Gil Troy: Israeli 6th graders learn hope, not hate

Center Field: Israeli 6th graders learn hope, not hate

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-30-09

On Monday, just before Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day, and shortly after I returned from the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, I was invited to talk about Durban to my son’s 6th grade class in Jerusalem. He attends a Dati-Mamlachti, religious public school, Efrata, in Baka. I have spoken to elementary school classes at various Jewish day schools in Montreal over the years, so I have some sense of what kids this age know and don’t know about current events, and about Israel. What shocked me – and then in many ways impressed me – (beyond their excellent, polite behavior throughout the class) was how shocked so many of the sixth graders in Jerusalem were by the depth of anti-Israel hatred on display at the Durban II conference.

I began simply by playing a four-minute clip from the Israeli news show “Mabat” on Monday April 20, the day Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened the Durban Review Conference in Geneva. The kids were understandably confused by the spectacle: someone treated with great honor saying hateful things about their own state; students dressed in multicolored clown wigs throwing red noses at the speaker; dark-suited European diplomats walking out en masse.

After the clip I explained to the students that I showed the clip with no explanation and no context, because that is what happens when we watch the news daily. We get plunged into these events as veritable eyewitnesses, often lacking a bigger picture understanding. I then started unraveling the spool, using slides to tell the story of the anti-racist conference headlined by a racist, the UN conference against discrimination that has become a symbol of discrimination against Jews.

“I don’t understand, what do they mean Zionism is Nazism?” one girl asked when I showed a Durban I poster from 2001 equating the Jewish star with the Swastika attacking “Nazionism.” “Why are they applauding Ahmadinejad?” another wondered.

This, to me, was the morning’s big revelation. Many of the students could not fathom that anyone could link anything Jewish or Israeli with anything Nazi. Probing further, it was clear that most of the students were less aware of the world’s enmity than their peers were in Montreal. I realized the blessed insulation of living in a Jewish state means that they do not see the barrage of anti-Israel criticism on television and in the newspapers Jewish kids experience in the Diaspora.

Moreover, it was clear that these kids were not being taught to hate. And note they study in the National Religious system often caricatured by critics as fomenting intolerance. By not being aware of Palestinians’ demonization of Israel, they were far less likely to demonize Palestinians.

The Yom Hazikaron Remembrance Day ceremonies at school on Tuesday reinforced this impression. The commemoration was sad but focused on the murdered not the murderers. In the spirit of the day, which precedes Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day, the principal ended the ceremony by talking about hopes, dreams, pride in Israel’s accomplishments and the happiness that follows the sadness. Again, not a word of hatred, demonization, or even anger, the logical emotion when contemplating so many young deaths. I only wish Palestinian parents could report that their children were not being raised on vitriol.

As my slide show continued, the questions increased.

“Why did the UN honor Ahmadinejad as the first speaker at the conference?” the teacher asked – the question I have been asked most frequently since my return, and the question Elie Wiesel asked on Yom HaShoah, on Holocaust Remembrance Day in Geneva. I explained that Ahmadinejad exploited UN protocol. The embarrassed Europeans downgraded the conference because of the controversies and most countries sent junior ministers to Geneva. Ahmadinejad was the only head of state to attend, thus earning the first speaker’s slot. I noted that the embarrassment was good. It showed that Durban I’s critics had made an impact and some countries still had a sense of shame.

“Why does the Swiss President look so happy meeting Ahmadinejad?” a student asked when I showed the picture of a beaming Hans-Rudolf Merz greeting Ahmadinejad. This absurdity required an explanation of the passive complicity of the enabler rather than the active crimes of the deviant. I said the Swiss President could have snubbed Ahmadinejad as America’s president does when unsavory characters visit the UN. He also could have greeted Ahmadinejad coldly. The effusive welcome reflected the weakness of the diplomat, the cowardice of too many Europeans, who let evil flourish by being polite and doing nothing.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, gestures as he talks with Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, left, shortly after arriving in Geneva, Switzerland, Sunday, April 19, 2009 PHOTO: AP

“Why did the students dress up like clowns and throw red noses?” another student asked. I repeated the French students’ explanation, that Ahmadinejad and the anti-Zionists’ racism had turned the anti-racist conference into a circus, so they might as well dress appropriately. The students appreciated that logic – although I challenged them to consult with each other and their teachers, rabbis, and parents about what is the appropriate behavior when faced with evil and the politeness that enables it. I noted I was proud that none of the Jewish students behaved violently or aggressively. They were disciplined, clever, strategic and quite limited in their actions.

A demonstrator dressed as a clown gestures from the media tribune against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his speech during the opening of the Durban Review Conference (UN’s Conference against Racism) at the European headquarters of the United Nations, UN, in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, April 20, 2009 PHOTO: AP

“How come only Jewish students are standing with the Darfuri refugees?” some asked when I showed a picture of Darfuris and Jewish students in front of the UN, protesting the UN’s silence about Sudan’s genocide. “Why doesn’t the UN help?” others asked when I told them about the many human rights activists and victims from Darfur, Iran, Egypt, Libya, and Rwanda frustrated that the UN’s anti-Zionist obsession derailed attempts to stop human rights abuses. To these pertinent, depressing questions, I had no adequate answers.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: