The Education Ministry in Ramallah has issued a booklet with quotes by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, titled “Our Role Model the President,” to be distributed in Palestinian Authority schools.

The booklet, which received Abbas' blessing, sparked controversy, with critics claiming that it idolizes the Palestinian president. 

Dozens of academics and intellectuals signed a petition  over the weekend calling for Education Ministry to the shelve the booklet. The petition read: “Yes to educating our children on the values of liberty, equality and critical thinking."

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According the official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa, the booklet was composed by female high school students from the West Bank Palestinian city of al-Bireh, who studied books and speeches by Abbas.

Last month, Abbas hosted the students and their teacher in his office in Ramallah, and thanked them for the initiative to “strengthen Palestinian national awareness.”

On Thursday, Palestinian Education Minister Marwan Awartani announced that the booklet will be published and distributed in PA schools, with approval by the president. The move was announced in a press conference attended by several PA senior officials, including the Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Saeb Erekat.

Criticism of the booklet centered on its distribution rather than on its contents, with some claiming that depicting the president as the role model is only suitable in tyrannical regimes.

Among the signatories of the petition against the booklet is Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, a philosophy lecturer at Al Quds University and a prominent Palestinian intellectual. Nusseibeh told Haaretz that even if the booklet was a student initiative, there is no justification for schools presenting Abbas as a role model: “This is a move suitable for regimes that sanctify the political leader and turn him into a kind of father of the nation. This is not appropriate in the case of the Palestinian people. We should be inspired by creators and pioneers in other fields, and we should educate our children on the values of liberty, dignity, criticism, freedom of expression and humanism. We expect Abu Mazen [Abbas] to go back on his decision.”

Dr. Asad Ghanem from the University of Haifa, who also signed on the petition, told Haaretz that opposition to the booklet is gaining momentum in the West Bank, in Palestinian communities in Israel and abroad. He noted that Dr. Dalal Erekat, Saeb Erekat’s daughter, has also signed it. According to Ghanem, this shows principled opposition, rather than an attack on Abbas for political reasons.