Textbooks altered line by line at UK Lawyers for Israel’s behest

During the Clashes of the First Intifada in 1989. Image: Samir Mustafa Abu Dheis Collection

JVL Introduction

Publisher Pearson, the largest supplier of textbooks to UK schools, has told Middle East Eye it is pausing further distribution of two books about the Israel/Palestine conflict which it had amended after a complaint from UK Lawyers for Israel.

The publisher was responding to an eight-page report, by Middle East specialists Professors John Chalcraft and James Dickins, which found hundreds of changes to the textbooks overwhelmingly favouring an Israeli narrative and removing or replacing passages that support Palestinian narratives.

The massacre at Deir Yassin, for example, has been downgraded from an “atrocity” to a simple, value-free “act”; Jewish actions previously described as “terrorist”  are also downgraded, while the number of such acts by Palestinians has soared…

No wonder Chalcraft says: “The overall effect is to make these books dangerously misleading.”

There is no indication for the reader of the revised texts that these were in fact new editions, or any indication of the extent of the changes made.

MEE’s report appears below, followed by the press release on which it is based.

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye on Thu 1 Apr 2021. Read the original here.

UK school textbooks on Middle East conflict altered to favour Israel: Report

The international publisher Pearson has paused further distribution of two textbooks used by UK high schools after a group of academics said in a report that they distorted the historical record and failed to offer pupils a balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The report found that alterations had been made to text, timelines, maps and photographs, as well as to sample student essays and questions.

It concluded that “school children should not be supplied with propaganda under the guise of education” and called for their immediate withdrawal.

The textbook alterations were made last year after an intervention by the Board of Deputies of British Jews working together with UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI).

The books, titled Conflict in the Middle East and The Middle East: Conflict, Crisis and Change, both by author Hilary Brash, are read by thousands of GCSE and International GCSE students annually.

Pearson did not reply to requests from Middle East Eye as to whether Brash had agreed to the changes

GCSEs are the academic qualifications studied for by UK high school students to the age of 16.

The eight-page report, by Professors John Chalcraft and James Dickins, Middle East specialists in History and Politics, and in Arabic, respectively, and members of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), found hundreds of changes to the textbooks – averaging three changes per page.

‘Independent review’

The executive of the National Education Union (NEU), the UK’s main teaching union, has expressed its concern about the findings outlined in the report, as well as the editorial process which led to the changes.

The NEU has said it will be contacting the publishers for clarification.

The report noted that despite the scale of the changes the books carry no notice that they have been revised.

In a statement sent to MEE, Pearson said: “Our core editorial principle is to support the teaching of this important period in Middle East history in a fair, neutral and balanced way.

“We welcome feedback but we have robust processes in place to review any feedback – this is particularly important for such a sensitive period of time in history.

“We commissioned an independent review of these books last year and the changes made were based on the outcome of that review.

“We stand by our texts but had already taken the decision to pause further distribution while we discuss further with stakeholders.”

Facts removed

The report highlights multiple examples of changes to the original text. In one example the original version says that “international law states that a country cannot annex or indefinitely occupy territory gained by force”. This is the overwhelming international legal consensus. The revised version replaces this with: “Some argue that international law states that a country cannot annex or indefinitely occupy territory gained by force”.

In another case, the original edition includes the statement that during the first intifada of 1987-93 “the arms and fingers of [Palestinian] child stone throwers were broken [by Israeli soldiers]”. This fact is well documented. In the revised edition it has been removed.

The Deir Yassin massacre (in which Israeli forces killed at least 107 Palestinian civilians) is described in the original version of the International GCSE textbook as “one of the worst atrocities of the [1948] war”. In the revised edition the word “atrocities” has been replaced by “acts”.

With regard to Palestinian suffering under Israeli military occupation, the original version states: “To make money, many Palestinians had to work in Israel, where they did unskilled jobs even if they were well educated.” The revised version reads: “While some Palestinians benefited from higher wages from working in Israel, they often did less skilled jobs even if they were well educated.” The report states that the “revised text thus unjustifiably removes the element of compulsion”.

‘Shocking and unacceptable’

The report found that many references to Jewish and/or Israeli violence and aggression have been removed or softened, while references to Arab and/or Palestinian violence or aggression have been systematically added or intensified.

In the original version of the domestic GCSE textbook there are 10 references to Jewish terrorism and 32 to Palestinian terrorism (in each case including use of ‘terror’, ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’).

After revision there are four references to terrorism by Jewish groups, and 61 references to terrorism by Palestinian ones.

Professor Chalcraft, one of the authors of the report, said: “Overwhelmingly, the changes which have been made to these texts add or substitute statements, information and interpretations which favour an Israeli narrative, and remove or replace those that support Palestinian narratives.

The overall effect is to make these books dangerously misleading.”

Khaled Fahmy, professor of Arabic Studies, King’s College Cambridge, said: “While it is laudable that Middle Eastern history books are regularly revised and updated, the manner in which these two school textbooks have been revised is shocking and unacceptable.

“School textbooks should be revised based on the advice and expertise of academics and scholars, not by reviewers selected by an organisation of lawyers whose rationale is advocating for a foreign country.”

‘We are pleased with the final material’

A statement issued by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in September 2020 described the process leading to the revision of the textbooks: “After initial constructive conversations with Pearson, the Board of Deputies worked together with UKLFI [UK Lawyers for Israel] to produce thorough comments on both textbooks, which Pearson have received and acted upon.

“After detailed and lengthy process over a number of months, the books have now been published for students to use in the 2020-1 academic year.”

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “We applaud Pearson for their openness to constructive feedback and willingness to revise these textbooks.

“We are pleased with the final material, which gives a balanced and accurate portrayal of the Middle East conflict.

“I would like to pay specific tribute and thanks to UKLFI for their hard work on this project and their collaborative effort with us to get these textbooks to where they needed to be.”

‘Publisher should reassess these textbooks’

A spokesperson for the publisher refers to “a new edition” with regard to the textbooks, but there is no indication for the reader of the revised texts that these were new editions, or any indication of the extent of the revisions that had been made to the originals.

Henry Maitles, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of the West of Scotland, said: “The amendments seem to me to take some perfectly balanced books and turn them into one-sided, biased resources.

“It is important in dealing with contested issues that a balanced approach is taken. These changes take these textbooks away from this.

“They are now in danger of being seen as propaganda. The publisher should reassess these textbooks and ensure that balance is returned to them.”

 


Press Release:

Embargoed for 00:01 Thursday 1st April

Academics uncover bias in GCSE history textbooks

  • Report finds alterations to textbooks on Middle East conflict ‘dangerously misleading’
  • Academics say Israel advocates are targeting school children with propaganda under the guise of education
  • NEU passes motion to express concern and to seek clarification
  • Report concludes books are ‘not fit for purpose’ and calls for them to be withdrawn

A group of academics have called for the immediate withdrawal of two GCSE textbooks which they say distort the historical record and fail to offer students a balanced view of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The eight-page report, by Professors John Chalcraft and James Dickins, Middle East specialists in History and in Arabic, respectively, and members of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), found hundreds of changes to the textbooks – averaging three changes per page.

The report found that alterations had been made to text, timelines, maps and photographs, as well as to sample student essays and questions – concluding that ‘school children should not be supplied with propaganda under the guise of education.’

The Executive of the National Education Union (NEU) has expressed its concern about the findings outlined in the report as well as the editorial process which led to the changes to the textbooks, and will be contacting the publishers for clarification.

The books, published by Pearson, titled Conflict in the Middle East and The Middle East: Conflict, Crisis and Change, are read by thousands of GCSE and International GCSE students annually. The alterations were made after an intervention by the Board of Deputies of British Jews working together with UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI).

The report noted that despite the scale of the changes the books carry no notice that they have been revised.

Key Findings from the Report:

The text changes include

  • Providing distorted definitions of international law or mis-stating it
  • Removal of reference to some historical events, and the insertion of others
  • Changes in the language used to describe particular events or groups of people
  • Changing statements of fact into statements of opinion, and vice versa

John Chalcraft, one of the authors of the report, explained: “Narratives in this area are inevitably contested. Overwhelmingly, the changes which have been made to these texts add or substitute statements, information and interpretations which favour an Israeli narrative, and remove or replace those that support Palestinian narratives. The overall effect is to make these books dangerously misleading.”

Example of change found in report – the characterisation of violence.

One aspect of the textbooks’ account which has been the focus of intensive revisions is the description of acts of violence and of those who committed them. Many references to Jewish and/or Israeli violence and aggression have been removed or softened, while references to Arab and/or Palestinian violence or aggression have been systematically added or intensified.

In the original version of the domestic GCSE textbook there are 10 references to Jewish terrorism and 32 to Palestinian terrorism (in each case including use of ‘terror’, ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’). After revision there are 4 references to terrorism by Jewish groups, and 61 references to terrorism by Palestinian ones.

The change of emphasis is pervasive, not always captured by a word count. For example the original version had the observation that ‘Fedayeen were freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on one’s point of view’. This has been revised to ‘Fedayeen were terrorists who fought for Palestinian freedom’.

Reactions to the report

Eugene Rogan FBA, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Oxford said: “Given Britain’s historical responsibility, it is particularly important that the subject be taught in a way that is impartial and objective. It is a betrayal of such objectivity to allow Israel advocates the opportunity to edit teaching materials without giving Palestine advocates an equal opportunity to provide input. The result can only undermine confidence in the impartiality of the teaching of an intensely complex and sensitive issue.”

Neve Gordon, Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Through their rigorous analysis of two GCSE text books, Professors John Chalcraft and James Dickins uncover how hundreds of revisions have been inserted in order to modify and distort historical and political facts relating to Israel/Palestine. Their report suggests that when accredited publishing houses allow lobbying groups to help develop high-school curriculum, knowledge is replaced by indoctrination and our children are encouraged to adopt biased thinking.”

Khaled Fahmy, Professor of Arabic Studies, Kings College Cambridge, said: “While it is laudable that Middle Eastern history books are regularly revised and updated, the manner in which these two school textbooks have been revised is shocking and unacceptable. School textbooks should be revised based on the advice and expertise of academics and scholars, not by reviewers selected by an organisation of lawyers whose rationale is advocating for a foreign country.”

_________________

Notes for editors:

1. The full report is available to view via this link.

2. Origins of the review of the textbooks

The review of the textbooks was sparked by the Zionist Federation in late 2019. It launched an online petition for the books’ removal.

By early 2020 both the Board of Deputies of British Jews and UK Lawyers for Israel had engaged with Pearson about the alleged bias in the books. In an interview with The Bookseller a Pearson spokesperson said “An independent review of the text by an educational charity found no overall evidence of anti-Israel bias. It identified some areas where the balance of sources could be improved and we are updating the texts.”

In a statement (See Note 5) the Board of Deputies state that the detailed changes actually implemented were attributable to its collaborative work with UK Lawyers for Israel, stating ‘we are pleased with the final material’.

The authors of the report on the alterations to the texts said that they are unaware of any consultation by Pearson with Palestinian historians or proponents of counter-balancing narratives.

3. Further reaction to the report:

Caroline Rooney, Professor of African and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Kent said:

“It is alarming to discover that these school textbooks have been extensively revised in a manner that is inconsistent with a scholarly academic review process. It is important for pupils to learn to distinguish between different perspectives on a conflict and propagandist bias produced by those with strongly vested interests in one side of a conflict. The revised textbooks are not fit for purpose.”

Ken Jones, Emeritus Professor of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths University of London, said:

“History depends upon evidence and interpretation. Where interpretations differ, students should have the means to explore them. The revision of these textbooks denies students those means and steers them towards selective and incomplete narratives.”

Henry Maitles, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of the West of Scotland, said:

“The amendments seem to me to take some perfectly balanced books and turn them into one-sided, biased resources. It is important in dealing with contested issues that a balanced approach is taken. These changes take these textbooks away from this. They are now in danger of being seen as propaganda. The publisher should reassess these textbooks and ensure that balance is returned to them.”

4. Some illustrative examples of changes made (see report for full details)

  • The original version says that ‘international law states that a country cannot annex or indefinitely occupy territory gained by force’. This is the overwhelming international legal consensus. The revised version replaces this with “Some argue that international law states that a country cannot annex or indefinitely occupy territory gained by force’ (emphasis added).
  • The original edition includes the statement that during the first intifada of 1987-93 ‘The arms and fingers of [Palestinian] child stone throwers were broken [by Israeli soldiers]’. This fact is well documented. For the revised edition it has been removed.
  • The original edition has a description by a member of Haganah (the main Jewish paramilitary organisation) of the mass expulsion of traumatised Arabs in the 1948-9 war. In the revised edition it has been replaced by an account of the much more peaceful departure of a single Arab family.
  • OPEC’s reduction in oil production with resulting price rises following the 1973 ‘Yom Kippur War’ is presented differently in the two editions. In the original edition “it shows the strength of their anger about Israel’s advance into Egypt”. This explanation is replaced in the revised edition by OPEC countries’ “’hostility towards Israel and her allies’. The reason for that hostility has been deleted.
  • Plan D was drawn up by the Haganah in May 1948, a blueprint for expanding Jewish-held areas beyond those allocated to the proposed Jewish State in the UN Partition Plan. The original edition says that “Even if it was not the intention, one modern Israeli historian has written that Plan D ‘paved the way for the ethnic cleansing operation in Palestine’’’. This has been deleted from the revised edition.
  • A statement in the original edition that Palestinians were evicted from East Jerusalem at the hands of Israelis has been edited in the revised edition to say that they ‘felt that they had been forcibly evicted’ (emphasis added).
  • No change is too small: the Deir Yassin massacre (in which Israeli forces killed at least 107 Palestinian civilians) is described in the original version of the International GCSE textbook as ‘one of the worst atrocities of the [1948] war’. In the revised edition the word ‘atrocities’ has been replaced by ‘acts’.

5. Description of the process of revision of the texts from the Board of Deputies of British Jews

A statement issued by the Board of Deputies of British Jews describes the process leading to the revision of these textbooks. It includes the following:

After initial constructive conversations with Pearson, the Board of Deputies worked together with UKLFI [UK Lawyers for Israel] to produce thorough comments on both textbooks, which Pearson have received an acted upon. After detailed and lengthy process over a number of months, the books have now been published for students to use in the 2020-1 academic year.

Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl said: ”We applaud Pearson for their openness to constructive feedback and willingness to revise these textbooks. We are pleased with the final material which gives a balanced and accurate portrayal of the Middle East conflict. I would like to pay specific tribute and thanks to UKLFI for their hard work on this project and their collaborative effort with us to get these textbooks to where they needed to be.”

In this account, a spokesperson for the publisher refers to ‘a new edition’ but there is no indication for the reader of the revised texts that these were new editions, or any indication of the extent of the revisions that had been made to the originals.

Comments (10)

  • steve mitchell says:

    Orwells vision of Minitrue come to life.

  • Moshé Machover says:

    What this amounts to is that advocates of Israel’s Hasbarah have surreptitiously doctored textbooks used by British school kids. On this occasion they have been caught red-handed. One wonders how much of this sort of thing is going on…

  • Paul Smith says:

    Israeli pressure groups such as the the British Board of Deputies of British Jews and UK Lawyers for Israel have overreached themselves. The fighback is on.

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    Another way to ‘justify’ the atrocities against and the breaches of human rights of the Palestinian population. How low can the people behind this sink?

  • Linda says:

    A couple of thoughts:-

    ** Why did any reputable publisher – especially one producing books for children – allow “interested parties” to revise text books?

    ** As lawyers, the UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) body must have known that the revisions made to the text dealing with international law were incorrect.

    Individual lawyers’ and legal bodies’ professional conduct are overseen by their professional regulators. Would any of those involved in this particular “project” have put themselves at risk of a case against them for professional misconduct?

  • Jack T says:

    Wherever one looks, there are groups of well organised Zionists whether it be in the print media or the broadcast media such as the BBC trying to down play the rights and the suffering of the Palestinians and Ziowash the apartheid, racist actions of Israel. It’s incessant, determined and all pervading.

  • Geraldine Cowan says:

    A country that rewrites it’s own history has something shameful to hide! Dishonesty breeds contempt…….. and you wonder why people don’t love you. Get a grip. Live with the truth. The only way forward is to admit to the mistakes of the past and redress them.

  • June Tipping says:

    So now we have fake text books. I hope these will be banned in the UK

  • DJ says:

    This is outrageous. The NEU should call for a boycott of this doctored textbook. UKLFI should not be afforded charitable status and the BoD should be exposed for its role in this matter. They clearly believe it is acceptable to rewrite history to defend the rogue state of Israel.

  • DJ says:

    It’s amazing how so many of these Israeli advocacy groups in the UK have acquired charitable status. How have they been allowed to get away with this? It’s time for this to be challenged by as wide a range of organisations as possible.

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