Austria orders edits to school textbook that called Hamas a 'resistance movement'

Officials step in over 'one-sided' and 'highly problematic' wording in geography book

Austrian education officials said calling Hamas a resistance movement was no longer accurate in the context of the Israel-Gaza war. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

An Austrian school textbook that described Hamas as a “resistance movement” has been rewritten under official orders.

The geography book for secondary school pupils is being modified in light of the war in Gaza triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

A group of MPs called the wording one-sided and “highly problematic” because Hamas is classed as a terrorist organisation in Austria.

Education officials approached the publishers after deciding that the text “no longer reflects the current scholarship”.

An altered page will be sent to schools to distribute in class, Education Minister Martin Polaschek wrote in a letter to MPs which did not reveal the new wording.

The edit is the latest salvo in a long-running struggle over how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be taught in schools. Supporters of both sides have objected to material they deem partisan.

The content of UNRWA school textbooks was among concerns raised with the aid agency before some of its funding was paused this week over alleged links to the October 7 attack, German officials said.

Teachers have also raised the alarm in Europe over radicalisation and extremism among pupils as emotions run high in the fallout of the Israel-Gaza war.

Austria has been known for taking a hard line on Islamism, especially after an ISIS supporter killed four people in a 2020 shooting in Vienna.

The Austrian school text that was complained about appeared in a margin explaining the difference between several Middle East groups.

“Hamas is an Islamic resistance movement,” the text read, in a section that also gave brief descriptions of Hezbollah and Fatah.

Concerns were formally raised with the education minister by MPs including liberals Yannick Shetty and Martina Kuensberg Sarre, on the grounds of Hamas's listing as a terrorist group by the EU since 2001.

Austria tightened its domestic law in 2019 by banning the display of Hamas symbols on its territory, along with those of Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The one-sided description [of Hamas] as a resistance movement is therefore misleading and highly problematic,” the MPs wrote in a list of questions on the textbook.

Responding to their letter, Mr Polaschek said the text of the Geography, History and Political Education book had been approved by regulators in April 2018.

“The factual position is that Hamas is described as a radical organisation in the main text, but the explanation in the margin, at least, no longer reflects the current scholarship and the goals of political and democratic education,” he said.

“For this reason, contact was made with the publisher and a revision of the chapter was arranged.”

Austria last month passed new anti-extremism measures in schools after officials warned of high emotions, growing anti-Semitism and “mounting radicalisation tendencies” facing teachers.

The measures included new materials being provided to schools on the current Israel-Gaza conflict as well as wider content on political education, remembrance and media literacy.

Updated: January 31, 2024, 12:48 PM