Saudi Arabia improves Israel references, reduces antisemitism in textbooks

Saudi Arabia replaces descriptions of Israel as the 'enemy' in textbooks and erases 'Palestine' from maps; Research shows that Saudi textbooks are changing their outlook on Israel, not denying Jewish presence in the region and toning down the anti-Israeli content 

A new study found that the Saudi Education Ministry made significant changes to the current Saudi curriculum by removing anti-Israeli content from textbooks. The research was conducted by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) in London, which analyzes textbook content worldwide to encourage peace and tolerance according to UNESCO standards.
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ספרי הלימוד הסעודיים החדשים
ספרי הלימוד הסעודיים החדשים
Updated Saudi textbook
In recent years, the institute has published several studies showing significant improvements in Saudi textbooks in removing violent and anti-Jewish content, but not completely. The research emphasizes that an entire textbook in social sciences for high school students, which held anti-Israel content, was removed in the current school year.
According to IMPACT-SE, "Portrayals of Israel and Zionism have progressed further. Students no longer learn content which defined Zionism as a “racist” European movement that aims to expel Palestinians, or that Zionism’s “fundamental goal” is to expand its borders and take over Arab lands, oil wells and Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem."
Nonetheless, Israel is still not recognized on maps, but in some maps, Palestine, which featured across the entirety of Israeli territory, has been systematically removed. The Holocaust is absent from the curriculum, and Israel is still referred to as “the Israeli occupation” or “Israeli occupiers” in the context of the 1948 War. Several problematic examples still appear in some textbooks.
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אנתוני בלינקן מזכיר המדינה של ארה"ב פגישה עם פייסל בן פרחאן שר החוץ של סעודיה
אנתוני בלינקן מזכיר המדינה של ארה"ב פגישה עם פייסל בן פרחאן שר החוץ של סעודיה
US Secretary of State with Saudi Foreign Minister
According to the report, "a grade 12 Social Studies textbook which was removed in 2023 taught that 'Zionists' deliberately tried to burn down the Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969. As is well-documented, an Australian Christian fundamentalist tourist named Denis Rohan was, in fact, responsible for the attack. It should be noted that the parallel social studies textbook in the Pathways System, which is still taught, had removed this false accusation in 2022."
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has significantly reduced antisemitism in its textbooks. Four problematic examples highlighted in IMPACT-se's previous report have now been removed, in addition to 21 examples removed last year. In terms of religious tolerance, the IMPACT-SE improved its depiction of Judaism and Christianity.
"The 2023 edition of the textbook removed multiple accusations against Christians and Jews of intentionally distorting their scriptures. Previous editions of the textbook taught students that Jews and Christians have distorted, “altered, changed, detracted and added lies and falsehood” to the Bible and the Gospel," according to the report.
IMPACT-SE CEO Marcus Sheff stated that "Saudi textbooks published for the 2023/24 school year represent another step toward turning the curriculum into an educational framework that encourages tolerance, peace, and greater equality. After antisemitism has already been removed from textbooks, it is particularly encouraging that Saudi curriculum designers have made additional changes that present Israel in a more positive light. These changes are good news for the future of the entire region."
Blinken commenting on Israel-Saudi normalization
(Video: Department of State)
Since before the current war, the Americans have been trying to promote normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently visited Saudi Arabia, where he met with senior Arab and European officials and discussed the day after the war while promoting normalization. He said the agreement is nearing completion, but emphasized that Israel will have to agree to advance a two-state solution.
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