Thursday

1st Dec 2022

Opinion

Textbook hypocrisy: EU's new low point on Palestine

  • Unlike the US-funded study, which compared both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks (and found broadly similar levels of bias on both sides), the EU set out to examine schoolbooks on the Palestinian side only (Photo: Night Owl City)
Listen to article

As the EU struggles to weigh in on challenging developments in its neighbourhood, the last thing it needs is diverting its focus to wholly misguided priorities. A case in point is the EU's current preoccupation with Palestinian textbooks, promoted by European commissioner Olivér Várhelyi and Israel-aligned lawmakers in the European Parliament.

Since the last round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in May, the conflict has seen a new spate of killing incidents and demolitions of Palestinian homes, while Gaza remains under a blockade hindering reconstruction.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The new Israeli government has explicitly vowed to continue building illegal settlements and not to allow the two-state solution, the cornerstone of EU policy on the conflict.

Yet Brussels institutions are devoting more time to an entirely different, peripheral issue: an EU-funded study of Palestinian Authority schoolbooks, published in June by the Georg-Eckert Institute in Germany.

Several committees of the European Parliament are involved in discussing the issue during this month, following closed door meetings of EU-27 diplomats earlier in the summer.

The study was meant to assess allegations that the Palestinian curriculum promotes hatred and violence against Israel. Israel advocates have made such claims for many years, using cherrypicked examples with a heavy dose of spin. Some Western politicians have always taken such assertions at face value instead of treating them critically as a part of Israel's own nationalist narrative.

Although previous international studies, such as a 2013 study funded by the US government, disproved the sweeping allegations, the EU agreed in 2019 to fund a new study.

But unlike the US-funded study, which compared both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks (and found broadly similar levels of bias on both sides), the EU set out to examine schoolbooks on the Palestinian side only.

This went against the record of the Georg-Eckert Institute, which had hosted bilateral German-French, German-Czech and German-Polish textbook commissions to accommodate conflicting narratives through mutual dialogue – but now agreed to take a unilateral approach.

As Israeli researcher Assaf David commented, "[t]he very notion of examining only Palestinian textbooks with a fine-tooth comb, while completely ignoring their mirror image in Israeli textbooks, is fundamentally tendentious."

According to US political scientist Nathan Brown, "[t]he analysis is written as if Palestinian textbooks cannot be understood except by relying heavily on how Israelis might view them – but without giving Israeli textbooks the same treatment."

Despite these flaws, the resulting study once again greatly tempers the allegations. It neither claims nor shows evidence that the Palestinian textbooks incite hatred or violence. It documents debatable trends, such as omissions of Israel from Palestinian maps or positive portrayals of Palestinian armed struggle decades ago – but those mirror similar phenomena in Israeli society and schoolbooks.

Across a review of more than 150 PA textbooks, the study provides two examples characterised as antisemitic – but adds that both of them have been positively altered or removed in latest editions of the books.

Undeterred, proponents of the allegations set out to spin and misrepresent the study as if it "proves" their exorbitant claims.

Commissioner Várhelyi, in charge of the EU's neighbourhood, has also sought to play up the issue. Despite the study's moderate findings, he pledged to step up pressure on the PA to amend the textbooks "in the shortest possible timeframe" on the basis of a "roadmap" with "incentives" and a process of "screening and monitoring".

The Hungarian Commissioner's interest in amplifying the issue cannot be seen in isolation from his country's special alliance with Israel under Viktor Orbán. Over the last years, Hungary blocked almost every EU foreign policy statement critical of Israel.

There is an extra hypocrisy here. Last year, Orbán's government introduced a controversial new school curriculum in Hungary, which includes compulsory reading of antisemitic authors. Imre Kertész, a world-renowned writer on the Holocaust, was in turn scrapped from the reading list.

This does not seem to concern the MEPs professing outrage about the Palestinian curriculum.

Real problems with Palestinian Authority

Meanwhile, there are real, serious problems with the PA that require EU attention.

Following the cancellation of Palestinian elections scheduled for May, president Mahmoud Abbas is taking the PA down an authoritarian path, suppressing protests, and deepening intra-Palestinian divisions. To make textbooks – rather than these fundamental issues – a central topic in EU-PA relations would be entirely misplaced.

Antisemitism and direct incitement of hatred and violence should be red lines – but the study found hardly any. So what will the EU push to change? Will it ask to tone down emotive depictions of Israeli soldiers shooting at Palestinian children rather than work to end Israel's occupation? Eleven children have been killed and over 500 injured by Israeli forces only in the West Bank since May. There is a point where textbook "improvements" turn into censorship, deciding for Palestinians what they can say about their history and lived experiences.

The whole idea that Palestinian anger towards Israel is driven by textbooks rather than the daily injustices Palestinians suffer under its occupation shows a lack of basic empathy.

While both sides tend to omit the other from their schoolbook maps, Israel's expanding settlements are erasing any possibility of a Palestinian state on the ground. This leaves in place open-ended Israeli occupation and ethno-domination over the Palestinians – recently qualified by the Human Rights Watch as meeting the legal definition of apartheid.

Getting the EU bogged down in one-sided textbook revisions is a perfect way to deflect from that chilling development.

Author bio

Martin Konecny runs the European Middle East Project (EuMEP), a Brussels-based NGO.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Column

Israel/Palestine: how victims became aggressors

The relationship between Israel and the Palestinians is actually an oversized Stanford Prison Experiment. That 1970s experiment showed that if you give people power, they start to abuse that power very quickly.

The ICC probe into Palestine: where is the EU?

In the eyes of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, there are grounds to believe that war crimes were committed by the Israel Defense Forces in occupied Palestine.

EU interconnector: Cyprus 'energy isolation' or Israeli gas?

The EU is not only turning a blind eye to Israel's belligerent and illegal gas extractions but outrightly colluding by financing and otherwise supporting costly infrastructure projects. The ongoing gas crisis affecting the EU is no excuse for this behaviour

The first anniversary of the Abraham Accords

More than 55 agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain are currently underway. These lay the foundation for practical cooperation in almost all fields including: finance, communications, economy, culture, tourism, taxation, investment protection, freedom of movement, water, agriculture and energy.

Palestine refugees: UNRWA's global responsibility

Regional politics, competing global priorities and, sadly, a deliberate misinformation campaign that seeks to dismantle the agency jeopardise the critical mission of one of the United Nations' true success stories.

A missed opportunity in Kazakhstan

Tokayev received congratulations on his election victory from presidents Xi, Putin, Erdogan, and Lukashenko. However, the phone in the Akorda, Kazakhstan's presidential palace, did not ring with congratulatory calls from Berlin, Paris, London, or Washington.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  2. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law
  3. Turkey's EU-funded detention centres ripe with abuse: NGO
  4. In green subsidy race, EU should not imitate US
  5. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  6. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  7. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  8. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us