The publisher of a school textbook that implied Israel has used child soldiers has apologized for any “confusion” and says it will fix the issue in time for the coming school year.
The book, Canada and the Global Community, published by Nelson Education Ltd., is used in 800 elementary schools across Ontario, according to B’nai Brith Canada.
The textbook is used in Grade 6 social studies classes.
In its last edition, the book stated that 195 countries have adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which forbids the use of children under 15 in armed conflicts.
It went on to say that since 2000, “child soldiers have been used in armed conflicts in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mali and Yemen.”
Most child soldiers are “kidnapped” and “forced to fight,” the textbook adds.
That raised the ire of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) and B’nai Brith Canada.
“The distribution of this textbook will surely have negative ramifications on Jewish students across the province if their peers were to, using its contents, charge Israel (with) kidnapping child soldiers,” B’nai Brith said in a statement.
Ontario’s education ministry “has an obligation to not only correct these errors but to teach the reality of the situation – that it is Palestinian leaders who use child soldiers,” B’nai Brith added.
Old editions have been returned and destroyed, and new versions sent out, Nelson president and CEO Steve Brown told The CJN.
The publisher has also sent out about 700 stickers for schools that requested them. The stickers omit “Israel” from the list of countries using child soldiers and are to be applied over the old text. Brown said they cannot be peeled off without destroying the paper underneath.
Brown said the book did not say that Israel employs child soldiers.
“It’s actually an ambiguous statement,” he said, adding, however, that he “absolutely understands the uproar.”
He said the editing and proofreading of the text was “very rigorous.”
“It’s a most unfortunate situation. We took it extremely seriously. We will get this brought to a completely satisfactory resolution,” Brown said.
In an undated letter to schools, Nelson called the statement about Israel “potentially confusing” when not used in conjunction with accompanying teachers’ resource material, in which the reference was “further explained and clarified.”
The publisher noted that the resource material suggested teachers “point out that in the list of countries where child soldiers have been used, not all sides in all of these countries have used child soldiers. For example, only people above the age of 18 serve in the Israeli army.”
Israel “should not have been included in this listing in the first place, as it does not employ child soldiers,” Nelson conceded. “We sincerely apologize for any confusion and we will remove ‘Israel’ from the text in future printings,” it added.
‘The distribution of this textbook will surely have negative ramifications on Jewish students across the province’
The Toronto District School Board, which uses the textbook, will use the free stickers from Nelson, said spokesperson Ryan Bird.
Bird said the book “was never intended to convey that Israel had used child soldiers, but that other groups had used child soldiers in Israel.”
He said the teachers’ handbook “makes this clear by stating that the Israel Defence Forces indeed uses adults over the age of 18. Unfortunately, this was not made clear in the textbook itself.”
FSWC president and CEO Avi Benlolo said he was “pleased” that Nelson “took our concerns over this mistake seriously and responded promptly.”
B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said putting the onus on individual schools to request the corrected version of the textbook “has already proven a faulty strategy.”
He said it is up to Ontario’s education ministry to ensure that every school is provided with the corrected version of the book before the next school year begins and that the old version be removed from circulation.
“Otherwise, the ministry, due to the repeated breakdowns in both its vetting and voluntary recall processes, will become complacent in poisoning the minds of Ontario youth once school returns in September,” Mostyn said.
B’nai Brith is calling on the ministry to apologize.
In a statement to The CJN, Heather Irwin, a spokesperson for Ontario’s education ministry, said the selection and purchasing of textbooks is the responsibility of school boards, but that the ministry is “closely monitoring the situation to ensure that the students have the corrected version of the text for the next school year.”