Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 18:1-2 (Spring 2006)

"Biased Teaching" or "Teaching Bias" in French High Schools

Manfred Gerstenfeld on
Élèves sous influence
by Barbara Lefebvre and Ève Bonnivard

This book deals only marginally with matters directly concerning Judaism and Israel. Yet it provides profound insights into the French national mindset, which over the past decades has been critical of Israeli policy. Yehuda Blum, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, noted: "At the UN the French positions during my ambassadorship were the worst among Europeans. We counted them in the Arab camp." 1 In recent years the French attitude, which initially ignored violent anti-Semitism, including its major Muslim component, has been a source of trouble for many French Jews as well.

This book analyzes a number of textbooks for French high schools and their teachings about contemporary affairs. One author, Barbara Lefebvre, earlier contributed to a book by Emmanuel Brenner that exposed the multiple expressions of anti-Semitism, racism, and sexism in French schools. 2

Nowadays there is considerable teaching of current affairs in French high schools. This book shows that providing pupils more information may cause them to be misinformed.

Of direct Jewish interest is mainly the Holocaust, which is a substantial subject in these textbooks. Until fifteen years ago it was almost entirely ignored, whereas the French resistance against the Germans received heavy emphasis (p. 342). The authors note that Judaism is treated as a religion of immigrants, even though the institutions representing French Jewry go back many generations (p. 239ff.).

One important conclusion of the authors is that in many textbooks the Taliban and terrorists are only very moderately criticized. When discussing the events of 11 September 2001, with one exception, the textbooks remain silent about the aims of the Arab hijackers of the planes, namely, their desire to install a worldwide Islamic rule (p. 35). Most textbooks treat terrorism as a symptom rather than as a structured strategy of war, and they hardly refer to the terrorism of the extreme Left in the 1970s (p. 92).

Palestinian terrorism is barely mentioned, "despite its contribution to shaping contemporary terrorism." The authors ask: "Does not limiting Palestinian terrorism only to the course concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reveal a desire to turn it into something different [from general terrorism]?" (p. 91).

Another of the book's key conclusions is that by opposing the United States, the French national community creates the illusion that it cements itself (p. 348). Lefebvre and Bonnivard note: "Instead of seeking solutions for its problems, France has an awkward tendency to look for a scapegoat, in this specific case the United States, which it holds directly or indirectly responsible for the entire world disorder."

The problem of biased French teaching goes back many decades. Until 1970, under Marxist influence, textbooks offered a negative view of the United States. The Soviet Union, however, was treated mildly (p. 95).

The authors conclude that: "France doesn't know anymore how to define itself other than by being anti-American. Thus many of the textbook authors have sympathy for the other America; that of Michael Moore and other American alternatives" (p. 348).

At the same time, French specialists on antiterrorism, meeting in May 2005, reached the conclusion that as far as the West is concerned, "Islamist terrorism is the main threat for at least the coming 25 years" (p. 350). That gives additional perspective on how distorted the textbooks are in presenting the United States as the antithesis of France.

By writing this important book, the authors have posed the questions of how the systematically distorted teaching in the French educational system may influence future national attitudes, and what will be the consequences of this policy for the democratic Western world.

*     *     *


1. Manfred Gerstenfeld, "European Politics: Double Standards toward Israel," Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 17, Nos. 3 & 4 (Fall 2005), p. 31.

2. Emmanuel Brenner, Les territories perdus de la République (Paris: Mille et une nuits, 2004) (French). For a book review, see the Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 17, Nos. 3 & 4 (Fall 2005), p. 189.

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The above book review appears in the Spring 2006 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review, the first and only journal dedicated to the study of Jewish political institutions and behavior, Jewish political thought, and Jewish public affairs.

Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (, the JPSR appears twice a year in the form of two double issues, either of a general nature or thematic, with contributors including outstanding scholars from the United States, Israel, and abroad.

From the Editors - Manfred Gerstenfeld and Shmuel Sandler

Teaching Morality in Armed Conflict: The Israel Defense Forces Model (At issue) by Amos Guiora

John Paul II and the Jews: An Evaluation by Sergio Minerbi

A Psychoanalytic View of Contemporary Anti-Semitism by Avner Falk

A New (or Perhaps Revived) "Uninhibitedness" toward Jews in Germany by Andrei Markovits

The Politics of "Transmigration": Why Jewish Refugees Had to Leave Switzerland from 1944 to 1954 by Simon Erlanger

Deconstructing Memory and History: The Jewish Military Union (ZZW) and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Laurence Weinbaum and Dariusz Libionka

The Improvement in Israeli-South Korean Relations by Yaacov Cohen

Technology and Jewish Life by Manfred Gerstenfeld and Avraham Wyler

The Columbia University Report on Its Middle Eastern Department's Problems: A Methodological Paradigm for Obscuring Structural Flaws (At issue) by Noah Liben

Book Reviews:

Review Article
: Eran Lerman on Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism by Dore Gold, and Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude by Robert Baer

Herbert Eiteneier on Djihad und Judenhass: Über den neuen antijüdischen Krieg by Matthias Küntzel

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Deutsche Zustände by Wilhelm Heitmeyer (editor)

Nelly Sayagh on La Guerre d'Oslo by Joel Fishman and Efraim Karsh

Michéle Mazel on Arguing from the Constitution by Jeremy Rabkin

Shalom Freedman on Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman

Chaim Waxman on Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism Is Corrupting Our Future by Ben Shapiro

Isi Leibler on Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss? by Manfred Gerstenfeld

Joel Fishman on La France, Israel et les Arabes: le double jeu? by Freddy Eytan

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Élèves sous influence by Barbara Lefebvre and Ève Bonnivard

Françoise Ouzan on Les frontières d'Auschwitz: Les ravages du devoir de mémoire by Shmuel Trigano

Michéle Mazel on Le dossier Lyon III by Henri Rousso

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany 1945-1953 by Jay Howard Geller

Manfred Gerstenfeld on De Drie van Breda: Duitse oorlogsmisdadigers in Nederlandse gevangenschap 1945-1989 by Hinke Piersma

Stephen G. Donshik on American Jewry's Challenge: Conversations Confronting the Twenty-First Century by Manfred Gerstenfeld

David R. Parsons on The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South by Eli N. Evans

Sarah Schmidt on Jews and Australian Politics by Geoffrey Brahm Levey and Philip Mendes (editors)

Jewish Political Studies Review


Invoice No. ________

Date _______________

Annual Subscription Rates:

  Individual Institutions
& Libraries
Outside Israel: $26 $40 $20
In Israel: NIS 70 NIS 110 NIS 40

Back Issues or Single issues - $12 each

Enclosed is my check for US$/NIS: ____________

Name:     _____________________________________________________________

Address: _____________________________________________________________


All checks should be made payable and mailed to:

Center for Jewish Community Studies
Baltimore Hebrew University
5800 Park Heights Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21215
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
13 Tel Hai Street
Jerusalem 92107 ISRAEL