Two political geography questions on the recent New York State Global History and Geography II Regents exam – and the official answers – have triggered an uproar in the Jewish community. The questions and accompanying illustrative maps reflect a distorted view of Israel’s historical place in the Holy Land, embrace a false Palestinian narrative, and feed into antisemitic tropes.
All of this is true, but the questions and maps themselves didn’t create the problem. They are reflective of what the students were likely taught in the classroom and were being tested on. And that is an important distinction.
According to the New York Post, the first question referred to a map illustrating three things: the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for dividing up Mid East land between Jews and Arabs; how the land was actually divided up; and how the land was controlled as of 2017.
The map did not indicate that the land was actually divided this way by virtue of the Arab rejection of the UN’s proposed plan and Israel’s military defeat of combined Arab armies bent on driving the Jews into the sea. You would also not know from the map that, as of 2017, the portion of the land under Israeli control was the result of Israel prevailing in subsequent Arab wars of annihilation against its very existence, and persistent Arab refusals to negotiate land for peace.
What the test did do was ask which event most influenced the development of the UN Partition Plan, offering as possible answers Russian pogroms, the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Paris Peace Plan, or the Holocaust. According to the Post, the official correct answer was the Holocaust.
The other question under scrutiny asked the students to indicate who benefited most from the plan, with “Zionists and Jewish immigrants” the correct answer from among the other options of “the government of Jordan,” “Palestinian nationalists,” and “citizens of Lebanon.”
Plainly, the picture that emerges is one of a Jewish people, shattered by the Holocaust and otherwise savagely victimized, being compensated by a beneficent, perhaps guilt-ridden, world with someone else’s land, which it steadily added to at that someone else’s expense. Certainly there is no sense of the Jewish presence in the Holy Land since Biblical days nor Zionist advocacy for a modern Jewish state since the 1800s.
Were these questions sloppily prepared, or were they carefully designed to reflect what the NYS Department of Education wants its students to learn about the Middle East? In response to the furor, the Department seemed to say: Yes!
They reportedly told the Post in a statement that the exam questions had been “designed to test students’ knowledge of geography as it relates to historical events … New York State social studies teachers prepared, selected, and reviewed the excerpt and questions on the Global History Regents Exam prior to their inclusion. All exam questions are reviewed multiple-times by NYS-certified teachers and State Education subject matter and testing specialists to ensure they are n biased, accurately measure the learning standards, and contain no errors.”
Is it possible that none of the geniuses over at the Department of Education and the board of Regents figured out that now might not be the time to choose to gratuitously picture Jews as predators, especially when there is a far more accurate narrative in plain sight?
But a test is a test – far more important is what the students are being taught. We trust some of our homegrown elected officials will be interested in finding out more.