Saudi Arabia Has Mostly Removed Antisemitic Tropes From School Textbooks, New Report Says
by Dion J. Pierre
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has removed “practically all antisemitism,” from K-12 textbooks, marking a significant step forward in the Kingdom’s approach to Judaism and, to a lesser extent, Israel, according to a new report by Israeli education watchdog Impact-se.
In Jan. 2016, Mohammed bin Salman, who was then Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, announced the “Vision 2030,” which included expansive education reform policies, according to documents from the Saudi government.
In “Updated Review: Saudi Textbooks 2022-2023,” Impact-se discussed Vision 2030’s role in prompting reforms of the Saudi Arabian education system, but noted that changes began as far back as as 2001. After the announcement of Vision 2030, educations reform swayed “back-and-forth” like a “pendulum,” Impact-se explained. But since their last review of the Saudi curricula “highly inflammatory hadiths and texts” describing Muslims and Jews as interminably in conflict have been removed from textbooks issued to K-12 students. So too are condemnations of gays, infidels, and Christians, reflecting “a reasonably consistent step-by-step progress an improvement.”
In one example cited by the report, texts accusing Jews of being apostates and charging that they “sold their souls” were removed from a high school textbook titled Islamic Studies — Tawhid. Additionally, the title of a passage in a social studies textbook was changed from “The Attempt to Create the Zionist Entity” to “British Mandate in Palestine,” demonstrating a shift in how the years leading up to the establishment of Israel as the world’s first Jewish state is presented to students. Absent as well are accusations of Israel being involved in a 1969 arson incident at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
However, Impact-se noted, Zionism is still described as a “Jewish racist political movement” that “aims to expel the Palestinian people and establish a Jewish state by force,” but overall, extremist ideologies are denounced, tolerance is promoted, and women, whose participation in the Saudi workforce is positively expounded, are no longer taught to conform to gender stereotypes.
“Practically all the previously identified antisemitic material in Saudi Islamic Studies textbooks has now been removed,” said Impact-se CEO Marcus Sheff in a press release Tuesday. “This follows the previous removal of significant amounts of antisemitism in other subjects over the last four years. While all textbook reform is important, Saudi Arabian textbooks are particularly consequential. Kudos is due to the Saudi government for this multi-year and systematic removal of Jew hate and moderation of content on Israel in the textbooks of over six million Saudi children, and of many more who study the textbooks outside of Saudi Arabia.”
Sheff added that the pace and progress of the reform is “highly noteworthy” given that Saudi Arabia has never formally recognized Israel.
Other MENA countries have made progress towards eliminating antisemitism from their education systems. Qatar, Impact-se previously noted, has removed antisemitic content describing Jews as treacherous, immoral, and responsible for Germany’s loss in World War I, and in January, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that it will include Holocaust education in its school curriculum, nearly two years after normalizing relations with Israel through the Abraham Accords. Additionally, textbooks in the Kingdom of Morocco now promote appreciation of Jews and educate students about their contributions to the country, accordingto an analysis by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and in 2020, the Kingdom became the first Arab country to include Jewish history in its curriculum.
Education in territories administered by the Palestinian Authority and funded by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) remains, however, the most antisemitic in the MENA region creating an atmosphere of hate and incitement that European Parliament members called “simply intolerable” in March 2022.
Earlier this months, lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic called on the Palestinian Authority to address the problem, with the European Parliament passing a resolution demanding a suspension of aid to the Palestinian education system until violent themes are removed from its textbooks and members of the US Congress calling for legislation that would require the US Secretary of State to annually audit textbooks and other content provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and Palestinian Authority (PA) to determine whether they contain antisemitic themes and if their doing so is being aided by US foreign assistance.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.