The European Parliament Working Group Against Antisemitism (WGAS) held a meeting with Henrike Trautmann, Head of Unit and Acting Director for the Southern Neighbourhood at Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) on dealing with antisemitic content in Palestinian textbooks.
The meeting brought together experts discuss the findings of a report on Palestinian textbooks requested in 2019 by High Representative Vice-President Federica Mogherini and published in June 2021 by the Georg Eckert Institute for International textbook research.
In the spirit of inter-institutional relations, the meeting sought to lay the ground for a long-term partnership amongst all stakeholders towards finding new ways to put an end to harmful educational concepts and establishing educational curricula free from prejudice, hatred and incitement.
The event was hosted by WGAS Chair and European Parliament Vice-President Nicola Beer MEP and WGAS Board David Lega MEP. They were joined by WGAS Board members Ilana Cicurel MEP and Dragoş Tudorache MEP, Prof. Dr. Eckhardt Fuchs, Director of the Georg Eckert Institute (GEI), Prof. Dr Riem Spielhaus, Head of Department, Knowledge in Transition, Georg Eckert Institute (GEI), Mr. Steven Stegers, Executive Director, European Association of History Educators (EUROCLIO), Johanan Seynave, Policy Director, European Jewish Congress, and Alina Bricman, Director of EU Affairs, B’nai B’rith International.
MEP Nicola Beer highlighted the need to take the action to the next level by calling for a new strategy: an Educational Compact for Peace and Mutual Understanding: ”In the Palestinian territories, schools can be a safe haven in conflictive areas, kids have an internationally anchored human right on education. As a guarantee for it, I suggest signing an “Educational Compact for Peace and Mutual Understanding” amongst the Palestinian and the Israeli Authorities, local civil society initiatives like teachers’ and parents’ associations and the European Institutions to manifest our determination to fight against Antisemitism and for a peaceful existence in the future.”
Addressing the findings of the report, MEP David Lega stated in his opening remarks: “Helping Palestinians reach their potential through education must never excuse antisemitism. As such, it is inconceivable that these textbooks can be held to adhere to UNESCO standards of peace and at the same time promote the most abhorrent antisemitism and incitement.”
“We also need to examine UNRWA’s role on the issue. Its ‘rigorous’ systems have not been enough to stop these textbooks being used by their own teachers, teachers funded by us”, Mr. Lega added. “Consequently, aid to UNRWA must be conditioned on the organisation meeting criteria of transparency and serious engagement on combatting antisemitism in Palestinian classrooms.”
Prof. Dr. Eckhardt Fuchs and Prof. Dr. Riem Spielhaus presented the main findings of the report on behalf of the Georg Eckert Institute: “The report of reveals the complexity and contradictoriness of the contents of Palestinian textbooks. It welcomes future initiatives undertaken by the EU on the basis of this report and will support the process of the improvement of Palestinian textbooks.”
In her remarks, Ms. Henrike Trautmann clarified that the main objective behind this initiative had been a reform of Palestinian school textbooks based on the findings of this study, in compliance with UNESCO standards of peace and tolerance.
“It is clear that the study reveals that the textbooks on the one hand adhere, according to its analysis, to the UNESCO guidelines on Human Rights Education and generally promote political pluralism and stress […] values that support coexistence. On the other hand, it is very clear that the study reveals the existence of very deeply problematic content that remains a source of serious concern,” Ms. Trautmann said.
“There is a need to work further. There is a role for the EU to continue pushing this process. The EU has no tolerance for incitement to hatred or violence as a mean to achieve political goals or antisemitism in all its forms. These principles are non-negotiable for this Commission and any material that goes against them risks undermining peace and co-existence and has no place in textbooks or classrooms,” Ms. Trautmann emphasised.
WGAS board member Ilana Cicurel MEP stated that: “We have to stop this culture of hatred in the Palestinian textbooks. What is going on in Palestine has also effects in Europe. It is time for Europe to act now by carrying out a firm zero tolerance policy and financing positive actions such as teachers’ training.”
WGAS board member Dragoș Tudorache MEP highlighted: “Textbooks are not even the whole story; in this digital age, with children that are digital natives, we must change the entire informational ecosystem around communities. And most importantly, there is no antisemitism in small print, that is why the EU support to education in Palestine via UNRWA must be conditional to real change in the content of what young Palestinian minds are being taught.”
“An Educational Compact for Peace and Mutual Understanding, involving Israeli and Palestinian authorities, the civil society of both parties and non-governmental organizations could be the European framework for a fresh start: to finally combat hate speech and antisemitism in the crucial field of education.”
Steven Stegers, Executive Director of Euroclio, underlined the need to embrace the reconciliation process in its full dimension: “To unlock the capacity of history education to reconcile, textbooks are only one piece of the puzzle – you need to work on all aspects of the educational system and establish trust between all parties involved.”
Johanan Seynave, EJC Policy Director emphasised: “There is a certain dissonance between these shocking examples of antisemitism, incitement and delegitimization and the rather optimistic tone of the report. We would advise against a relativistic or directional perspective to the findings. This would have the effect of minimising the very real instances of antisemitism, which regrettably continue to appear on Palestinian textbooks.”
“The report shows the importance of mainstreaming the fight against antisemitism in the EU’s engagement in the region and ensuring that EU funding does not enable antisemitism, especially in education,” he stated.
Alina Bricman, Director of EU Affairs at B’nai B’rith International, stressed the importance of all key stakeholders assuming responsibility: ” We all agree and the Commission recognizes: there is persisting antisemitism and incitement; vilification of Israel and othering of Israelis in Palestinian textbooks.
“To move forward constructively, we need: clarity and coherence on the roles and responsibilities of relevant actors and programs operating in the education space of the PA; increased transparency; making full use of the instruments in the European Neighborhood Policy South to ensure accountability and – crucially – we must anchor the IHRA working definition of antisemitism as a point of reference in the everyday work of the staff of EU institutions.”
The video of the meeting is available here: