Study finds improvement in anti-Israel bias in Saudi textbooks, but problems remain

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

An excerpt from a Saudi textbook showing removal of material against Jews from 2020 to 2021 (IMPACT-se)
An excerpt from a Saudi textbook showing removal of material against Jews from 2020 to 2021 (IMPACT-se)

A study of Saudi school textbooks that will be released today finds some progress on the kingdom’s portrayal of Israel and Zionism, including the removal of some problematic passages in a new social studies textbook.

Israel is hoping to reach a normalization agreement with Riyadh by the end of the year with US help.

However, “continued non-recognition of Israel, its omission from maps, and its frequent depiction as an occupying enemy state” remain in textbooks, according to the latest study on the Saudi school curriculum from the IMPACT-se organization, which has been following the topic in the wake of the 2001 9/11 attacks.

There has also been some backsliding in Saudi Arabia’s treatment of Israel in recent years.

Textbooks for 2017 refer to Israel by name, but since 2019, Israel is usually called “the Zionist entity.”

Zionism is described in a Grade 10-12 textbook as a colonial and racist European movement aimed at expelling Palestinians from their homes, which is far more hostile than the 2017 description of a movement aimed at “unifying the Jews of the Diaspora and settling them in Palestine.”

At the same time, there are plenty of encouraging examples. A lesson on “patriotic poetry” removes “opposing the Jewish settlement of Palestine.” In past editions, students were asked to disprove “one of the Zionist claims regarding their right to the Arab land of Palestine,” but that was removed in the 2022 edition.

Moreover, there is a high school social studies textbook that replaced references to the “the Zionist enemy” with “the Israeli occupation army,” and moved to “the Israeli occupation” instead of “the Israeli enemy.”

In addition, a high textbook first introduced in 2022-23 removes entirely a chapter on the Palestinian Cause.

Saudi textbooks also include greater criticisms of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Houthi militias, accusing them of promoting terrorism and extreme religious thought.

In religion textbooks, lessons promoting negative stereotypes of Jews and Christians have been noticeably toned down.

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