The ‘Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism’ (RIAS) registered 30 incidents of anti-Semitism in education institutions in the past year; the number of unreported incidents is estimated to be much higher.
Schools should be a safe space – bullying and discrimination do not belong there. Yet the reality is frequently somewhat different. The pejorative term Du Jude appears to be commonly directed towards pupils of the Jewish faith in state schools.
The government’s commissioner for anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, is calling for the compulsory reporting of anti-Semitic incidents. While this is a step in the right direction, Jörg Rensmann, director of education and research at the Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin, claims that ‘the background to anti-Israeli sentiment is astonishing ignorance about the complex historical and political structure of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians’.
It should be the duty of schools to combat flawed concepts and hostility. But fracturing such a fixed view of the world is a challenging task, simply from a pedagogical viewpoint.
Rensmann and his organisation have come to the same conclusions as the German-Israeli Textbook Commission, which some years ago condemned the image of Israel portrayed in textbooks. Textbooks remain the most widely used medium in classrooms and their contents frequently reveal distortions that consolidate anti-Semitic animosity in pupils. ‘It struck us that factual texts, which are supposed to be neutral, exhibited significant omissions’, said Rensmann, who added that ‘we fear that as a result of these abridged portrayals it is by no means certain that pupils are capable of adequate reflection on the subject, because well-established clichés are communicated to them, which prevent them conducting proper, fact-based analysis’.
Textbook publishers have started to react and are revising critical text passages, although Rensmann believes there is still plenty of capacity for change. The image presented of Israel remains that of a belligerent state in crisis and pupils learn nothing of the political system or the relationship between Germany and Israel. The anomaly of Israel as a democratic state in a largely undemocratic region should be illustrated, he claims. The debate surrounding anti-Semitism should not only be addressed on a historical and political level; the focus must also be directed towards its present-day manifestations.
In this situation teachers are presented with very great challenges. Anti-Semitism and the conflict in the Middle East are subjects that are not allocated nearly enough time during teacher training courses. Rensmann is of the opinion that this situation must fundamentally change and that theories and manifestations of anti-Semitism must become a compulsory component of teacher training course at universities – especially in the social sciences. Only then will it be possible to sensitively address historical responsibilities, says Rensmann.
Editorial staff (alb)