The Middle East is seeing progress in the battle against anti-Semitism, said the United States’ special anti-Semitism envoy, who recently returned from her first official trip to the region.
U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Deborah Lipstadt said in a virtual briefing on Monday that while Saudi Arabia was not “perfect according to our human rights standards,” she believed her visit there would prove “net positive.” Lipstadt reportedly hopes as much, despite Saudi Arabia being “a place which had once been the source of so much Jew-hatred, so much extremism.”
Lipstadt said she and Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji talked about the possibility of organizing a conference on “Judeo-Arabic” issues to learn more about the history of Jews in Saudi Arabia.
“If I can lessen that degree of animus [toward Jews], if I can make it so that that degree is not spread amongst others, I think I would have to,” Lipstadt said. “I would be derelict not to do so.”
The special envoy stated, however, that the Saudi kingdom has not been reformed fully and that believing so would amount to “drinking the Kool-Aid.”
“The king of Saudi Arabia has sent imams abroad to various mosques, including in this country, who have preached anti-Semitism,” Lipstadt said.
She pointed out that “positive signs” that the region is changing are evident, such as reports that anti-Semitic material has been removed from Saudi textbooks.
At the beginning of July, Lipstadt told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that she had spoken with representatives of the Saudi Department of Education who “made thousands and thousands of changes to textbooks, eliminating anti-Semitic references.”
“They acknowledge that their job isn’t done,” she said. “I heard something even more positive from a high-ranking Saudi official who said to me, ‘Changing the textbooks is not enough to change the culture around textbooks.’”
In its annual report on Saudi education in June, the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, IMPACT-se, reported that Saudi Arabia had made great strides in eliminating anti-Semitism from textbooks.
Changes included no longer teaching verses from the Koran, which prohibit befriending Jews and Christians, and turning Jews turn into monkeys. Textbooks also have been edited to no longer teach that one of the goals of Zionism is a “global Jewish government.”
However, there are still many problems with Saudi Arabia’s textbooks. Israel is still not displayed on maps, and Zionism is still described as “racism.”
In addition, Saudi students are taught falsely that “Zionists” deliberately tried to burn down the al-Aqsa mosque in 1969, a lie that has been removed from Qatar’s curriculum. A Koranic verse that compares Jews to “book-carrying donkeys” also remains.
Saudi Arabia has made hints in recent months that it is interested in normalizing relations with Israel. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a March interview with The Atlantic that Israel was a “potential ally, with many interests that we can pursue together.”
In June, several news outlets reported that the U.S. was working on a “road map” for Israeli-Saudi normalization and that the two countries were engaging in secret economic and security talks.
In her briefing Monday, Lipstadt said she hoped the battle against anti-Semitism in the region could help future progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians by removing anti-Semitism as an issue.
“I hope that our ability to maybe defuse the anti-Semitism piece and maybe infuse a different attitude, a conception of Jews [in general] and Jews within the Gulf region, will help this issue,” she said.