UK ends direct funding of Palestinian teachers amid covid cost-cutting

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UK ends direct funding of Palestinian teachers amid covid cost-cutting

Middle East Minister James Cleverly announced review of British support after a damning EU report revealed 'multiple examples of antisemitism and glorification to martyrdom'

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Palestinian school lectures in the first row of the Salem School around the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on December 6, 2017. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90
Palestinian school lectures in the first row of the Salem School around the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on December 6, 2017. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90

Britain has announced the end of direct funding to Palestinian education in the West Bank and Gaza – a move welcomed by Jewish leaders who’ve long highlighted concerns about the content of textbooks.

Labour MP Andrew Gwynne asked the Middle East minister James Cleverly last week about government plans to review the funding, after a damning European Union report into the Palestinian curriculum, which found multiple examples of antisemitism and glorification to martyrdom in schoolbooks.

In a written response, Cleverly insisted that the government’s action in dropping funding was not directly linked to the EU report. He said: “Following Official Development Assistance (ODA) prioritisation exercises undertaken in March 2021, the UK no longer provides direct funding to the Palestinian Authority to support the salaries of education workers and health professionals. This decision was not influenced by the publication of the Georg Eckert Institute’s report on Palestinian textbooks published in June 2021”.

He added that the UK remained “firmly committed to ensuring a quality education for Palestinian children, demonstrated by our longstanding support to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and through the British Council”. He told the Commons this week that funding was cut because of financial pressures caused by the pandemic, but nevertheless vowed to continue pushing for the education system to be free of hate.

The Jewish News conducted an in-depth investigation into the issue of Britain’s funding earlier this year ahead of the EU report’s publication. An estimated $137 million has been spent by Britain in the last five years, including on the salaries of the Palestinian civil servants and teachers responsible for drafting the PA textbooks. The UK government has admitted that these education officials are “involved in the implementation process” of the curriculum.

This summer, minister James Duddridge confirmed “acceptance that the [EU] report found that there continues to be anti-Israel, antisemitic content” and this was “not acceptable to the House or to the government”.

Cleverly and his predecessors have been repeatedly lobbied over more than five years about the content of the Palestinians textbooks by Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, among others. Assurances were sought by ministers from the Palestinian education authorities that there would be changes to the textbooks — but few substantial changes were made.

In September last year an analysis of 222 Palestinian textbooks, made by the Israeli-based education body IMPACT-se, found that no changes had been made in 82 percent of the Palestinian Authority textbooks in relation to promotion of hate speech, antisemitism and violence. One hundred and forty-five of the textbooks had not been changed at all, according to analysts from IMPACT-se. Maths was still being taught by adding the number of “martyrs” killed in Palestinian uprisings, including suicide bus bombers.

In one book for reading comprehension, pupils were allegedly asked to learn about Khalil al-Sakanini, a notorious antisemite and Nazi sympathiser. He replaced a section on Dalal Mughrabi, who led a massacre which killed 38 Israelis, including 13 children. She was moved to a different chapter in which she was described as “the crown of the nation”.

Russell Langer, head of policy and research at the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “We have long argued that the UK government should not be using development aid to fund teachers who use the hateful antisemitic curriculum within the Palestinian authority. We are pleased that the government have ceased these payments and hope this will lead to the much needed improvements in the Palestinian educational curriculum.”

Marcus Sheff, chief executive of IMPACT-se, said: “In recent years, multiple British government ministers have become convinced that it is unacceptable to use taxpayer funds to support the indoctrination of Palestinian schoolchildren to hate. This government aid-cutting process seems to have been the opportunity the government required to cease the funding of the Palestinian workers who write extremist, antisemitic textbooks.”

Watch more about the issue with the Sunday View here: 

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