David Andrew Weinberg is ADL’s Washington Director for International Affairs. He also serves as the organization’s lead analyst on state-enabled antisemitic incitement in the Middle East, for instance authoring previous monographs assessing school textbooks printed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as by private schools in Lebanon aligned with Hezbollah.
Prior to joining ADL, Dr. Weinberg served as a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and as a Professional Staff Member working on Mideast issues at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a B.A. in political science and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of California Berkeley.
Image from a current Iranian state textbook, in a lesson titled “Cultural Attack”. Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 105.
Our Mission: To stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s policies have been of concern to the international community for decades. Most urgent for policymakers has been Iran’s program to develop nuclear weapons capability, its aggressive regional foreign policy, most recently in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, and its extensive state sponsorship of terror.
The Government of Iran is also the most destructive and egregious state-sponsor of antisemitism in the world today, propagating a voluminous array of anti-Jewish propaganda, Holocaust denial, and instigating violence that specifically targets both the Jewish state as well as Jewish communities around the globe.
The incoming Biden Administration is poised to confront the myriad challenges posed by Iranian military and foreign policy. And of course, effective policy depends upon having a comprehensive understanding of the Iranian regime’s various activities, its ethos, and priorities. One such important indicator is what Iranian children are currently being taught in the classroom, which unfortunately has been an understudied topic to date.
Why Current Iranian Textbooks Matter:
ADL undertook a rigorous examination of Iranian textbooks, with a specific interest in documenting antisemitism, incitement to violence and the promotion of hate. In part we decided to do so because the most recent comprehensive study of Iranian textbooks was published over four years ago, in the form of a rigorous, landmark monograph by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se). For comparison, surveys on incitement in Saudi state textbooks have been published every single academic year in that intervening period, either by ADL, IMPACT-se, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, or the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Given the regime’s recent behavior, it would be unreasonable wishful thinking to presume that Iran’s educational incitement has diminished since 2016. But it is also important to document the current state of hate in those materials – to confirm if and how such messages are in fact being propagated today, to justify greater public awareness about this issue, and to inform policymakers in Washington and around the world about the extent, nature, and importance of responding to this challenge.
What the Current Textbooks Teach:
Based on ADL’s close assessment of Iranian high school, middle school, and elementary school textbooks, we have determined that Iran’s state curriculum for the academic year 2020-21 strenuously militarizes young people, indoctrinating them for war. It literally teaches entire courses titled “Defense Preparation,” and militant messages are seeded across other dimensions of the curriculum as well, including lessons on both history and religious studies. Likewise, incitement to hatred against Jews and Israel are extensively interspersed throughout multiple fields of the curriculum such as history, religion, and social studies, as are anti-imperialist messages inciting against America and other developed countries.
The Government of Iran frequently claims publicly that its animus is directed solely at the State of Israel, not the Jewish people, but that is flatly contradicted by its own educational content. Current Iranian state textbooks overwhelmingly teach hateful messages about Jewish people across both ancient and modern history, as part of the regime’s depiction of human history as essentially a conflict between Islamic leaders on the one hand and scheming, evil enemies of Islam on the other.
In this regard Jews are depicted in accordance with a broad array of hateful antisemitic myths and tropes, while Zionists and the State of Israel are depicted as the spearhead of global imperialism against the Muslim world, purportedly led today by America. Children are taught that Zionism is a racist, imperialist contrivance akin to other Jewish or Western conspiracies against Islam throughout history, and that Zionist Jews are the enemies of Islam. Students are instructed to chant “Death to Israel” and taught that the Jewish state is “fake” and must be destroyed.
The textbooks also teach that America is and has been committed to regime change in Iran since 1979, as part of an American-led “satanic plan” to subjugate true Islam. As such, these books also teach that economic sanctions by America and by European countries are part of this scheme that poses an existential threat to Iran, its people, and its state, rather than as a penalty for any specific Iranian conduct.
But this narrative goes beyond economic sanctions per se – instead, it is also framed so broadly as to even include overtures of engagement by these countries toward Iran as inherently malicious schemes. Schoolchildren learn that American and European cultural influences are merely part of a “soft war” or “cultural attack” against the Islamic faith.
Furthermore, the textbooks teach that ISIS is fabrication of America, Zionists, and Arab puppets. The Baha’i faith is slandered as a colonialist contrivance, and its adherents are demonized as untrustworthy and possibly even filthy, as are followers of Wahhabism, the main Islamic current in Saudi Arabia.
Policymakers, journalists, and civil society groups in both the United States and around the world should be aware that the Government of Iran is currently indoctrinating the next generation with such harmful content. Such a reality speaks to the severity of the policy challenges posed by Iran, as well as the importance yet difficulty of reaching a more sustainable outcome for peace and understanding.
Anti-Americanism & Anti-Westernism
Although current Iranian state textbooks depict the State of Israel as the most immediate threat to its people’s aspirations, the books depict global imperialism as the ultimate threat. That insular and defensive animus is especially targeted at the United States, but in other instances this conflictual worldview is directed at Europe, Russia, “Global Arrogance,” or even foreigners in general.
“Imam Khomeini once decreed: ‘The important point that we all must pay attention to and make the principle and basis of our policy with foreigners is this: how long and how far will our enemies and the colonialists [literally “world gobblers”] tolerate us, and to what degree do they accept our independence and freedom? Certainly, they know no limit but to make us deviate from our divine and spiritual values and identities. As the Holy Quran says, “(The enemies) [sic] won’t stop fighting and quarreling with you until you abandon your religion.” Whether we like it or not, the Zionists, America and the Soviets will be pursuing us to tarnish our religious identity and the dignity of our school of thought'.”
Grade 12, Religion and Life 3, p. 166
“America regarded the victory of the Iranian Revolution as its greatest threat and set to plotting a conspiracy to destroy it.”
Grade 11, History of Contemporary Iran, p. 194
With the advent of Islam, the pagans of Mecca saw their position in danger. At first they tried with deceptive offers to the Holy Prophet to dissuade him from continuing his call to Islam; but when they saw that they could not deceive the Messenger of God, they placed the Muslims in a severe economic siege in the valley of Abu Talib in order to renounce Islam and to be placed under the rule of the polytheists.
The above story was repeated for us again after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, and America and its allies arrived at a plan approved by the United Nations for economic sanctions (a siege) on Iran.”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 101
“Cain, Abraha, Alexander of Macedon, Genghis Khan the Mongol, Hitler, Saddam, George Bush!
What do these names remind you of?
We see with a passing look at history that whenever faithless and greedy people obtain power, they soon resort to war and aggression, and they kill innocent people in order to dominate the lives and wealth of other nations.
This group – which in Islamic culture is called invalid – always has the most enmity with justice, because they know that in this perpetual battle the believers will not surrender to them at any cost. It is for this reason that the companions of Satan are always waiting for an opportunity to forever eliminate what is right and to smooth the way for the plunder of weak peoples.”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 131
Inaccurately claims that “In the Iranian year 1391 [corresponding to 2012-2013] America prohibited the importation of all medicines into our country, on which the lives of hundreds of innocents depended”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 104
“The arrest of American troops after illegally entering Iran’s maritime borders, Persian Gulf, Iranian year 1394 [corresponding to 2016]”
Grade 8, Social Studies (Civics, History, Geography), p. 130
"The Western media is also stirring up this disorder by inspiring turmoil in the business sector, persuading people to buy foreign currency and coins and goods they do not need. For example, in the case of Corona, focusing on rumors of severe shortages of healthcare goods and necessities resulted in long lines and crowding in stores."
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, p. 120
"Why did the foreign media inhibit people from attending the national celebration of the 22nd of Bahman [i.e. the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on 2/11/20] in a coordinated way with rumors of the spread of Corona?"
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, p. 121
Today, the arrogant powers are well aware that military wars, in addition to their high costs, also cause hatred among nations, and this problem makes it difficult for them to continue their activity in other countries. For this reason, they have adopted a new way to bring nations to their knees, called soft warfare or cultural attack.”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 104
“The production of anti-Iranian and anti-Islamic films, the broadcasting of ugly and vulgar films and images, the making of destructive video games, the production and distribution of drugs among young people, comprehensive efforts to promote immodesty, unchasteness, and minimizing the importance of wearing the veil, the normalizing incorrect relations between girls and boys, promoting unchasteness and the contaminating of young people, mocking Muslims’ pure religious tenets, imparting the unculturedness of Muslims and Iranians, creating division between Shia and Sunnis, creating division between the people and officials, underrepresenting the country’s progress, exaggerating the power and progress of the Western [countries], and so on are all part of the soft war against our nation and culture.”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 104
“The main goal of the enemy in economic sanctions, military war, and cultural attack is nothing but the elimination of the people’s religious beliefs and to turn them away from Islam.”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 105
“CLASS ACTIVITY: One more time, review the foreigners’ plans to defeat Islamic Iran, and talk with your friends in class about ways to confront these plans”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 106
“In the process of forming the New World Order… Western countries needed raw materials, cheap labor, and the consumer markets of non-Western countries. To secure their economic interests, they needed to break the cultural resistance of the groups that did not tolerate their domination and influence. To achieve this goal, they primarily used religious missionaries and Freemasonry organizations.”
Grade 11, Sociology 2, pp. 57-58
“A non-Western Freemason, who is usually a political figure in his country, before considering himself as the agent of his own government, regards himself as the brother and the colleague of a British Foreign Secretary or the kings of western countries who are Master Masons in his lodge or in another lodge. Entering the lodge and getting acquainted with its teachings, he sees himself as part of a great organization that has a role in the development of Western civilization and intends to transform and alter the whole world and to capture it.”
Grade 11, Sociology 2, p. 60
“The Ottoman Empire was torn apart due to the influence of Christian missionary and Freemasonry groups, military threats, and economic links.”
Grade 11, Sociology 2, p. 61
“America, Israel, and some of the Western countries seek out some ignorant and extremist Muslims to complete their plan and show the face of Islam and jihad in the way of God as ugly as possible, and they try by offering them promises of power and wealth to launch wars in Islamic countries in the name of Islam and to portray Muslims as the personification of violence.”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 135
Encouraging Terrorism, Violence, and the Militarization of Children
Current Iranian state textbooks encourage militarization, conflict, and warfare as a frequent – and often idealized – state of being. Although at times the curriculum teaches that preparing for war is a means of ensuring peace, that message is generally overshadowed by its encouragement of aggression, warfare, and terrorism. The textbooks glorify the concept of martyrdom and apply it to particularly problematic role models, including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as Iranian-sponsored terrorist organizations that routinely target civilians. Child soldiers are also glorified as well, often in reference to Iran’s traumatic experience in the Iran-Iraq War.
“With the great ambition and determination of the young Iranian scientists and in spite of the constant conspiracies and oppositions of the enemies of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian nuclear scientists have achieved many successes. Imam Khomeini has said about protecting the achievements of the revolution: ‘I advise the dear nation of Iran to know that you have achieved a blessing with your great jihad and the blood of your bounteous youths’.”
Grade 11, History of Contemporary Iran, p. 230
Photo of what seems to be a child holding a rocket launcher, in a textbook lesson titled “A Culture of Sacrifice and Martyrdom”.
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, p. 37
“The martyr Marhamat Balazadeh,” [who received permission to become a soldier as a preteen from then-President Ali Khamenei and went on to be killed several years later while fighting in the Iran-Iraq War]. At the end of the lesson about him and containing his photo is a caption glorifying such sacrifices, which includes the exhortation “Until the last drop of blood, protect this revolution and the leader of this good revolution.”
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, pp. 46-47
Specify which category of jihad relates to which of the examples below:
- Jihad of the Palestinian people against the Zionist occupiers
- Jihad of law enforcement officers against the wicked and armed smugglers in the country
- Iran’s eight-year war against Saddam’s army
- Jihad of the oppressed people of Yemen against the Saudis’ savage attacks”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 138
“The Martyr Mustafa Badreddine, from Hezbollah of Lebanon"
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, p. 50
“The Criteria and Indicators of an Exemplary Basij Member…He still wishes for martyrdom”
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, p. 31
“The Martyr Marshal Haj Qassem Soleimani”
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, p. 51
“LESSON 6: TEMPLATES AND MODELS OF STEADFASTNESS AND RESISTANCE”
Among the six individuals depicted in the graphic as martyrs and role models are Qassem Soleimani (center top), who led the IRGC’s Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (second right), who led Kata’ib Hizballah in Iraq. Both organizations are U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and both men were personally under U.S. sanctions at the time of their deaths in 2020
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, p. 45
“A Kalashnikov is Made Up of the Following Parts”
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, p. 92
“Fighting the oppressors and strengthening the culture of jihad, martyrdom and patience: One of the main messages of the prophets”
Grade 12, Religion and Life 3, p. 166
“JIHAD IN ISLAM
The word jihad in Arabic means effort and striving; but there is another meaning for this word in Islamic culture: armed battle (war) with the enemies of Islam.
Jihad in the way of God in the religion of Islam is given such importance that about a hundred verses of the Holy Quran have been allocated to it.”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 132
“Whoever rises to jihad against the enemies by the command of God is always victorious; because if he defeats the enemy, in addition to honor and pride, God’s great forgiveness and reward is waiting for him. And if he is martyred in war with the enemy, he attains a position that is incomparable in the view of God. Therefore, jihad in the way of God is a battle that never fails.”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 134
Graphic from a lesson on cyber warfare.
Grade 10, Defense Preparation, p. 126
“The Bahraini revolution has not yet come to fruition”
Grade 11, History 2: From the Mission of the Prophet of Islam to the End of Safavids, p. 251
“Let us note that the enemies attempt to break the resistance of the Muslims by showing a bad image of jihad in the way of God... and they ignite the flames of new wars in the world every day.”
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 135
“The very act of scaring the enemy prevents the start of a war.
The Holy Prophet commanded:
‘Get on your horses and start shooting. ‘If you are [only] shooting, I personally would prefer it over horseback riding.’ [For] God on High brings three people to heaven by means of a single arrow:
- The Muslim who crafts the arrow;
- The Muslim who furnishes the arrow for God’s satisfaction and delivers them to the warriors;
- The warrior who shoots the arrow in God’s path toward the enemy’.”
[also includes the associated image]
Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 139
Demeaning Other Minorities
Although Iran’s current state textbooks seem to devote most of their enmity toward perceived enemies abroad, including Jews, Israel, and the United States, the primary domestic victims of the Iranian government’s radical worldview are of course other minorities. Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution states that Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities, which in practice has meant that other religious minorities are subject to worse mistreatment. Indeed, Iran’s current state textbooks depict Baha’is as a conspiratorial creation of the West rather than adherents to a legitimate faith, and along with Buddhists and Wahhabi Muslims they are also portrayed as physically unclean. This is particularly harmful given that the Iran chapter of the State Department’s 2019 international religious freedom report states that “According to BIC [the Baha’i International Community], the government continued to ban Baha’is from participating in more than 25 types of work, many related to food industries, because the government deemed them ‘unclean’.” Rhetoric in the curriculum about the inclusion and rights of Iran’s various ethnic groups is accompanied by contradictory passages that depict movements for ethnic autonomy or self-determination as illegitimate and a subversive imperialist plot.
“KNOW MORE: One of the tricks of colonialism to destroy the religious and cultural foundations of Islamic countries was to create deviant sects such as the Babi sect in the Mohammad Shah period and the Baha'i sect in the Nasser al-Din Shah period in Iran.”
Grade 11, History of Contemporary Iran, p. 29
“SOME OF THE REFORMING AND FUNDAMENTAL ACTIVITIES OF AMIR KABIR… Respecting the rights of religious minorities while fighting against the fake sects which, by creating unrest and insurgency made some of the provinces insecure and prepared the background for the colonial policies of some countries, such as England.” [this passage refers to a 19th century Iranian premier’s suppression of the followers of Bábism, the predecessor to the Baha’i faith]
Grade 9, Social Studies (Geography, History, Civics), p. 78
“Are the Baha’is, Wahhabis, and Buddhists ruled to be [lit. “in ruling”] infidels or not infidels? How is the ruling on their purity and impurity?”
Grade 10, Religious Rulings (for Boys), p. 40
“The whole body of an infidel, even his hair, nails, and body fluids, are as impure as his sweat.”
Grade 10, Religious Rulings (for Boys), p. 34
“An infidel who recites the Shahada becomes a Muslim, and converting to Islam makes his entire body pure (except for clothes or incidental impurities)”
Grade 10, Religious Rulings (for Boys), p. 38
“Recognize those who call themselves Muslim but cultivate friendship with the enemies of Islam, and do not be deceived by their plans. The way of these groups is such that they consider the enemies of Islam like the Zionists [as their] friend and some of the Muslims [as their] enemy”
Grade 11, Religion and Life 2, p. 76
Acknowledgments and Endnotes
A hearty thank you to the entire ADL team, particularly Sharon Nazarian, Susan Heller Pinto, and Shaya Lerner, as well as the following outside experts who offered thoughtful feedback on particular translations or historical context: Maziar Bahari, Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, David Menashri, Alireza Nader, and Amir Toumaj. Eldad Pardo deserves special credit for a gracious and speedy expert peer read. Of course, any errors within are entirely my own.
 Eldad J. Pardo, Iranian Education: The Continuous Revolution, IMPACT-se, 2016. (https://www.impact-se.org/wp-content/uploads/Iranian-Education_The-Continuous-Revolution-2016.pdf)
 David Andrew Weinberg, “Congress Must Act to End Incitement in Saudi Textbooks,” Huffington Post, December 5, 2017. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/congress-must-act-to-end-incitement-in-saudi-textbooks_b_5a26b5bbe4b0e383e63c3cae); David Andrew Weinberg, Teaching Hate and Violence: Problematic Passages from Saudi State Textbooks for the 2018-19 School Year, ADL International Affairs, November 2018. (https://www.adl.org/media/12180/download); David Andrew Weinberg, “Saudi Arabia’s Children Are Learning from Anti-Semitic Textbooks,” The Forward, November 4, 2019. (https://forward.com/opinion/434169/saudi-arabias-children-are-learning-from-anti-semitic-textbooks/)
 Eldad J. Pardo and Uzi Rabi, with ed. David M. Byer, The Winding Road to a New Identity: Saudi Arabian Curriculum 2016-19, Feb. 2020. (https://www.impact-se.org/wp-content/uploads/KSAs-Winding-Road-to-New-Identity_2016-19-Curriculum_Final-.pdf); Eldad J. Pardo, Review of Selected Textbooks 2020-21, December 2020. (https://www.impact-se.org/wp-content/uploads/Review-of-Selected-Saudi-Textbooks-2020-21.pdf)
 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Special Report: Study Revealed Numerous Passages in Saudi Textbooks Advocating Intolerance and Violence, May 2018. (https://www.uscirf.gov/publications/study-revealed-numerous-passages-saudi-textbooks-advocating-intolerance-and-violence); U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, A Survey of 2017-2018 Saudi Middle and High School Textbooks, November 2018. (https://www.uscirf.gov/publications/survey-2017-2018-saudi-middle-and-high-school-textbooks)
 David Andrew Weinberg, Saudi Arabia’s Troubling Educational Curriculum, Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-Proliferation, and Trade, July 19, 2017. (https://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA18/20170719/106289/HHRG-115-FA18-Wstate-WeinbergD-20170719.pdf)
 Current Iranian state textbooks, Grade 7, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, pp. 120-122; & Grade 11, History of Contemporary Iran, p. 252.
 Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 101.
 Grade 9, Heaven’s Messages: Islamic Education and Training, p. 104.
 U.S. Department of State, “Iran 2019 International Religious Freedom “Report,” June 10, 2020. (https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/IRAN-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf)”