Educational Non-Fiction Content Provider Apologizes for September 11 Fact Sheet

Commentary included Israel having a 'shady history'

The 'Tribute in Light' rises above the skyline of Lower Manhattan as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge on September 11, 2017
The 'Tribute in Light' rises above the skyline of Lower Manhattan as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge on September 11, 2017 / Getty Images
September 17, 2017

An educational non-fiction content provider has issued an apology for offering teachers across the country a fact sheet on the September 11 attacks that included commentary about Israel having a "shady history" and having previously "belonged to the Muslims."

Newsela prides itself in being a reliable source of current event pieces and historical articles, each edited by Newsela staff to meet multiple reading skill levels, for teachers to use in their elementary and middle school classrooms. On 9/11, fifth and sixth grade teachers found available an article, adapted by Newsela staff from a piece, outlining the day's attacks and an overview of Osama Bin Laden's alleged reasons for attacking the United States.

One level of the sixth-grade article read, "They were angry that the U.S. gave money to the country of Israel, an area with a long and shady history in the Middle East."

"[Bin Laden] thought the United States was too involved in the Middle East. … The United States also gave money to Israel. It is a Jewish country in the Middle East. Many Muslims live there. Before Israel was Jewish, the land belonged to Muslims. Bin Laden believed that Jews should leave the land," read a version of the fifth-grade article.

Prior to the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, the region was under Ottoman and then British rule.

Some 4,300 students nationwide might have had access to the article.

The fifth-grade piece was used in one class at California's Louis E. Stocklmeir Elementary School, according to parents, and the articles were assigned to both fifth and sixth graders at Highlands Elementary School in Kansas, according to a tweet from the school.

A D.C.-based sixth-grade educator wrote on Facebook to Newsela that she could not use the "inappropriately written" material.

Newsela's commentary on Israel was markedly different from the original article, which stated that the terrorists "were allegedly acting in retaliation for America's support of Israel, its involvement in the Persian Gulf War, and its continued military presence in the Middle East."

Following complaints, Newsela said it edited the material. A copy of the updated fifth-grade version seen by the Washington Free Beacon shows a swap of the line "Before Israel was Jewish, the land belonged to Muslims" for "The land has been fought over for centuries."

A statement issued by Newsela said it had mistakenly used "insensitive and problematic language to describe a complex topic." The company said it had moved "to notify teachers who've assigned the article that the older version of the article contained unintended errors."

"We are dedicated to keeping bias and misinformation out of our content. As a result of this incident we are implementing new review procedures to ensure we have more checks in place for bias for controversial topics. We apologize for this oversight and as a company our intention is to remain as objective as possible," read the statement.

Dabney Lawless, a public relations consultant for Newsela, said, "There was no evil agenda here. This was an error that was in no way indicative of the company. They took it super seriously."

"When they take an article and level it, sometimes there are concepts, things they have to explain," said Lawless. "You can't assume a child of a certain age will necessary understand the issue, so you have to add context."

Published under: September 11