Michael F. Brown
The Electronic Intifada / August 22, 2023
Right-wing propaganda is coming to Florida’s students this month as children return to school.
With the approval, Palestinians are now in the state’s sights too.
A revised Florida curriculum will teach middle school students that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” This has produced outrage that students may walk away discussing “silver linings” to slavery.
The 1920 Ocoee Massacre in Florida and simultaneous ethnic cleansing and seizure of Black property for white residents will somehow be taught to high school students as an “act of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”
The Orange County Regional History Center in Florida, however, describes the massacre, when dozens of Black people were killed, as “the largest incident of voting-day violence in United States history.” According to Time magazine, “The guidelines also have similar stipulations for lessons on the Tulsa Race Massacre and Rosewood Race Massacre,” the latter of which also occurred in Florida.
This is a reckless misrepresentation of history that – unless teachers resist – would open the door to suggestions that Black victims were responsible for being lynched and equally culpable simply for defending themselves from white-led racial violence.
Vice President Kamala Harris stated, “High schoolers may be taught that victims of violence, of massacres, were also perpetrators.”
Into this combustible mix of revisionist history and government-promoted racism comes PragerU, which similarly misrepresents the Palestinian defense of their land in the face of ethnic cleansing and property theft.
The organization – donations to which are tax-deductible – has a misleading name.
The group’s welcome to Florida fits within the anti-Palestinian outlook of Ron DeSantis, the state’s governor.
DeSantis, a flailing Republican presidential candidate, touts his public events in “Judea and Samaria” – the name Israel uses for the West Bank. DeSantis claims that the territory is not occupied but rather “disputed.”
He has pledged to be the “most pro-Israel governor in America.”
No big deal for whom? This is history from the perspective of the enslaver as told by an American right wing intent on sanitizing and falsifying history for American schoolchildren.
The cartoon Columbus further argues that “being taken as a slave is better than being killed.”
PragerU also shows a video of abolitionist Frederick Douglass in which he states, “I’m certainly not OK with slavery, but the founding fathers made a compromise to achieve something great: the making of the United States.”
Charles M. Blow in The New York Times responds, “Frederick Douglass would never! He despised the compromises that maintained and prolonged slavery.”
Blow adds, “Using Douglass in any way to soften slavery is a desecration. And, that is DeSantis’ educational legacy in the state.”
None of this is surprising. Prager is on the record as favoring such indoctrination.
Addressing criticism directed at him, Prager said earlier this summer, “All I heard was, ‘You indoctrinate kids,’ which is true. We bring doctrines to children. That’s a very fair statement. I said, ‘But what is the bad of our indoctrination?’”
It couldn’t be plainer that right-wing indoctrination is coming to Florida’s schools.
And then there’s a PragerU video for kids on behalf of Israel, marginalizing Palestinians, reducing them to terrorists or the role of the “good Arab.”
The misrepresentations are no surprise: PragerU co-founder Dennis Prager has been to Israel over 20 times and will lead a “Stand With Israel” tour there – as well as to occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied Golan Heights – this fall.
He is on record as fearing a Palestinian-Jewish binational state. And he has asserted that “the Palestinians are among the world’s most morally unimpressive national groups” and that “lying is a Palestinian art form.”
Anti-Palestinian racism is kind of his thing.
PragerU CEO Marissa Streit also has experience with anti-Palestinianism having “served in military intelligence unit 8200 of the Israel Defense Forces,” as her own biographical note says.
As Ali Abunimah details, “In 2014, whistleblowers from the Israeli army’s notorious Unit 8200 cyber warfare division revealed how they eavesdrop on Palestinians’ personal communications in an effort to find vulnerabilities they can exploit to the benefit of the occupation.”
One Israeli spy explained to The Guardian newspaper how Unit 8200 operates: “Whether said individual is of a certain sexual orientation, cheating on his wife, or in need of treatment in Israel or the West Bank – he is a target for blackmail.”
Right from the start, students watching the PragerU video are provided with one side of history along with a map depicting the illegally annexed Golan Heights as part of Israel.
“By 1948, following World War II, the Jewish people’s prayers were finally answered and Israel was granted the legal right to exist by the United Nations.”
Nothing is said about Palestinians being the majority population and yet getting a minor share of the land or the possibility of one state shared by Palestinians and Jews. Israel’s immediate expansion is not broached.
“The US was the first country to recognize Israel as a legitimate state and the first to recognize Jerusalem as its capital,” the video adds.
Israel’s establishment on hundreds of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages goes unmentioned. The absence of Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem is uncited.
Nor is the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Palestinians from West Jerusalem broached or the unequal application of Israeli law regarding the return of 1948 properties.
“Both nations [Israel and the US] are united in their commitment to economic prosperity, strong national defense, individual freedoms and a political system based on free elections,” the video tells students.
The economically devastating siege of Gaza is ignored as is the dual system of law in the West Bank. Israel’s nation-state law of 2018 which entrenches apartheid and racial discrimination isn’t raised lest it undercut claims of “individual freedoms.”
As for free elections, these are based on Israel’s ethnic cleansing of approximately 800,000 Palestinians in 1948 who were never allowed to return – and vote.
Furthermore, Israel exercises effective control over the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip yet Palestinians there are not able to vote for the government that has ruled over them for over 55 years. Instead, they are saddled in the West Bank with the corrupt Palestinian Authority which is little more than a glorified municipal government. Hamas has a similar level of limited control in Gaza.
The PragerU video then pivots to a vignette about a girl named Shira who “lives with her Jewish family in an apartment in Israel’s second most populous city, Tel Aviv. Two blocks from her house is a mixed Arab-Jewish city called Jaffa.”
The claim that Tel Aviv is Israel’s second largest city is itself problematic. Tel Aviv is actually the largest city in Israel – unless one regards all of Jerusalem as being in Israel. Most countries in the world have refused to formally recognize or endorse Israel’s occupation and subsequent annexation of East Jerusalem. That refusal and the fact that the status of Jerusalem is still supposed to be determined are additional inconvenient facts omitted by the PragerU video.
Unsurprisingly in this propaganda video, Shira’s “best friend is Yasmine, a Muslim girl from Jaffa.”
Unstated is any reference to the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Jaffa – even before the establishment of the state of Israel – that reduced the Palestinian population there by tens of thousands to 4,000.
Ali Abunimah wrote in 2013: “After the occupation, Israel confiscated most Palestinian property [in Jaffa], corralled the remaining Palestinian residents into the Ajami neighborhood and annexed Jaffa into the ‘Tel Aviv-Jaffa’ municipality.”
Then comes an extraordinary passage in the PragerU video that will leave high school students ill-prepared for college.
“Like the United States, Israel is a nation of immigrants which prides itself on its freedoms for all citizens no matter their religion, ethnicity or race. Over 70 different nationalities live in this small country. Uniquely, Israel is the only country in the Middle East that does not oppress its minority populations. Israel’s laws and Supreme Court rulings protect the rights of all its people from being jeopardized.”
This is profoundly wrong and seriously misinforms students.
Jewish immigrants are certainly welcomed, but African migrant workers have faced profound racism. Palestinian refugees are not allowed to return to their homes because they are the wrong religion.
Palestinian citizens of Israel face significant discrimination, including racist limits on where they can live. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and Israel itself face apartheid as reported by Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups.
The Israeli high court has time and again violated fundamental Palestinian rights.
The closest the PragerU video comes to addressing the ethnic cleansing Palestinians endured in 1948 is this passage: “Immediately after this [Israel’s establishment], Israel was attacked by surrounding Arab states, beginning the first Arab-Israeli war. During this time many Arabs fled the new state of Israel and many Jews fled Arab countries for Israel.”
Finally, the video comes to more recent days and propaganda high school students may have heard already. “Since 2008, Israel has had to protect itself in four major conflicts and from numerous other terrorist attacks that threaten the innocent people living there.”
The gist is that Israelis are innocent, Palestinians are terrorists. Nothing is said of credible accusations of Israeli war crimes during these attacks on Gaza and other abusive actions in the West Bank that have gone on for decades.
Addressing the May 2021 attack on Gaza, PragerU goes into overdrive: “Sadly, during this 11-day conflict many people, including children, lost their lives.” As this is described as a “scary time” for Shira in which she spent most of her time in the family’s bomb shelter, students will likely reach the conclusion that most of those killed, including children, were Israeli.
But that’s not the case.
Dead Palestinian children are of little interest to PragerU in its mission to indoctrinate Florida’s children with pro-Israel messaging.
Perhaps the best hope for Florida is that teens can be contrarian and have a strong capacity to question what’s happening around them, including state-sponsored propaganda. If that’s the case here, more rather than fewer students will leave high school questioning Israel’s actions.
But that’s not a sure thing with book bans and state officials limiting access to information. Florida seems determined to take its students back to the 1950s.
If past is prologue, however, there’s an excellent chance that a significant number of high school students will successfully resist. Nevertheless, alarmingly, some will display a similar appetite for oppressive messaging and action as southern whites in Florida 60 years ago. And elementary schoolchildren lack the knowledge and skills to question the propaganda that could now be put before them.
As regressive and racist as DeSantis is, former President Donald Trump is also telegraphing anti-Black messages that are reaching his supporters in Florida and elsewhere around the US.
In discussing the 2020 presidential election outcome, Trump recently used the word “riggers” as a clear stand-in for an anti-Black racial slur. He’s signaling to his supporters that Black people are responsible for his defeat.
These right-wing leaders are playing with fire as anyone familiar with the civil rights movement and its immediate aftermath will know. And they’re not ignorant of the likelihood their rhetoric and policies will help unleash violence on Black, LGBTQ+ and Palestinian people in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.
It’s the same ruthless playbook over and over and over again. Whether it’s 1960 or 2023, there always seems to be a receptive white audience as too many political and religious leaders repeatedly fail children and find new ways to make life difficult and dangerous for historically oppressed groups in the US.
Tellingly, what’s happening in Florida will not be limited to Florida.
PragerU claimed in an announcement on Monday that it is coming to Texas where it would be able to indoctrinate over 5 million schoolchildren.
Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist