The Joint German-Israeli Textbook Commission
Official joint German-Israeli cooperation on textbooks started in the late 1970s and the first Bilateral Textbook Commission involving the two countries convened in 1979. At that time, the majority of members spoke both German and Hebrew. In 1985 the commission published the findings of its first study of textbooks in both countries, and the recommendations based upon them. The Commission next reconvened 25 years later: the reunification of Germany and the Middle East peace process that started with the Oslo Accords had now entered the history textbooks and so representatives of both countries agreed the wisdom of re-examining the textbooks to discover how such developments were depicted in both countries and what view of the other country was held by a new generation of students and teachers. The new German-Israeli Textbook Commission (DISBK) recommenced its work in 2010 and was again, as had been the case in the 1980s, funded by the German federal foreign office and the Israeli education ministry, and coordinated by the GEI.
The principle aim of the DISBK is to bring Germany and Israel closer together, particularly through their young people, which meant it was important to ensure balanced and realistic depictions of each other’s country and society in educational media and in the classroom. The academic analysis of textbooks is an important tool to achieve this aim, resulting in recommendations, teaching materials and training for teachers and textbook editors. Findings are also communicated to experts in the field and the general public through workshops and conferences.
Central to the first phase of the DISBK was ‘traditional’ textbook revision, which was reflected in the 2015 German-Israeli Textbook Recommendations. Three bilateral working groups examined approximately 400 German and 100 Israeli history, geography and social studies textbooks to ascertain their depictions of the other country and its history and society, as well as their respective portrayals of the Holocaust and how it is remembered. The DISBK made recommendations based on the shortfalls revealed by the study. This included making appropriate changes to the textbooks as well as preparing joint teaching materials that would provide students in Israel and Germany with a differentiated depiction of each other’s country. From 2016 to 2018 digital, interactive teaching modules, based on the work of the Textbook Commission and coordinated by the GEI at the Center for Educational Technology in Tel Aviv, were created for teachers in both countries. Training programmes for educators of all kinds in both countries have since been introduced to accompany the joint teaching modules. The subject of ‘migration’ was closely addressed by the DISBK between 2019 and 2021. During this time it explored the portrayal of Israel, Jews and Judaism and of National Socialism and the Holocaust in educational media provided as part of integration packages for refugees in Germany.
Since 2022 the GEI and the DISBK have been working with the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) in Jerusalem. This work focusses mainly on creating digital source material from the collections held by the LBI and preparing them for application in school history lessons in both countries. The testimonies of German Jews who emigrated to Palestine between 1933 and 1939 are at the forefront of this work. Explanatory videos and handouts are being prepared.
- Deutsch-Israelische Schulbuchempfehlungen(German-Israeli Textbook Recommendations): The results of the textbook analysis were released in summer 2015. Among the central findings were the presence in German textbooks of a one-sided and distorted view of Israel in the context of the conflict in the Middle East, and an equally sporadic depiction of post-1945 Germany in Israeli educational media.
- German-Israeli Teaching materials: Six joint teaching units were developed in German and Hebrew in 2018/19, on the subject of ‘Migration from a bilateral perspective’. They addressed topics such as the immigration of German-speaking Jews to the mandated territory of Palestine in the 1930s and Israel as a destination for immigration.
- The results of a study of teaching materials and teaching practice within the framework of orientation classes provided by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) will be published at the start of 2023 in the Eckert.Expertise series.