National Education Union sparks backlash by voting to boycott Israel

Anger as teacher union boycotts Israel


TB2E4Y London, UK. 30 May, 2019. Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), addresses campaigners from SEND National Crisis attending a demonstration in Parliament Square to demand improvements in the diagnosis and assessment of young people with SEND, assistance for their families, funding and legal and financial accountability for local authorities in their treatment of young people with SEND and their families. Credit: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News

Senior politicians, teachers and Jewish leaders have condemned the National Education Union (NEU) after it voted to boycott Israel at its annual conference.

The teachers’ body also welcomed Amnesty International’s notorious report, “Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians”, agreeing to publicise it on the union’s website alongside other reports critical of the Jewish state.

Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, told the JC: “I think this is pretty horrific and unnecessary.

“Why on earth the NEU should focus on Israel, when they should be keeping our children learning, is beyond most people.”

The Harlow MP added: “Most decent teachers and support staff will want nothing to do with this”.

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl also voiced her outrage. “Last year, the NEU mobilised members to attend anti-Israel rallies where speakers subsequently claimed that Jews controlled the BBC, repeated chants threatening violence against Jews, and called for ‘resistance by any means necessary’,” she said.

“And yet, at its 2022 annual conference, tackling antisemitism is relegated to tokenism while anti-Israel obsessives are indulged. The NEU fails to understand that convenient and selective anti-racism is no anti-racism at all.”

Yvonne Greene, curriculum manager for business, economics and humanities at Oxford Sixth Form College, who resigned from the NEU last year over its policies on Israel, told the JC: “Any union should be concentrating on educational issues, not supporting an organisation that calls for academic boycotts and the suppression of free speech. I don’t think the union cares about representing teachers who are Jewish.”

Jennifer Lalouche, who teaches at a Jewish special needs school in Manchester and has been a union member for around 20 years, said she was now considering quitting the union because of the Israel motion.

“It has nothing to do with education,” she said. “I’m very unhappy and thinking of moving.”
Britain’s biggest education union should be focused on teachers’ professional interests, she added. “They should be staying away from anything that is not to do with education policy.

“I don’t feel it is appropriate they should have representation on demonstrations.”

Adam Boxer, a Jewish teacher at a North London school who belongs to the teacher support group Edapt, said: “The NEU has been doing an excellent job of alienating frontline teachers recently, especially in foreign affairs. This resolution and endorsement along with its worrying affiliation to the Stop The War Campaign are acts that the union makes in its own name, not in the name of teachers nationwide.” The NEU has a controversial record on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

General Secretary Kevin Courtney gave an incendiary speech at a protest against Israel last May in which he praised the “anti-apartheid” movement in the UK. And NEU national officer Louise Regan compered at a Nottingham rally last June where the speaker backed Palestinian resistance by “any means necessary”.

The union, which had previously voted to boycott goods from “illegal settlements”, went further this year by voting to support “the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”.

A long resolution also committed the union to support the right of students to “appropriately” express solidarity with Palestine; oppose attempts to suppress legitimate views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and continue to promote “our unequivocal opposition to antisemitism and Islamophobia”.

It added there had been reports of attempts to suppress student expressions of support for Palestine.

Kevin Courtney, general-secretary of the NEU, said after the conference vote: “We support the call for a just and lasting peace between Palestine and Israel that is consistent with international law and respects equality and human rights.

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently described the state of Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as ‘disastrous’, stating that children continue to disproportionately suffer the consequences of military escalation and deprivation. We agree.

“World leaders must recognise this reality and bring to bear the human rights approach needed to end it.”

An NEU spokesperson said: “Wherever the NEU encounters antisemitism it has, and will, always publicly and roundly challenge and condemn any such statements or behaviour.
“The NEU denies any suggestion our work on antisemitism is tokenism. We take our work in challenging and tackling antisemitism extremely seriously and it is a year-round commitment.”

READ MORE: Jewish teachers resign from education union

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