Unraveling the origins: Examining Antisemitism within Palestinian society

“Today, antisemitism is global, not just local,” says Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, CEO of the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). “It comes from the right, from the left, from radical Islam, and other sources.” Roytman-Dratwa explains that over the past several years, a greater understanding has emerged in countries around the world that antisemitism needs to be aggressively confronted and countered. “Antisemitism must be taken seriously. There are conversations on the subject at the United Nations. The US government, and other countries are all building strategies to combat antisemitism, and are investing a great deal of money, time, and effort. We see legislation across the board.”

While Roytman-Dratwa is pleased with this progress, he says that more needs to be done, including additional plans to combat antisemitism and more widespread adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Roytman-Dratwa also notes that the Abraham Accords have made a positive impact in the fight against antisemitism, allowing Jews and citizens of Arab nations to work together against this phenomenon. “It has created a positive environment, allowing Muslims and Jewish to show a united front to collaborate together. This is critical because we see antisemitism from radical Islam across the world. The fact that we can show unity in the Middle East, where both religions originated, is a message of hope that we need to communicate across the world.”

While the Abraham Accords have led to many peaceful exchanges and a lessening of antisemitism, within the Palestinian Authority, the scourge of antisemitism is flourishing unabated. From a young age, children are educated to hate the Jewish people. The hatred of the Jewish people is inculcated through media programming, school textbooks, and social media. What are the root causes of antisemitism in Palestinian society, and how does it impact prospects for Middle East peace and coexistence?  

CAM, which has emerged as a leading new voice in the fight against antisemitism since its founding in 2019, recently hosted “Unraveling the Origins: An Examination of Antisemitism within Palestinian Society,” on the Jerusalem Post website. The program, which was hosted by Rebecca Rose, CAM’s director of North American Affairs, featured Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se, an organization that has driven the elimination of antisemitism and the inclusion of Jewish history in textbooks in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE; Asaf Romirowsky Ph.D., the Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and the  Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), and Itamar Marcus, founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch, is one of the world’s foremost experts on the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Prior to the release of the webinar, the three scholars spoke with the Post to discuss the subject. Marcus, who has worked tirelessly to show how the PA names schools, sporting events, and streets after terrorist murders, and has revealed the hate and terror promotion in the PA’s schoolbooks, says that the Palestinian Authority needs antisemitism to justify its entire ideology and identity. “Their identity says that the Palestinians have a 5,000-year history in Palestine and the Jews have no history here. They have to explain to their people why the Jews would leave their comfortable homes in America or Europe and come here, if they had no previous history in Israel.” Marcus explains that the Palestinians have concocted a wild theory that the Europeans invented Zionism to rid Europe of its Jewish population. In their view, everyone hates the Jews, and the Palestinians hate the Jews for the same reasons.

Denying Israel’s right to exist, says Marcus, is what gives the Palestinians the right to exist. “This has been a fundamental belief of theirs, and that’s why it will not disappear. For them to say that the Jews are not evil and hated by humanity, undermines their whole essence,” he says.

Marcus Sheff, through IMPACT-se, has ensured that the antisemitism contained in the textbooks issued by the PA and UNRWA ( the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) has remained a hot-button issue throughout the world. He has spoken at the United Nations and the European Parliament, and briefed governments and legislatures worldwide, including the White House and National Security Council, the European Commission, and the UK, German, Finnish, and other governments and parliaments.

Even in today’s digital age, Sheff explains, students consider textbooks authoritative and reliable. Between 2014 and 2016, with the aid of donor countries, the Palestinian Authority rewrote its school textbooks.  These newer editions were expected to be modernized, removing antisemitic ideas and concepts. Unfortunately, this was not the case. “They were more radical than anything seen before,” says Sheff. “They presented a clear vision of one state of Palestine from the river to the sea that would be gained through jihad, martyrdom.” 

Sheff explains that antisemitic themes permeate every aspect of classroom instruction. “A fourth-grade math problem tells students to add ‘x,’  the number of martyrs from the Second Intifada, to ‘y,’ the number of martyrs from the First Intifada, to arrive at the correct answer.” First-year children in the language curriculum learn the Arabic words for ‘martyr,’ ‘attack,’ and ‘run away.’  “School education is key to fostering societies,” he concludes, “but also where terrible ideas can take root. The strategy of the PA to create a radical, dark, peace-rejecting curriculum we see most clearly in the injection in any possible part of the PA’s textbooks of radicalization.   It is a strategic, centralized decision by the PA Ministry of Education.”

The antisemitic educational strategy of the PA has not gone unnoticed, he says. “The European Union has condemned the PA and UNRWA five times for teaching hate.”  The United Nations has criticized the PA curriculum, and the United States Congress is working on legislation focused on this issue, Sheff says.

He contrasts the PA’s educational approach with that of the United Arab Emirates and other countries. “Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the Emirates, decided that Emirati children should receive a peaceful, tolerant education. The same can be said for the Saudis, the Egyptians, and the Moroccans. They understand the necessity of change in their textbooks, and the eradication of antisemitism is clearly a part of that,” says Sheff. He adds that the next-generation leaders of these countries want a different future for their country’s youth, with their countries being a part of the international community. “The only way to do that is to have peace and a tolerant education.” Unfortunately, he says, the Palestinian Authority has chosen a different educational route, which encourages violence. The victims, he says, are the Palestinian children who are subjected to this. 

Asaf Romirowsky, who has published widely on the various aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and American foreign policy in the Middle East, has devoted three decades to researching the issue of the Palestinian refugee camps. In that vein, he quotes the famous words of the American writer William Faulkner (1897-1962), who wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Romirowsky says that the refugee narrative is synonymous with Palestinian identity and includes it as part of the three major Palestinian-Israeli issues – the land, Jerusalem, and the status of the refugees.

Marcus points out that the PA added religious hatred to its potent antisemitic mix. “When the PLO was founded in 1965, its first charter was completely secular. It discussed a secular state that would be part of the Arab world. Only later, Yasser Arafat understood that you could motivate people to hate by defining the Jews as enemies of Allah and Mohammed. He initiated it as a means to bring hatred to Israelis and was successful.”

“The issue of the refugees is the one issue that maintains the Palestinian identity,” says Romirowsky, “which is why they have refused to give up that right.” He explains that the Palestinian refugees are defined like no other refugee group in the world. “Only the Palestinians have the ability to inherit their refugee status,” he notes. In addition, according to their definition, anyone who was in mandatory Palestine between 1946 and 1948, when the State of Israel was declared, can be defined as a refugee, as well as their descendants. In effect, then, says Romirowsky, all Arab-Israelis who remained in Israel in 1948 when the State was declared are considered to be refugees by UNWRA.


At the current rate, he points out, the refugees will number some 20 million in the next twenty years. “From generation to generation, this is one singular issue that maintains the conflict,” he suggests.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, he notes, despite the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol called on the Palestinians to leave the refugee camps and rebuild, they refused to do so and remained there. “There is a type of ‘victimology’ that is ingrained in the refugee status,” says Romirowsky.  He is also highly critical of UNRWA and says the organization’s main function has been educating and perpetuating the victim mentality. “They are responsible for the teachers and the teachers’ union, and the entire architecture is designed to sustain the narrative.”  

Romirowsky devoted his closing words to the controversy in Israel about judicial reform. “The Palestinians are enjoying the acrimonious narrative, and they are watching carefully. They hope there is enough friction and reservists stop coming to the army. If they see cracks there, that can only help them. Apart from the internal debates, he says, Israelis should be concerned about how Israel will be perceived and how these issues may affect Israel’s security ethos.

Can Palestinian antisemitism be contained and reduced in the same way that anti-Jewish feeling has been limited in the UAE, Morocco, Egypt, and other countries, or will the Palestinian Authority continue its tradition of educating children from a young age in Jew-hatred, thereby limiting the prospects for peace between the two groups? Eliminating antisemitism from textbooks can have a salutary effect in a relatively short period of time – sometimes in as little as six or seven years, says Marcus Sheff. Change can come, but if it does, it will be a long and challenging process.

Alan Rosenbaum is a journalist for the Jerusalem Post.

Read the original post in the Jerusalem Post.

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