories to the state of Israel and to accord civil rights to the inhabitants of
these territories. As one History text book explains,
such annexation would be a disaster whereby Israel
would become a bi-national state with an Arab
majority an absurd situation where the Jewish
people would become a minority in their own land
and the Zionist dream [would turn into] a southAfrican nightmare (The 20th Century p. 249).
Although the West Bank has never been annexed
to the state, Israeli curriculum planners have never
resigned to man-made borders that seem to them an

The paper presents a multimodal analysis of oral,

written and visual discourses. The analysis relies
mainly on the theory of Social Semiotics, founded
by Halliday (1978) and developed by Kress and VanLeeuwen. The main assumption is taken from Kress
(2003 p.37): Since Meanings are made as signs in
distinct ways in specific modes That which is
represented in sign or sign complexes realizes the
interests, perspectives, values and positions of those
who make the sign [] representation is always
engaged. It is never neutral (p.44).
This standpoint rejects the idea of arbitrariness
(p.42) for the relations between signifier and signified is always motivated, that is, the shape of the
signifier, its form, materially or abstractly considered, is chosen because of its aptness for expressing that which is to be signified.
Therefore, We have to find ways of understanding
and describing the interaction of such meanings
across modes into coherent wholes, into texts
The analysis of teachers talk about immigrant
students uses the categories of everyday racist discourse established by Essed (1991), as well as VanLeeuwens critical-discursive categories regarding
the representation of social actors (1996), which were
elaborated in Wodak and Reisigls extensive study
of racist discourse in politics and in the media (2001).
The visual analysis will follow the work of Kress
and Van Leeuwen who laid the foundation of the
grammar of visual design (Van Leeuwen 1992, 2000,

A. Verbal and Visual Representation of

Palestinians in Israeli Schoolbooks

I thank the following publishing houses for allowing me to use the visuals appearing in this paper: MapaSifrei Tel-Aviv (The 20 th
Century and Modern Times II), The Centre for Educational Technology (People in Space, and Israel-Man and Space). Lilach Publishers
(Geography of the Land of Israel). Maalot Publishers (The Mediterranean Countries). All rights are reserved to the publishers.
Israeli schoolbooks are trade books, sold on the free market, and teachers may choose which book to use. However, they all need to be
authorized by the Ministry of education or at least be compatible with the national curriculum. The sample of schoolbooks was chosen according to the popularity of the books among teachers in mainstream secular Jewish schools, which constitute the majority of schools in
All Geography text-books teach about the greater Land of Israel of which the state of Israel is only a part, and avoid marking the greenline border on their maps.
Podeh (2002); Firer (1985, 2004); Bar Gal (1993, 2000); Peled-Elhanan (2005).


accidental consequence of cease fire commands

which paralysed military momentum(Bar-Gal
1993a:125), nor have they given up teaching about
the Greater Land of Israel which they consider to be
a whole Geographic entity(ibid.). Bar-Gal explains
that Israeli students do not learn about the State of
Israel which has achieved international legitimation but about the Land of Israel which has divine
legitimation. (Bar-Gal 1993b:430). Bar Gal argues
that In the field of Geography the curricula have
always emphasized the nationalist goals as the
principal goal (Bar-Gal, 2000:169). This goal has
been to know and love our homeland, which is the
biblical promised land.
The educational system continues, therefore, to
present maps as a miniature model of reality, and
less often emphasizes that this map is a distorted
model, which sometimes can lie, and contain items
that are completely different from reality. (Bar-Gal
This is the reason why none of the schoolbooks
is called The Geography of the State of Israel. The
titles are usually Israel or The Land of Israel, which
entail the inclusion, in all maps, of territories beyond
the states official borders, namely occupied areas
that were seized during the wars but whose legal
status does not make them a part of the state of Israel.
As Bar Gal emphasizes, The borders of Israel as
presented on the map represent the right-wing ideological perception which refuses to see the area of
the West Bank and Gaza as territory under a different
sovereignty. (Bar-Gal 1993a:125).
In order to legitimate and eternalize Israeli dominance in those areas schoolbooks use as a recurrent
device, apart from lying maps, the insertion of
biblical phrases that reiterate the divine promise, into
their scientific texts. For instance, The Mediterranean
Countries, a geography textbook for the 5th grade,
mentions in the chapter One Sea with Many Names
(pp.30-33), not the names this sea has been given by
the different nations living along its coastline but the
Hebrew biblical names of the Mediterranean, along
with biblical quotes:
The Mediterranean sea is already mentioned
in the bible. Is it also called the Mediterranean
in the book of books?
Exodus 23/31: And I will set thy bounds from
the sea of Suf even to the sea of the Pelishtim,
and from the desert to the river:
Deuteronomy, 11/24: Every Place whereon the
sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours.
From the river, the river Prath to the uttermost sea shall be your border .

Joshua, 1:4: From the wilderness and this Levanon as far as the great sea towards the
going down of the sun, shall be your border .
This intertextuality gives a holy stamp to the textbook and a scientific stamp of validity to the Bible
(Lemke 1998).
Although Palestinian lands are depicted as part of
the state of Israel (map no. 1), their inhabitants are
never represented. A cartographic way to deny
Palestinian existence is through Fragmentation
(Thompson 1987): separating people from places,
or representing the land while ignoring or concealing
the existence of its indigenous population. This is
done by changing the names of places (the West
Bank is called by its Hebrew biblical name: Judea
and Samaria and so are all former Arab cities and
villages), or by depicting Palestinian areas as colourless spots defined as Areas without data. (Map no.
2). This representation creates toponomyc silences,
[] blank spaces, silences of uniformity, of standardization or deliberate exclusion, wilful ignorance
or even actual repression (Henrikson, 1994:59).
Even on map no. 2, which depicts Arab population, as in other maps in the same Geography
schoolbook, the mixed Jewish Israeli-Arab cities
such as Nazareth and Acre are not depicted. These
toponomyc silences reinforce the Zionist slogan
A land without people for a people without land,
and justify the policy of occupation and colonization.
When the excluded Palestinian inhabitants of these
areas reappear in this text-book it is as foreigners
or host workers namely as illegal invaders or
temporary human labour force:
Some of the foreign workers are Palestinians
who come from the areas controlled by the
Palestinian authorities. They are employed in
unprofessional jobs and their wages are lower
than that of the Israeli citizens who work in the
same jobs. This is characteristic of all developed countries. (IMS p.32)
[This characterization of developed countries is regarded by researchers as The other side of western
modernity: colonialism, holocaust, slavery, imperialist domination and exploitation. (Reisigl and
Wodak, 2001:17).]
Treating the Palestinians as foreigners points to
an odd geographical perception: The Palestinian
territories are presented as part of Israel, but the inhabitants of these same territories are presented as





Map no. 1: Israel and its Neighbours 2002 (Israel-Man and Space 2003)
*Areas Encircled by Dotted Line: the Palestinian Authority


Map no.2: Arab Population in the State of Israel 2000 (Israel-Man and Space 2003) *White Areas: Area for
which there are no Data

Racist Verbal and Visual Discourse

Israeli educators and researchers are not always
aware of the racist discourse of schoolbooks. In a
recent study of Israeli textbooks Firer (2004:75)
claims that as political correctness has reached Israel it is no longer appropriate to use blunt, discriminatory language in textbooks, and then adds that
in the years 1967-1990 the stereotypes of Arabs and
Palestinians almost disappear (ibid. p. 92). How-

The Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PA.

ever, examining the schoolbooks that were published

after 19946, one cannot avoid noticing that
Palestinians are still represented, visually and
verbally, in a racist stereotypical way, as an impersonalized negative element, or as a non-entity.
Palestinians are never depicted as modern, productive, individual human beings but as negative types.
The most common types are the classical primitive
Arab with a moustache, wearing a kafieh and followed by a camel (usually in the form of a caricature
as in figure no. 2 below), the Oxfam images (Hicks,





1980:13) of the primitive farmer7, refugees shown

from a very long distance, situated in non-places8,
and face-covered terrorists9, namely the problems
or threats they constitute for the Israelis: (Asiatic)
backwardness, terrorism and the refugee problem
which stains Israels image in the eyes of the
world.(The 20 th Century)
Verbally, Palestinians are represented through the
discursive devices of Impersonalisation and Generi-

cisation which means naming a whole population by

a generic name in the plural without the article
(Van Leeuwen 1996:46). For instance, the population
in Israel is always divided into Jews and non-Jews
(map no. 3).
The non-Jews, who are considered less advanced, are excluded from developmental graphs as
in figure no. 1 (People in Space: p. 76).

Map no. 3: Israel-Man and Space 2003: Villages in Israel: Blue-Jews, Red- Non-Jews

Figure no. 1: People in Space 1996: Average Marital Age for Women in Developed and Developing Countries
1990. (Israel is Marked in Red).
At the Bottom of the Graph we Find a *Note: The Israeli Data Refers only to the Jewish Population

People in Space 1996

The Age of Horror and Hope, 2001
The 20 th Century, 1998; Modern Times II, 1999


The non-Jews, regardless of their origin and religion, are sometimes called by the generic hyperonym: Arabs. For instance:
Israel Man and Space 2003, p. 12- The Arab
Population [in Israel]: Within this group there are
several religious groups and several ethnic groups:
Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bedouins and Circassians. But since most of them are Arab they shall be
referred to henceforth as Arabs.

These Arabs are not modelled after anyone who

actually lives in the area but after European drawings
of imaginary Arabs as in the cartoon below. VanLeeuwen summarizes the motivation for such a cartoon-like presentation:
Cartoons are general without being abstract
[]All Turks have moustaches and all Arabs have
camels. This reality is replacing the reality of naturalism and individualism.(1992:56)

Figure no. 2: The Arab [Citizens of Israel] Refuse to Live in High Buildings and Insist on Living in LandRidden One-Storey Houses.
Geography of the Land of Israel 2003:303.
This caption is elaborated in the verbal text:
The Arab society is traditional and objects to
changes by its nature, reluctant to adopt novelties [] Modernization seems dangerous to
them [] they are unwilling to give anything
up for the general good.

Mental Maps and the Marginalization of

Palestinian-Arab Citizens
The map has always been the perfect representation
of the state.
Maps are powerful and persuasive sometimes
explicitly and nearly always implicitly. Every map
is some ones way of getting you to look at the world
his own way. They do it by conveying they have no
such interest. They are convincing because the interests they serve are masked. (Henrikson, 1994:
It is through the lens of a map [] that we see,
know, and even create the larger world (H.K. Henrikson, 1994:52).
Maps, Henrikson maintains, have a synoptic
quality (show what is happening in an area), and a
hypnotic quality or a suggestive effect. Cartohypnosis (Boggs 1947) is the subtle persuasiveness of
maps which causes people to accept unconsciously
and uncritically the ideas that are suggested to them
by maps (Henrikson 1994:50). For instance, maps
can shift the centre by means of perspective and
colour or differentiate between the centre and the
focus of the map (Van-Leeuwen and Kress 1995).

In a History book for grade 9 called: From Conservativism to Progress, we learn that, In the years
1881-1882 thousands of people arrived at Jaffa port:
from Russia, from Rumania, from the Balkan and
even from far-away Yemen. (p.269). Needless to
say, Yemen is almost the closest to Jaffa port, and
the question is, why is it mentioned as the most far
away? The only answer is that the implied centre
of the mental map of the writers is still Eastern
Europe, the spiritual centre of Zionism and the origin
of the dominant social group in Israel. As Henrikson
explains One of the unfortunate consequences of
colonialism and the condition it engendered, [] is
a feeling that the centre is elsewhere.(Henrikson
Mental maps are ideological constructs which
may have little to do with geographical evidence.
They reflect individual or societal perception or reflection of the world. For instance, in European maps
Europe is the centre of the world. As Henrikson
points out: mental maps are a critical variable
occasionally the decisive factor in the making of
public policy (p. 50).
The drawing of maps is highly influenced by
mental maps or by the political ideologies the state
is interested to diffuse.
Thus, in spite of Israels narrow waistline the
non-Jewish citizens of Israel are pushed to the margins of consciousness and social reality, as it is well
expressed in the following statement from Geography of the Land of Israel. (2003:197):
Factors that inhibit the development of the
Arab village: [] Arab villages are far from





the centre, the roads to them are difficult and

they have remained out of the process of change
and development, they are hardly exposed to
modern life and there are difficulties to connect
them to the electricity and water networks.
Most of these distant villages are not specified on
any map though they are all within the narrow
waistline of Israel. However, Jewish top-sites that
are built on top of the hills overlooking those villages, and Jewish colonies that are beyond the official
borders of Israel, are presented as examples of high
standard of living and not as marginal far-away deprived settlements. But as Henrikson writes,
The sensation of peripheralness itself cannot
be altered, of course, by simply shifting or reducing the graphic frame of the map.(1994:56).

Representation of Palestinians in the

Occupied Territories
The Palestinian refugees, who were driven out of
Palestine-Israel in 1948 and in 1967, are usually

defined as the Palestinian problem. Van-Leeuwen

(1996:60) counts as one of the features of racist discourse the reference to humans by an abstract noun
that does not include the semantic feature + human,
and represents social actors by means of a quality
assigned to them for instance the quality of being
a problem
As in the following example from The 20 th century (p.244):
This chapter will explore the Palestinian
problem, which stands since the beginning of
the Zionist enterprise in the heart of the Middle
Eastern conflict, and the attitudes within the
Israeli public regarding the problem and the
character of its solution.
This problem has no human face in any of the
schoolbooks. It usually materializes in empty shanty
towns or empty flooded streets, in hordes of faceless
refugees or face-covered terrorists, all of which endow the problem with the appearance of danger,
security threats, environmental or ecological troubles
(figure no.3, 4).

Figure no. 3: Modern Times II 2000:239: The Palestinian Problem incubated in the poverty, the idleness and
the Frustration that were the lot of the refugees in their pitiful camps


Figure no. 4: Refugee Camp Jabalia in the Gaza Strip. One of the refugee camps where the inhabitants live in
over crowdedness, poverty and distress. (People in Space 1998:110)
Neither the caption nor the heading mention who
lives in this refugee camp and why, thereby emphasizing the photograph is a depiction of a place, a
phenomenon, not of people. The aerial photograph
is shot from the angle of the pilot who flies too high
to be able to see the people on whom he is dropping
his bombs It is the angle of the objective knowledge that causes detail (and people) to disappear
and it is the kind of knowledge which education is
still primarily concerned to reproduce. (Van
Leeuwen 1992:49).
The above representations create blind spots
where people are supposed to be seen but arent
(Barthes 1980:855), or rather, as in Lacans example
of the book which is absent from the shelf and whose
non-occupied slot proves its existence as a missing
book, they are represented as missing entities.
The only information the reader receives about
the Palestinian problem is that of a sad lot or of
unfavourable circumstances that are presented in one
of the following fashions (Van Leeuwen 1996:97):
1. In terms of existentialization or naturalization
where action is represented as something that
simply exists, natural and outside temporal
boundaries. For instance:
The population in the refugee camps is growing fast and the conditions of life are very hard
the rate of unemployment is high, the houses
are crowded and poor and the standard of health
services, education and hygiene is low. (People
In Space 1998:110)
By using the auxiliary verb to be, the above quote
presents Palestinians dire situation as devoid of human agency or cause.
2. As a self-directed phenomenon, that acts independently of human social actors:

Although Israel came victorious out of the

survival-war that was forced upon her, the
Palestinian problem would poison for more than
a generation the relationships of Israel with the
Arab world and with the international community. (Modern Times II: 239).
The Palestinian problem is presented as an agent
that acts on its own, to the disadvantage of Israel. It
is not the problem the Palestinians have as a result
of Israeli occupation, expulsion and domination but
the problem of the Israelis themselves who are inflicted with this trouble.

Legitimation and Justification of

Justification and Legitimation primarily refer to
controversial acts or event of the past, which may
influence the narrative of national history (Wodak,
Coffin (1997:220) argues that in History textbooks
events are appraised in their capacity to bring
about good and bad changes. Three major massacres of Palestinians, out of all the massacres that
occurred during the various wars (Pappe 2006), are
reported in the more progressive text books. These
reports seem to researchers as a courageous educational act (Firer 2004), although they are never told
from the victims point of view and although rhetorically, the reports are constructed in a way that legitimates them, for they have all resulted in positive
consequences for the Israelis. For instance, the massacre of the friendly village Dir Yassin in 1948
(The 20 th Century p.184-195), did not inaugurate
the Panicked escape of the Arabs but accelerated
it greatly. Both inaugurate and accelerated it
greatly are positive if not festive terms. The panicked flight of the Palestinians, caused by this and





other massacres, brought about a positive change for

the Jews, and as the text emphasizes, even a moderate Zionist leader such as [ the first president] Haim
Weizman, considered it as a miracle, for it solved
a horrifying demographic problem, which could
have been an obstacle on the way of the realization
of the dream the Zionist movement fought to realize
for more than half a century: the declaration of the
state of the Jews (The 20 th Century p. 195).
The massacre in Kafar Kassem (on the first day
of the 1956 war) had according to the school-books
- positive results for the Palestinian citizens themselves because it made the Israeli court rule against
obedience to manifestly unlawful orders (The Age
of Horror and Hope, 2001). As The 20 th Century
(p. 211) reports:
The 1956 war was a good turning point for
Israels Arabs although it began with the
tragedy of Kafar Kassem, because in the
long run, the smashing victory, the relative
peace on the borders and the self confidence of
the Jewish population turned the military government 10 into an unbearable moral and
political burden and ten years later it was
abolished altogether.
Students learn from this report that immoral deeds
towards Palestinians are not corrected because they
are wrong but because they may be a burden to victorious, self-confident conquerors and have undesirable political implications. They also learn that the
Palestinian citizens do not deserve too much paper
time or that for them ten years of living under siege
pass very quickly.
Some books (e.g.The Age of Horror and Hope
2001:335) fail to mention that the sentence of the
murderers was sweetened as The 20 th Century
(p.211) puts it, and all the books fail to mention that
the punishment of the commanding officer of the
murderers was a two-penny fine. This sentence is
compatible with the present policy of Israel, not to
punish soldiers or civilians for the killing of
Visually, the killers who committed the massacres
are always mythicized by glorifying layout where
photographs depict them as heroes. For instance the
photograph below shows former prime-minister Ar-


iel Sharon together with the late chief of staff and

minister of defence Moshe Dayan, who was admired
all over the world for his daring and courage, with
the soldiers of the infamous 101 unit, after the massacre of 69 women and children during the punishment operation in the Palestinian village of Kibieh
in 1953 (the unit was disbanded right after this massacre). Although in the main text the book explains
that most of the victims were Arab villagers [separated] from their lands, [who] attempted to return
to their homes, the caption says:
The soldiers of unit 101 excelled in their daring. One of its actions was the invasion of the
village Kibieh in the Samaria region, a village
that served as a departure point for the terrorists.
The soldiers destroyed 45 houses and killed 69
men, women and children.
Other books justify the massacre for its positive
consequences by explaining that it has restored
somewhat the confidence of Israeli citizens (The
Age of Horror and Hope, 2001) and the Morale and
dignity to the army (Fifty Years of Wars and Hopes,
2004:244). The glorifying photograph which has
become one of the cherished symbols of Israeli daring in the Israeli iconography of heroism is placed
right under a poster titled: Growth against Siege,
showing a lurking Arab threatening Israel and the
airplanes and boats that are transporting new Jewish
immigrants to its shores. The poster is placed at the
Ideal-New spot of the page (Kress and Van-Leeuwen
1996, Van-Leeuwen and Kress 1995) while the
photograph is at the real-given-centre spot11. Apart
from the fact that the photograph which depicts real
people occupies the place of the real and the poster
occupies the place of the abstract, these placements
are compatible with the message: Growth of Jewish
population as the Zionist ideal, not yet achieved at
the new-ideal spot;the soldiers signifying the concrete way to achieve this goal at the real-given
concrete spot.
This report is similar in style to reports that appear
daily in the Israeli media. Detached, with no empathy
for the victims and with the vague, justifying implication that all Palestinians are potential terrorists, even
if they are villagers who attempt to return home
or to get to their barren fields.

Under which Arab citizens lived from 1949 to 1966.

Since Hebrew is read from right to left, the given part of the message is on the right and the new part is on the left. The ideal spot is at
the top of the page and the real or concrete spot at the bottom (Kress and Van-Leeuwen 1996)


Figure no.5: Modern Times II

To sum: As Coffin (1997:205)argues, history (and
one should add Geography) textbooks often use the
discourse of politicians, lawyers and other manipulators of language, who use linguistic and discursive
devices in order to persuade the reader to accept interpretation as fact or truth, thereby putting the disciplinary politics of truth at stake.
The discourse used in Israeli textbooks regarding
the Palestinians serves an explicit political agenda
of exclusion. Through discursive and visual strategies
reality is presented from the point of view of the
dominant Jewish group, who sees Palestinians as a
primitive, vile, threatening and undesirable element.
The maps conceal Palestinian existence and show
disregard for international laws and decisions. Human-caused evils are presented as natural processes
and the killing and expelling of the indigenous population is legitimized in the name of the highest cause
the existence of the Jewish state.
Israeli students, who are drafted to the army right
after highschool, are trained to take part in the Occupation of Palestine without ever having seen a
Palestinian face to face let alone having talked to
one. The information they receive from their school
books prepares them to treat their neighbours with
hostility and to feel no compassion for their suffering.
This education is far from encouraging peace and


B. Racist Discourse used by Teachers

against Jewish New-Comers
Unlike other immigrant societies, Israeli Jewish immigrants are invited and brought in by the government which accords them substantial benefits, both
economic and educational. These immigrants receive
citizenship upon arrival and are immediately transported to absorption centres, where they study
Hebrew for a year and may remain until they find a
job or can purchase an apartment, for which they
receive grants and convenient loans.
Although all the children of Jewish new-comers
are immediately integrated in the Israeli school system and are expected to perform in Hebrew, strong
groups such as the Russian new-comers have established their own educational system in addition to
the Israeli one. Weaker groups such as the Ethiopians
and the Caucasians have no systemic way to preserve
their culture or to pass it on to their children. In some
cases the parents can no longer communicate with
their children for the children are educated in Hebrew
and forget their mother tongues while the parents do
not manage to learn the new language. The Ethiopians are usually placed in religious schools where
their own Jewish tradition and customs are questioned and ignored. The help these children receive
at school consists of extra hours of Hebrew and is
meant to facilitate their absorption. However, in spite
of this special aid nearly 40% of all drop outs in Israel are children of Jewish new-comers. A point

The data for this chapter has been gathered since 1992 through observations of lessons and interviews with teachers and immigrant





worth noting is that Israeli future teachers do not receive any training in teaching minorities (as is the
case in London for instance) and do not learn anything about the different cultures and Literacies that
exist in their state. This has to do with the Zionist
ideology regarding the New-Jew, that from the moment of arrival Jewish new-comers are Israelis and
should leave their diasporic past behind.
Therefore one may state that whereas racism towards the Palestinian citizens and non-citizens falls
under Esseds categories of fragmentation and suppression, Racism against Jewish new-comers is expressed though what Essed terms containment in
paternalistic relationships (1991:45): When the
dominant group does not accept dominated groups
pursuit of equality, justice and power its reaction
will be one of suppression, fragmentation and containment in paternalistic relationships.
Examining teachers talk about their immigrant
students one can distinguish several stances, all of
which witness containment in paternalistic relationships.
The missionary stance: Although the official
policy of the Ministry of Education, expressed in
slogan posters that hang on school walls, is Getting
to know and love the other, Welcoming the
Olim13 etc. in Israeli terms that means making them
acquainted with the Israeli culture and mores.
Therefore we find in teachers discourse a sort of a
missionary tone, such as in the following example:

included without being absorbed, arguing that the

right to be included requires a right to be separate,
to be autonomous (1996:7). Bernstein explains that
children, who do not see their image reflected in the
school mirror, do not hear their own voice in the
school discourse and do not recognize themselves
as of value, feel excluded and are excluded. For instance, in example no. 2, both brother (16) and sister
(14) feel their culture and language are superfluous:

Example no. 2
Brother: A year ago the kids at school didnt
like me but this year I showed them what I am
worth, though they still dont like me entirely
because I know two languages.
Sister: A stinking Russian.
Brother: Yea.
The pedagogy of acculturation does not require
teachers to know much about their pupils lifeworld
for the pupils are expected to perform as natives.
Their cultures, Literacies or learning styles are never
taken into account though they may be mentioned,
mainly as obstacles. This encourages teachers ignorance which leads to poor communication, to stereotypization and to racist discourse.

Example no. 3
A teacher of Ethiopian 4th graders:

Example no. 1
Interviewer : Dont you think that by teaching
them your Judaism, your prayers, you alienate
them from their own tradition, from their families, from customs that are hundreds if not
thousands years old?
Teacher : First of all part of them are
doubtedly Jewish , and besides we do alienate
them as you say, but we do it with love.
This stance characterizes the pedagogy of Acculturation and socialization: (Lam, 2000), which entails
a unilateral transmission and monologic teaching.
Its declared goal is inclusion as absorption. This
pedagogy is different from a dialogic pedagogy of
access and inclusion (Cope and Kalantzis, 1993)
which invites students to give and receive language
(Halliday 1994). Dialogic teaching is defined by
Bernstein as the pedagogic democratic rights of
children. School children must feel that they have
a stake in the society [...] stake having two aspects
to it: the giving and the receiving (1996:6). Bernstein argues that this feeling is necessary for individual enhancement. He also specifies the right to be

They have such a wonderful culture, such respect for others, such values. I really feel that
we miss something not knowing anything about
them. We do a lot of activities with the parents.
We had a Passover Seder* with the school
Interviewer : An Ethiopian Seder?
Teacher : No, no, no, no. I know they also have
something but it isnt reallyits a bit of
everything, they sit on the ground like the Romansno.
-------------------------------------------------*Traditional meal
While cultural customs are emphasized but not accepted, social norms of new comers are completely
ignored. Examples no. 4 and 5, which were recorded
in 2002, more than ten years after the first big wave
of Jewish-Ethiopian emigration, show that their most
basic mores are still unknown or unacceptable:

Olim means 'ascenders' for in Jewish tradition Jews who come to live in Israel ascend to a higher level of existence.


Examples no. 4
Eli (Ethiopian boy, age 10): Miss, Miss, how
can my parents come?
Teacher : I dont know.
Eli : My mothers at work and my fatherCan
my sister come?
Teacher : No. One of the parents. Where is your
Eli : He went to visit the uncles.
Teacher : These uncles stories are over!!
Anyone who knows anything about Ethiopian family
relations knows that the uncles stories are never
over, for the obligation to pay respect or help your
elders is stronger than any other commitment.
Religious prejudice: Cultural intolerance is much
more blatant when it comes to religious customs.
Since in Israel there is one dominant Jewish law and
tradition, based on East European practices, all other
interpretations and customs are put down and some
practices are even prohibited. Teachers may express
abhorrence, as we see in example no. 5:

teachers talk about immigrant children. This falls

into the category of Pathologizing difference (Essed
1991). Example no. 7 gives a few quotes:

Example no. 7
- They have problems: 1. Neglect, serious neglect of clothes, of cleanliness.
-They suffer from disability to listen, to concentrate. From a poor vocabulary.
-At first they were not even able to understand
The pseudo-psychological stance helps legitimize
underestimation and patronizing. Teachers who do
not take responsibility for failure often use Pseudopsychological observations (Peled-Elhanan 2000)
which affirm or validate their prejudice by colouring
it with a scientific hue (Example no. 8). Since the
discourse of science is privileged in our society as
neutral and objective it serves education and racism,
as well as other discourses which tend to categorize
human beings according to pre-conceived classifications:

Example no. 5
Teacher : I cannot go near them, cannot touch
them, they are profane.
Interviewer : Profane?
Teache r: Yes, they slaughter themselves.
Interviewer : Slaughter whom??
Teacher : Slaughter, slaughter the chickens
Ignorance of customs and mores brings about
faulty and inflexible generalizations (Essed
1991) as we can see in the following examples:

Example no. 6
A teacher of an Ethiopian child (grade 6): He
is very closed up. Never raises his eyes when
he speaks with a teacher, and even when I try
to force his face up he refuses, turns his head.
They are like that.
Interviewer : Have you ever learned anything
about Ethiopian education?
Teacher : No, nothing. Never.
Interviewer : So how do you know anything
about them?
Teacher : I can see it on them. You can see it
clearly on them.
The custom to lower ones eyes when reprimanded
by an adult, unknown to the teacher is wrongly interpreted as a negative sign of disrespect or of some
psychological handicap. As a rule, psychology or
rather pseudo-psychology plays an important role in

Example no. 8
A teacher of an Ethiopian child: It seems to
me he has a very low self-esteem, some lack of
confidence, he sends out a lot of signals of
distress. .. He is very gentle, very sensitive ,
introvert, with a lot of manners his basis is
good, he doesnt know how to get absorbed
though, has embarrassment complex. There is
never personal exposure in his stories, probably
because of the miscommunication at home . His
stories always have something very violent in
them. Maybe, there is something blocking
him something in the unconscious.
Speaking from this pseudo-expert level nourishes
the feeling of superiority and the perception of the
subordinate as intrinsically different and alien
(Essed 1991). It also facilitates putting the blame on
the victim:
Teacher [cont.]: He wants to speak. I think we
havent touched him enough. We dont. We
dont really know the mentality. I feel if it were
another child the attitude would have been different. It is because they are so submissive, this
ethnic group.
The teacher, who is aware of her own ignorance, is
not aware enough to consider her pre-conceived assumptions and prejudice as the reasons for the miscommunication with the child. Therefore she transfers the reason for failure outside the classroom, and





recruits ethnic and psychological obstacles to account

for the failure, and to exonerate herself.
One obvious outcome of these misinformed relationships is the failure to facilitate the participation
of new comers.

Example no. 9
School counsellor : There is this group whom
the teacher calls the ghetto. They hardly ever
arrive to school.
Head mistress : Yes, they are really like a
ghetto, you cannot penetrate, and the parents
dont cooperate.
Attendance officer : What happened? How have
you handled it so far??
Head mistress : We tried to break them up,
separate them, but they just shut themselves off.
Speak only Russian, never listen to the teacher.
So we moved two of them to the other class
Officer : And has there been any change?
Counsellor : Yea, they stopped coming to
Officer : why?
Counsellor : Because in the other class children
called them stinkers. My God, do they stink!!
Officer : And what have you done to the offenders?
Head mistress : Drop it, whoever said that is
sick in the head . Doesnt care about anything.
The head mistress dismisses the childs racism by
nicknaming him sick in the head namely, irresponsible for his words. She also legitimizes the counsellors racist comment by not remarking anything with
regard to it, thereby leaving it as a statement of truth.
To sum, everyday racist discourse used by school
teachers against Jewish new-comers has socio-cultural agenda. These children are meant to become Israelis according to the model of the dominant group and
the Zionist ideal of the New-Jew which sees Israeliness as anti Diaspora-Jewishness and therefore expects new comers to forget their old life and become
totally absorbed in Israeli life. This ideology still
persists in spite of the devastating failure of a similar
approach in the absorption of new comers who arrived in the 1950s from various Arab countries. More
than fifty years after this emigration, the children
and grandchildren of those old new-comers are still
suffering from socio-cultural discrimination (See
Yona 2005, Shohat 1988).
In all the examples shown above it is evident that
cultural differences are viewed as negative and that
Victims are pushed into the defensive (Essed
1991:216). Difference is viewed as inferiority or
handicap, and resistance to being absorbed is regarded as an individual failure. This discourse is

characterized by Missionarism, Pathologization of

differences, pseudo-psychological observations,
negative generalizations and stereotypization, religious discrimination, labelling and above all by tolerance towards racism.
The results of such an approach are the alienation
and exclusion of the children whom this pedagogy
wishes to absorb.

The paper presented two types of racist discourse
prevalent in Israeli Jewish schools: The discourse
used for the representation of Palestinians in textbooks and teachers talk about Jewish new-comers.
These two types seem to serve two different approaches, the absorption of Jewish new-comers and
the exclusion of Palestinians. However, both discourses stem from the same insistence on exclusivity,
manifest in the fact that the dominant group does
not accept dominated groups pursuit of equality,
justice and power (Essed 1991). They are also
linked with the Zionist ideology which professes the
ideal of an Arab-free Jewish state (Pappe 2006), and
a Westernized-Jewish culture at that. As the Zionist
saying goes, Israel should be A European reserve
in an Asiatic wilderness (or in the less eloquent
style of former prime-minister Barak, a villa in the
desert). This ideology is expressed not only in education but in all realms of social and cultural life,
even in foresting and construction: the import of
European trees over the local vegetation, the diversion of rivers to the desert in order to make it
bloom, the European-like construction that is
completely dysfunctional in the hot dry weather, are
all meant to celebrate the victory of the West (which
is equated with Israeliness) over the Middle East
(Bar-Gal 2004).
The prevalent discourse and perceptions in Israel
are those of the dominant and mostly right-wing
group and all other discourses, Literacies and cultures
seem unimportant, less advanced or even threatening.
This approach enhances ignorance and misinformation about all the others, including misinformation
about the geopolitical situation of the region. In spite
of slogans and declarations of tolerance that are issued by the ministry of education Israeli teachers are
not trained to teach minority children and educational
materials do not enable their readers to become acquainted with the cultures and Literacies of either
minority citizens or the Palestinian neighbours.
Misinformation and disinformation entail stereotypization and faulty generalizations which in turn
enhance racism.
In conclusion, Israeli education produces what
Wodak and Reisigl, following Van-Dijk, term elite


[] racism reproduced in papers, schoolbooks,

academic discourse, political speeches and
parliamentary debates the racism which is
then implemented and enacted in other social
fields (Reisigl and Wodak 2001:24) such as
the army.
Israels children are educated within an uncompromisingly racist discourse. A racist discourse that does

not stop at checkpoints, but governs all human relations in this country and its schools.
As usually happens in societies that believe
themselves to be tolerant and highly moral (Essed
1991), Israeli educators dont see the racism that is
right there and fail to take responsibility for it. Instead they see the victims as a problem and blame
them for their inferiority, their marginalization and
their exclusion.

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About the Author

Dr. Nurit Elhanan-Peled
I was born in Israel. For my BA I studied at UCLA and at the Sorbonne. I Completed my Masters degree in
Comparative Literature and my PHD at the Hebrew University. My thesis is: The Development of Childrens
oral and Written Text Production, ages 8-14. I teach Language Education and my special interests are Multiliteracies, Social Semiotics,and multicultural school discourse. My current study focuses on the semiotics of
ideologies in Israeli schoolbooks of History and Geography, and was partly sponsored by the Leverhulme
Foundation at The Institute of Education in London. So far I have studied the racist visual and verbal discourse
used in these schoolbooks for the presentation of Palestinians. As an Israeli I feel I must specify my political
position: I am a member of the Palestinian-Israeli forum of bereaved parents for peace and was a co-laureate
of the 2001 Sakharov Prize for Human Rights and the Freedom of Thought, awarded by the European Parliament.