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Saudi school textbooks teach violence, anti-Semitism, ADL report says

“The U.S. cannot look the other way while Saudi Arabia features anti-Semitic hate speech year after year,” the ADL's CEO said.

Textbooks for high school students in Saudi Arabia promote hatred against Jews, Christians, women, homosexual men and other Muslim sects despite repeated promises to return the country to a more moderate form of Islam, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Anti-Defamation League highlighted that some textbooks include anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Among the goals of Zionism is a “global Jewish government to control the entire world," one excerpt states.

Another example reads: “The hour will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, so that the Muslims kill them, until the Jew hides behind rock and tree, so the rock or the tree says: ‘Oh Muslim, oh servant of God, this Jew is behind me, so kill him.’”

A third passage suggests that “beating [women] is permitted when necessary.”

Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and for decades has exported a strict Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam that views Shiite Muslims as heretics.

Intolerance in the kingdom came under particular scrutiny after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when it emerged that 15 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.

Senior clergy subsequently denounced militant Islamist groups like al Qaeda or Islamic State and the government has fired many religious leaders.

However, hard-line views endure in some books taught in high schools.

Image: Secondary school students sit for an exam in a government school in Riyadh
Secondary school students sit for an exam at a government school in Riyadh.Fahad Shadeed / Reuters file

While the report notes some improvements, “much of the incitement evident in today’s textbooks is still alarmingly similar to what was included in the kingdom’s curriculum around the time of the 9/11 attacks.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called on U.S. officials to hold Saudi Arabia to a "higher standard."

“The U.S. cannot look the other way while Saudi Arabia features anti-Semitic hate speech year after year in the educational material it gives to its children,” he said in a statement.

The ADL also called for "greater scrutiny of the kingdom's textbooks by the American government."

Many of the excerpts highlighted by the ADL are based on hadiths, or accounts of the sayings, actions or habits of the Prophet Muhammad that are used by preachers and jurists, as opposed to the Quran.

Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's de facto ruler, have been embraced by President Donald Trump as crucial for his administration's regional ambitions.

In October 2017, Saudi Arabia's King Salman decreed the government would monitor interpretations of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings to prevent them being used to justify violence or terrorism.

And as part of a worldwide rebranding effort, Prince Mohammed promised to return the country to “moderate" Islam.

In 2004, the State Department designated Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations. It has done so annually since. The act imposes measures on countries for having "engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom."

Such a designation should trigger penalties, including economic sanctions, arms embargoes, and travel and visa restrictions. But the U.S. government had a waiver on penalties in place since 2006, allowing Washington to continue economic and security cooperation with Riyadh, according to Human Rights Watch.

On May 29, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback called out Saudi Arabia for not recognizing the right of non-Muslims to “practice their religion in public" stating that it "imprisons, lashes, and fines individuals for apostasy, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam."