The moral necessity of despair when Arab teachers object to the humanization of Jews

Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard once commented that, sometimes, the only proper reaction to a particular event is despair.

The following represents such an example.

According to a recent reportrumors of a UN decision to introduce Holocaust studies in schools in Palestinian refugee camps run by UNRWA  have outraged Jordanian teachers, who say they will refuse to teach history that “harms the Palestinian cause.”

Roughly two million Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA’s Jordan offices, and they operate 172 schools in 10 refugee camps across the kingdom.

The Executive Committee of UNRWA teachers in Jordan responded to news that Holocaust studies would be added to the curriculum on ‘conflict resolution’ by issuing a statement which reads in part: 

“We condemn this decision, which equates the butcher and the victim,” [emphasis added]

The teachers’ statement demanded instead classes on the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel.

The statement continued:

‘Teaching UNRWA students about the so-called ‘Holocaust’ as part of human rights harms the Palestinian cause … and changes the students’  views regarding their main enemy, namely the Israeli occupation.”

“We shall monitor the curriculum being taught under the title ‘concepts of human rights’ [which is] aimed at reducing [Palestinian] students’ awareness of the right of return…” 

The reaction by Jordanian teachers follows a decision last year, by the association of UNRWA employees, to ban the introduction of Holocaust studies in UNRWA schools.

Remember that these are not Islamist extremists we’re talking about, but middle class Jordanian educators, ordinary men and women who evidently are outraged by “rumors” of a UN decision to teach children about the Nazi slaughter of one out of every three Jews on earth.

Identifying with six million victims of Nazi genocide is evidently seen as harming the Palestinian cause.

Moreover, it’s important to understand that though the Holocaust did not come close to putting an end to antisemitism across the world, news of the unspeakable horrors in extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka and Majdanek did attach to expressions of Judeophobia, in most of the enlightened world, a significant moral stigma. 

Holocaust memory in our times creates a bulwark of sorts against the most virulent expressions of antisemitism, as it demonstrates the potential deadly consequences of unchallenged racism against Jews – and, indeed, against other minorities.

It is indeed telling that the central address of antisemitism in modern times is the Arab and Muslim Middle East – where the cultural antibodies against Jew hatred have failed to materialize.

If the citizens of the Middle East were to internalize the lessons of the Holocaust they would be forced to confront their own society’s often homicidal  antisemitism – a self-reflective habit of mind which the honor-shame culture of the Arab world does not promote.

The reaction by Jordanian teachers to the suggestion that they educate Palestinian children about the unspeakable crimes committed against Jews is, therefore, not surprising, as such a curriculum would necessarily turn a mirror on their own extensive moral and cultural shortcomings.

Finally, how can anyone seriously contemplate Palestinian peace with living Jews if they are often unable to reconcile themselves with even the humanity of murdered Jews?

The only healthy response to such stories is simply despair.

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