By Arash Azizi
June 20, 2020
What do you remember from sixth grade? A funny drawing in a chemistry textbook or a math problem no one could solve?
If you went to a primary school run by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, chances are one thing would stick out: the hatred of Jews.
Hezbollah schools help spread antisemitism in their ancient history and religion textbooks, a report published on June 17 by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reveals. Based on a study of two sixth grade textbooks and an analysis of the links between Hezbollah’s military and political leadership and the network of schools it runs, the 35-page Teaching Antisemitism and Terrorism in Hezbollah Schools report makes for disturbing reading. It’s been published by ADL’s international affairs division and comes complete with policy recommendations that include counterterrorism and sanction actions.
Lebanon’s lack of a strong central government means that an unusual number of children go to private schools, sometimes with little oversight by the ministry of education. Up to 100,000 children attend Hezbollah schools, the report estimates. It focuses only on the schools run by this Tehran-backed Shia militia and political party, while acknowledging that research must also be done on those run by Hezbollah’s rival Shia party, the Amal Movement, or the Mabarrat system founded by the late Ayatollah Mohammad Fadllalah, a spiritual father of Hezbollah. (The report accuses Nabih Beri, the leader of Amal and Lebanon’s speaker of parliament of “extreme antisemitism” based on an anti-Jewish joke he recounted in an interview last year that depicted Jews as greedy.)
The first section of the report is not about antisemitism per se but it presents a very useful review of various school systems linked to Hezbollah and their stratification. The rich Shia families and children of top Hezbollah cadre go to Mustafa schools; the Mahdi schools are for children of rank-and-file Hezbollah members or the Shia Middle Class; and at the bottom of the rung are the Emdad schools, run by the Lebanese branch of the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF), a mammoth parastatal charity in Iran. Iranians are used to seeing IKRF’s donation boxes on every street corner and an Iranian visitor to Lebanon could quickly spot the very same set of blue boxes with the same design in downtown Beirut and other Lebanese cities. In addition to these stratified schools, the report also addresses the Murtaza educational complex, which includes primary and high school levels, in the Beqaa Valley’s city of Baalbek, a regional capital, and Hezbollah’s Educational Mobilization Unit and its Mehdi Scouts organization, which is part of the international scouts movement.
It is not very hard to identify the antisemitism at the heart of Hezbollah. The party’s leadership has long been clear that it hates Jews, not just Zionists or Israelis. Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has attacked Jews as “enemies of God” who “invented the legend of the Nazi atrocities” and adds: “If we search the entire globe for a more cowardly, lowly, weak, and frail individual in his spirit, mind, ideology, and religion, we will never find anyone like the Jew – and I am not saying the Israeli.” Nasrallah’s other quotations include insulting the central book of Jewish law, the Talmud, by saying it promotes the “killing of women and children.” He is also on the record promising a “decisive and conclusive” battle with the Jews once they have gathered in “once place,” ie Israel.
The report notes that Hezbollah is an arm of the Iranian regime and an organizer of global terrorist actions “from Beirut to Baku, Bangkok, Berlin, Buenos Aires and Bulgaria.” It specifically notes the 1994 attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, which led to the deaths of 85 people and to 300 more being injured, constituting the “single worst act of terrorism specifically targeting a Jewish communal institution anywhere in the world.”
The core of the report is a study of antisemitic content in two primary school textbooks published by Mustafa Generation Publishing House. They are both for sixth graders. One, entitled “Islam is Our Message” focuses on religion, while another, “Us and History,” is on ancient history.
ADL’s analysis shows that hatred of Jews is taught to sixth graders not only in a contemporary setting but in ancient history. There is no mention of Jews as one of the peoples of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean world, and yet all the other peoples of the time are mentioned. Jews only make an entry when the textbook gets to the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Here Jesus is noted as having brought a new religion to counter the moral failures of Judaism and Paganism. The report highlights a section of the textbook that claims Judaism teaches that Jews are “the masters of the world and the emperors of the universe, which nobody is entitled to belong to, no matter his station” and that “this is what made them hated and outcast, and perhaps what intensified people’s aversion to them: their unjustness, their arrogance, their greed, and their monopolizing.”
We read of how Judaism was once a divine religion before Jews “perverted the Torah… and made the Jews God’s chosen people, and the rest of humanity slaves and servants.” The discussion section of the book includes a simple question, echoing an old antisemitic trope: “How did the Jews conspire upon the life of the Prophet Jesus?”
The religious studies textbook includes no reference to centuries of Jewish-Muslim co-existence. Instead, it focuses on the Battle of the Trench in 627, an early-Islam conflict in which the Prophet Mohammad fought a number of Jewish tribes in Medina.
The textbook then comes to the present time to link the Arab-Israeli conflict to the early Islam battles of 14 centuries ago. We hear of a family who is watching a program on TV about “the crimes of the Zionists in Palestine,” during which the grandpa raises his hands and asks God “to save the Muslims from their evil as he saved them [the Muslims] from them [the Zionists] in the time of the Prophet.” The section ends by grandson Ahmad praising God “who relieved the Prophet from the evil of the Jews of Medina,” with the grandpa replying: “may he rescue the Islamic ummah from their evils with the jihad of the mujahideen resisters.”
Other examples of hate are an antisemitic speech Nasrallah gave to a Mahdi school audience in 2002; Hezbollah material that quotes Ayatollah Khomeini attacking the Baha’is, Iran’s largest religious minority, as “agents of Jews;” and teen magazines that promote baseless conspiracies linking Israel to Al-Qaeda and ISIS in their issues, the covers of which are emblazoned with pictures of youth burning the Jewish symbol the Star of David.
From Hatred to Terrorism
But it’s not just communal hatred the report covers; it also looks at the promotion of terrorism. It shows the culture of “martyrdom,” military parades and the promotion of suicide bombing at various levels in the Hezbollah schools. A quiz is shown from earlier this year in which seventh graders are asked about the “character” of Ghasem Soleimani, an Iranian general who ran Tehran’s operations abroad before being assassinated by Americans on January 3.
Perhaps the most disturbing image is a poster, based on the famed Darwinian ape-to-man model. Here we see a child growing to an armed fighter and ending up as a Hezbollah-marked coffin.
The United States has listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization since 1997. All the six Arab sheikhdoms that form the Gulf Cooperation Council have followed suit, sanctioning both the overall organization and some of its individual leaders. Individual components such as the engineering group Jihad al-Bana, the IKRF’s Lebanon section, and Al-Manar TV have been designated as terrorists in their own right.
ADL urges authorities to investigate Hezbollah’s ties to the schools and take appropriate counterterrorism action, including sanctions. It notes the extensive activity of the schools in Lebanon and their link to mainstream bodies such as the US-licensed American University of Beirut (AUB.) The university had to pay a fine of US$700,000 in 2017 following a lawsuit in connection with media training given to Al-Manar journalists and Jihad al-Bana recruiting on campus.
ADL calls on the US and countries around the world, particularly those in Hezbollah hotspots such as Europe, Latin America, East and South Asia and West Africa, to “swiftly assess which of the educational institutions profiled in the body of this report are indeed complicit in sanctionable activity.” It also recommends the sanctions to be “carefully assessed with an eye toward minimizing the humanitarian impact on the Lebanese people.”
As Lebanon’s Hezbollah-backed government faces mass dissidence from its population, international scrutiny on ugly aspects of Hezbollah continues to gather force.