According to recent reports, anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish contents are gradually and quietly being removed from school books in Saudi Arabia, a move that experts believe could be the beginning of normalization between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
A newly released report by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) shows that the textbooks in Saudi Arabia’s schools are changing in a way that anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish contents are gradually and quietly being removed.
The London-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education is mainly tasked to monitor the way Israel and Jews are portrayed in education texts, especially in Arab countries. The institute found in its recent report on the matter that “almost all examples portraying Christians and Jews in a negative manner were removed from the latest Saudi textbooks,” a trend that has been practiced in the past few years.
As the report noted, prominent examples removed include implications “that Jews and Christians are the enemies of Islam,” or that “Jews and Christians are criticized for having ‘destroyed and distorted’ the Torah and Gospel”.
Certain references to “the Israeli enemy” or “the Zionist enemy” have been replaced with “the Israeli occupation” or “the Israeli occupation army.” But other negative references to Israel, as well omitting it on maps is also noted in the study. There continues to be no mention of the Holocaust.
A high school social studies textbook no longer contains a section describing the positive results of the First Intifada, the late 1980s Palestinian uprising against Israel. And one textbook “removed an entire chapter addressing the Palestinian cause.”
Though gradually, normalization with Israel is happening
Since coming to power back in 2017 as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, bin Salman has been advertising himself as a moderate ruler who wants to distance from the way Saudi’s previous kings ruled over the country.
Less than a month after becoming Crown Prince, bin Salman held an interview with the Guardian, vowing to return the country to “moderate Islam” and asked for global support to transform the hardline kingdom into an open society that empowers citizens and lures investors.
The powerful heir to the Saudi throne also said then that the ultra-conservative state had been “not normal” for the past 30 years, blaming rigid doctrines that have governed society in a reaction to the Iranian revolution, which successive leaders “didn’t know how to deal with”.
Normalizing relations with Israel is also one of the ways for the young Prince to show he wants an open Saudi Arabia to rule over. The Joe Biden administration has also been pushing Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Israel. Alas, it is not an easy task to do and can’t happen overnight.
To read between the lines, normalization continues to be a taboo among Arab publics. An opinion poll conducted last year by the Arab Center Washington DC found that 84% of Arabs surveyed disapprove of their countries’ recognition of Israel. In Saudi Arabia, support for normalization stood at 5%. Though moving with a slow pace, however, the normalization is gradually happening between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
It was last year in July that Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to Israeli airlines for the first time after the creation of Israel back in 1948. And changing the content of the textbooks in Saudi Arabia’s schools is yet another step in this line. All in all, whether this could be the beginning for major changes in Saudi Arabia’s policy towards accepting Israel and normalizing relations with the Jewish states is a question that only time can answer.