Wayne David. Photo: Richard Townshend, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons;

The Labour frontbench is to press the government on Britain’s funding of the Palestinian Authority’s school curriculum – a curriculum which glorifies terrorists, incites violence and is riddled with antisemitic and anti-Israeli content. The announcement by shadow Middle East minister Wayne David (pictured) is a major step forward in LFI’s long-running campaign on the issue.

What happened 

  • Last Friday, the Jewish News newspaper published a major investigation into how Britain has spent an estimated £105m over five years paying the salaries of 33,000 teachers and civil servants in the PA Education Ministry – the salaries of those who devised, implemented and teach the highly controversial curriculum.
  • Responding to the failure of Middle East minister James Cleverly to make himself available to answer the Jewish News’ questions about its investigation, his Labour shadow, Wayne David, pledged action. “That is quite disgraceful,” he said. “The Foreign Office is very slow to respond on a number of issues. I will certainly challenge Mr Cleverly on this at the first opportunity”. The lack of response, he added, “flags up the concern we have as the Opposition” on the matter. David has previously been briefed by LFI on the issue.

What’s in the curriculum?

  • Between 2017 and 2020, the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education has carried out a series of studies of the curriculum, in which they have examined over 200 new textbooks introduced since 2016.
  • Assessed on standards for peace and tolerance derived from UNESCO and UN declarations, IMPACT-se found in 2017 that the new curriculum “exerts pressure over young Palestinians to acts of violence in a more extensive and sophisticated manner” and “purposefully and strategically encourage[es] Palestinian children to sacrifice themselves to martyrdom”.
  • The curriculum promotes the virtues of martyrdom, glorifies terrorism and teaches antisemitic tropes.
  • Five-year-olds are taught the word for “martyr” and 9-year-olds are taught to recite a violent poem calling for “sacrificing blood”. Teenage boys are told that they’ll be rewarded with “72 virgin brides in paradise” if they die in terror attacks.
  • Terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, who led the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre in which 38 children, including 13 children, were brutally murdered, is described as “the crown of the nation” and celebrated in an entire chapter teaching Arabic reading comprehension.
  • Textbooks also openly endorse the 1972 Munich Massacre and describe the PLO’s hijackings of civilian aircraft in the 1970s as “operations against Zionist targets”.
  • Across the curriculum as whole, IMPACT-se has found, there are nearly 2,800 references to violence.
  • In its latest report, IMPACT-se argues: “The curriculum teaches antisemitic canards such as Jews are corrupt and control finance, the media, and politics. Images include an arm with a Star of David holding a globe.” Jews are also referred to as “enemies of Islam” who attempted to kill the Prophet Muhammad and desecrate the tombs of Muslim leaders.
  • All aspects of the curriculum, including science and maths textbooks, are affected. For example, a fourth-grade maths textbook teaches basic numeracy by asking students to add up the number of Palestinian martyrs from the First and Second Intifadas, while a seventh-grade science textbook teaches Newton’s Second Law with the example of a masked boy propelling stones at Israeli soldiers using a slingshot.

Peace erased

  • The new curriculum methodically omits discussion of peace education in the context of the conflict with Israel.
  • Peace agreements, summits and proposals with Israel previously seen in PA schoolbooks have been removed including a full unit about previous peace negotiations with Israel since 1948; two omitted chapters were entitled “Peace Plans and Initiatives” and “Peace Agreements”.

Britain’s response: delay and evasion

LFI first raised the issues with ministers in September 2017 as the curriculum was being introduced. Then-chair Joan Ryan’s warnings were initially dismissed but further pressure by LFI parliamentarians led the government to promise an international review of the curriculum, which was due to report in September 2019. Commissioned by the EU, the much-delayed and criticised review is clouded in secrecy but expected to be completed shortly. However, an interim report has not been published and the full report appears unlikely to be either.

The PA fails to meet its obligations

  • The Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and the PA, which governs aid, clearly states that the PA must take action against “incitement to violence, including addressing allegations of incitement in the educational curriculum”. The PA has entered into that commitment every year since 2016 – the very year, in fact, in which it was introducing its new curriculum.
  • The UK government carries out an assessment every year of the PA’s compliance with the MoU – assessments which, despite repeated requests from LFI, it consistently refuses to publish.
  • However, ministers have repeatedly told LFI parliamentarians – including LFI chair Steve McCabe as recently as last November – that it believes the PA is meeting its obligations and “demonstrating a credible commitment to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s partnership principles”.
  • The UK’s criteria for judging the PA’s performance appears tightly drawn. It deemed an internal government target in the 2017-18 MoU for the PA to carry out “curriculum reform” was met, but then Middle East minister Alistair Burt admitted in a letter that it did not include the actual contents of the curriculum.

The PA’s response: more of the same

Ministers claim that they raise the issue of the curriculum with the PA and that it has pledged to engage with the findings of the international review. However, the PA Education Ministry has also publicly lambasted what it calls “attacks and slander of the Palestinian curriculum”, adding: “The ministry will remain invincible against these attempts, calling [on] the civil society institutions and the Palestinian people to defend the national curriculum with all their might.” Moreover, the latest IMPACT-se analysis of the 2020-21 curriculum found there have been no substantive changes to the most problematic content and, in fact, the curriculum has become progressively worse with each revision since its initial introduction. “No changes relating to existing problematic content which supports hate speech, antisemitism, incitement, violence, and encouragement of martyrdom and jihad have been made in the Palestinian Authority’s 2020–21 school textbooks,” it suggests. “Most adjustments keep such material intact or make it worse.”

Odd man out

As Marcus Sheff, chief executive of IMPACT-se, has argued, around the Middle East, countries are making efforts to remove antisemitism and hate from textbooks:

  • The United Arab Emirates has a unit that teaches peacemaking and respect for the “other”.
  • Jordan has made great improvements and Morocco has begun to teach about the country’s Jewish history.
  • Only the Palestinian curriculum has worsened over the past four years – supported, as Sheff notes, by UK taxpayer funds.

What should happen next

As our chair argued in a Jewish News op-ed, LFI believes the UK should follow the lead of Norway and suspend all aid to the PA which directly or indirectly finances those teaching and implementing this curriculum until the PA commits to wholesale and urgent revisions of it. While that money remains suspended, it should be redirected to Palestinian NGOs that have a proven track record of promoting peace initiatives in schools. We should support education projects in Palestine not tarnished by the PA’s antisemitism. Palestinian children and young people must not suffer due to the acts of their leaders