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The EU Report on Palestinian Textbooks: The Dehumanization of the Jewish People

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avatar by David M. Litman


Palestinian children compelled to participate in a Hamas military parade. Photo: Twitter.

As the Jewish community emerges from the last couple of months with a greater awareness of the dangerous moment in time we find ourselves in, it’s important we convert our fear and outrage into positive action.

The recently released European Union report on Palestinian textbooks provides an opportunity to make our voices heard and act against the creeping normalization of the dehumanization of the Jewish people.

To no one’s surprise, the study found that the textbooks contain a disturbing pattern of antisemitism and incitement designed to portray Jews and Israelis as fundamentally evil. Yet the report, contradicting the bulk of its own contents, provided the EU with an escape option by making a conclusive statement that the textbooks “adhere to UNESCO standards.”

For example, on the issue of human rights education in the textbooks, the report states “on the whole, the textbooks analyzed largely adhere to the UNESCO guidelines on Human Rights Education.”

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On the same page, however, the report acknowledged, “In numerous instances the textbooks call for tolerance, mercy, forgiveness, and justice and encourage students to help others, fight corruption and respect human values. But these notions are not then applied to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

A few paragraphs later, the report casually states “the dominant representation of coexistence in the textbooks is religious coexistence between Christians and Muslims; other religions are rarely addressed.”

So — no mercy, forgiveness, justice, or coexistence for the Jews.

Yet, “on the whole,” the textbooks are acceptable to the authors. It gives truth to the phrase “Jews don’t count.”

The pattern of dehumanization in Palestinian education doesn’t end there, however.

On the preceding page, it’s admitted that “the textbooks fail to engage with the question of whether violence carried out by Palestinian actors might equally constitute a violation of human rights.” That’s simply not true, however. The textbooks do address that question. It’s just that the textbooks, as the report shows in example after example, answer that question with the twisted idea that not only is Palestinian terrorism not a human rights violation, but it is in fact the Palestinians’ “right” to engage in such “heroic” acts of “resistance.”

The authors acknowledge that there is a clear “narrative of resistance” in the textbooks. And what is considered “resistance” is telling.

Take, for example, a section entitled “Types of Palestinian Resistance” in one of the textbooks, which reads, in part, “Dalal Al-Mughrabi, who led the Deir-Yassin commando operation on the Palestinian coast in 1978, which resulted in the deaths of more than 30 Zionist soldiers and many others. Many other women have also confronted colonialism bearing the slogan of resistance and liberation.”

Known as the “Coastal Road Massacre,” Mughrabi’s terrorist squad hijacked two buses, and then started shooting and tossing grenades at bystanders and passing vehicles. Among the 37 dead were 13 children, as young as two. All but a few of the rest were also civilians.

And not only are the Jews unworthy of human rights and coexistence, but as “Zionist soldiers,” they are all legitimate targets. The murder of our dehumanized children wasn’t a despicable, cowardly act, but rather one “of defiance and heroism.”

The report further acknowledges the obsessive use of certain descriptions meant to lessen the humanity of Israelis and Jews in the eyes of Palestinian students. Some of the titles given discard any attempt at subtlety, such as referring simply to “the enemy.” Elsewhere, instead of mentioning the “State of Israel” or describing their neighbors as “Israelis”: “Most often, the texts refer to the ‘Zionist occupation’ … or simply ‘the occupation.’ … Israel’s institutions, army and organs of state are generally described using the adjective ‘Zionist.’ … When ‘Israel’ and ‘Israeli’ … are used … [they] are usually paired with conflict-related terms such as ‘occupation,’ ‘forces,’ or ‘soldiers.’”

The authors, to their credit, recognize the game being played here. They write, “While the term [Zionist] by itself is not defamatory, it conveys negative connotations. Given this reading, using the term ‘Zionist occupation’ in place of the name of the state could be interpreted as questioning the legitimacy of the State of Israel.”

However, when the students are also taught in history class that the “Zionist ideology” is a “racist philosophy,” that’s more than just delegitimizing Israel. That’s a deliberate attempt to characterize Israelis, and indeed almost all Jews worldwide, as uniquely undeserving and racist, merely for believing in their right to self-determination in their ancient homeland.

What better way is there in modern society to depict a group as evil than to label them all as racists, except perhaps only the ancient but reliable blood libel that the Jews systematically grab non-Jewish children to torture and murder them?

Of course, that too is found in the textbooks.

The examples are many, which is why the concluding statement about UNESCO standards is so alarming. If we allow the EU to depict such blatant hatred and incitement as acceptably within global standards, then the last two months of antisemitism will surely become even more disturbingly normalized.

Don’t let our political leadership get away with the usual noncommittal language bemoaning antisemitism without taking concrete action against it. If we won’t stand up for ourselves and demand consequential action against those who dehumanize us and incite violence, then who will?

David M. Litman is a lawyer who advocates for Israel and human rights.

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