Myanmar, Israel agree to edit their own histories in each other’s textbooks

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely signs an education agreement with Myanmar ambassador Maung Maung Lynn on May 28, 2018.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely signs an education agreement with Myanmar ambassador Maung Maung Lynn on May 28, 2018.

The governments of Myanmar and Israel signed an agreement on Monday that will promote Holocaust education in Myanmar and allow each country to determine how it is depicted in the other’s history textbooks.

The agreement provides for a variety of joint initiatives that feature in standard agreements Israel has signed with other countries, such as encounters between educators and students from both countries and joint study trips. The two countries will also “cooperate to develop programs for the teaching of the Holocaust and its lessons of the negative consequences of intolerance, racism, Anti-Semitism and xenophobia as a part of the school curriculum in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”

Myanmar arguably does need education on the negative consequences of intolerance – the US Holocaust Museum recently stripped State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi of an award she received 27 years ago because of her complicity in the Myanmar military’s crimes against the Rohingya.

However, some question whether Israel would be the country best suited to offer that education, given its own crimes against Palestinians. At the time of the agreement, Israeli snipers had killed more than 100 Palestinian protesters who were participating in the “Great March of Return” – an effort by the descendants of Palestinian refugees in Gaza to breach the fence that separates them from their families’ land in what is now Israel. More than 13,000 protesters have been wounded. Israel’s use of deadly force against largely unarmed protesters has been condemned by both Israeli and international human rights groups.

The agreement was signed in Israel by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who opposes Palestinian statehood, and Myanmar’s ambassador to Israel, Maung Maung Lynn. Last December, the ambassador confirmed to an Israeli journalist that Israel has sold military equipment to Myanmar since its “clearance operations” against Rohingya communities began.

In addition to these ironies, critics have also taken issue with a portion of the agreement that would allow the two countries to “endeavor to mutually verify school textbooks, particularly concerning the passages referring to the history of the other state and, where needed, introduce corrections to these textbooks.” The move has been seen as an effort by two ethnocentric governments to rewrite their histories.

Israel has already done this closer to home, editing Palestinian flags, Koranic verses, and references to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat out of textbooks produced by the Palestinian Authority for Palestinian students. Myanmar curriculum, too, has been criticized for lacking substantive content on the country’s ethnic diversity, leading to prejudices across ethnic lines and complacency toward wars against ethnic minority communities, particularly the Rohingya, whose bloody mass displacement has earned Myanmar an accusation of genocide from the US Holocaust Museum.

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