Maureen Dowd has an op-ed about Saudi Arabia in today’s New York Times. Its theme is the partial modernization of Saudi Arabia, and while it’s an interesting experiment for Dowd to try to gather actual information, there’s really nothing in it worth remembering except her claim that the disaster at the Mecca girls’ school (where teenagers died because the religious police kept rescuers away to prevent males from seeing unveiled females) made a substantial impact on at least a slice of Saudi opinion.

What did hold my interest was an assertion Dowd quotes, without comment, as part of an angry question from a deputy in the Saudi parliament:

“Why don’t you go to Israeli math textbooks and see what they’re saying — `If you kill 10 Arabs one day and 12 the next day, what would be the total?’ ”

There really couldn’t be a better illustration of American political journalism: Someone makes a startling claim, and the reporter merely recounts that the claim was made, with no attempt to verify its accuracy. (Actually, to conform precisely to convention, the story should have had an angry denial by a spokesman for the Israeli education ministry, leaving the reader with no way of knowing either what the truth is or which side is lying. That’s called “objectivity.”)

Now I have seen, and believed, assertions that textbooks in the schools run by the Palestinian Authority, including some funded by UN agencies, have precisely such questions, of course with “Jews” or “Zionists” substituted for “Arabs.” If anyone has bothered to deny those claims, I haven’t seen the denial. The same is said to be true of textbooks in various of the Arab states, including Egypt, and again I have no reason to doubt it, though also no way of knowing how frequent it is.

But this is the first time I have heard the claim made about Israeli schools. If it were true, I would find it both surprising and outrageous. [Less surprising, if not less outrageous, in the madrassas — pardon me, yeshivot — run by the extremist orthodox groups and paid for by the Israeli government. If Barak had used his majority to strike at the power of Shas and the NRP, rather than gambling it on Arafat’s good faith, a lot of things might have been different.]

Given the amount of American money — both public and charitable — that goes into Israel, Americans have a particular interest in knowing whether the claim is true or false. (Or maybe it’s true, but only in a tiny number of schools.) I’ll be happy to pass on whatever enlightenment any reader can offer.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Too bad Maureen Dowd’s mind isn’t among them.


Ampersand has “>looked into the matter. Yes, we have no bananas: people who have looked at Israeli schoolbooks with a critical eye report no such passages. (And even the very nasty Egyptian and Jordanian books now being phased out of Palestinian schools don’t seem to have had the murderous math problems of legend.) Media bias seems to me a relatively minor problem compared to the simple lack of journalistic diligence that allows so many polemical points to be scored by sheer bluff.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: