Progressive discourse is ‘cancelling’ the fight against antisemitism

Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi (pictured) declared that the European Union should consider conditioning funding to the Palestinian Authority on the removal of antisemitism and incitement to violence from its textbooks, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Varhelyi’s statement followed the publication last Friday of a long-awaited EU-commissioned report on Palestinian textbooks which show instances of antisemitism and incitement to violence. The study,  completed in February, includes dozens of examples of encouragement of violence and demonization of Israel and of Jews.

The EU commissioned the report in 2019 from the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research and kept it under wraps for four months following its completion. The EU directly funds the salaries of teachers and the writers of the textbooks, which encourage and glorify violence against Israelis and Jews, according to the report.

The report is almost 200 pages long and examines 156 textbooks and 16 teachers’ guides. The texts are mostly from 2017-2019, but 18 are from 2020.

EU Commissioner for enlargement Varhelyi, whose portfolio covers all aid given to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA by the EU and whose department initially commissioned the independent review, tweeted: “Firm commitment to fight antisemitism and engage with Palestinian Authority and UNRWA to promote quality education for Palestinian children and ensure full adherence to UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence, non-violence in Palestinian textbooks.”

He added that the “conditionality of our financial assistance in the educational sector needs to be duly considered,” implying that the EU might condition the continuation of its funding of the Palestinian education sector to the removal of antisemitic and incitement to violence from school textbooks.

The Vice President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schnias, who has the fight against antisemitism in his portfolio, also commented the publication of the report by saying: “Hate and antisemitism have no place in classrooms or anywhere. Peace, tolerance and non-violence must be fully respected; they are non-negotiable.”

Last week, a cross-party group of 22 members of the European Parliament sent a letter to the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, demanding that the aid to the PA be withheld over “preaching anti-Semitism, incitement, and the glorification of violence and terrorism… violating fundamental EU values and our declared goal to help advance peace and the two state solution.”

The signatories included senior parliamentarians in budgetary-related EU Parliament committees such as Monika Hohlmeier, Chair of the Budgetary Control Committee and Niclas Herbst, Vice Chairman of the Budgetary Affairs Committee, who said that “the secrecy of the EU Commission is counterproductive and incomprehensible.” He also called for a 5% reserve on EU funding to the PA and UNRWA, stating the withheld funds should be redirected towards NGOs that adhere to UNESCO standards until the PA removes all hate and incitement from its textbooks.
 ‘’We are extremely grateful to Commissioner Varhelyi for his integrity. Ultimately, his department gives aid to the Palestinian Authority’s education system and it commissioned the report on Palestinian textbooks. We commend him for his leadership, for cutting through the noise around this report and clearly stating that the EU cannot be a party to the funding of hate-teaching,’’ said Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se, a research and policy institute that monitors and analyzes education in the world,which independently assessed the EU report.

”The Palestinian Authority must ensure the high standards in fostering a culture of peace and coexistence”

Asked by European Jewish Press about the conditionality of the EU financial aid to changes in the Palestinian education sector, EU spokesperson Ana Pisonero said during the Commission midday briefing : ‘’Let’s be clear that the EU doesn’t fund Palestinian textbooks. Neverthelessn, the EU has funded an independent study of Palestinian  textbooks against defined international benchmarks based on the UNESCO standards on peace, tolerance and non violence education. The aim of the study was to provide the EU with a critical,  comprehensive and objective basis for policy dialogue with the Palestinian Authority in the education sector and to promote quality education services including allegations of incitement.’’

She added: ‘’When it comes to the conclusions of the study, the analysis has revealed a  complex picture.The textbooks largely adhere to UNESCO standards and adopt the criteria that are prominent in international education discours, including a strong focus on human rights. They express a narrative of resistance within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they display an antagonism towards Israel.’’

The EU spokesperson also stated that ‘’the EU remains committed to supporting the PA in building the institutions of a future democratic, viable independent state that respects human rights and lives side by side with Israel in peace and security. This is the EU long standing position. promoting high quality education is particularly important in this context. The Palestinian Authority must ensure the high standards in fostering a culture of peace and coexistence, paving the way for a future where the conflict can be resolved through negotiations leading to a two-state solution.’’

‘’We reiterate our uniquevocal commitment to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority to promote full compliance of its education material with the UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence and non violence,’’ she said, adding that the EU ‘’will step up its engagement with the PA on the basis of the study with the aim to ensure that further curriculum reform addresses problematic issues in the shortest possible time frame and that the Palestinian Authority takes responsibility to screen textbooks not analyzed in the study. We have agreed to work with the PA to set out a specific roadmap for this work which must include a comprehensive system of policy dialogue, continued engagement and incentives with the express purpose of promoting, monitoring and facilitating change.’’ ‘’This roadmap must also establish an objective and credible process of screening and monitoring of education material for which the PA will be fully responsible and will show coherence with UNESCO standards.’’

The EU spokesperson ended her long response by saying that the European Union ‘’has absolutely no tolerance for incitement to hatred and violence as a mean to achieve political goals, and antisemitism in all its forms. This principles are non-negotiable for this Commission.’’

In a statement, the Israeli foreign ministry said: “The fact that EU assistance to the PA education system is used to produce antisemitic propaganda material that encourages hatred, violence and terrorism, instead of promoting a peaceful solution to the conflict, harms the prospect of coexistence and establishing good and encouraging neighborly relations.’’

‘’The European Commission must take the report seriously and take practical steps to stop European aid until the problems with the report are rectified, it said, adding that the EU can closely monitor where its funding is going,’’ it added.

Dozen examples of encouragement of violence in textbooks 

The report includes dozens of examples of encouragement of violence and demonization of Israel and of Jews.

The textbooks present “ambivalent – sometimes hostile – attitudes toward Jews and the characteristics they attribute to the Jewish people… Frequent use of negative attributions in relation to the Jewish people… suggest a conscious perpetuation of anti-Jewish prejudice, especially when embedded in the current political context.”

An exercise in one religious-studies textbook asks students to discuss the “repeated attempts by the Jews to kill the prophet” Muhammad and asks who are “other enemies of Islam.”

“It is not so much the sufferings of the Prophet or the actions of the companions that appear to be the focus of this teaching unit but, rather, the alleged perniciousness of the Jews,” the report said.

The report identifies “the creation of a connection between the stated deception of the ‘Jews’ in the early days of Islam and the insinuated behavior of Jews today,” calling it “extremely escalatory.”

One textbook ties Muhammad’s aunt, who clubbed a Jew to death, to a question about Palestinian women’s steadfastness in the face of “Jewish Zionistic occupation.”

One textbook promotes a conspiracy theory that Israel removed the original stones of ancient sites in Jerusalem and replaced them with ones bearing “Zionist drawings and shapes.”

The concept of “resistance” is a recurring theme in the textbooks studied, along with calls for the Palestinians to be liberated via a revolution. To clarify the concept, one textbook has a photo with the caption, “Palestinian revolutionaries,” featuring five masked men toting machine guns.

Glorification and praise of terrorists who attacked Israelis can be found not only in history or social-studies books, but also in science and math books, such as one that mentions a school named after the “shahid” (martyr) Abu Jihad, a leader of the First Intifada.

The report also confirms the removal of all peace agreements summits and proposals that were previously included in the Palestinian curriculum post-Oslo Accords have been removed including the “omission of the passage that speaks of beginning a new era of peaceful coexistence free of violence reflects the current situation between the two parties, which does not provide a roadmap to non-violence and peace acceptable to all sides involved.”

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Shtayyeh responded to the report, rejecting its findings and stating that Palestinian textbooks accurately reflect Palestinian national aspirations and that they cannot be judged by European standards.


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