US State Department report finds persistent antisemitism in Qatari textbooks

Annual religious freedom survey says Qatari textbooks continue to include hateful content, contradicting Doha’s efforts to be seen as a moderate Western ally

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad in Doha, Qatar, September 13, 2022. (Egyptian Presidency Media Office via AP)
Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad in Doha, Qatar, September 13, 2022. (Egyptian Presidency Media Office via AP)

Qatar’s Talha bin Obaidullah Preparatory School, located a few miles north of the capital Doha, held an art exhibition in November under the title “Gaza in our Hearts.”

Next to odes to Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and posters calling for the boycott of various brands for their alleged ties to Israel, a section of the wall displayed students’ works as part of a presentation titled “The Attributes of the Jews.” Sentences plastered on the wall characterized Jews as “corrupt, murderers of prophets, deceitful and arrogant.”

Pictures from the exhibit were posted on the school’s Facebook account, where they can still be viewed.

The anecdote features in the 2023 US State Department’s Report on International Religious Freedom, published two weeks ago, as evidence of the antisemitism that still permeates the Qatari education system, and which has resurfaced on multiple occasions in public events since October 7.

“Notwithstanding some improvements in Qatar’s national curriculum and certain textbooks during the 2021-2022 school year, during 2023, the national curriculum continued to include content that was antisemitic in nature,” the report read.

The document further quoted another antisemitic incident that took place in a Qatari public educational establishment in November.

The Mesaieed Preparatory and Secondary School for boys, located south of Doha, shared on X a clip filmed at a common prayer held in the school hall. During the prayer, an imam cursed the Jews, calling them “enemies of Allah,” and called on Allah to “grant us jihad against the Jews with our souls, our wealth and our words.”

The State Department’s report cited as the basis for its findings a study recently published by the nonprofit IMPACT-se, which routinely monitors educational curricula in Middle Eastern and North African countries.

The study, made available to the public in June, was based on the analysis of 55 Qatari textbooks, and concluded that antisemitic and anti-Israel contents in the Qatari education system persist despite some improvements recorded in the 2021-2022 school year compared to the previous period (2016-2020).

In 2020, IMPACT-se determined that the Qatari curriculum did not meet international standards on education for peace and tolerance, set by the nonprofit on the basis of UN and UNESCO declarations.

Two years later, the nonprofit found that the Gulf petro-monarchy had removed some antisemitic contents from its teaching materials and made progress in reducing hate towards non-Muslims writ large, and mitigated encouragement to violent jihad. Even the tone used in relation to Israel, which received disproportionate attention and was treated with clear hostility, was found to be more moderate, the report noted.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders leading a prayer before hosting an Iftar Ramadan fast-breaking dinner in Qatar with Qatari officials and international diplomats, April 13, 2023. (

However, Doha’s Education Ministry textbooks from the 2023-2024 school year, and open-source media from extracurricular activities held in Qatari schools, revealed numerous instances of persistent antisemitic tropes, leading to the conclusion that Qatar’s ambiguous position as both an ally of the West and a champion of Islamist fundamentalism has remained unchanged, and its anti-Israel rhetoric has occasionally become more pronounced in the aftermath of Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

“Positive textbook changes noted in previous years have plateaued,” the report by the London and Tel-Aviv-based watchdog remarked.

IMPACT-se found in its report that in 2023 the nation’s educational materials still “reflected in many ways the same overall tension facing Qatar’s leadership: between Qatar’s Islamist affinities, and its desire to be seen as an open, neutral, and progressive leader in the Gulf region. Textbooks taught Qatari children to accept others different to themselves and advocated for peace; at the same time, they echoed antisemitic canards and reinforced the Qatari regime’s alleged support for Islamist militant groups.”

Qatar’s juggling act

The tiny Gulf monarchy, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, is considered a solid ally of the West, hosts the largest US base in the Middle East, and the US administration designated it as a “major non-NATO ally” in 2022.

At the same time, the Qatari ruling family has bankrolled Hamas for years, among a score of other Islamist groups throughout the Middle East and Africa. It is estimated that Doha has funded the Palestinian terror group with $1.5 billion over the past decade as it armed and trained for the shocking October 7 attacks, in which 1,200 were killed in southern Israel, and about 250 were abducted to Gaza.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at Lusail Palace, in Doha on February 6, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein/Pool/AFP)

The country’s capital still plays host to Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh and much of the terror group’s leadership in exile, who have been housed in luxurious hotels while Gazan civilians are left to bear the consequences of the war Hamas launched.

The monarchy has also positioned itself as one of the chief mediators between Israel and Hamas besides Egypt, hosting numerous rounds of talks in Doha and elevating the country’s diplomatic profile despite its small size.

In contrast to its outward engagement as an ostensibly neutral mediator to solve the Gaza crisis, however, domestically the country’s rulers have adopted a staunch pro-Hamas and anti-Israel stance.

The IMPACT-se report on Qatari textbooks found that Jews are frequently depicted as manipulators of global affairs with no ties to their land of origin. The State of Israel is routinely labeled as “Palestine” in textbook maps and at pro-Palestine school events, as illustrated by another report published by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in December.

Illustrative: Fans wave the Palestinian flag and cheer prior the World Cupsoccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, November 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

This is in contradiction to Doha’s efforts to be viewed as a neutral mediator in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and its alleged support for a two-state solution, which presupposes a recognition of Israel’s existence.

Antisemitism in textbooks

The polemic against Jews in educational materials is often framed in religious terms. IMPACT-se found that an Islamic Education textbook for Grade 8 contained a lesson focusing on how Jews initially rejected Moses and Jesus and concluded that “none is more evil” than people who “have been invited to Islam and rejected it.”

A religious textbook for Grade 10 instructed students to avoid “resembling” Jews as an intrinsic element of proper adherence to Islamic teaching.

This handout picture provided by the Palestinian Authority’s press office (PPO) shows Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (C) holding hands with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (R) as he is received by the latter in Doha on February 12, 2024. (PPO/AFP)

A second type of antisemitism was employed to promote an Arab nationalist narrative against Israel, denying Jewish ties to their ancestral land, portraying Jewish self-determination as unjustifiable and racist, legitimizing violence against Israelis, and omitting information that would foster an understanding of the Jewish experience.

For instance, a chapter in a Grade 11 history textbook on World War II and Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf failed to mention the Holocaust, or the antisemitic components of Hitler’s ideology.

Suicide bombings and terrorist acts by Hamas and other Palestinian factions during the intifadas were euphemistically described as “armed operations” or “military operations,” and portrayed as a natural reaction to ongoing Israeli oppression, the report found.

A picture of Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad meeting Ismail Haniyeh, who lives in Doha and heads the Hamas Political Bureau, was included in a history textbook for Grade 12 students.

A picture from a Qatari history textbook showing Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad (R) meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The caption refers to Haniyeh as one of the ‘leaders of the Palestinian national action,’ and fails to mention that he helms a radical terror organization (IMPACT-se, Courtesy)

In an exercise from an Arabic language textbook, Grade 8 students were to analyze a poem titled “Palestine” which urged Arab readers to engage in violent jihad, “draw swords” and sacrifice their lives to defend Palestine and Jerusalem from “the oppressors” and “the butchers.”

The inflammatory rhetoric found in Qatari textbooks is in stark contrast with the declared position of its leaders and diplomats, who have repeatedly denounced antisemitism and touted the monarchy’s promotion of tolerance and moderation.

In a statement issued in May, the Qatari embassy in Washington condemned antisemitism — and Islamophobia — and attacked a “disinformation campaign”  against it after Doha came under fire for lavishing billions in donations on United States colleges in exchange for the promotion of its foreign policy agenda, and the reinforcement of anti-Israel attitudes in academia.

Despite Doha’s longstanding charm offensive aimed at keeping Washington in its court, the US State Department has not refrained from highlighting the monarchy’s shortcomings and contradictions between its rhetoric and its policies.

The 2023 Annual Religious Freedom Report also found that in Qatar, a country of approximately 2.5 million, where only about 11 percent are citizens, discrimination is still rampant against religious groups that are not officially registered, particularly against Baha’is. Only Sunni and Shia Islam, and eight Christian denominations, are officially recognized by the Qatari government.

Judaism is not recognized, however, the US report said that in September 2023 the government officially permitted Yom Kippur services to take place other than in a private residence, officiated by a visiting rabbi.

Christians are also banned from placing crosses outdoors their churches and are prohibited from proselytizing, with sentences of up to 5 years in prison. Conversion to another religion from Islam is defined by the law as apostasy and is illegal, the report noted.

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