‘Serious Concerns’: UK Fight Over Education As Israel-Palestine Textbooks Withdrawn | History
The government has warned schools to ensure a balanced presentation of opposing views on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which left more than 250 dead last month and sparked a wave of protests in classrooms across the UK . But teachers may find it difficult to comply as the only exam board to offer teaching materials and a GCSE history option in the region withdrew its two textbooks after being accused of favoring Israel’s case.
This is the second time that the history books, published by Pearson, the education company that owns the Edexcel review board, have been taken off the shelves. The first time – in October 2019 – was because Jewish organizations claimed the books favored Palestine. Pearson set out to make the revisions suggested by the Council of Deputies of British Jews and British Advocates for Israel, but the revised editions sparked a storm of protests and complaints, this time from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (Bricup) .
Maintaining the study option is seen as vital by historians who fear that only a small number of schools now teach conflict. Only 1,100 students in 27 schools, including 26 in England, chose it for this year, out of 148,678 following GCSE history with the board and an age cohort of 600,000.
Losing textbooks increases the risk of the Middle East disappearing from the curriculum, says Michael Davies, former history teacher and founder of Parallel Histories, an organization that provides students with materials to understand conflict from different sides. “Teachers don’t want to teach it and not because it’s not interesting, but because they’re afraid of being accused of bias. The other review boards had already left the scene and so Pearson, although being pilloried because of the changes to the books, are the right ones here, ”he said.
The line is on the Conflict in the Middle East c1945-1995 textbooks for GCSE, published in 2016, and its partner IGCSE, The Middle East: Conflict, Crisis and Change 1917-2012, published in 2017. In 2019, the Zionist Federation a petitioned online for their removal and Pearson asked Parallel Histories to review their accuracy. Davies says his report suggested some changes in terminology but found “no overall bias.”
However, the Council of British Jews’ Deputies and British Advocates for Israel continued to protest, saying the books were “seriously biased against Israel.” The books were pulled from shelves as they engaged with Pearson on changes, especially in cases where they believed a contested point of view had been embraced wholeheartedly. British advocates for Israel have objected, for example, to the book’s description of the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948 as “one of the worst atrocities of the war” and the omission of “massive improvement” in standards. life of Palestinians in the West. Bank and the Gaza Strip under Israeli rule.
The revised books were reissued briefly in 2020, but have now been withdrawn following complaints from Bricup, who worked with John Chalcraft, professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at the London School of Economics, and James Dickins, professor of Arabic at the University of Leeds, to compare the revised version of the books with the originals. The teachers produced a report listing 294 revisions to the original books and say the vast majority are changes that favor the Israeli point of view.
“The reviews have consistently downplayed and explained Jewish and Israeli violence, while amplifying and leaving Arab and Palestinian violence unexplained,” the report concludes. “They have extended or left untouched the accounts of the suffering of Jews and Israelis, while downplaying and editing the accounts of the suffering of Arabs and Palestinians. “
It is very important that this subject is taught, explains Professor Chalcraft. “It is so clearly linked to the present and it is vital to educate people through balanced material.”
Parallel stories provides a work plan used by 200 schools, including Huddersfield High School, which engages students in discussing the conflict from both sides, thus increasing their prayer skills.
Thomas Poulter-Dunford, his story manager, says it helps to bring up controversial topics. “It opens the minds of students to different perspectives and also ensures that they engage critically with the evidence. I think it is also fundamental to dealing with common misconceptions in an age of disinformation. He had used the original version of the Pearson textbook contested with the GCSE groups. “I didn’t notice anything major in the wording, however, I understand that some words may appear differently on the two sides.”
Chalcraft says that while the original version “reasonably describes Jewish settlers as those living in new settlements built in the West Bank and Gaza,” the revised version defines them as Jews returned to villages from which they were expelled in 1948, between other. “This definition is nonsense with regard to the overwhelming majority of Jewish settlers who were not expelled in 1948,” he says. “In the original book there is a photo of children wading through the sewers in Gaza and in the new version it simply says ‘children in Gaza’.
Jonathan Turner, managing director of UK Lawyers for Israel, says Pearson did not accept all of his suggestions but believes the latest version of the books is less biased. The original definition of “Jewish settlers” was inaccurate, he says, as significant numbers went to places that were previously Jewish communities. “On the photo caption we asked Pearson if there was any evidence that the puddle shown in the photo was sewage as it looked quite clear, with reflections of the children. Pearson responded by removing the reference to wastewater, ”he said.
“The authors of the Bricup report and Bricup himself are biased against Israel and promote a boycott of all Israeli universities. ”
Chalcraft and Dickins both say they took great care to be rigorous and unbiased when reviewing the books. Chalcraft says: “I am a credible researcher and educator on the question of Israel and Palestine and well qualified to comment on their history.”
Marie van der Zyl, chairperson of the Council of Deputies of British Jews, said: “We are proud of the work we have undertaken with Pearson to address the serious concerns of bias in both textbooks, including a lack of contextualization and omissions peace efforts and the suffering caused by this conflict to all involved.
Pearson says he has “suspended” the distribution of the books while he reviews them once again. “We will bring together a wider range of views and we will take action if there is more work to be done to achieve that balance,” a spokesperson said. In the meantime, schools could use her topic guide, she said. “We would be happy to make a pdf of the guide available to any customer who wishes. “