Holocaust teaching in UAE schools a 'welcome step'

Israel and Jewish community welcome introduction of lessons

A Jewish genocide memorial day event at the site of the former Great Choral Synagogue in Riga, Latvia. EPA
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The teaching of the Holocaust in UAE schools for the first time has been described as a welcome step for the Middle East.

Israeli government figures and Jewish community groups welcomed an announcement by the UAE embassy in Washington.

Teaching of the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War, will take place in primary and secondary schools in the Emirates, the embassy said.

Several senior members of government told The National the matter was being worked on. A timescale or further details have not yet been set out.

I feel like this region is understanding the importance of telling this story. I will no longer have to tell my story to teenagers who think I am talking fiction
Alex Peterfreund, UAE Jewish community

The Holocaust is rarely taught in schools in the Arab world, with a few exceptions.

Israel's official Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem is involved in additions to the UAE curriculum, the UAE embassy said.

“This is a welcome step in which Yad Vashem will be happy to extend its experience and archives towards, including in developing specialised study material in Arabic,” the authority said.

Alex Peterfreund, a co-founder of the Jewish community in the Emirates, has relatives who perished in the Nazi death camps.

He said the fight was largely against ignorance rather than anti-Semitism.

'Education strongest weapon against hate'

“I have been living here for nine years, if I told my Emirati friends about what happened it was something they had not heard about before,” he told The National.

“Not because they were not educated, but because it was not something that was taught in schools over here.”

The turning point was the signing of the Abraham Accords two years ago and the opening of a Holocaust memorial exhibition in Dubai, he said.

“My father and his siblings were hidden during the war by a family of Belgians,” he said.

“His parents and sister were deported to Auschwitz and never came back. The Holocaust is part of my DNA.

“I didn’t know my grandparents because of the Holocaust, and it affected our family a lot.

“I am a strong believer if we want history to not repeat itself, that comes through education.

“When Ahmed Al Mansoori opened his museum for the first time, I was moved to tears.

“I feel like this region is understanding the importance of telling this story, not because we want people to feel bad for us but because tolerance is also part of the DNA of the UAE.

“People from all cultures, religions and backgrounds are living here together. Now people can learn about the Holocaust I will no longer have to tell my story to teenagers or those who are a little bit older who think I am talking fiction.”

Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the US special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, said the downplaying or denial of the Holocaust remained common in the Middle East.

“Holocaust education is an imperative for humanity and too many countries, for too long, continue to downplay the Shoah for political reasons,” Ms Lipstadt wrote on Twitter, using a Hebrew word for the Holocaust.

“I commend the UAE for this step and expect others to follow suit soon.”

Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “The UAE's decision is a historical precedent, as it is the first Arab country to take this step, and its decision stands in the face of the Holocaust deniers.”

The Times of Israel reported that the Tel Aviv and London-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education was working with the UAE Ministry of Education on educational standards, including assessing course content.

“In the wake of the historic Abraham Accords, [the UAE] will now include the Holocaust in the curriculum for primary and secondary schools,” the UAE embassy said, referring to the deal that also saw Bahrain and later Morocco also recognise Israel.

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Updated: January 10, 2023, 5:13 AM