The United Arab Emirates is taking major steps to distance itself from Holocaust denial, which is still widely prevalent in the Middle East, even drawing in Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum as a curriculum-development partner.
Until now, like other Arab countries, the UAE had no mention of the Holocaust in their school curricula and excluded Israel from any school maps. The 2020 Abraham Accords introduced a trajectory of changing attitudes in the UAE and, two years later, the Emirati Ministry of Education is producing school content which teaches children in primary and secondary schools about the Holocaust.
Both the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, and the Tel Aviv- and London-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, IMPACT-se, have been involved in creating the new curriculum content for the Emirati education authorities.
According to IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff, even prior to the updates, the UAE’s curricula were already “head and shoulders” above those of other regional countries in that they showed “no evidence of hate at all” and no anti-Semitism. Similarly, the country’s educational content recognized “Judaism’s historic place in the Arab world.”
Robert Rosette, a senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, said he hoped the UAE initiative would spread to the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.
“Holocaust denial in the Arab-Muslim world has been a historic challenge for us … but these important developments are indicative of a change that we saw beginning in Morocco, where they began addressing the Holocaust more,” Rosette said.
“Bringing the subject into the public domain not only helps people to understand the broader context of the Middle East but also helps them to identify distortions of the Holocaust,” he said.
The UAE made strides last year to break from the regional culture of Holocaust denial, opening Dubai’s first Holocaust memorial exhibition.
Since then, seven Holocaust survivors have traveled to the country to speak about their personal experience of the Nazi atrocities.
This month, the UAE hosted 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Eve Kugler, who lives in the United Kingdom, to speak on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of the Broken Glass.” On Nov. 9, 1938, Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses, and murdered close to 100 Jews.
Ali Al Nuaimi, a UAE educational leader and one of the country’s Abraham Accords brokers, noted that it is essential to acknowledge the truth and the history of the Holocaust in the Arab world.
“Memorializing the victims of the Holocaust is crucial. In the Arab world, the older generation operated in an environment where speaking about the Holocaust was tantamount to betraying Arabs and Palestinians,” Al Nuaimi said. “Public figures failed to speak the truth because a political agenda hijacked their narrative, yet a tragedy on the scale of the Holocaust targets not only Jews, but humanity as a whole. Therefore, public figures and scholars should be encouraged to discuss the Holocaust and protect common human values while leaving political differences aside.”
Ahmed Obaid Al Mansoori, a former member of the Federal National Council of the UAE, is the founder of the first Holocaust Memorial Gallery in the region, in addition to being the founder of the Crossroads of Civilization Museum for which he has been collecting historical Judaica since the museum opened in 2013.
In April, Al Mansoori participated in the first Emirati delegation to the International March of the Living to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, where he helped light the Torch of Remembrance while pledging “Never Means Never” in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
“In the region, there is big denial [of the Holocaust] and the Holocaust is seen as something that has been politicized,” Mansoori said. “I believed the Holocaust would never happen again, but when I saw the recent rise in anti-Semitism, I knew I was wrong.”
“Even in the most civilized countries, humans are humans, and this horrific event in human history can be repeated,” he said. “The Holocaust was the biggest crime against humanity and this message is for all of humanity.”