Observers say EU-funded review of Palestinian textbooks reeks of ‘incompetence, concealment’

“False school materials can cement hatred and prejudice for decades,” said German politician Benjamin Strasser.

By Israel Kasnett, JNS

In a groundbreaking move and in response to the lack of change in the Palestinian Authority (PA) school curriculum and the continued insertion of anti-Semitism, hate and incitement to violence and martyrdom in its textbooks, the Norwegian parliament endorsed a cut last week in aid to the PA.

In 2018, the United Kingdom commissioned a report on Palestinian textbooks from the Germany-based Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI), which then published a report that was found to be riddled with mistakes. The European Union then decided to commission another report, due to be completed this month, again using the GEI.

Marcus Sheff, CEO of the Jerusalem-based NGO Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), expressed shock that the European Union Commission dealing with this matter is appointing the GEI, which Sheff believes has essentially disqualified itself as an honest player by making so many, seemingly intentional mistakes in its research findings.

“Clearly, there is an enormous problem in the commission with respect to the report,” he told JNS. “It is astounding that they insist on denying what the GEI’s own researchers have admitted, but more importantly, continuing the report as if nothing was wrong.”

The GEI review made serious mistakes that undermined the credibility of the report. These included analyzing the wrong textbooks and attributing Arabic-language Israeli textbooks to the PA, ignoring anti-Semitism and ignoring incitement to violence, martyrdom and jihad.

In a turn of events that exposes the EU’s seeming engagement in pretense, Riem Spielhaus, the head of the study at GEI, actually admitted to German daily newspaper Taggesspiegel in October that the Israeli textbooks were indeed mistakenly included in the review.

In what can be seen as a significant development in this saga, Die Welt—the most prominent German daily—followed up on the Taggerspigel piece and ran a similar story, also in October, but also called out the EU for lying to the newspaper.

The paper quoted Ana Pisonero, a spokeswoman for the commission, who said that no false textbooks had been examined.

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According to IMPACT-se, the EU is trying to cover up the mistake.

Adding to this mess, a number of EU countries have expressed concern about the GEI and the commission’s insistence that nothing is wrong.

‘Criticism must be investigated seriously’

Christian Tybring-Gjedde (FrP), vice chair of Norway’s Foreign Affairs Committee, offered JNS his perspective on the GEI study and the Palestinian textbooks. He told JNS he is “concerned about the quality of the GEI report,” saying he is aware that there are “some significant shortcomings” in it.

“Members of parliament in other countries have reacted to this,” he added, highlighting the importance of this issue.

“When the GEI final report is published, it must be studied carefully,” he said, “and the criticism against it must be investigated seriously. I expect the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to do this work thoroughly.”

Tybring-Gjedde said European politicians “should not be comfortable” with EU money being used to incite anti-Israel hate and violence among Palestinian children. “We have to be absolutely certain that the taxpayers’ money goes to educate children to live in peace and reconciliation.”

In October, 20 members of the European Parliament urged the EU to partially withhold funding to the PA until it ends anti-Semitic incitement.

Citing the most recent research by IMPACT-se, MEPs associated with the Transatlantic Friends of Israel (TFI) interparliamentary group also asked the EU executive branch in an open letter to discontinue its collaboration with GEI.

Austrian MEP Lukas Mandl, the TFI chair in the European Parliament, said “it’s unacceptable that the EU is funding Palestinian textbooks that glorify terrorism and peddle anti-Semitism.”

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Niclas Herbst, a member of the European Parliament, told JNS that “these are serious mistakes and the EU commissioner is trying to cover it all up.”

He also stated in that letter that he is “equally concerned” over the EU’s interim report. “Something went very wrong in this research process and must be put right,” he said.

With respect to the European Commission’s cooperation with GEI, the legislators from four major political groups said that in light of the GEI’s “deeply troubling and error-ridden interim review, it is inconceivable that the institute’s final report, due to be released in December, can possibly reflect a serious and scholarly assessment of the textbooks.”

‘Suspend PA aid related to curriculum’

Benjamin Strasser, a German politician of the Free Democratic Party, also expressed his concern and told JNS, “false school materials can cement hatred and prejudice for decades. Neither German tax revenues nor our contributions to the Palestinian Authority may be used to promote anti-Semitism and hatred against Israel.”

Steve McCabe MP, chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), blamed the British government for spending taxpayers’ money “on a review which appears deeply flawed and which we may never have the chance to see.”

He accused the government of “hiding behind the EU to escape accountability for its own inaction” and demanded that the United Kingdom “immediately suspend all PA aid related to the delivery of the PA curriculum until wholesale and urgent revisions are guaranteed.”

LFI vice chair and Member of Parliament John Spellar sent a letter to the government on this same issue, asking for an explanation.

In an emailed statement to JNS, a spokesperson for the Delegation of the European Union to Israel defended the flawed GEI study as “being carried out according to best international standards with native Arab speaking experts being part of the research team.”

The statement said that the EU’s Final Report “will be finalized by the end of the year. … Given that the final report has not even been published yet, any criticisms at the stage are clearly premature in our view, in particular as they have been based on alleged leaks regarding a preliminary report which had no other value than to inform the scoping of the study. … We should clarify that the E.U. does not fund and will not fund Palestinian textbooks.”

According to Sheff, much of the faulty research by GEI was purposeful, and the E.U. is intentionally denying it.

“Members of European parliaments have complained, but the commission continues as if it all does not matter,” he said.

“They understand very clearly what is really in the Palestinian textbooks,” he stressed. “There are very clear examples which we have brought to them. There is no possibility of anyone in the commission being able to say, ‘we did not know.’ ”

The question, according to Sheff, is what is the endgame here?

“Why are they intent, seemingly, on continuing to be part of the incitement of Palestinian children, rather than aligning themselves with those politicians in Europe who want it stopped?” he asked. “Do they want this to go away through the publication of a flawed report?”

Sheff noted that the concerns coming from representatives of the United Kingdom and Norway are more interesting than the European Parliament itself.

“The EU is used to batting back questions that came from its own parliament,” he said. “But when other parliaments like Westminster and the Norwegian parliament start getting involved, you would imagine they would feel this is a bigger issue.”

Now, he pointed out, with the end of the year and the supposed deadline for the final report looming, “people are genuinely questioning what the commission is going to do about this.”