By David Andrew Weinberg
Two years ago, Qatar came under criticism when passages in its state textbooks that contained antisemitic and other extremist messages were made public, including by ADL. While some of the passages that ADL called out have since been removed, a new review of Qatari textbooks for the 2020-21 school year unfortunately confirms that this problem still persists.
After the February 2019 publication of analyses by ADL and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Qatar’s Ministry of Education removed key textbooks from its website, hindering efforts by U.S. officials and civil society to monitor revisions that Qatari officials committed to the State Department. The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) did however manage to confirm that a broad array of intolerant materials remained in Qatar’s education materials through at least the 2019-20 school year.
As part of a new series of evaluations of textbooks in the Arab world, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) has now assembled a selection of Qatari government textbooks for the 2020-21 school year through third-party websites. And while some limited reforms have indeed been made to textbooks – for example removing several unacceptable passages that were exposed by ADL in a February 2019 blog – these updated editions still contain numerous passages that teach hateful antisemitic misinformation and myths.
Eighteen Years of Falling Short
Qatar’s failure to remove bigotry from its textbooks is particularly ironic given the country’s particular history.
For example, Qatar hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region, which since 2003 has included America’s most important Mideast facility for air operations. That same year, a Washington Post evaluation of Mideast education systems also presented Qatar as a possible “model state” for the Arab world, adopting world-class curriculum standards and other educational reforms from a RAND Corporation study that was commissioned by Doha. Qatari participants presented these steps as “a revolution in education” and “a total earthquake.”
And yet eighteen years later, Qatar’s Education Ministry continues to print textbooks with extensive antisemitic messages. This means that a child born at the time of the Washington Post’s 2003 report would now be old enough to have completed Qatar’s entire primary and secondary school system without eliminating antisemitism from its official curriculum. U.S. officials appear to be concerned about this issue, but oversight has been a challenge.
On the positive side of the ledger, it does appear that several passages documented by ADL in 2019 have now been removed from Qatar’s current 11th grade textbooks for Islamic Studies.
One of these passages taught that “most of the Jews in the world” seek “Jewish control over the entire world.” Another claimed that the Torah directs Jews to kill and steal as part of their faith.
Also, Qatar’s 9th grade social studies curriculum has now added a lesson on tolerance as a moral and practical ideal. This includes “accepting the other,” “rejecting racial discrimination,” and “respecting all the divine religions” as well as “their adherents.” Yet this message is then undermined in other textbooks, pertaining to ancient history through the modern era.
Lessons about Ancient Times
Most striking perhaps is the Education Ministry’s failure to remove a deeply disturbing passage from its 7th grade textbooks for Islamic Studies that was previously flagged by MEMRI in 2019 and teaches the antisemitic trope that Jews are disloyal. At the end of a lesson about the 7th century battle over Medina, the latest edition of this Qatari textbook continues to arbitrarily generalize from that episode to make dispositional claims about Jews as a whole today. Under the “applicable lessons” from the chapter, it declares: “Treachery and treason are among the traits of the Jews.”
That same textbook this year has also reprinted a passage documented by MEMRI and IMPACT-se in previous school years that teaches the antisemitic trope Jews bear collective responsibility for killing divine messengers. The passage states: “It is known about the Israelites that they accused their prophets of lying, and killed some of them, because of their bad morals.” Likewise, Qatar’s 9th grade Islamic Studies books this year teach that the Prophet Muhammad “was exposed to attempts to kill him from the Jews several times” while he was in Medina.
More broadly, Qatar’s 11th grade Islamic Studies textbook for spring 2021 teaches inaccurate lessons about the Jewish faith. It accuses Judaism of idolatry, deifying the Prophet Ezra, subordinating the Torah to the Talmud, and believing in amoral hedonism and supremacy.
And while this textbook correctly identifies the major denominations of Christianity as Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, it teaches students that the main sects of Judaism are extremist Pharisees, rejectionist Sadducees, and intolerant, aggressive Zealots, a typology of Jewish denominations that is both intolerant and obsolete, since it appears to be based on the writings of the Roman Jewish historian Josephus nearly 2,000 years ago.
Problematic Lessons about Modern Europe
Qatar’s current textbooks do teach about the most infamous antisemitic movement in modern history, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party and Germany’s Third Reich. Yet they do so in a manner that seems to make no mention at all of the Holocaust while seeming to blame the Jews for their own persecution.
The relevant passage was first identified by IMPACT-se in an 11th grade Qatari history textbook for the spring 2019 semester. It teaches that among “the principles of the Nazi movement” was “enmity toward the Jews, because they were the reason for Germany’s defeat” in World War I. This passage remains in Qatar’s spring 2021 curriculum as well.
The phrasing of this passage seems to legitimate a top antisemitic myth from Germany in the interwar period. As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum notes, this “stab-in-the-back legend” was widespread “despite the fact that it was entirely untrue: German Jews had served in the German armed forces loyally, bravely, and out of proportion to their numbers in the population.”
Problematic Lessons about the Modern Middle East
Finally, Qatar’s curriculum still places exclusive blame on Jews and Israel for the Arab-Israeli conflict, including in ways that could fuel hatred or even terrorism.
For example, a current 9th grade government textbook on Qatari History and Citizenship for private schools ends its chapter on the Palestinian cause with a list of lessons to remember. Number one on that list is that “the Arab-Israeli conflict is linked in a root manner with the emergence of Zionism.” The book also blames “an increase in Jewish pressure” for the 1947 United Nations commission that recommended resolving the conflict via partition and a two-state solution, which this lesson condemns as the cause for “a new stage in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
That chapter also features a 2012 photograph of Qatar’s ruler at the time, sitting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, whom the U.S. government sanctioned in 2003 for directing terrorist operations to target Israeli civilians.
Rather than noting any of this context, the picture’s caption simply states: “Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani calls for the Security Council to pay attention to discussing the Judaization of Jerusalem.” Elsewhere on that page, however, Qatar is celebrated for playing a “prominent role in uniting Palestinian ranks” as part of its “complete support” for their “struggle.”
Image from a Ninth-Grade Textbook on Qatari History and Citizenship for private schools, academic year 2020-21. Caption translates to “Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani calls for the Security Council to pay attention to discussing the Judaization of Jerusalem.” The seated individual on the right is Hamas’s Khaled Meshaal.
Finally, Qatar’s Islamic Studies textbook for fall 2020 continued to teach several particularly problematic passages regarding Israel.
One page suggests the main impact of Jews moving to Mandate Palestine was “armed Zionist terrorist gangs which undertook to kill the Palestinians.” It states that “the Occupation State (the Israeli entity)” was founded with “the partition of Palestine” in 1948 and that “the Zionists completed the occupation of Palestine in 1967,” and seek to “obliterate its Arab and Islamic identity.” Students are asked to “discuss the dangers of Palestine’s partition and Judaization.”
That textbook’s next page presents a list of “Muslim’ Obligations toward Palestine, al-Quds, and al-Aqsa,” including “exerting all designated efforts to liberate Palestine from the occupation.” In light of the previous page, this line seems to be asserting that Islam requires the armed reconquest of all the territory that Israel currently controls, not just those that it captured in 1967.
Indeed, another item on that page’s list of stated obligations is “not conceding on any part of Palestine, for it is Arab, Islamic land.” This outlook is then applied in opposition to positive Arab-Israeli relationships in the wider region, asking students for “ideas to protect Palestine, al-Quds, and the al-Aqsa Mosque” against “normalization and its various forms” with Israel.
Qatar’s stated policy is that it seeks peace with Israel upon the achievement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the school lessons cited above seem to undermine that goal by suggesting peace and coexistence may be impossible or even forbidden.
While some revisions have been made over the last two years, elements that remain in Qatar’s government-published textbooks teach that Jewish people should be despised and that Israel is their inherent enemy. The United States should use its close relationship with Doha’s top leadership to urge for such hateful school lessons be removed once and for all.
David Andrew Weinberg is ADL’s Washington Director for International Affairs. His research and writing focus on addressing state-enabled antisemitic incitement in the Middle East.