Lots of praise, few details: The Holocaust as a planned subject in the UAE


As the first Arab country in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates want to introduce the Holocaust as a regular subject in their schools – a milestone. However, many details still seem to be open.

< p>Arrival of Hungarian Jews in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, archive photo from 1944

The news caused a stir: in early January, the embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Washington announced via Twitter that the country would include the Holocaust as a subject in the curriculum for primary and secondary schools From the UAE's point of view, is a logical consequence of the Abraham Agreement signed by several countries two years ago to normalize relations with Israel. 

Not only the UAE, but also countries like Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan have signed the agreement – similar to how Egypt and Jordan had officially recognized Israel decades before, while other countries still refuse any official contact with the Jewish state. However, the UAE is clearly playing a pioneering role in the recent efforts to bring about reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world.

The UAE is now apparently also looking for a leading role in dealing with the Holocaust. The Holocaust as a regular lesson topic for schoolchildren would be unique in the Arab world, a breakthrough. As early as November last year, Ali Al Nuaimi, a member of the UAE National Council, declared in Washington the commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust are “of crucial importance”. 

Praise from Israel and the USA

However, parts of the Arab world, in which many citizens sympathize with the Palestinians in the Middle East conflict, continue to find it difficult to recognize the Nazi genocide of the Jews. Although there has been some awareness of the issue in recent years, But anti-Semitism is also present in many countries. In debates on social networks and also by some Arab politicians, the Holocaust is still partly denied. In addition, attempts are sometimes made to explain the mass murder of Jews in Germany and Europe during the Nazi era by pointing to the fate of the Palestinians in Israel and in the Palestinian territories historically and to put them into perspective.  

The Israeli Foreign Ministry reacted correspondingly positively to the news from the UAE embassy. It praised the Emirates' “historic decision” in an Arabic-language tweet.

The anti-Semitism commissioner at the US State Department, Deborah Lipstadt, also appreciated the project and explained on Twitter that she now expects other countries to take this step too.

Many more details unknown

However, little is known about the concrete development of the textbooks. According to a report in the UAE's pro-government newspaper “The National”, the concept is being developed in cooperation with the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and the Israeli-British Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education. (Impact-se).

So far, however, there is not much concrete information to be found. Marcus Sheff, director of Impact-se, told DW in an interview that the UAE was happy to provide advice and information that it hopes will be useful in teaching about the Holocaust. And: A review of the teaching materials available to date on the Holocaust has shown that they correspond to the standards for peace and tolerance defined by UNESCO.  However, the institute does not yet have the final draft of the teaching materials. According to DW information, these are not yet available to the Yad Vashem memorial either. According to “National”, the final version of the curriculum is in the works, and there is no timetable yet.

Reminder: The “Hall of Names” in the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem

It is therefore also unknown when the lessons are to start. An interview on this question with the UAE Embassy in Berlin did not materialize; this cannot be reliably ascertained from other sources at the moment.

Jewish community “proud”

Nevertheless the small Jewish community in the UAE expressly welcomes the project. He is “proud” of it, quotes the afp news agency Alex Peterfreund, a head of the community. “When they teach the Holocaust, the UAE wants to show what can happen when people of different religions and cultures cannot live together,” said the Belgian, who has lived in the UAE since 2014 and whose grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust.

It could also be interpreted as an encouraging sign that Hebrew courses in the UAE and other Gulf States have been in much greater demand in recent years than before.

Jews have lived in what is now the UAE for more than 1000 years. Today's Jewish community – an estimated 3,000 people – is made up of their descendants, but above all of foreigners who have traveled there and often live there for professional reasons. The Jewish community in the country is now clearly visible: there are several synagogues, kosher restaurants offer their services, and a Jewish center has opened. “Jewish life here is flourishing,” UAE-based Rabbi Levi Duchman told the Jerusalem Post last September. A few years ago, some Jews from Yemen, who were harassed by the radical Islamist rebel group the Houthis, found shelter with relatives in the UAE.

“Jewish life is flourishing here”: Rabbi Levi Duchman at the Jewish community center in Dubai

“Painful historical experiences”

So far, there has been no major wave of rejection or outrage. Nevertheless, in the UAE and other countries in the region, the plans for the Holocaust lessons are discussed quite controversially.

Ebtesam al-Ketbi, director of the Emirates Policy Center in Abu Dhabi, praises the decision. The initiative is part of the initiatives for tolerance and coexistence launched by the Emirates, al-Ketbi told DW. “It is important to educate students about such an event so that such painful historical experiences do not repeat themselves.” The Holocaust is the “most significant example of racism towards people who are different, be it religious or ethnic.” 

House of Diversity and Tolerance: View of the “Crossroads of Civilizations Museum” in Dubai

Ahmed Obaid Almansoori, founder of the “Crossroads of Civilizations Museum” in Dubai, which even houses a historical exhibition on the Holocaust, sees it similarly. “If we want people to sympathize with us, we must also sympathize with others.”

Apparently not everyone sees it that way. According to the afp, the guest book for the exhibition contains both negative and hateful comments, including slogans such as “Down with Zionist imperialism”. 

A tweet by the Emirati political scientist Abdul also attracted attention Khaleq Abdullah. As a subject, the Holocaust has “neither national nor educational value,” he wrote on Twitter and was thus also quoted in various media. He hopes that the announced plans are not true. The Palestinian organization Hamas, which rules over the Gaza Strip and is classified as a terrorist organization by the EU, expressed an even sharper rejection. The classes “support the Zionist narrative,” said a spokesman for the militant organization, which denied the 2009 Holocaust as “a lie invented by the Zionists.”

It remains to be seen to what extent  school education can counteract the denial or relativization of the Holocaust in the future.

Collaboration: Emad Hassan