VarhelyiBrussels, June 24th, 2021 – After almost two decades of denial and neglect, the European Commission is gradually accepting responsibility for its role in funding Palestinian education that fuels antisemitism.

The admission comes after many years of campaigning by various groups, including European Coalition for Israel, for a policy of zero tolerance towards hate education concealed in Palestinian textbooks. Before leaving office in 2019, then EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, instituted an inquiry into the use of Palestinian school textbooks to incite hatred and engender antisemitism. It was a dramatic turning point: during her five-year term as the highest EU-official responsible for foreign policy, including EU policy towards the Middle East, she had consistently denied there was a problem!

The inquiry was completed in February of this year although it seems as if the European Commission tried to conceal it. Only after pressure from the European Parliament was the Report finally released to the public. At last the truth was exposed; the 200-page Report confirms that Palestinian Authority textbooks encourage violence against Israelis and conceal antisemitic messages. All of which made it inevitable that Members of the European Parliament and senior EU-officials would rush to issue hurried condemnations. In a statement on June 9 European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, promised to “take action if European money is used to call into question Israel’s right to exist.” Then, on Monday 21 June, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi (picture), went one step further, calling for a firm commitment to fight antisemitism and promote Palestinian education which fully adheres to UNESCO standards for peace, tolerance and co-existence. In a follow up tweet he added that “the conditionality of our aid to Palestinian education needs to be duly considered.” He joins a long list of international leaders who have condemned Palestinian hate education, among them US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken.

“This is a welcome change in EU policy, but it may be too little and too late”, ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell said in a European Report webinar which was live streamed on Wednesday afternoon. Sandell was discussing the issue with Marcus Sheff, CEO of Impact-se (a research and policy organization that analyzes schoolbooks and curricula for compliance with UNESCO-defined standards on peace and tolerance) and Finnish Member of Parliament, Peter Östman.

“How can you hope or expect that Palestinians will suddenly learn to live in peaceful co-existence with their Jewish neighbours when, for more than twenty-five years they have been systematically indoctrinated into hating Israelis and Israel? This flawed policy of denial and neglect remains a momentous failure by the European Union, and one not easily repaired or corrected, even though recent statements by EU-officials are promising and mark a welcome change”, he said.

In the webinar, Marcus Sheff gave numerous examples of how Jews are demonized in Palestinian textbooks and how Palestinian education continues to promote jihadism and martyrdom. He also pointed out that things have not improved over the years despite criticism from donor countries and promises from the PA to reform its curricula.

“This is not acceptable”, said Finnish Member of Parliament Peter Östman who has faithfully raised his concerns over Palestinian hate education with the Finnish government for the last ten years, but has seen little by way of change. “However, this is not the time to give up but rather the time to step up the campaign for zero tolerance towards antisemitism and hatred in Palestinian textbooks”, he said. “Only then can we hope for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.”