Distorting Peace: Academic Journal as a Propaganda Bullhorn
When the first two articles you read in a particular academic journal have serious problems in them, you may start to wonder how much store to put in the journal as a whole. This is what happened to me regarding Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology.
The title aroused my interest. As a retired psychotherapist, and one who is currently engaged in exploring the interactions between domestic and regional politics and Israeli society, I was hoping this journal might offer me a fruitful place to find academic research deepening my understanding of important issues. I was very disappointed with what I found. Here are critiques of the first two articles I read among recently published papers. The first article is examined below (and the second can be found here).
Title of the paper: The Impact of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict on Thinking Biases in Teaching Evaluations
After reading this article, I was glad it was a brief report. I dread to think how many distortions the author, Emad Gith of Sakhnin Academic College, would have been able to include in a longer piece.
First, a methodological issue
Gith concludes that the long-standing Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict is the reason Arab students rate Arab instructors more highly than they rate Jewish instructors and Jewish students rate Jewish instructors higher than they rate Arab instructors. He attributes this to homophily, jargon for the commonsense idea that people are attracted to those like themselves in whatever attribute one is considering at the moment. He concludes that:
The focal finding here is the interaction effect between the nationality of the student and the nationality of the instructor. One possible explanation for this interaction effect is the negative stereotypes as well as the animosity harbored by each member of a national group toward the members of the rival nationality.
(We will put aside, for the moment, the fact that the Arab students of Israel have Israeli nationality and as we have seen in loud demonstrations in Umm el Fahm, for example, they may call themselves Palestinian but they DO NOT want to exchange their Israeli passports for Palestinian Authority documents.)
On the one hand, Gith cannot attribute animosity and negative stereotypes to his research population unless he actually tested for the existence of such among them. On the other hand, without comparing his results to other possible sources of homophily, he cannot explain his results on this basis. It would have been quite simple for him to use the same data base and see if female students more highly rated female instructors than male and vice versa. If this resulted in significant differences, then he would have had weak to no support for his contention that homophily in teacher evaluations is because of the conflict between Jews and Arabs unless he would have wanted to claim equal levels of animosity between the men and women in his sample.
Alternatively, he could have collaborated with a researcher in the United States who would have measured relative ratings of black and white students of their black and white university teachers. I wonder if the ethics committee in any American institution would have allowed such research.
Because such a study would likely not be approved by any other ethics committee, it is not surprising that his research provided, in the author’s words, “unique and rare data”.
How much did the journal pay attention to what was submitted?
I wonder how much attention reviewers and editors actually paid to the material submitted given that they did not pick up on the fact that the illustration in the paper was faulty. Look at this figure, the only one in the article, and tell me what is wrong with it.
The legend does not describe what the solid black bars represent. It is easy enough to figure out, but it is unprofessional to have such an oversight in a published article. Makes you wonder what else they overlooked.
The very problematic introductory literature review
There is so much here to critique. I do not think I can include everything that is problematic and that begins with the very first sentence in the paper. Gith states that Israel is the only country where “minority and majority national groups who are engaged in an ongoing political conflict attend the same institutions of higher education”. I think we only have to look at the fact that there is a university in Tibet to question whether or not this is true; while their website does not say that there are both Tibetan and Chinese students and instructors, one could perhaps verify this in some way. Would this not also be true at universities in some regions of Turkey where there are substantial Armenian or Kurdish populations?
Perhaps this statement spotlights the fact that many regard Israel as the site of THE MOST intractable conflict in the world, ignoring the fact that Cyprus has also been so labeled. To consider Israel as the only country where . . . is to apply a double standard.
The very next sentence has two problems:
There is a long history of at least a century of violent and armed conflict between Palestinians from the Gaza strip and the west bank and the Jews, and because the Israeli Arabs tend to identify with their Muslim brothers living in these areas, the Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish groups harbor great animosity to each other (Abu-Nimer & Seidel, 2016; Diab & Mi’ari, 2007).
The first part is misleading: one hundred years ago (1920), Judea and Samaria (J&S, aka the West Bank) and Gaza were not regarded as separate from the rest of the land falling under the British Mandate of Palestine nor formerly under the Ottoman Empire. Israel did not exist as a modern state until 1948 and between 1948 and 1967, Gaza was occupied by Egypt and J&S by Jordan. To distinguish between Arabs in these areas from Israeli Arabs a century ago is wrong, and there were not yet any Israeli Jews either.
Secondly, while it is natural that Israeli Arabs identify with Arabs in these areas today, to definitively state that Israeli Arabs and Jews “harbor great animosity to each other” is a reach. What is “great” animosity? How is it measured? And what proportion of Arabs and Jews constitute those holding great animosity toward the other? I checked the two citations Gith provided to see if they substantiate this statement.
Abu-Nimer and Seidel wrote a chapter in a book on conflict resolution. Nowhere in their chapter did they mention the words hate or animosity or even allude to these feelings. In fact, their chapter describes three organizations the authors claim can contribute to peaceful resolution of the conflict, one Jewish, one Christian and one Muslim, because, according to Abu-Nimer and Seidel, purely secular approaches appropriate for Western countries do not address the important religious aspects underlying the conflict in Israel and other nations such as Afghanistan and Yemen.
Diab and Mi’ari also do not allude to hate or animosity. They examined the self-identity of Israeli Arab students in David Yellin College in Jerusalem and studied willingness of Arab students to be in contact with Jewish students and/or friends with them. They also explored whether or not these Arab students felt that Jewish students were interested in befriending them. They should have wondered if the results of their research would have been different had they looked at students studying in other Israeli universities where relationships may be less contentious than the capital city. In fact, a study published this year in this very journal (Zehavit & Maor, 2020) showed that Arabs and Jews view each other less stereotypically and have more mutual relationships at a university in northern Israel than at one in central Israel. I wonder why Zehavit and Maor did not cite Gith’s study as part of the literature review; did they find it as problematic as I did?
Academics who review manuscripts submitted by their colleagues cannot be expected to look up citations relied upon as substantiation of their assertions as I began to do here; they need to trust each other. Yet I do believe that the other points I raised should have been enough to merit requesting a thorough revision of the article or an outright rejection.
It is sad that such shoddy professionalism is allowed to find the light of day in academic journals that purport to provide access to quality research. They do a dis-service to students and researchers who find these papers and to the populations seeking to resolve the serious issues to which this journal has dedicated itself as indicated by its very name. There are some who may even wonder whether or not articles such as this one, that is mild in comparison to some others, are designed to serve the purposes of anti-Israel propaganda at least as much as seeking to serve academia.
Feature Image Credit: screenshot from public Facebook timeline of Emad Gith
This is pretty dreadful, so the following comment may strike you as trivial. However, the Hebrew is showing through the English, in a very characteristic way for Israelis writing in English, namely in conditional constructions:
“unless he would have wanted” (ela im hu haya rotze).
I would have written “unless he wanted” 🙂
Actually, it is conditional tense and I meant it to be conditional. Thanks for looking out for me in any case.