The European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee questioned Philippe Lazzarini on continued teaching of hate, violence and antisemitism in Palestinian Authority textbooks and UNWRA material.
The head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, acknowledged that Palestinian textbooks contain problematic material, while still insisting that the agency takes steps to prevent it from being taught, without showing that how this is actually accomplished.
He stated, in a hearing before the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee (AFET), that antisemitism, intolerance glorification of terrorism is present in PA textbooks in UNRWA schools and affirmed that his agency had revised the textbooks used in its schools following allegations of antisemitic content.
But several members of the committee questioned him on continued teaching of hate, violence and antisemitism in Palestinian Authority (PA) textbooks and UNRWA materials, citing a recent report by IMPACT-se, an organization that analyzes schoolbooks and curricula for compliance with UNESCO-defined standards on peace and tolerance. on the textbooks.
The EU is UNRWA’s largest and most consistent institutional donor. In June, European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, whose department covers aid to UNRWA, issued statements calling to consider conditioning aid to the Palestinian education sector on “full adherence to UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, co-existence, non-violence” and a “need for Palestinian education reform.”
Also in June, a cross-party group of 26 EU Parliament from 16 countries and from the largest political groups sent a letter to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, calling for disciplinary action and investigation of UNRWA over hate teaching.
In April, the EU Parliament passed an unprecedented resolution condemning UNRWA, becoming the first legislature to censure UNRWA over teaching hate and incitement to violence using Palestinian Authority textbooks. The adopted text demanded that hateful material be “removed immediately” and insists that EU funding “must be made conditional” on educational material promoting peace and tolerance.
At the AFET meeting, Lazzarini stated that “we largely agree with the conclusion that there are a number of issues needing to be addressed.”
But he was challenged by several parliamentarians. German MEP Dietmar Köster, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), questioned Lazzarini on the textbooks. “UNRWA admitted that between March and November 2020, its own education directors produced educational material branded with UNRWA logo that incites to violence, calls for jihad and rejects peacemaking as identified in IMPACT-se report.
“I have serious concerns regarding the textbooks. In view of UNRWA’s serious shortcomings in recent years, I believe the European Parliament has no other choice but to discuss the question of whether we need stricter oversight over the agency. Please explain,” he said.
Spanish MEP Jose Ramon Bauza Diaz, of the liberal Renew Europe group posed a similar question. “There are mentions of terrorism in certain texts and of course various countries in the EU have decided to block their contributions to this agency. For this reason, it would be very serious for the money of European taxpayers to pay for encouragement of terrorism or to foster corruption.”
Slovak MEP Miriam Lexmann, from the European People’s Party, the largest political group in the EU parliament, challenged Lazzarini when she asked: “What concrete steps have been taken? What has been done to collect these materials back from 320,000 students? We know if these books remain with the students, they will create further damage.’’
She mentioned the fact that the U.S. State Department accountability office (GAO) report on UNRWA said that UNRWA teachers ”have refused to take part in training for tolerance and conflict resolution.’’
Dutch MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen, from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, said: “We need to look at the recent IMPACT-se report….it shows that in the new textbooks of UNRWA there is daily mention of violence and rejection of peace and denial of the legitimacy of Israel in terms of presence in the region. I think there is a question of how long we can tolerate this. What have you done about our concerns expressed in relation to school textbooks?”