Some wonderful news out of...wait for it...Saudi Arabia
For a long time, Saudi Arabia was one of the intellectual homes of antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment. The Wahhabi clerics whom the Saudi royal house supported held a special animus for Jews, and that animus infused education in Saudi Arabia. Now, though, Saudi Arabia is backing away from this hostility to Israel, and its textbooks are reflecting the increasingly friendly relationship between the two nations.
Two things are responsible for the change to that dynamic. The first was that Barack Obama worked hard to set Iran on the road to being a nuclear power, something that terrified Saudi Arabia and pushed it closer to Israel. The second was Trump's Abraham Accords, which sidelined the troublesome Palestinians and encouraged Muslim nations in the Middle East to make separate peace agreements with Israel for both profit and national security.
While Saudi Arabia never officially entered into an Abraham Accords agreement with Israel, Trump (and, I've heard, Jared Kushner, who had a good relationship with Prince Mohammed bin Salman) nevertheless managed to create a behind-the-scenes conduit between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The external pressures bringing these two nations together have become even stronger as Biden picks up where Obama left off in terms of sheltering Iran on its way to becoming fully nuclear.
Image: Trump and Mohammed bin Salman. YouTube screen grab.
As to Israel and Saudi Arabia, the payoff from these trends can be seen most obviously in a startling change in Saudi Arabian education. According to the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se), antisemitism has significantly disappeared from Saudi Arabia's textbooks:
The report, released on Monday, found that content portraying Jews as disobedient and teachings of antisemitic tropes such as Jewish wealth were removed from the Saudi curriculum.
Saudi Arabia has seen a trend of improvement in removing antisemitism from its curriculum in recent years, IMPACT-se said.
According to the institute, Qur'an verses describing Jews being turned into monkeys were removed, as was the antisemitic myth that one of the goals of Zionism is a "global Jewish government."
In addition, Qur'an verses prohibiting friendships with Jews and Christians and condemning homosexuality have all been removed in the past three years.
Those aren't the only changes. Last year, the textbooks got rid of lessons that demonized not only Jews, but also Christians and other "non-believers," and a unit on jihad vanished from textbooks. Two years ago, the textbooks lost a chapter called "the Zionist danger" that had all sorts of antisemitic myths and that delegitimized Israel.
Things aren't perfect, of course:
According to the report, Israeli is still omitted from maps shown in textbooks and Zionism is still described as "racist."
Saudi students are falsely taught that "Zionists" deliberately tried to burn down Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969, a lie that was removed from Qatar's curriculum. A Qur'an verse comparing Jews to "book-carrying donkeys" also remains, while students are taught that women are to blame for male sexual harassment.
But Rome wasn't built in a day, and what matters here is that the trend in Saudi education is to move away from demonizing Jews and Israel. As new editions of textbooks appear, it's reasonable to believe that the Saudis will continue to improve their approach to teaching about both Jews and Israel.
The last three American presidents deserve credit for having helped accomplish this change. Presidents Obama and Biden deserve it because their championing of Iran terrified Saudi Arabia and effectively forced it into Israel's ambit. That wasn't their goal, but that's still what they did. And President Trump deserves credit for having created a framework that allows Sunni Muslim nations to have cooperative and profitable relations with a country that fears Shia Iran just as much as they do.