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  • Dr. Richard Quinlan

The UAE Introduces Holocaust Education to a Region Fraught with Denial

February 22, 2023

In a laudable act, the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) mandated that the teaching of the Holocaust will be compulsory in both primary and secondary public schools. This action marks a significant shift in pedagogical thought among Middle Eastern nations. The exact details of the curriculum have not yet been made public, but the announcement of the desire to move forward with Holocaust education within public schools is critical if the world is to gain not only greater historical knowledge about the horrors of Nazi Germany, but also to understand the legacy and lessons of the atrocity that murdered roughly six million European Jews along with approximately five million other victims, ranging from homosexuals and Roma to Soviet Union prisoners of war. Although the addition of Holocaust education should help to instill greater empathy among students, the decision has been met with contempt in some cases.

The UAE is a unique nation within the Middle Eastern world, as ninety percent of its population are expatriates.[1] The teaching of the Holocaust has been partially inspired by the UAE’s improving relationship with Israel, a result of the 2020 Abraham Accords, an agreement led by the United States and whose other signatories are Morocco and Bahrain.[2] The connection between the Holocaust and the creation of Israel remains a highly politicized topic within the region, and there are those within the UAE who are skeptical of the purpose behind the inclusion of Holocaust education. According to Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political science professor in the UAE, the Holocaust “is being politicized by Israel, which misuses it every now and again to serve its own political purposes.” This opinion has been contrasted with praise from Israel, whose Foreign Minister Eli Cohen labeled the new educational policy as a “historic decision,” and the Biden administration echoing such commendation with Special Envoy Deborah Lipstadt noting, “Holocaust education is an imperative for humanity and too many countries, for too long, continue to downplay the Shoah for political reasons.”[3]

Israeli President Isaac Herzog with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. [Image credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO]

The rise of global antisemitism has been monitored over the past decade with frightening rhetoric and attacks upon Jews reaching historic proportions both across Europe and the United States. The Wilson Center hosted a conference in 2014 noting how antisemitism was “being expressed publicly and violently”.[4] In 2021, The Network Contagion Research Institute, which advises American Jewish communities on security matters, said it detailed an eighty-percent increase in antisemitic acts or physical assaults.[5] In a 2022 report by the Anti-Defamation League, forty percent of Americans believed that Israel treats Palestinians the way Nazis treated the Jews.[6] With such disturbing trends, it is imperative that a nation such as the UAE set a new tone of understanding and a commitment to fighting against centuries’ old Jewish tropes. As a further sign of warming relations with Israel, the curriculum to be introduced in schools will be a collaborative effort between the UAE Ministry of Education and Israel’s Memorial Yad Vashem, a leading center in Holocaust education, located in Jerusalem.[7]

Officials at an exhibition commemorating the Holocaust at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. [Image credit: Giuseppe CACACE / AFP]

In 2021, the UAE opened the first Holocaust exhibit in the Middle East at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum. The Museum’s founder, Ahmed Obaid Almansoori, pronounced the importance of Holocaust education in the region, commenting how “the level of denial is very high" among Middle Eastern nations.[8] Such a bold action by the UAE marks a possible turning point in broader Israeli relationship within the Middle East, but much remains uncertain. Thus far, the commitment to teaching the Holocaust remains just that: a pledge that has not yet materialized in a tangible educational plan. While some private schools in the UAE have referenced the Holocaust in school, the inclusion of this information across a national curriculum is a significant gesture of educating the young about the truth of the past. As Holocaust survivors continue to pass away, their living, first person accounts will leave with them. Although video and audio recordings remain, the empathy created by seeing people who braved such unimaginable suffering and lived to tell their stories is irreplaceable. One can only hope that the actions of the UAE become a blueprint for nations across MENA to acknowledge man’s darkest moments and can separate the reality of the suffering of European Jews from the politicization of Israeli relations. Such a goal will be difficult but not unattainable, and the UAE should be celebrated for taking the lead in such a critical piece in the collective education of today’s youth.




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