Many students who chant ‘From the river to the sea’ don’t know which river, sea

Many students who chant ‘From the river to the sea’ don’t know which river, sea

Some 10% of surveyed students also thought that PLO leader Yasser Arafat was the first prime minister of Israel.

Some may wonder what students understand when they chant the antisemitic slogan “From the river to the sea.” Ron Hassner, a professor of political science and Israel studies chair at the University of California, Berkeley, decided to find out.

Hassner, also editor-in-chief of the journal Security Studies, hired a polling firm to survey 250 U.S. students “from a variety of backgrounds,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “Most said they supported the chant, some enthusiastically so (32.8%) and others to a lesser extent (53.2%).”

It turned out that just 47% of those who supported the slogan knew which river and which sea it referenced. Some thought it was the Nile or Euphrates, both of which are rivers, or the Dead Sea, Atlantic and Caribbean, which are not rivers.

U.S. President Bill Clinton looks on as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat shake hands at the signing of the Oslo Accords on Sept. 13, 1993. Credit: William J. Clinton Presidential Library/National Archives & Records Administration.
(Source: JNS)

Students supporting the slogan showed greater ignorance about other facts about the region and its history. Fewer than 25% knew who PLO leader Yasser Arafat was, with 10% saying he was Israel’s first prime minister. A quarter thought the Oslo Peace Accords weren’t signed.

“There’s no shame in being ignorant unless one is screaming for the extermination of millions,” Hassner wrote.

After the students were confronted with their misunderstandings, 67.8% of them changed their minds and rejected “From the river to the sea,” Hassner added.

“These students had never seen a map of the Mideast and knew little about the region’s geography, history or demography,” he added. “Those who hope to encourage extremism depend on the political ignorance of their audiences. It is time for good teachers to join the fray and combat bias with education.”

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