Brazil envoy asks about anti-Semitic textbooks for kids

Pro-Israel activists cheer as UN anti-racism panel challenges Palestinians

UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer hails first time world body’s spotlight is ‘officially placed on Palestinian racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian officials during the 99th session of the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva, August 14, 2019 (screenshot UN Web TV)
Palestinian officials during the 99th session of the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva, August 14, 2019 (screenshot UN Web TV)

Pro-Israel activists are celebrating that an important United Nations body this week for the first time probed the Palestinians’ record on fighting racism and that some delegates challenged Ramallah over its alleged institutional anti-Semitism.

At the 99th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, during a review of the “State of Palestine,” some delegates referred to examples of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish content in Palestinian textbooks and state-owned media outlets.

“What happened this week was unprecedented,” declared Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based organization that addressed the session. “Since 1974 when Yasser Arafat and the PLO were welcomed into the United Nations, this is the first time that the world body’s spotlight was officially placed on Palestinian racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism.”

One member of the committee, Brazil’s Deputy Special Secretary for Human Rights Silva Albuquerque, asked the Palestinian representatives about “the presence of anti-Semitic and discriminatory contents in textbooks used by children and teenagers in Palestinian schools,” according to a press released issued by NGO Monitor, an Israel-based nonprofit.

Citing information he had received from pro-Israel groups at the sidelines of the session, Albuquerque said he was shown “various examples of allegedly racist and anti-Semitic language, content and textbooks.”

Other committee members, too, asked the Palestinian delegation to respond to similar allegations. The Palestinian delegation, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs Ammar Hijazi, deflected critical questions, asserting Ramallah’s opposition to racial discrimination.

“The important point is that in the UN, the Palestinians are being forced to deal with their own anti-Semitism, including in their textbooks,” said NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg, an Israeli political science professor who addressed this week’s review session.

Gerald Steinberg (Flash90)

As opposed to the “usual procedures in the [UN] Human Rights Council,” he added, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination listened to the presentations of pro-Israel groups and used the arguments made to challenge the Palestinians. “This is a major precedent.”

Marcus Sheff, the head of IMPACT-se, a group analyzing Palestinian textbooks, said the “contradiction between the Palestinian submission, which claims to adhere to anti-racism, and the blatant antisemitism, hate and extremism in the [Palestinian Authority] curriculum, was not lost on the committee… It is clearly pointless to deny the textbook hate. There it was, in black and white.”

The “State of Palestine” joined the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2004. But although states must file reports on their implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination one year after acceding, and then every two years, the Palestinians submitted their first report only in March 2019.

The 62-page document basically clears the Palestinians of any wrongdoing, while repeatedly accusing Israel of the worst offenses.

“The State of Palestine opposes racism and racial discrimination in all its forms,” it states. At the same time, it claims that leading decision-makers in the “occupation authority” — Israel — “incite racial discrimination and violence against Palestinians without being held to account for their words and deeds.”

Ahead of this week’s review session, UN Watch and NGO Monitor submitted so-called shadow reports in an effort to correct what they argue is a completely distorted description of the reality.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Geneva-based committee reviewed the Palestinians’ review, hearing from Palestinian officials as well as a handful of non-governmental organizations.

“Importantly, several committee experts used our materials to ask serious questions of the Palestinian delegation. Sadly, despite their signing of UN treaties, the Palestinian side failed to show any sense of accountability, instead repeatedly pointing the finger at Israel as an excuse,” Neuer told The Times of Israel after the review session concluded on Wednesday.

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash 90)
Hillel Neuer (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

“The Palestinians declined to explain why, for example, their newspapers and websites publish grotesque caricatures of Jews that look straight out of Der Sturmer.”

Neuer also noted that dozens of pro-Palestinian NGOs that routinely address UN sessions on alleged Israeli human rights violations and submit voluminous reports were absent at this week’s review of Palestine’s racism record.

“Likewise, international NGOs that claim to care about Palestinian human rights — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, and the International Service for Human Rights — were completely absent,” Neuer added. “The effective boycott by these groups of a UN meeting on Palestinian human rights was the elephant in the room that no one dared to mention.”

The committee is expected to issue its findings — known as Concluding Observations — by the end of the month.

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