Marcus Sheff
Marcus Sheff
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Keep funding the hatefest or demand a Palestinian peace curriculum

The EU will soon decide whether to re-up its support for teaching that even its own (woefully flawed) investigation found to be riddled with antisemitism
Illustrative photo: Palestinian students seen on their first day of the new school year in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on August 25, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)
Illustrative photo: Palestinian students seen on their first day of the new school year in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on August 25, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)

In April 2019, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced an investigation into hate and incitement in Palestinian school textbooks written and taught by teachers whose salaries are generously supported by the EU. The investigation was launched following action by the European Parliament, which rightly objected to European funding being used to educate more than a million Palestinian schoolchildren to hate.

Despite an inauspicious start and an embarrassingly botched interim report, the long-awaited final version of the investigation by the Georg Eckert Institute (GEI) was delivered in June of this year, producing findings that were generally in line with previous research conducted by IMPACT-se and others.

The report noted the prevalence of violent material, the glorification of terrorists and martyrdom and the indoctrination of hate and antisemitism. It also noted what had been removed from Palestinian textbooks, namely material encouraging peaceful conflict resolution.

The report did well to point out incidences of ancient antisemitic tropes such as treachery and greed being applied in a modern context. Also noted, denial of the historic Jewish connection to the land, alongside accusations of Jews fabricating archeological evidence. Terrorists, such as Dalal al-Mughrabi, are celebrated and presented as role models to be emulated, her murder of civilian adults and children described as “defiance and heroism, which made her memory immortal in our hearts and minds.”

The report states that violence against civilians is central to the narrative of historic Palestinian nation-building as it is represented in the textbooks and expressed the institute’s determined that this is “not compatible with the UNESCO standards.”

Well, clearly. The exploitation of Palestinian schoolchildren for the promotion of violence and hatred is why the European Parliament issued firm condemnations in 2018, 2020 and 2021. It’s the reason the Norwegian government partially froze funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and made its resumption contingent on the curriculum being changed.

It is the reason why the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) published a report noting antisemitic material and hate speech in PA textbooks and calling for their removal. It’s also why HR 2374 is moving through the US Congress, ensuring that US taxpayer money is not used to fund teaching material that stands in stark contrast with the American values of inclusion, tolerance and peace.

Bizarrely, and for motivations about which one can only speculate, the German institute included in its report a one-liner stating that the Palestinian curriculum does in fact meet UNESCO standards. This head-spinning contradiction is based on an examination of human rights coursework chronicled at great length by the reviewers. The insinuation appears to be that the inclusion of some material that does indeed meet Western standards, negates hundreds of pages that promote ideas that are fundamentally opposed to human rights.

However, a close reading of the text paints a different picture entirely, revealing that the textbooks “do not apply these notions to Israel,” and are taught solely in relation to violations of Palestinian rights by “Israeli protagonists.” The material also reveals a nefarious approach to human rights evident in the texts, which are seen to, “have the potential to dehumanize the (Israeli) side.” Thus, even in places where Palestinian textbooks strive to comply with UNESCO standards, hatred of Jews and Israel will always win out.

Despite taking more than two years to write, and being funded to the tune of more than $260,000, the GEI review covered just 43% of 2016-2020 books and only 15 of those included in the verified current Palestinian curriculum. It also failed to note problematic content in material researchers did manage to evaluate. These “oversights” included antisemitic grading instructions that tell teachers to deduct points from students who fail to “tie the perpetration of Zionist massacres to Jewish religious thought,” tropes of Jews controlling media, finance and politics and a justification of the Munich Olympic attack as “striking Zionist interests abroad” to name but a few examples.

Astonishingly, the report identified systemic antisemitism evident in the textbooks as justified considering that Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. The report saw maps that erase Israel as similarly acceptable considering that they serve as “an important unifying symbol of Palestinian identity.” Perhaps most shocking was the fact that a gruesome description of the burning of Jewish-Israelis on a bus with Molotov cocktails, described as a “barbecue party,” could not, according to the researchers, be interpreted as “a direct call for violence.”

The report notes the removal of a math example in which “martyrs” are calculated, but misses other places where similar examples remain in place. The report even draws conclusions regarding ostensibly positive changes based on books that the researchers themselves admit were not ever listed as being taught and thus, were not within the remit of the review.

With as much generosity of spirit as one can muster, we can perhaps attribute this fine act of academic contortionism to the charitable nature of the reviewers. This seems to have been the approach taken by EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi. Responsible for overseeing aid to the PA and UNRWA, it was his department that commissioned the GEI report. Reflecting on the findings, he released a statement calling to condition aid to the education sector on “full adherence to UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, co-existence, non-violence” and a “need for Palestinian education reform.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the existence of antisemitic and violent content in PA textbooks used by UNRWA, and confirmed that the renewal of funding for UNRWA would be conditional on the PA comprehensively reforming its curriculum. UK Undersecretary of State James Duddridge said “the report found that there continues to be anti-Israel, antisemitic content” in PA textbooks. He said the material cited in the report is “not acceptable to the House or to the Government.” The Danish and Norwegian governments similarly expressed their concerns regarding the findings of the report.

In the face of criticism from some of its staunchest allies, the PA remains unmoved. PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, quoted in Asharq Al-Awsat, rejected the review’s findings, stating, “the Palestinian curriculum cannot be judged by standards far removed from people’s history and culture.”

This premise, which effectively nullifies the reasoning behind examining the curriculum according to international standards in the first place, leaves us with little doubt as to the future of education in the Palestinian Territories. Schoolchildren will continue to be radicalized on a daily basis, antisemitism will continue to be spread in classrooms, and martyrs will continue to be the role models school children aspire to become.

The primary question European policy makers will need to discuss when they convene September 2nd to discuss the future of funding PA curriculum, is whether Brussels will put its foot down and insist on a peace curriculum for Palestinian children, or continue to partake in funding the hatefest that is the Palestinian curriculum.

About the Author
Marcus Sheff is CEO at The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Curtural Tolerance in School Textbooks. IMPACT-se analyzes textbooks, employing standards on peace and tolerance as derived from international declarations and resolutions.
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