Saudi Arabia starting to delete anti-Semitism from textbooks

Many offensive passages have been scrubbed although “there is still a way to go,” says an NGO that monitors curricula in the Arab world.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The newest editions of Saudi Arabian textbooks for the current school year have made great strides in deleting anti-Semitic and anti-Israel passages, according to a report by an NGO that monitors global curricula for hatred and extremism.

“Examining the trendline of our 2002, 2008 and even 2019 reports of the Saudi curriculum, it is clear that these new 2020 textbooks represent an institutional effort to modernize the Kingdom’s curriculum. The Saudi authorities have begun a process of rooting out anti-Jewish hate,” said the CEO of the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), Marus Sheff, in December when releasing his organization’s latest findings.

Most positive references to jihad (holy war) and martyrdom have been dropped, as has the prophecy of an end-of-days type of war when Muslims are supposed to kill all Jews. The anti-Semitic lie that Jews, euphemistically called “Zionist forces,” control the world through money (and drugs and women) was scrubbed. Even a whole chapter entitled “The Zionist Danger” that delegitimized Israel no longer exists.

Other content offensive to Western sensibilities has also been excluded from the new editions, such as advocating the death penalty for homosexuals, adulterers and infidels. To Sunni Moslems, these would include Shiite Moslems as well as Christians and Jews.

The moderation in language is significant, as Saudi textbooks are available for free online for Arab-language schools throughout the world, potentially influencing millions of young minds far beyond its borders.

The report readily notes that the change in outlook is a work in progress, as many textbooks say that Jews and Christians are “enemies of Islam” and will be condemned to eternal hell. The NGO also noted that “anti-Israel content does still remain in the curriculum.” The country still does not exist in textbook maps of the Middle East and it is never referred to by name; it is only “the Zionist enemy.”

“There’s still a very heavy focus on enmity with Israel and Zionism — which sometimes involved anti-Semitism,” said David Weinberg, Washington Director for International Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League to Time Magazine. “They’re not there yet.”

“No question about it, there is still a way to go,” Sheff said in the same article.

The report raised the point that “new, tolerant material” had not taken the place of the deleted lessons. This stands in sharp contrast to the United Arab Emirates, where IMPACT-se found that its curriculum actively advocates the values of peace and tolerance in its Moral Education courses for primary and high school students.

According to Sheff, the toning down began in the 2019 curriculum, as before then “the West was blamed for every conceivable evil.” In addition, students were actively taught to aspire to martyrdom, which could only have encouraged terrorism in the world. The vast majority of the 9/11 perpetrators, for example, were from Saudi Arabia.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have no diplomatic relations, although it is commonly understood that the UAE and Bahrain would not have normalized relations with Israel just a few months ago without the quiet agreement of the leading Gulf country.

Riyadh did agree to allow planes to and from the Jewish State to overfly its borders, a concession that considerably shortens flight times and saves airlines huge amounts of money.