UAE Embraces Holocaust Education in Arab First
Yoseph Haddad in Dubai

“The Abraham Accords have allowed us to have these conversations on the Holocaust,” said Matan Dansker of Israel-IS, an Israel-based organization which fosters dialog.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

A few years ago, the likelihood of Arabs and Israelis meeting online to discuss Holocaust education would have been unthinkable. But on Thursday night more than 70 people from across the Middle East and around the world gathered to talk about the lessons of the Nazi genocide.

The United Arab Emirates became the first Arab country to begin introducing Holocaust education into its curriculum.

“The Abraham Accords have allowed us to have these conversations on the Holocaust,” said Matan Dansker of Israel-IS, an Israel-based organization which fosters dialog, who moderated the event. The gathering was organized by Israel-IS and the Mimouna Association, which works to preserve Moroccan-Jewish heritage.

Participants came from Israel, the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain and the US. Several others did not indicate their nationality. Several stressed that the lessons of the Holocaust, including the slogan, “Never again,” will amount to nothing without education.

“Holocaust education is an essential component of pursuing human rights,” said Reva Gorelick, a program director for the American Jewish Committee, who is based in Abu Dhabi.

The challenge, participants agreed, was on educating youth.

“The work in the field of the Holocaust is difficult, especially with youth,” said Murad Awdallah, Yad Vashem’s Arab director. He noted that educational materials produced by Yad Vashem not only must be tailored for different age groups, they must also be translated into different languages.

He also noted that even Jews have lesser awareness of the suffering of North African Jews. The 400,000 Jews who lived under pro-Nazi regimes in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya endured varying degrees of discriminatory laws. Hundreds of Libyan Jews deported to Eastern European concentration camps are among the six million killed.

Awdallah also noted that some Arabs refused to cooperate with the Nazis. These included Morocco’s King Mohammed V, who refused to sign off on the Vichy regime’s effort to discriminate or deport his 250,000 Jewish subjects. Awdallah also noted Dr. Mohammed Helmy, an Egyptian doctor practicing in Berlin who saved a Jewish family at great personal risk. In 2013, Helmy became the first Arab honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

Emirati educator and youth activist Saud Saqer told the Tazpit Press Service after the meeting that he would gauge the curriculum’s success by the nature of the conversations Arabs have about Jews.

“I’d like to see people speaking more about the Jews when it came to World War II and afterwards. The UAE was always about tolerance, but in the Arab world, there are always conspiracy theories or that the Jews are occupying a piece of land,” Saqer said. “For me, [success] will mean a third narrative emerging of a people who faced genocide, united together and went back to their ancient homeland. It would give people more perspective on the suffering the Jewish people faced.”

He added, “I don’t see any reason it won’t succeed in the UAE. But in the Arab world, some might accept it, some might not.”

Saqer credits the UAE’s value on tolerance for adopting the curriculum.

“When it comes to the Holocaust, it isn’t just a crime against the Jewish people, but humanity as a whole,” Saqer said. “It’s a reminder that we are all humans, and if we don’t learn to tolerate one another, discrimination will become the spark for more extreme ideas.”

While other Arab countries have yet to take that step, a Tel Aviv University report released on Thursday noted what it called “an encouraging trend” with “rising recognition of the history of antisemitism and the crimes of the Nazis” in the Arab world.

One example the report cited was in January 2022, when “Egypt took part in a session of the UN General Assembly that adopted a resolution condemning Holocaust denial. The Egyptian Ambassador to the UN conveyed the Arab consensus on the resolution.”

The TAU study noted that Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia began initiatives in the past year to preserve Jewish heritage. “This positive trend reflects a significant turnaround in Arab discourse on Jewish history,” the report said.

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