Antisemitism in Jordanian textbooks

By David Andrew Weinberg

A review of middle school and high school textbooks from a Jordanian government website has found that the country’s official textbooks continue to promulgate hateful language about Jews and Israel. By fueling antisemitism, such school lessons run counter to Jordan’s previously stated goals for educational reform.

In response to ISIS territorial gains across Jordan’s borders with Syria and Iraq, in 2015 the Kingdom’s Education Ministry announced a plan to reformulate the textbooks it publishes in order to encourage tolerance and moderation, and to block extremists from recruiting Jordanian youth.

This process has fallen short, however, in ways that foster antisemitism. Given Jordan’s importance as a pivotal state for Mideast security and stability, as well as being one of Israel’s most longstanding peace partners in the Arab world, such incitement needs more concerted attention.

The ADL (Anti-Defamation League), as part of a series of appraisals of textbooks in the Arab world, has translated and analyzed passages from Jordan’s coursebooks for middle and high schoolers on Islamic Education and in Arab and World History. Our findings follow.

Seventh-Grade Islamic Education

We found particularly troubling examples in first and second semester textbooks for the seventh grade course on Islamic Education. ADL accessed both books in March 2021 from the Jordanian government’s Curriculum Digital Library, which the state launched in 2020. Although the copies of these two books on that website were dated for the school year starting in 2018, the Education Ministry’s official guide to Authorized Editions and Prices for Textbooks for School Year 2020-2021 confirms that each of these books are still officially authorized editions.

The fall textbook apparently teaches the antisemitic trope that treachery is a characteristic Jewish trait. It provides the following explanation for why an ancient Jewish tribe in Medina called the Banu Qaynuqa broke ranks with the Prophet Muhammad: “the Jews broke their pact with the Muslims, as is their custom always.” That latter point of this narrative is not a necessary conclusion from the Quranic parable; its inclusion is therefore both objectionable and gratuitous.

And yet the textbook doubles down on this message. One of the “the lessons and exhortations” that this chapter explicitly attributes to the incident is that “treason and the breaking of pacts are among the characteristics of the Jews and the hypocrites.” The chapter ends with the following multiple-choice question: “Among the characteristics of the Jews for which they are renowned are: (A) the breaking of pacts, (B) treachery and treason, (C) hating Muslims, or (D) all of the above.”

Text translates as follows: “3. Among the characteristics of the Jews for which they are renowned are: (A) the breaking of pacts, (B) treachery and treason, (C) hating Muslims, or (D) all of the above.”Screenshot from a seventh-grade textbook for Islamic Studies, Fall Term, p. 87. Text on logo in the background translates to “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Ministry of Education”.

The spring textbook for this same course offers a more constructive version of the Charter of Medina that several Jewish tribes including the Banu Qaynuqa are said to have violated. This book cites it as a largely positive Islamic “model of respecting pacts and charters” toward “Arab non-Muslims, the Jews, and others” that granted them “equal rights” as well as obligations.

However, this textbook also includes problematic content, teaching the antisemitic trope collectively blaming all Jews at the time for the killing of Jesus. The lesson states that “the Israelites who did not believe in Jesus, peace be upon him, wanted to be rid of him and eliminate his call, so they tried to kill him,” but because of a divine intervention “they grabbed someone who resembled him from among the people, and they killed and crucified the lookalike” instead.

Twelfth-Grade Arab and World History

Another textbook ADL examined in March 2021 via the Digital Library is Jordan’s Twelfth-Grade Arab and World History book from the humanities track for the Kingdom’s academic high schools (as opposed to the academic sciences track or vocational schools). Again, this book was marked for 2018, which is an authorized edition for this course in the Ministry’s 2020/21 guide.

The manner in which it teaches “the historical roots of the Palestinian issue” presents an array of civilizations that inhabited the area but makes no mention of Jews or Israelites until the 19th century, at which point it notes the emergence of “Zionist greed in Palestine,” in league with imperialist powers. It defines the Zionist movement as “a racist, settler political movement aimed at establishing a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine, founded on historical claims without basis in truth.” Similarly, the book teaches that Jewish links to Jerusalem are “founded on historical and religious claims without any actual grounds on which to base them.”

Aside from the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, such problematic historical teachings in the Kingdom’s textbooks may explain part of why roughly four out of five Jordanian respondents to a 2014 ADL poll reported having negative feelings toward Jewish people, knowing a lot of people with negative feelings about Jews, believing that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their home countries, and that “people hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.” Such lessons may also exacerbate existing opposition to Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel.

This history textbook’s coverage of more recent events is also problematic. It places total blame for deadly riots in 1929 on Jewish actions and religious claims, writing that the riots “broke out because of the Zionists’ claim that the Buraq Wall was one of the holy sites for Jews they called the Wailing Wall, which pushed the Palestinians to reject this claim, which was followed by transgression on the Islamic holy sites, so they attacked groups of participating Jews at the Buraq Wall.”

Forty years later, a schizophrenic Christian man from Australia named Denis Michael Rohan burned down part of the al-Aqsa Mosque, but Jordan’s textbook teaches a blatantly false version of this crime instead. Rather than informing students the fire was put out with help from Israeli firefighters and that Rohan was prosecuted in what Australia’s Broadcasting Corporation called “the biggest trial in Israel since that of… Adolf Eichmann,” this Jordanian textbook leaves out Rohan entirely, claiming the fire occurred “when the Israelis had the audacity to burn the al-Aqsa Mosque.” It even lists it under “Israeli Occupation assaults on the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque.”

As for the present day, this textbook teaches that Israeli government excavation sites “seek to link everything discovered to fake Talmudic narratives… to claim that they have extended historical roots in Jerusalem and Palestine” and therefore to “forge historical facts.” The lesson claims that official Israeli excavations in the city intentionally aim to harm the Arab economy and to “secure the Jewish settlers who come to Jerusalem to practice their Talmudic rituals.” Such references to the Talmud are themselves an antisemitic myth, alleging that the Jews perverted the Torah’s divine message with their most basic collections of religious law.

In 2019, the Jerusalem-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) conducted an important study on the new Jordanian curriculum. They found that the curriculum reflected significant improvements with regard to teaching the general principles of peace and tolerance, but, for the most part, this did not extend to subjects pertaining to Israel or Zionism.

To Amman’s credit, IMPACT-se independently documented in 2019 that the Jordanian curriculum makes explicit reference to the desirability of a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And Jordan has been one of Israel’s most significant regional partners.

But if Jordan keeps publishing official textbooks that demonize Israel, Jews, and Judaism in such a manner, the next generation may be less likely to support this relationship, nor the desirability of peace with Israel more generally.

David Andrew Weinberg is ADL’s Washington Director for International Affairs. His research and writing focus on addressing antisemitic incitement in the Middle East.

Source: ADL