EU parliamentarians: Hate has no place in the Palestinian curriculum

EDUCATIONAL AFFAIRS: Children are taught that Israel is the enemy, that terrorists are martyrs, and that their actions are to be emulated.

TEXTBOOKS SAID to be produced by the Palestinian Authority which contain anti-Israel and anti-Western bias are put on display on Capitol Hill by the NGO Palestine Media Watch. (photo credit: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES/JTA)
TEXTBOOKS SAID to be produced by the Palestinian Authority which contain anti-Israel and anti-Western bias are put on display on Capitol Hill by the NGO Palestine Media Watch.
Is the European Commission serious about ending Palestinian hate education? Given the recent debacle on the matter within the European Union institutions over the last few months, some parliamentarians are beginning to suspect that it isn’t, particularly.
It has long been known within Brussels’s corridors of power that school textbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority and funded in large part by European taxpayers include incitement to violence and egregious antisemitism.
Children are taught that Israel is the enemy, that terrorists are martyrs, and that their actions are to be emulated. And not just in religious or history studies – first graders are taught the word “martyr” when learning their Arabic alphabet. Newtonian physics is taught via the example of the slingshot.
The issue has been raised in Brussels at least since January 2008 when Britain’s Taxpayers’ Alliance released its report Funding Hate Education. A follow up report in 2011 drew widespread support from across the political spectrum. President Barack Obama stated at the time: “[The Palestinians] have to deal with incitement issues.”
Further reports, including two by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), an Israeli NGO, and votes within the European Parliament for action placed mounting pressure on the commission to act, and so in May 2019 the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, announced that a full-scale review of the Palestinian curriculum was to take place. In September 2019 the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI) embarked upon this review.
A leaked presentation on the initial findings suggested errors in the works: mistranslations and a lack of understanding of the culture among them. The initial report, when released in August, confirmed what the leaked presentation suggested: that the institute, having taken a preliminary look at the books, had found that although there were examples of incitement, overall the books were improving and showed a movement toward normalization of relations with Israel.
In one example taken from the books, Israeli and Palestinian firefighters are shown training alongside each other. “This example promotes tolerance toward Israeli individuals,” the researchers said in their presentation.
Only, there was a problem: the researchers weren’t comparing like for like. The example of the firefighters had actually come from an Arabic-language textbook produced by the Jerusalem Municipality for use by Arab-Israeli children living in Israel, not a textbook issued by the PA. In short, the researchers were using Israeli examples of tolerance to make a case that the PA was growing more tolerant.
How could such a basic error have occurred? Could it really be that difficult to hit upon the right books?
“IT’S SPECTACULARLY easy to get the right books,” Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-SE told The Jerusalem Post. “In this business of reviewing the core curricula, you really only have one job and that’s to get the right books.”
When initially questioned on the matter, GEI explained that the Israeli books had not been used in error. Rather, they were being used as a comparator, the researchers said.
This explanation was then given by EU officials and British government ministers alike. For example, on September 17, 2020, in response to a written question posed by an MP, Britain’s minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, stated: “Our European partners have been clear that the study does not look at Israeli textbooks. We understand that the methodology of the study will include a separate section on a very limited sample of textbooks used in east Jerusalem and modified by Israel for the purpose of comparison.”
Yet the initial report strongly suggested that the researchers believed they were looking at PA-issued books when they conducted their review.
Two weeks ago the matter came to a head in the German press when, in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel, the director of the study, Dr. Riem Spielhaus, admitted that the team had simply made a mistake. It had indeed reviewed the wrong books. The following day, Lennart Phaler of Die Welt reported that when he had interviewed the EU’s spokeswoman a week previously, she had given the same line as before – that the books were being used as a comparator. In short, he said, she had lied to him.
The Post reached out to Cleverly to ask how this could have happened. In response, a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development official said: “The UK remains concerned about allegations of incitement to violence in the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum.
“We have repeatedly raised this issue at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority and successfully lobbied our European partners to commission an independent review of Palestinian textbooks, which is ongoing.” The UK, the official added, is not funding the EU study.
The commission, for its part, told the Post: “The study does not look at Israeli textbooks. The methodology of the study will include a separate section on a very limited sample of textbooks used in east Jerusalem and modified by Israel for the purpose of comparison. The section on modified textbooks will clearly put the material analyzed within its specific context. Taking these limitations into account, it is too early to draw conclusions.”
“The bigger picture is this,” Sheff said. “This institute was hired at great expense – €220,000 – to conduct this review so that it would inform the European Commission about the money that it’s spent supporting the Palestinian ministry of education. If they had not been caught in these omissions, these falsehoods and these attempts to excuse and also to justify acts of terror, this report would have been on its way to EU, who, one would think, would then say ‘That’s good to know, everything’s fine then with the Palestinian curriculum, let’s carry on funding it.’”
MARCUS SHEFF, CEO of IMPACT-SE, (back to camera) briefs European MEPs in Brussels on Palestinian textbooks. (Courtesy)MARCUS SHEFF, CEO of IMPACT-SE, (back to camera) briefs European MEPs in Brussels on Palestinian textbooks. (Courtesy)
Now patience within the European Parliament is starting to run short.
Earlier this month, a cross-party group of 21 MEPs wrote to the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and Neighborhood Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi to call on the commission to partially withhold funding to the PA until it purges antisemitic and incitement content from its school textbooks, and further called upon the commission to cut ties with GEI. They have yet to receive a reply.
“We will continue to tackle this problem no matter what the commission says or doesn’t say,” MEP Niclas Herbst, who serves as vice chairman of the Budget Committee in the European Parliament, told the Post.
He had already written to the commission regarding the GEI’s report back in June, and has yet to receive a reply to that letter either.
“This seems to be the thinking by the commission, especially by Borrell: if you don’t talk about the problem, there is no problem, and maybe that’s the real issue here.
“I’m quite angry about this. The commission, especially Borrell, is acting like a little child. That’s certainly not going to make the situation any better.”
Herbst, along with a number of his parliamentary colleagues, is looking for creative ways to stymie the flow of money to the PA for use in education. In May, the European Parliament passed three resolutions by a more than 60% majority condemning Palestinian hate education and opposing EU aid money being used for this purpose.
He also proposed an amendment to set aside, say, 5% of the budget for UNWRA, on the basis that it get the money only if the situation with the textbooks is improved. That amendment was watered down to a mere statement, rather than putting in place the reserve.
“We’re talking about a budget, so budget-wise you have to do something concrete.”
That wasn’t happening, he said, because there seems to be an attitude that the Palestinians must be supported, and that the textbook issue, while concerning, is of no real importance.
“That’s not a serious approach,” he said. “This is a very important issue. Some people in the commission don’t get the point that there’s nothing more important for extremists and radicals than to plant the seeds of hate into the heads of young people. Every extremist and every dictator does this, and it’s not a minor issue, it’s the main issue. It’s the core of the whole problem.
“I don’t think there’s bad will by the commission, but there is very naive thinking that if you support the Palestinian authorities in general, the problem might solve itself. But the problem won’t be solved by itself.”
“I agree that maybe some EU institutions and persons don’t take the issue seriously,” his parliamentary colleague Lucas Mandl, a member of the Foreign Committee, said. “We have to be clear on that. The EU has to take this issue seriously and act accordingly.”
Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kotachev was also in agreement.
“We have been very clear that European taxpayers’ money should not be used for propaganda, which does not make for peaceful coexistence [between] the State of Israel and the Palestinians. All statements and historical interpretations which are in contradiction to the facts and to good neighborhood relations in the future should be not only avoided but condemned. They should not happen, especially not with EU money.”
SO, WHAT should happen next?
Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the American Jewish Committee Transatlantic Institute and the secretary-general of the Transatlantic Friends of Israel (TFI), was clear.
“In my mind, the commission ought to have acted a long time ago when IMPACT-SE published its research. All they should have done was to confirm that the sources are correct, that the translations are correct, and once that’s confirmed, these examples [of antisemitism and incitement] are egregious enough to immediately act upon.
“I agree wholeheartedly with the letter of the MEPs that the first step should be to withhold at least some money as a pressure point to get the PA to actually reform their textbooks and immediately withdraw them from schools. These could be replaced with maybe the previous textbooks, which I believe were better, or Israeli textbooks from east Jerusalem which the GEI praised, falsely believing these were the Palestinian textbooks. If the GEI thinks the Israeli books issued in east Jerusalem are great, then let’s use those.
“Whatever happens, it cannot be that European taxpayer money is used to fund teachers who use textbooks that teach incitement and antisemitism. That’s not in the interests of the Palestinians, it’s not in the interest of the Israelis, it’s not in the interests of peace, it’s not in the interests of Europe.”
For now, both the parliamentarians and other interested parties are waiting to see what the commission’s next move will be. But in the meantime, it seems a groundswell of support is rising within the parliament at least for real change to be enacted.
Mandl, who chairs the TFI, was hopeful that, with more MEPs joining their ranks, the commission was starting to take note.
“As you know we have a nonpartisan group [TFI] in the parliament, and this group is actually growing from week to week. We span several political groups in the parliament, and we are gaining members. I hope the commission is taking notice of us.”
The group was instrumental in pushing for the EU-Israel Association Council to reconvene after a seven-year hiatus, a move which Borrel is said to be strongly in favor of.
“It took a year, but it happened,” Mandl said. “So we can achieve something.”