Lord Weidenfeld in the House of Lords:
'Syrian Education System Advocates Genocide of the Jews'
At the British Parliament, on June 28, 2001, Lord George Weidenfeld addressed the current situation in the Middle East, focusing on Syria and its government education system on the basis of a recent study of Syria's government textbooks by MEMRI (Dr. Meyrav Wurmser, "The Schools of Ba'athism" - 2000). Following is the text of his address:
"My Lords, the reference to human rights in the gracious Speech and the increasingly urgent call for Europe and Britain to play a more active part in the current Middle East crisis prompt me to draw attention to what I believe is a grave issue and one on which Her Majesty's Government might form a serious view and even consider initiating action. It is the issue of certain Middle Eastern states promoting and prescribing school books which incite racial hatred, religious intolerance and, worse, outright genocide. I refer especially to the education system of Syria where, from the head of state down to the most junior teacher of fourth to eleventh grade children and young adults, the notion of peace and reconciliation with the Jewish enemy is regarded as treason and crime, where children are exhorted to fight and kill and to seek voluntary death with the promise of both material reward for their families and eternal happiness in paradise. But these school texts for different age groups now go further. They advocate ultimate extermination of the whole Jewish people--in other words, genocide."
"A Washington based Middle East academic media research institute--MEMRI--recently issued an astounding up-to-date study of the Syrian school system. Whereas in most Arab countries similar hostile sentiments are expressed daily in various media and in all kinds of learning materials, the Syria of the Ba'ath party is a highly centralised authoritarian regime, and such teachings are obligatory. It is strange, even ghoulish, that during a week in which Slobodan Milosevic is heading towards the war crimes tribunal and in which the Pope is praying at the scene of one of the Second World War's most horrible massacres in the Ukraine, hundreds of thousands, even millions, of young people should be exposed to the teachings of such evil doctrines."
"But the real reason why this issue is so relevant now, and why closer study of the evidence is so important, is that it opens our eyes to the underlying problems of resolving the conflict between Israel and her neighbours. When two generations of Syrian citizens are told that peace is treason and that the enemy must be liquidated, the very idea of compromise and legitimisation of Israel endangers and possibly entails the collapse of the ideological essence of the Syrian state. Perhaps that is the reason why the whole peace process, including the American brokered negotiations between Syria and Israel, seem to be nowhere mentioned in the literature."
"The more you delve into this school literature, with its numerous case studies, short stories, rhapsodic poems and garish illustrations, the more you will find that all systematically lead young and uninformed minds, through fanning indelible hatred, to accepting the extermination of the Jewish enemy root and branch as the final solution. This also explains the children's part in the Intifada, the deliberate and calculated involvement of boys and girls in every form of violent action."
"Syria's Ba'ath party was originally a nationalist pan-Arab secular movement. In fact, the late President Assad crushed the ultra-religious Muslim brotherhood and killed around 20,000 people in the city of Hamma in his most notorious raid. But since the mid-80s, Syrian ideologues have adopted the slogans of fundamentalist Islam--mind you, not of the main line orthodoxy, for Islam as a faith has no truck with inhumanity. Today, Damascus is still the headquarters for a dozen extremist organisations and the turnstile for terrorists with links in Iran, Afghanistan and the Sudan. Recent redeployments of Syrian troops in Lebanon have not yet furnished convincing proof that Syria's hold on that country is being loosened."
"When the issues of incitement and hate in the media of the region and other transgressions against human rights were discussed previously in this House, I am afraid that the tendency of noble Lords answering for the Government was to deplore them as unfortunate excesses or flowery rhetoric, staple propaganda de-fanged by numbing repetition. They are more serious than that, much more 'action orientated.'"
"It is true that a great deal of the hostility and bitterness in the Arab camp is due to Israeli transgressions against the Palestinians or its Arab citizens within the Green Line. The Jewish settlements near Gaza and the West Bank are thorns in the eye of every Arab. But when it comes to criticising and castigating Israel's omissions and transgressions, there are no better sources than the Israeli media; for Israel is a democracy, vibrant, strident, soul-searching, ruthlessly self-critical. There have been unpardonable outbursts from bigoted Jewish clerics against Islam, crimes perpetuated by individuals in and out of uniform. Yet they have all been condemned by a large section of Israeli public opinion. But no Israeli leader has sunk so low as to utter aggressive obscenities in the presence of the Pope, on a mission of charity and peace, against another religion, a whole people and a whole world community of linked destiny."
"The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, was recently asked if he would take up the case of the Syrian schoolbooks, which I hope he may now do. I cannot believe that a member state of the United Nations, a candidate for a seat in the Security Council, should be left unchallenged if it advocates genocide."
"I said that this is a timely issue: for if we have any hope of resuming talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria or Syria-controlled Lebanon, we must face the fact that we are here dealing with a rigid state of mind and that the failure of the Oslo peace process has not been so much the result of this or that negotiator's tactics or timing, or of the wrong chemistry between Mr. Clinton and Assad or between Barak and Arafat; nor has it been a question of a near miss and a trifling difference of 300 metres of the shoreline of Lake Galilee. It goes much deeper. The genocidal strain in this kind of fundamentalist rejectionism is older than the settlements, older than the state of Israel. It reflects the spirit of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who, in the middle of the war, fled to Berlin, blessing the arms of the Muslim SS and begging Himmler to let him handle his own version of the final solution in Palestine against the Jewish settlers in Haifa, Jaffa and Tel-Aviv."
"What lessons should we now draw from all this? To defer or desist from a resumption of peace talks? Not at all. We should try to bring the parties together, once again. Chairman Arafat says that he wants to negotiate. General Sharon is also bent on resuming talks. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have acknowledged his policy of restraint. But it is understandable that Sharon feels that if there is a lesson to be drawn from the Intifada, the inflammatory media and class-room jihad, it is that only iron-clad safeguards for security can be accepted by a responsible government of Israel. The first and last watchword for future negotiations must be security on the ground and barriers to terrorist attack. These can only be lightened or lifted when all states in the neighbourhood agree to recognise each other's legitimate right to exist and to live. The most confidence-building proof would be an instant and thorough reform of school books and the spreading of new messages of real tolerance and compassion."
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