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September 3, 2021 3:53 pm
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EU Lawmakers ‘Unanimous’ in Denouncing Antisemitic Content in Palestinian Authority Textbooks

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Members of the European Parliament (MEP) at a Thursday meeting were unanimous in condemning incitement and antisemitic content found by a recent study of the Palestinian Authority’s textbooks, in what one nonprofit called a “watershed moment” in the campaign to reform its curriculum.

Members of the Foreign Affairs, Budgetary Control and Cultural committees met to discuss an EU-commissioned report by the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI), which concluded that PA textbooks promote antisemitic tropes, glorify terrorists and violence against civilians, and erase Israel from maps of the region.

German MEP Niclas Herbst, Budget Committee Vice Chair, said that there should be zero tolerance for antisemitism and the promotion of violence.

“All Palestinian pupils have the right for an education free of hatred and as long as we, the European Union finance an education system we are also responsible for this,” Herbst said.

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“If we want to keep our credibility we need to talk about the funding of the educational system in general, because we cannot accept that this is financed with EU taxpayer money,” the conservative MEP said. “We should have zero tolerance when it comes to antisemitism and it has to be free of hate speech.”

The GEI report analyzed 156 textbooks and 16 teacher guides published between 2017 and 2019 by the Palestinian Ministry of Education, in a range of subjects. It also found that previously-included references to Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements had been removed, and that violence against civilians was sometimes portrayed as part of a “narrative of resistance.”

On Thursday, Budgetary Control Committee Chair Monika Hohlmeier — who hails from Munich, where members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed by Palestinian gunmen in 1972 — called the offending content are unacceptable.

“The Munich massacre is portrayed as a justified attack. We cannot accept that young people are taught that terrorist attacks are acceptable,” she said. “The terrorist [in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre in Israel] that killed 13 children and a total of 38 civilians is portrayed as a martyr and hero. I cannot accept that. And these are just two examples.”

Poland’s Maciej Popowski — an Acting Director-General at the EU Commission, whose department oversees aid to the Palestinian Ministry of Education — said he has written to Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh asking him to “stop using books where questionable content has been identified and to follow up as a matter of utmost priority for the entire Commission.”

One day prior, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) appeared before the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee over concerns about Palestinian textbooks used in it schools, and recognized that the GEI report indeed raised issues of concern.

IMPACT-se, an Israel-based nonprofit which assessed a revised PA curriculum in 2016 and whose work was cited by the GEI, called Thursday’s hearing a “watershed moment.”

“Today we saw unanimous acceptance by these leading European Parliament members from the three relevant committees, and in a special session, that the Palestinian curriculum incites violence and hate,” said IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff. “Every single speaker condemned the antisemitism in the textbooks. The European Commission representative came to the meeting to add his voice to the powerful testimonies of members in condemning hate in the textbooks. ”

Daniel Schwammenthal, Director of the American Jewish Committee’s  Brussels-based EU Office, commented that it was “difficult to imagine a policy more at odds with EU values and the stated goals of working toward peace and the creation of a democratic Palestinian state than indoctrinating schoolchildren to hate.”

“The European Commission must act decisively to help preserve both the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution and its own standing as an honest broker,” he added.

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