Palestinians criticize new booklet praising Abbas handed out in PA schools
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Palestinians criticize new booklet praising Abbas handed out in PA schools

West Bank education ministry says project aims to ‘strengthen’ national identity, but social media users, academics blast initiative as ‘cult of personality’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks to Palestinian leaders at the Muqata, the PA headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on February 20, 2019. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks to Palestinian leaders at the Muqata, the PA headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on February 20, 2019. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

A move by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to insert a booklet praising him into the education system has been met with criticism and a petition signed by academics criticizing the “cult of personality.”

The PA’s education ministry last week ordered the new book, “The Role Model, Our President,” handed out in schools. The move was welcomed by Abbas.

The book, featuring speeches by Abbas, was compiled by high school students in Al-Bireh, a West Bank city near Ramallah, according to official PA new agency Wafa. Abbas last week hosted the students and the teacher who supervised them, saying the project was aimed at “strengthening the national Palestinian identity among students, from schools to [university] campuses.”

On Thursday, PA Education Minister Marwan Awartani said the booklet would be printed and handed out as study material in all PA schools.

“This is a praiseworthy initiative to strengthen the national awareness among students,” he said during a press conference alongside senior PA officials.

But the move has been resoundingly criticized since then on social media, with some Palestinians saying casting Abbas as a role model was reminiscent of tyrannical regimes, the Haaretz daily reported.

A petition has been signed by dozens of Palestinian academics, urging Abbas to walk back the move. “Yes to shelving the book ‘The Role Model, Our President,’ yes to our children being educated on the values of liberty, equality and critical thinking,” they wrote.

One of those academics, philosophy professor Sari Nusseibeh of Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University, told Haaretz that even if the initiative came from the students and not from Abbas, teaching the book “is fit for regimes in which the political leader is sanctified and made into a sort of father of the nation.

President of Al-Quds University Prof. Sari Nusseibeh in his office at the university in Beit Hanina, in East Jerusalem. (Nati Shochat/Flash90)

“In the case of the Palestinian people this is inappropriate,” he continued. “We need to get inspiration from creators and pioneers in other fields and educate our kids on values of liberty, respect, criticism and the sanctity of man. That is why we expect Abbas to withdraw this move, which is inappropriate, to say the least.”

Dr. As’ad Ghanem of Haifa University’s political science department told the daily that the petition is supported by many in the West Bank, as well as among Arab Israelis and Palestinian expatriates.

He said even Dr. Dalal Erekat — the daughter of veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who attended the press release promoting the book — signed the petition, illustrating that it isn’t a political attempt to bash Abbas but a matter of principle.

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