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Public Statements

Press Conference With Rep. Anthony Weiner; Rep. Shelley Berkley: And Rep. Joseph Crowley


Location: Washington, DC

Subject: Anti-Semitic Teaching In Saudi Schools

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REP. WEINER: Good afternoon. My name is Anthony Weiner, W-e-i- n-e-r, Democratic member of Congress representing New York City, joined by Congressman Joseph Crowley, C-r-o-w-l-e-y, Democratic member of Congress, also representing New York City -- he is the chief deputy whip and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- and Congresswoman Shelley Berkley -- B-e-r-k-l-e-y.

She's a Democrat representing Las Vegas and a member of the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

At about this hour, President Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia. He has embarked on what can only be called an historic trip to the Middle East, where he will give a speech later on in Cairo, talking about opening up a new era of relationships with the Arab and Muslim world. We believe this is a remarkably important moment, and it shows that the president is prepared to tackle some very difficult issues.

Before he left, and on the way, he talked about the necessity to speak truthfully even to our allies, saying that that type of truth- telling ultimately will help us solve the problems that have vexed that region and vexed our relationships around the world.

We are here to release some information that shows that the Saudis, while having expressed a willingness and waged a rather persuasive public relations campaign that they are trying to be a force for moderation in the Middle East, are in fact planting seeds of hate with the very youngest among them by including language in their textbooks year after year that incites young children, who are very impressionable, to hate, to support human rights abuses, and to generally not be very tolerant of their neighbors in the region.

It is generally acknowledged by us and, I think, most people that if we are going to solve these generational conflicts that have been going on, in the Middle East, it's important that we start educating our children not to hate one another and educate the children of the region, not to hate one another but to understand and to understand their place in the region.

Yet through these textbooks that we've been able to in many cases smuggle out of the -- out of Saudi Arabia, they are littered with references that are anything but tolerant.

This first book, for example, which by the way, I should point out, before I go any further -- give credit where it's due -- was translated for us and smuggled out of Saudi Arabia by the director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, who will be available to comment to you. It's a non-partisan organization that takes a look at Middle East politics and policies.

This book, just to give you some sense, this is a book where 15- year-olds are taught. And this is a book that says, the blood money for a Muslim woman is half the blood money for a Muslim male, and the blood money for an infidel woman is half the blood money for a male infidel.

This book that was from this year, 2009 -- we were only able to get an e-mailed, scanned version of it -- has the language that is up on this board. This is to be taught to children aged 15.

The prophet said, the hour of judgment will come -- will not come until Muslims fight and the Jews -- fight the Jews and kill them, oh, Muslim, oh, servant of God. There is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.

This is the language that's being taught to students as young as age 15. These books, I should point out, are not from a generation ago, not from a decade ago, not even from three years ago. They're from 2009.

These books -- it says right here, from the ministry of education of Saudi Arabia. These are not some rogue documents. This is the official teachings of the Saudi government.

It's also worth pointing out that the Saudi government does not only produce books for Saudi citizens. They also are responsible for exporting enormous amount of teachings to madrassas, particularly Wahhabi madrassas, all around the world.

These books express, from the Saudi point of view, what they want children to be taught, as young as six years old. This report that we're putting out today highlights some of these, in school years 2008 and 2009, to students as young as nine years old, who are being indoctrinated with this type of hateful language.

Our message is quite simple. The Saudi government, when -- called upon this in 2006 by the three of us and others, said, "It's been a mistake. We're going to get right on it." In 2007, they expressed that -- "we still have some work to do"; 2008, they said again, "We're working on it. We're on top of it. We believe this language is intolerable."

And so this year, a new set of textbooks comes out with much of the same thing.

The Saudi government and the Saudi kingdom has to decide which side of this debate they want to be on. Do they want to be on the side where President Obama and the American people are, where we want to reduce the tensions and stop passing hate from generation to generation, or do they want to continue their age-old ways of exporting the worst type of hate, which, unfortunately, leads to terrorism, misunderstanding and distrust all over the world?

Now I'd like to introduce Congressman Joseph Crowley.

REP. CROWLEY: Well, thank you, Anthony, very much. Thank you for this report. Both myself and Congresswoman Shelley Berkley are proud to stand with you as you bring to light once again the issue of doublespeak.

We have, on one end, the Saudi government trying to position itself as a peace bloc, and yet, at the same time, proffering books and textbooks to young people that instills hatred for Jews and for Christians and for non-Muslims.

And so I -- as the chair of the Bangladeshi caucus, one of the caucuses representing non-Arab Muslim countries, we have been concerned about the distribution of hate material within madrassas throughout Bangladesh and other non-Muslim -- non-Arab Muslim countries where Arabic is not the native language, where it's translated, where this hate speech is translated to non-Arabic- speaking students. And they are instilled with them -- in -- within them hatred towards the West, but particularly hatred towards the Jewish people and towards Christians. And we believe that has to stop.

And this is something we've been talking about for many, many, many years. I was first exposed to some of these issues from Saudi Arabia and Egypt on my visits to the Middle East and, in particular, to the Palestinian Authority, hearing about the textbooks that they're exposed to as well. This type of hate speech has to stop. And it's, again, not just towards Jews and Christians and non-Muslims, but towards the homosexual community as well, saying that, I believe, in one of the passages, that the only answer to that is death.

That type of intolerance should not be tolerated.

And I thank you for this report and stand with you to support your efforts to see that this language is stopped.

MR. WEINER: Thank you.

Congresswoman Shelley Berkley.

REP. BERKLEY: Thank you, Anthony.

I am very delighted to stand here with my friends Mr. Crowley and Mr. Weiner in bringing this to the forefront and discussing this issue. This is not the first time that we have highlighted the information that's contained in Saudi Arabian textbooks for their children. When I was a kid and there was a hope of peace in the Middle East, we talked about the next generation. We just had to get past the current generation because the next generation would be better educated and be more tolerant and be more worldly and knowledgeable, and then the Jews and the Arabs could join hands and have peace in the region.

Well, that was many years ago. And I'm a child anymore, but the changes that were promised many decades ago have still not been fulfilled. And until the Saudis -- who could take the lead on this -- they are truly the leaders of the Arab world and wish to be known in that capacity -- until they change their textbooks and help educate the younger generations of Saudis, that are in their elementary schools and in their secondary schools, and take these hateful teachings out of the textbooks and substitute what we would consider appropriate, tolerant language and teaching for these kids, I'm afraid that we're just going to see a perpetuation of what we see now, cycle after cycle of hatred and intolerance in a part of the world that we can ill afford to have this continue.

I think this is a very good, a very appropriate day to be having this press conference, with the president of the United States making his way to Saudi Arabia and then to Egypt to make a very, very important -- to give a very important speech. We are hoping that this -- the information contained in these textbooks will be part of the discussion that President Obama has with the Saudi king and the royal family, and share with them, when he says that you have to be honest with your friends, if Saudi Arabia is a true friend of the United States, they will hear what the president says and make the appropriate changes.

The promises have been made. Now they have to put the actions to the promises that they have made over many years.

And I thank Mr. Weiner for bringing this out and for having this press conference so that we can remind people that this is continuing to go on, and there will never be true peace in the Middle East until we can get past the hatred and the intolerance that's being taught in these textbooks.

Thank you very much.

REP. WEINER: Well, thank you.

Before we take questions, I want to make two final points. Language like this is not the teaching in the Koran. It's not the teaching of Islamic thought. This is an attempt, under the guise of Islamic teaching, to sow hate and to sow distrust. And I think it's important that we make it very clear that there is nothing about this report that seeks to indict Islam or seeks to indict the Koran or seeks to indict the teachings of religious values from one generation to the next.

These books don't represent that. These books represent an effort, a consistent effort throughout time -- and you'll see in our report, we have a timeline of some of the public remarks that the Saudis have made. They don't deny that this is hateful and wrong. What they say is, we'll fix it next year, next year, next year. But the time is up.

And one final point I'd like to make is the level to which the Saudis are exporters of teaching. They provide textbooks, funding and support all around the world. We were able to get these textbooks from a source within Saudi Arabia, and it wasn't easy. We didn't exactly have much luck when we called up the embassy and said, can you send us this year's book, since you promised to fix them.

But it should be known that throughout the world the Saudis have influence in deciding how young people are going to be taught. So if we're able to get the Saudis to agree to stop, we think that it will have a salutary effect all around the region.

And it's worth noting we do treat -- much to the chagrin of the three of us here -- we treat the Saudis as if they're our ally. President Bush agreed to send them $30 billion-worth of high tech armaments. We deal with them, and the president today said that he considers the kingdom our friend. I think it's important that they start to act that way.

I'd be glad to take any questions you might have.

Q Mr. Weiner, you said, you know, we treat the Saudis as if they are our allies. Based on this and based on other actions by the Saudis, do you have doubts that they are in fact allies of the United States?

REP. WEINER: I think the Saudis -- and Joe Crowley said it well. I think the Saudis have done an excellent job of saying one thing and doing something entirely different.

They sit --

Q But does that make them an ally?

REP. WEINER: Well, I think that one of the things that we would like to see in our allies is help dealing with the challenges the United States is trying to deal with. Are they helping us with our energy policy and trying to weaken Iran? No, they're not. They're doing nothing to help us bring down oil prices. Are they helping us to reduce the amount of terrorism that's around the world? No, according to our own State Department, the Saudis are funding a great deal of the international terrorism (going ?) on. We know the number of Saudis that were involved in the attack on September 11th.

All of those things being said, I believe that the Saudis -- we should hold them at least to the things that they say. If they say today they want to begin a conversation, that's fine, but more important, in my view -- and I believe I speak for all of us here in Congress -- more important than what the Saudis say is that they start changing their behavior.

Anyone else want to take a stab at that one?

REP. BERKLEY: (Off mike.)

REP. CROWLEY: (Off mike.)

REP. WEINER: No? Okay.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Congressman, two questions. One is, if you could clarify the last ones you've made -- so none of the passages that you find problematic are actually direct quotes from the Koran. (Off mike) --

REP. WEINER: No, these are all from textbooks. Now many of them claim to be, you know, books -- you know, the sayings of the prophet and Islamic culture. They are the teachings -- and I have no problem with religious teachings -- the problem is that under the guise of religion, sanctioned by the state Ministry of Education, under the leadership, theoretically, of the king, they're being taught hate and not being taught that Islamic values, I believe, in the true sense, although it's not an area of expertise of mine. But every indication I've been given, this does not express -- this does not express the views or words of the Prophet Mohammed.

Q So these are not passage from the Koran?

REP. WEINER: No, no, no. No, these are -- these textbooks and -- these textbooks that we have here are all from 2009, for different grades, and we went through, with the help of the Gulf Institute, and we painstakingly read passages and tried to translate them. We didn't translate the entire book. And sometimes we went and looked at things that they had in 2006, see if they were still in. In some cases, they're not, and there are other problems that have come.

But if there has not been a systematic effort, based on everything we have, in books that are being taught as we speak, a systematic effort on the part of the Saudis to make the -- to cleanse these books of the hateful speech that are within them.

Q Just to follow up, there are some schools in the United States, there's one in Fairfax, that have come under a lot of pressure. Are they still using the same books? (Off mike.)

REP. WEINER: I don't know the answer to that question. They are not using these books. But I believe the school in Fairfax got into trouble, because some of their books were reviewed and translated. The said, we're not going to use them any more. But it -- I want to be careful that we understand what's going on.

We don't know for sure how widely taught this is. And we don't know for sure that we just don't have the tip of the iceberg here, that this is just three of hundreds of books that are out there. We just don't have the resources. These were very difficult to get.

Q I'd like to know what all of you think about President Obama's comments that -- (off mike) -- Israel to curb settlements.

REP. WEINER: Let me just finish with this subject. And then we'll be glad to take anything that's not on this subject. We want to make sure everyone's got what they need about this.

Yes, sir.

Q Can you just refresh, any of you, refresh our memories about the extent to which these concerns have been translated into legislation? (Off mike.)

REP. WEINER: This is an area that Joe Crowley and Shelley have been working on for a while.

So why don't you?

REP. BERKLEY: Well, I will say this. I can't talk about legislation. But whenever we have a prominent Arab leader, including the president of Egypt, a number of years ago, in his last visit to the United States, he met with the members of the Middle East Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

And we had a stack of books at least five times the size of this. And we showed the president of Egypt the hate-filled textbooks that were being produced in Egypt and were being taught in Egyptian schools and asked him to explain, to us, how he could be here talking about normalizing -- having normal relations with Israel and moving to a better world in the Middle East and still be teaching this in his schools.

And he gave a very unsatisfactory answer at that time. And it's my understanding that the Egyptians have not changed their textbooks either. So given the fact that the president is in that part of the world, this might be a wonderful opportunity for the president of the United States to express our concern about changing the -- changing what is taught in Arab schools, throughout the Middle East, if in fact we are truly serious about bringing peace to a very troubled part of the world.

REP. CROWLEY: Another avenue by which media is used for the purpose of education is through programming. And there have been cartoon programs put together that had hateful speech towards the Jewish people as well.

Congressman Bilirakis and myself have been working over the last couple of years on legislation. We included language last year in the State Department authorization bill calling upon the president and the State Department to work towards removing that material from the airwaves. And we also are now asking that those satellite deliverers, if they're delivering that message, that type of hate speech, that they be declared terrorist entities as well. That's what Congressman Bilirakis and myself are working on this year.

REP. WEINER: And let me just say, I mean, look, we are never going to be successful, from a purely legislative perspective, in governing what the Saudis teach. But I can tell you, the patience with Saudi Arabia in Congress is worn past the thin point, to the point that there is none any more.

Starting in 2003, we in Congress every year in the State Department spending bill have offered language to cut any funds going to Saudi Arabia until they change some of their behavior. The first year we offered it I believe was 2003 or 2004. It failed narrowly, where actually the administration worked very hard, the Bush administration, to defeat it. Year by year, we got more and more votes, to the point now that it passes on a voice vote, saying put no more aid to Saudi Arabia. When the proposal was made to sell these JDAMs, these high-tech JDAMs, in the course of about two weeks the three of us were able to get 150 signatures on a letter of disapproval.

The Saudi -- despite the vigor of the Saudi lobby here in Washington, members of Congress simply want to see change. We want to see things happen in Saudi Arabia that are different. And this is an opportunity, because I think that President Obama is going there and saying, look, we need a new chapter, and we urge that new chapter not to include language like this.

Yes, ma'am? Yes.

Q What exactly was brought to the president -- (off mike)?

REP. WEINER: We made an effort to get to the -- to the ambassador, to our ambassador there, and to the White House this report.

He didn't have it in hand when he went. To be honest with you, we barely had it in hand -- had it in hand today. But we do have a letter that we're releasing that's in your packet that expresses the views of the three of us that we'd like the president to consider this as we move forward.

I can tell you this: The kingdom of Saudi Arabia knows what they're doing. They can stop it whether the president raises it or not. And I would urge them to do so.

Any other questions on this subject?

Yes, ma'am.

Q Are you still -- (off mike) -- for Saudi Arabia to be considered on the list -- (off mike)?

REP. WEINER: Well, let's start here. I think that, you know, I have made it part of my work here in Washington -- all three of us have -- to call attention to the hypocrisy of the Saudis and, as Joe Crowley said, their doublespeak.

We are -- we are sincere in wanting there to be an era where we can have a conversation that we start to examine these relationships. And we're prepared to open the door for the Saudis to change the way they operate. I am, for the time being, asking that they change their policies, and if they don't, we'll take the next steps as -- we think are appropriate.

Great. Thank you. Your question was about --

Q Do you think -- what do you think of President Obama's -- (off mike) -- you know, curb the settlements in the West Bank? Do you think it's a good idea good idea that he brought this up publicly? Or do you think perhaps that he's gone too far with his public statements and he should scale them back a bit?

REP. WEINER: Yes to both. Look, it's perfectly appropriate. It's been the policy of the United States for a while that the Israelis limit their settlements.

I think that the -- I think the president went beyond where I think it was appropriate for us to go in dealing with another democracy. These are tough issues that the democracy in Israel faces.

To not -- to express our policy and our desire, perfectly appropriate. That's what the president gets paid to do. But we should be mindful of the idea that when dealing with Israel, they have a new government that was elected and that are dealing with some very difficult issues.

And I, for one, believe that any conversations about settlements, which are perfectly reasonable, have to be coupled with the sincere effort on the part of the Palestinians to, A, find a unity government that is not a terrorist one, and to express some sense that they are prepared to help with this situation as well.

But I think that the president is absolutely right in saying that there is a time that I think that we, that our Quartet partners, that the Israelis and Palestinians -- that we should try to problem solve here. But to say that a family that introduces a new child to the house can't build a wing onto their home, I think, goes beyond what I think should be U.S. policy in terms of dictating Israeli policy.

And I know Shelley Berkley has something to say on that.

REP. BERKLEY: I don't think you'll get an argument from anybody that the illegal settlements should be dismantled and should have been dismantled quite a while ago. But this latest statement from the administration went far beyond that. And when they talked about -- it was a decisive change of American policy and prior American agreements between -- prior American-Israeli agreements that go back to President's Clinton's time, and certainly throughout the time that George Bush was president, that natural growth in the settlements was okay.

And as Anthony said, if you have five children and you have another one and you need to build a room onto your house to accommodate that child, that is your right to do so, and the United States government should not be interfering with that.

The other issue that I had is that when we're talking about these settlements, we're talking about settlements that should be allowed to have natural growth, but they're also in areas on the West Bank that, if there is eventually a two-state solution, that these settlements will be within the Israeli borders, and consequently, we ought not be dictating to the Israeli people how many rooms they can have on their house or whether their particular settlement should have an additional school or an add-on room to the school, as well. And so we are very, very concerned that that -- the statements were made so publicly to such a close and strong ally as the state of Israel.

MR. CROWLEY: I would, just for the purpose of responding -- you asked all three of us. I've always taken a position that the state of Israel on a daily basis makes decisions about domestic issues as well as international -- the border issues that affect their sovereignty and affect their survivability. And so I'm very careful in questioning another democracy in the decisions that they make -- basically have to make that would impose on their sovereignty.

Having said that, Israel has on multiple occasions, throughout different leaderships within the state of Israel, taken very painful steps to address land issues as well as settlement issues. And I think Israel has demonstrated over and over again her willingness to work towards a lasting peace within the Middle East on behalf of themselves as well as the Palestinian Authority.

I don't think that has always been demonstrated by her neighbors, or at least in the same way. Last I checked, Israel has moved her armies out of Lebanon. Israel has moved her armies in -- has put herself in difficult positions because of those movements, and certainly, from a political standpoint, has created political discourse within Israel itself.

So I think that -- I've always felt secure in saying that Israel needs to make decisions that -- in the interest of Israel, not necessarily the interest of United States or her neighbors, for her self-survival.

REP. BERKLEY: And if I could -- let me just say something. To me, stopping natural growth in the settlements isn't going to do anything to bring peace to the Middle East. What will bring peace to the Middle East is the other Arab countries recognizing Israel's right to exist, an end to the terrorism and the constant rocket attacks that Israel has been under for the last many years, and to make sure that the other Quartet suggestion that the other -- that the Palestinians adhere to the other agreements that have been made heretofore, including, I might say -- not the Palestinians, but the Arabs -- 1701 U.N., which ended the Lebanese war. As you know, part of that was that we weren't going to see a rearming of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. It's my understanding, according to our State Department, that there are three times as many weapons in southern Lebanon under the control of Hezbollah since the war ended.

I think those are areas. And if the president is going to talk -- which I think is appropriate -- to talk -- to have an honest conversation with your friends and your allies, let's expand that honest conversation and see what our Arab allies can do in order to initiate normalization of relations with the state of Israel, and move towards -- towards a brighter future for the Arab children, the Israeli children and the Palestinian children in that part of the world.

REP. WEINER: One last question. Yes, ma'am.

Q What are your thoughts on the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly said -- (off mike) -- that a two-state solution has long been central -- (off mike) -- in the peace process, and the fact that, you know, this discussion is evolving into such a public -- (off mike)?

REP. WEINER: Look, I think that we have a new government in Israel. We have a new government here. I think that the -- the coalition government that is in charge in that democracy in Israel has taken a position that they are free to take. I disagree with it, and there are some people around the world that do. But I think it's important to realize that we don't know who speaks for the Palestinians.

The president made many of these announcements sitting next to someone who, if the election were held today, might get 30 percent of the vote among the Palestinians. I think that there are -- there are electoral politics going on among -- in this conversation on a lot of levels.

And I think what we're saying is a primary guiding philosophy of our administration should be they are our ally, they are a democracy, they just had a vigorous election where a lot of these issues were on the table, at least a plurality of them chose this coalition government. And I think it is our -- that I think while it is certainly the right of President Obama to state the views that he has, I think we have to walk this -- we have to be careful not to cross the line where it sounds like we are exerting the overwhelming pressure that we have at our disposal on our rather isolated ally there.

If it were up to the three of us to figure out a plan that would find peace in the Middle East, we would probably come up with something entirely different than the players there. And I think that the concern that we have is just that that line -- that line has been approached by President Obama. And we believe, in answer to the question that was put to us, that we got a little -- a little close to that line.


Q To follow up, may I ask, how many people do you think in Congress would agree with you on this, that Obama maybe got a little bit too close to that line?

REP. WEINER: I -- I speak for only about 400 of them, so I don't --

REP. BERKLEY: (Laughs.)

REP. WEINER: No, I -- I would have --

REP. BERKLEY: Whether they wanted to or not --

(Cross talk.)

REP. WEINER: All -- all I can do is -- is express my sense.

Thank you all very much.

Oh, as I said, Mister -- let me just get his name for you -- Ali Al-Ahmed, who's the director of the Gulf Institute, is available to answer your questions about just the methodology here. He was helpful in getting this.

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