Middle East history textbook withdrawn after complaints by pro-Israel activists

School exams

The publisher Pearson has withdrawn a GSCE history textbook after complaints of “anti-Israel bias” from pro-Israel organisations. 

The book, which is part of the GCSE History curriculum, is titled “The Middle East: Conflict, Crisis and Change, 1917-2012” and covers the period from the Balfour Declaration through to the 2008 Gaza conflict.

Revised versions of the book have now been released following concerns raised by UK Lawyers for Israel, the Zionist Federation and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The complaints were based on research by pro-Israel blogger David Collier who complained that the book didn’t mention the Holocaust or the Second Intifada or “a single exploding bus.”

He wrote: “Missing is the violence, such as the 1929 massacres or violent Arab revolt of the 1930s that planted the seed of partition in the first place. Yet further up the timeline, the bombing of the King David Hotel does make the list.

“The biggest of the omissions concerns the 1930s and 1940s. There is no room to mention the refugees desperate to escape the Nazi grip nor is the Holocaust itself considered a milestone. Further up the timeline Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is viewed as worthy of mention. The 1988 Arafat announcement ‘renouncing terrorism’ is also important enough to be listed.”

Some other content in the book which Collier took issue with was:

  • The notion that Britain attempted to carry out the ideas of the Balfour Declaration.
  • The portrayal of Palestinians being “indigenous” and Jews being “settlers.”
  • The fact that Yasser Arafat alone is on the front cover.
  • The description of Hezbollah as an Islamist organisation which wages war against Israel because of Lebanese land Israel still controls. Collier instead describes Hezbollah as “an Iranian-backed, internationally proscribed terrorist organisation.”

The book states: “For Palestinian Arabs, 1948 is al-Nakba – ‘The Catastrophe’. For them the 1948–49 war was a disaster. In 1947, about 900,000 Arabs lived in the region that became Israel. About 300,000 of these had fled before the war even started in May 1948; a further 400,000 fled during the war. By the end of the war, 700,000 Palestinians had become landless refugees. Even those areas that were meant to be Palestinian Arab, according to the Partition Plan, had been lost, taken over by Israel, Egypt and Jordan (as Transjordan was now called). Ever since 1949, Palestinians have argued that they have a right to return to their lands…

“The Israeli view was very different. Israel did not create the problem: the war was started by the Arabs who invaded Israeli territory on 15 May 1948. Palestinians were not forced to leave: they chose to leave or were told to go by Arab leaders. These leaders promised them a quick victory followed by a triumphal return, and made up stories of atrocities to frighten them into leaving. Palestinians were not permitted to return when the war ended because they would have formed a security threat inside Israel.”

Earlier this year Pearson said a review of the textbook by an independent educational charity had found “no overall evidence of anti-Israel bias,” but there were some areas “where the balance of sources could be improved.”

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 efforts with us to get these textbooks to where they needed to be.”

Senior Vice President of Pearson UK Schools, Sharon Hague, said: “Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of everything we do at Pearson and we believe it is vital to work with the communities we serve to ensure our products are held to the highest standards. We are delighted to be releasing a new edition of these textbooks today at the beginning of the new academic year. We thank the Board of Deputies of British Jews and UK Lawyers for Israel for their excellent collaboration throughout and for helping us to adapt and improve materials on this important topic.”

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