Canada and the funding of the Palestinian school textbooks

Shortly after the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau came to power in 2015, the Prime Minister announced with fanfare that the government had reversed the decision of the preceding the Conservative Harper government to cancel Canada’s annual contribution of $25 million to the school fund of UNRWA on the grounds that the books used by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza were poisoned by hatred towards Jews and Israel.

In the aftermath of the announcement, government officials stated that Canada would monitor closely the contents of the schoolbooks

On February 2, 2017, UN Watch appeared before the United States Congress, House Foreign Affairs Committee and presented “A Report on UNWRA Teachers’ Incitement to Jihadist Terrorism and Antisemitism” https://www.unwatch.org/130-page-report-unrwa-teachers-incite-terrorism-antisemitism/

The report exposes more than 40 Facebook pages operated by school teachers, principals, and other employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which incite to terrorism or antisemitism. These cases are additional to the 30 cases of incitement revealed at the end of 2015 by UN Watch.

The examples of incitement include UNRWA teachers and staffers celebrating the terrorist kidnapping of Israeli teenagers, cheering rockets being fired at Israeli civilian centres, endorsing various forms of violence, erasing Israel from the map, praising Hitler and posting his photo, and posting overtly anti-Semitic videos, caricatures, and statements.

The report concludes that UNRWA’s major donors and other donor states, including Canada which recently announced a new $25 million grant, bear a responsibility to ensure that UNRWA lives up to its obligations as a UN humanitarian organization. and then proceeds to outline the specific actions which the donors must take to remedy UNRWA’s severe corruption of its mandate.

To the best of my knowledge, Canada did not act on the specific recommendations of the Report directly bearing on the issue of incitement and anti-Semitism with respect to the textbooks. Nor did the Canadian mass media give this important story much, if any, play it deserves.

On May 4th,of 2017, in the Canadian Parliament, a member of the Conservative Party, the Loyal Opposition, asked the following question of the Minister responsible for, among other things, International Development and in this capacity is responsible for Canada’s contribution to the educational school fund of UNRWA:

“Mr. Speaker, UN Watch is now reporting [that], UNRWA hires and employs racist staff, and places the education of impressionable Palestinian youth in their hands. Canada would never tolerate the employment of racist teachers in its own schools.” Why are the Liberals funding this UN organization when there is clear evidence that it employs racist anti-Semites and terrorist sympathizers?

The Minister’s reply was:Mr. Speaker, I want to assure my colleague that, ever since Canada restored funding to this UN agency for Palestinian refugees, we have been following it very closely, and Canada’s presence at the table is making a difference. We are ensuring that background checks are done on all financial services employees. We have helped train 3,000 employees so far, including executives and teachers, on the importance of web independence, and we are reviewing the educational materials. I would rather see those children in that UN school than on the street.”(Italics mine).

Of course, the alternative between being in school or on the street is fictitious, as school attendance is mandatory.

The government did not respond to UN Watch’s call for action and ignored the recommendations of U.N. Watch and

In June 2017, the Center for Near East Policy Research issued a 260 page detailed research report on the contents of the most recently updated school books issued by the Palestinian Authority for use in all the schools in the West Bank, Gaza and in east Jerusalem.

The overall conclusion of the report is that the books in question “indoctrinate students with violence, denial, deceit and demonization of the Jewish people and have virtually erased reference to Israel. It’s replaced by ‘Zionist occupation’ and “Arab-Zionist conflict’. Further, the poems taught to youngsters praise ‘martyrdom’ against Jews.”

Dr. Arnon Groiss who co- authored the study and the report describes the curriculum as one which prepares the next generation of Palestinians, not for peace, but for more conflict, more violence, more Jew-hatred.

These findings were reinforced by the 2017 report of the Jerusalem- based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural \tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) that examined the Palestinian grades 1-11 curriculum and found that it was significantly more radical than the previous curricula.

In July 2017, the P.A. published the textbooks for the 2017-2018 school year. Some of these books are new and some are unchanged. On March 16 past, B. Chernitsky a Research Fellow at MEMRI, published in MEMRI set out the results of his study of a particular segment of the curriculum. He writes: An examination of the middle-school books for Islamic Education, some of which have been replaced, shows a significant increase in focus on the early Islamic tenets of shahada (martyrdom), fidaa (self-sacrifice) and tadhiya (sacrifice) as part of jihad for the sake of Allah, and their modern manifestations as part of the Palestinian struggle against Israel” and in this context “cultivates anti-Semitic messages.”

At all events from the foregoing historical sequence of events, it is clear that to the extent the Canadian government initially undertook to closely monitor the contents of the books while the Minister in September 2017 asserted that they were still reviewing the materials, the only logical conclusion is that the government was monitoring closely and reviewing with closed eyes.

Nevertheless, so long as the U.S., the U.K, the E.U.and other countries, which must have known about the scandalous contents of the textbooks, kept up their donations, Canada was not going to reverse its original decision.

And then, after some ten years of pumping significant amounts of monies into the Palestinian education sector, during which the European Commission made no real attempts to ensure that Palestinian children receive an education based on European values, it happened.

In March past the EU Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control introduced legislation designed to ensure that all programs financed by EU money “reflect common values such as freedom, tolerance, and non-discrimination within education.”

On April 18 past, The E.U. Parliament adopted this legislation which is intended to prevent EU aid being transferred to the Palestinian Authority for education purposes from being used to teach hate, and to insure that henceforth the P.A.’s textbooks meet the EU and UNESCO standards.

This development puts the Canadian government in an awful spot. Besides, being exposed to have fibbed about having monitored the contents of the textbooks, and looking rather foolish for having reversed the previous government’s well- founded reasons to stop the contributions; the government now must decide whether to follow E.U.’s example and adopt the same policy or to take a different path.

A path that would a) on one hand, placate its Muslim electorate that supports Palestinian’s right to write their own textbooks according to their own values; while on the other hand,and b) on the other hand would satisfy the P.A. that Canada, remains a steady friend the P.A. can rely upon count.

And I am sure, this is the kind of case where the government will desperately wish that it had four hands so as to make sure, that on the third hand, that it does not attract the ridicule of the E.U. countries, for its trepidations and vacillations to adopt their course of action, and finally, on the fourth hand, whatever decision is made, it will not prejudice the Prime Minister’s chances of securing that seat at the United Nations Security Council he has been craving for.

Stay tuned.

About the Author
Doğan Akman was born and schooled in Istanbul, Turkey. Upon his graduation from Lycee St. Michel, he immigrated to Canada with his family. In Canada, he taught university in sociology-criminology and social welfare policy and published some articles in criminology journals After a stint as a Judge of the Provincial Court (criminal and family divisions) of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, he joined the Federal Department of Justice working first as a Crown prosecutor, and then switching to civil litigation and specialising in aboriginal law. Since his retirement he has published articles in Sephardic Horizons and e-Sefarad and in an anthology edited by Rifat Bali titled This is My New Homeland and published in Istanbul.
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