Concern for Jewish teachers as NEU members prepare to vote on anti-Israel motion

Motion to be voted on at conference says Israel is ‘main driver’ of violence in conflict with Hamas


(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The largest teaching union in the UK will become an “uncomfortable” place for some Jews if an anti-Israel motion is passed at its annual conference in Bournemouth, former education minister Robert Halfon has said.

Concern for Jewish educators is mounting as the National Education Union (NEU) prepares to vote on a motion that accuses Israel of racist policies and blames the Jewish state for being the “main driver” of violence in Gaza.

Jewish teachers are facing hostility from their union, according to Halfon, who said: “If this motion was passed the NEU would be an uncomfortable place for some Jewish members.”

The NEU has faced sharp criticism in the past after emerged that its General Secretary, Daniel Kebede, urged a rally in 2021 to “globalise the intifada”.

Kebede is set to speak at an NEU event this week with Stop the War Coalition that will call on the UK government to "stop Israel’s war in Gaza [and] stop arming Ukraine”.

Kebede will address the fringe event alongside Anas Altikriti, who said in a video in November that hostage taking was a “very important part” of any “act of resistance” and that Israel was “mimicking” Nazis.

On Saturday, Kebede marched at the anti-Israel rally alongside activist Ismail Patel, who “saluted” Hamas for “standing up to Israel”, and Adnan Hmidan, who said he “loved” Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who presided over the party’s antisemitism crisis, was also in the line-up at the front of the march.

As well as stating Israel is the “main driver” of violence in Gaza, the motion being proposed at the NEU accuses Israel’s government of being “racist” and “guilty of apartheid policies” and demands educational resources be distributed that “increase understanding of Palestine and Israel”.

The motion criticises Israel’s “devasting military assault on Gaza” and accuses the UK government of trying to criminalise peaceful boycott and sanctions.

It states: “Israel’s current hard-right racist government is the main driver of conflict, violence and war in Palestine and Israel. Israel is guilty of apartheid policies under international law and this underpins the ongoing deadly conflict. The UK government must stop being an enabler of Israel’s apartheid policies, violence and anti-Palestinian racism.”

The motion states that civilian deaths on both sides are deplorable.

It calls on the union’s executive to reaffirm its support for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and Stop the War Coalition and support campaigning “to defend the right to pursue boycott, divestment and sanctions tactics”.

Last week Kebede told the media: “Schools are the best place for young people to talk about difficult subjects, but I think there is a nervousness among the profession.”

Department for Education guidance states that teachers should avoid expressing their political views unless they are confident it will not amount to promoting that view to pupils.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who resigned as education minister last week, told the Times that the NEU was becoming unwelcoming to Jewish members. He said: “Perhaps the NEU should concentrate on teachers and education. No wonder some Jewish members have left the NEU.”

The motion has surfaced days after a report by the government’s independent adviser on social cohesion, Dame Sara Khan, said schools were avoiding and closing down legitimate debate about the conflict.

Khan said that schools risked “fueling further anger, hate and polarisation” if they continued to shut down debate.

Khan’s review into threats to social cohesion said that teachers were avoiding controversial issues because they feared being being targeted and intimidated by activists.

She also said teachers felt there was too little guidance on teaching controversial issues and were worried about a lack of support from the Department for Education (DfE).

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the NEU motion and amendments were “wholly inappropriate and completely ignore the horrific terrorist attacks committed by Hamas on 7 October […] These motions reflect the NEU’s divisive ideology, which I don’t believe is representative of our teachers.

“Teachers have a duty to remain politically impartial and to ensure all sides of contested views are presented fairly and without bias or prejudice. These proposals will cause significant hurt to members of the Jewish community and the thousands of Jewish children and parents in British schools.”

Commenting in advance of the debate on the Gaza motion at the NEU conference, Kebede said: “The union has a proud tradition of internationalism, and members bring motions to conference on issues about which they feel strongly. Teachers discussing the current conflict in Gaza will do so in a way that is supportive and allows students to navigate the complexities of the conflict. The union has been consistent in both condemning the Hamas attack in October and joining the widespread calls for a humanitarian ceasefire.

“We are looking forward to the usual high-quality and wide-ranging debate at our conference next week and would not wish to comment further on the wording of specific motions nor pre-empt delegate debate.”

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