Saudi Arabia has begun the process of removing anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist contents from the country’s textbooks for the coming school year, a report by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education has found.
The report came amid recent talk of possible normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, as part of a regional shift that has seen Israel agree to open ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. Last week, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said that normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is “inevitable.”
It found that the books no longer include a religious prediction of a war in which Muslims would kill all the Jews — a prophecy it said had served as a foundation for much of the anti-Semitic attitudes in the Muslim world.
The monitoring group said that while it “did not find that new tolerant material had been injected into the curriculum, a substantial amount of offensive material had been removed.”
The classic anti-Semitic trope that Jews, identified as “Zionist forces,” use villainous methods, including money, women, and drugs to control the world has been dropped.
“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,” said IMPACT-se CEO, Marcus Sheff.
“The Saudi authorities have begun a process of rooting out anti-Jewish hate,” he further said.
Hatred of Jews is still present, including "a decontextualized and ambiguous" story about Jewish "wrongdoers," who are described as monkeys.
Despite this progress, the report found that Israel is still not shown on maps of the region, while Zionism is depicted as a racist political movement and in many places, the name "Israel" is replaced with "Zionist enemy."
Attitudes towards Israel are becoming “more balanced and tolerant,” the institute said,
According to the report, “There is clearly still work to be done. However, the changes made thus far show promise for a moderate and tolerant curriculum. Further improvements need to be made. But the overriding impression is of a willingness to engage, to participate in dialogue regarding curriculum content and finally move towards textbook reformation.”
Responding to the findings, a US State Department official told Time Magazine that Washington is "encouraged by the report that finds positive changes in influential textbooks used throughout Saudi Arabia."
The magazine quoted Fahad Nazer, spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, as saying that the kingdom is making "a very concerted effort to remove all [offensive material] from the entire curriculum."
Director of International Interreligious Affairs at the American Jewish Committee Rabbi David Rosen presented the report to senior kingdom officials when he visited Riyadh at the invitation of ruler King Salman, the statement said
(With inputs from agencies)