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Textbook slammed as 'propaganda' for Israel withdrawn by examining board

A wave of classroom protests broke out in May 2021 claiming pro-Israel bias among school staff with one headteacher describing the Palestinian flag as a 'call to arms' and 'a message of support for anti-Semitism'

A UK examining board has decided to withdraw its textbook on the history of Israel and Palestine following a row over its content sparked initially by pro-Israel lobby groups and which has raised serious concerns over balanced teaching over the history of Israel's ethnic cleansing and ongoing occupation of Palestine.

History books, published by Pearson, have been taken off the shelves following an ongoing row over their content first sparked by the Zionist Federation in 2019. They claimed that the books were biased. The allegation was refuted by Michael Davies, a former history teacher and founder of Parallel Histories, an organisation that provides material for students to understand conflicts from different sides. Davies concluded that there was "no overall bias" within the textbook.

Nevertheless, pressure continued to mount from prominent pro-Israeli lobby groups. The Board of Deputies of British Jews and UK Lawyers for Israel continued to protest, saying the books were "seriously biased against Israel." Pearson removed the books off the shelf and reviewed the changes before reissuing them in 2020 with amendments to their content. It seems that at no time did Pearson seek the advice of prominent historians on the subject.

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Israel's lobby groups claimed for example that the book's description of the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948 as "one of the worst atrocities of the war" was incorrect as was its omission of what they claimed were "massive improvement" in the living standards of Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Israeli occupation.

Nakba Day 1948 - Cartoon [Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

Nakba Day 1948 – Cartoon [Carlos Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

The original version also described Jewish settlers as those who live in settlements built on occupied West Bank and Gaza. However, upon the instance of a pro-Israel lobby the revised version defined settlements, which are illegal under international law, as a case of Jews returning to villages from which they were expelled in 1948, among others.

In April the revised version was slammed by leading academics as "propaganda" for Israel. Details of the extensive "biased" and "misleading" alterations were exposed by a 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).

Their eight-page report uncovered "dangerously misleading" changes to the books published by Pearson, titled Conflict in the Middle East and The Middle East: Conflict, Crisis and Change, both by author Hilary Brash and are read by hundreds of thousands of GCSE students annually. GCSEs are the academic qualifications studied for by UK high school students to the age of 16.

Describing the scale of the alterations the report noted that there are changes on almost every page, often multiple changes. "In CME (with 84 pages of history) we have counted 294 changes, in MECCC (with 104 pages of history) over 360," said the report. "There are thus on average more than three changes per page, and the re-writing on some pages is particularly extensive. Alterations have been made to the text, timelines, maps, and photographs, as well as to sample student essays, and to the questions that students are asked to answer."

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Chalcraft has denounced changes made under the advice of the pro-Israel groups as "nonsense." He said that it is very important to teach the subject as "it is so clearly linked to the present and it's vital to educate people through balanced material."

Last week the BBC caused outrage by removing a series of educational videos about Palestine and the origins of the ongoing Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing, following pressure from UKLFI. The pro-Israel lobby group sent a letter of complaint to the broadcaster arguing that the videos were "unbalanced and partisan", and accused the BBC of "encouraging illegal conduct in schools".

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