New textbook to be published without ‘undue influence of pro-Israel groups’

Middle East Monitor  /  February 22, 2022

UK Publisher, Pearson, has given assurances that UK lobby groups supporting the State of Israel will no longer play a role in their editorial decision-making process in the soon to be released textbook covering the Middle East.

Pearson, a major international education company, which oversees national exams for 14- to 16-year-olds in the UK, came under the spotlight over two of its GCSE school textbooks, after revelations last year that they had been significantly altered following pressure from pro-Israel groups. GCSEs are the academic qualifications studied for by UK high school students to the age of 16.

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, which are read by hundreds of thousands of GCSE students annually.

The alterations were made following intervention by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), working together with UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI). Both are amongst the most vocal pro-Israeli groups in the UK.

Pearson finally withdrew the textbooks in June. The publisher confirmed earlier this month that it is partnering with specialist educational charity, Parallel Histories, to develop new educational materials on the topic.

Writing in the Time Higher Education recently, Chalcraft urged academics to keep an eye out for bias in school textbooks. Recounting what he called the “undue influence of pro-Israel groups on a history textbook”, Chalcraft stressed the value of engagement to avoid a similar interference in the future.

Commenting on the report Chalcraft co-authored with Dickins, he said that the modified textbook “read to [me] as though it had been reworked by lawyers acting as if for a client (Israel), rather than by historians acting to educate schoolchildren about a complex history”.

Equally problematic, warned Chalcraft, was the discovery “that the pro-Israeli lobby groups had been invited into the editorial process, and had collaborated with Pearson over many months”. He revealed that no pro-Palestinian groups had been invited to the table and that “something” had gone “dangerously wrong”.

Chalcraft said that he and Dickins had been reassured by Pearson that no lobby groups are involved in the production of new materials on the topic.