The Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council are backing a drive to encourage Jewish teachers to join or return to unions after years of disillusion, particularly over rhetoric on Israel.
Taking the approach that change “can only come from within”, they are joining the Jewish Teachers’ Association in the hope of building up representation in the National Union of Teachers and, ultimately, in other trade groups.
The first stage will be exhibition stands at the NUT conference in March and the NUT Young Teachers’ Conference in June. Next Tuesday a Holocaust Memorial Day reception will be held at NUT head office, with the support of the JTA.
Flora Richards, JTA head, said she had seen Jewish members express discomfort or even leave the NUT because of its rhetoric on Israel, including a motion — ultimately withdrawn — at last year’s conference calling for the NUT to draw closer to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
“Many Jewish teachers feel a connection to Israel is a core part of their identity and the demonisation and delegitimisation of the Jewish state has struck at Jewish teachers and made their position within NUT untenable,” Mrs Richards said.
“We are encouraging Jewish teachers to re-join NUT and to get involved in the democratic process, so that we can change the dynamic of the conversations about the Middle East. After all, decisions are made by those who show up.
“If the only people talking about the Middle East at NUT annual conference are virulently anti-Israel, then a measured debate cannot take place.”
Mrs Richards emphasised that the need for re-engagement was also about Jewish teachers ensuring that their voices could be heard on issues such as religious education, pay or the English baccalaureate, and being supported if they felt discriminated against.
The push comes in the wake of last year’s employment tribunal involving the University and College Union, and after Unite leader Len McCluskey accused Israel of “terrorising an entire population” during the Gaza fighting in November.
Trade Union Friends of Israel (Tufi) director Steve Scott welcomed the move, pointing out that membership was low especially in light of the long history of Jewish involvement in the Labour movement.
He said there was certainly a shortage of union members willing “to put their heads above the parapet” on Israel.
“We have got to give it another go,” he said. “The general secretaries say to us that we need to get some voices speaking up and then they will listen.”