Bucking regional denial, UAE to include Holocaust in school curricula

Working with Yad Vashem memorial and education monitor group IMPACT-se, Emirati ministries are building material for elementary and high schools

Israeli's Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Eitan Na'eh, right, and German Ambassador in UAE, Peter Fischer, second right, watch a candlelight ceremony at an exhibition commemorating the Holocaust, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 26, 2021. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)
Israeli's Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Eitan Na'eh, right, and German Ambassador in UAE, Peter Fischer, second right, watch a candlelight ceremony at an exhibition commemorating the Holocaust, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 26, 2021. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

DUBAI — The United Arab Emirates is taking major steps to combat a regional culture of Holocaust denial in the wake of the 2020 Abraham Accords that normalized its relations with Israel.

Once entirely absent from the learning materials of children in the UAE — which also blacked out Israel from world maps and globes — the Holocaust is now set to be fully included in the curriculum, as the Gulf country moves to position itself as a regional peacemaker.

Last year, the region’s first Holocaust memorial exhibition opened in Dubai, just months after the US-brokered accords ended a more than 70-year impasse between Israel and the UAE.

Since then, seven Holocaust survivors have been brought to the country to speak on the horrors of the Nazi genocide, including UK-based Eve Kugler, 91, a German-born survivor who spoke earlier this month on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the November 9, 1938, pogrom in Germany.

As the UAE’s Education Ministry builds the new curricula, which will be for children in both primary and secondary school, the Tel Aviv- and London-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) has been advising on educational standards, including assessing course content.

Marcus Sheff, IMPACT-se’s CEO, said the UAE’s curricula were already “head and shoulders” above those of other regional countries in that they show “no evidence of hate at all,” nor antisemitism, and “recognize Judaism’s historic place in the Arab World.”

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, has also been working with the UAE’s Culture and Youth Ministry on curriculum development. It will be sharing much of its Arabic content as well as helping to develop fresh materials for the UAE.

“Holocaust denial in the Arab-Muslim world has been a historic challenge for us… but these important developments are indicative of a change that we saw beginning in Morocco, where they began addressing the Holocaust more,” said Robert Rosette, senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem.

In late 2020, just after signing onto the Abraham Accords, Morocco, which has a centuries-old Jewish community, announced it would finally include Jewish history and culture in its curricula.

Bringing the subject into the public domain not only helps people to understand the broader context of the Middle East but also helps them to identify distortions of the Holocaust, explained Rosette, who hopes the UAE’s move will spread to other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.

The UN’s global report on the Holocaust’s presence in global school curricula notes that the UAE at least mentions “context,” unlike Bahrain, also a signee of the Abraham Accords and the only Gulf state to have an indigenous Jewish community, which mentions “neither the Holocaust as a term… or an event” in its curricula.

German Nazis stand by ransacked Jewish property during Kristallnacht, most likely in the town of Fuerth, Germany, on Nov. 10, 1938. (Yad Vashem via AP)

Ali Al Nuaimi, one of the Emirati brokers of the accords and one of the country’s educational leaders, said that acknowledging the horrors of the Holocaust is vital in a region in which Jews have centuries of history.

“Memorializing the victims of the Holocaust is crucial. In the Arab world, the older generation operated in an environment where speaking about the Holocaust was tantamount to betraying Arabs and Palestinians,” he said, speaking on a Washington Institute panel.

“Public figures failed to speak the truth because a political agenda hijacked their narrative, yet a tragedy on the scale of the Holocaust targets not only Jews, but humanity as a whole. Therefore, public figures and scholars should be encouraged to discuss the Holocaust and protect common human values while leaving political differences aside,” he added.

Emirati Ahmed Al Mansouri set up the Middle East’s first dedicated Holocaust memorial exhibit as an attempt to overcome Holocaust denial, and has been collecting historical Judaica from around the region since the museum opened in 2013.

“In the region, there is big denial [of the Holocaust] and the Holocaust is seen as something that has been politicized,” said Mansouri. He acknowledged that there are some who leave negative comments in the museum’s visitors book, and many who ask if the Holocaust really did happen, which has only made his dedication stronger. 

“I believed the Holocaust would never happen again, but when I saw the recent rise in antisemitism, I knew I was wrong,” he said. “Even in the most civilized countries, humans are humans, and this horrific event in human history can be repeated. The Holocaust was the biggest crime against humanity and this message is for all of humanity.”

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