After years of delay, the EU has finally released its much-anticipated report into the Palestinian Authority’s school curriculum which lifts the bonnet on the appalling material UK-funded teachers are delivering to Palestinian children day-in day-out.
The report is a peculiar document riven with contradiction. Its writers claim that the curriculum is improving and adheres to internationally recognised standards. Anyone reading the report in full – with its extensive examples of incitement to violence, antisemitism, denial of Israel’s existence and the near complete absence of any message about peaceful coexistence – would struggle to come to the same conclusion.
The content of the curriculum will be of no surprise to the readers of Jewish News. This newspaper exposed some of the most shocking content in its expose earlier this year.
The content of the curriculum should also be of no surprise to UK Ministers and officials who have fielded questions from concerned parliamentarians of all political stripes for well over a decade now. The Government recognises its existence. It has repeatedly confirmed as such. Successive Middle East Ministers profess to have raised concerns with the PA and its Education Ministry. And yet, the content remains all pervasive.
I had the opportunity to put this inflammatory content before the Government once again last week – immediately in the wake of the report’s release – during a debate in Parliament.
As a strong believer in our overseas aid budget, it is my long-held view that UK aid should be implemented in line with Government policy aims. Yet our ongoing support for Palestinian teachers delivering this hateful curriculum runs counter to our objectives of bringing about a two-state solution and fostering peace in the region.
Early learning experiences are transformative and shape minds. Nothing will perpetuate this conflict as much as seeding it in generation after generation of young, impressionable children.
Responding last week, the UK Government acknowledged that “very real and unacceptable problems remain”. I particularly welcomed the restatement of the Government’s “zero tolerance for incitement to hatred and antisemitism in all forms”.
It is clear we have much further to go to deliver on this zero tolerance approach. Surely, even one example of antisemitism is one too many? We do not tolerate it in any form at home so why should it be any different abroad.
To this end, the recognition that last week’s debate was “part of the process, not the end of it” is important. I now hope to see a concerted effort to tackle this divisive material once and for all. After all, it has been promising for four years to “take action” with a “rigorous response” alongside our international partners in the event that this report found concerning material. The reports’ documentation of endless examples of unacceptable material necessitates this response.
The UK must not be left behind our closest international partners who are themselves belatedly starting to take a stronger stance in combating this material. European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi has expressed concern and advocated the consideraton of making aid to the PA conditional on textbook reform. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also confirmed last month that the Biden administration’s renewal of funding for UNRWA is conditional on education reform. He called for “fundamental change in the education of Palestinian children”, acknowledging the existence of antisemitic and violent content in UNRWA’s educational materials.
Of course, this will not be an easy process. PA ministers have repeatedly assured their UK counterparts that they are tackling this material. And yet, the PA Education Ministry has confirmed in recent days that it would maximise “national self-financing of education” in response to the “systemic warfare waged against the Palestinian curriculum and its main content”. While PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh asserted that “if some condition their aid to us on this, then we shall fund the printing of our books with our water bills, telephones and electricity, if this is what it takes”.
The Government has rightly taken a zero tolerance approach to antisemitism here in the UK, yet our continued support for Palestinian teachers who draft and teach this material undermines our commitment to combating anti-Jewish racism.
My colleagues and I remain passionate advocates of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Let us hope that this report proves a catalyst for change before yet another generation of Palestinians are lost to the messages of hate and division promoted by their leadership.