Redbridge parent group slams ‘discriminatory’ Palestine teacher advice

London Palestine demonstration Oct, 2023. Pic: AA

A damning complaint letter demanding changes to a “discriminatory” teachers’ guidance document, which advises local schools on how to address the Israel-Palestine “issue”, has been sent to Redbridge Council following local outrage. 

A Muslim parents’ action group, Parents United, have condemned the controversial advice, submitted to schools on October 9, over concerns the guidance is an attack on Muslim free speech. 

The guidance titled: ‘Schools Briefing/Advice. Current Situation – Israeli/ Palestinian Conflict’ explains the possible “issues” that may arise in schools amid Israel’s war on Gaza.

It provides a list of resources, advice and ways of responding to the possibility of student or parent activism regarding Palestine or Israel.

Advice includes pushing apolitical stances, clamping down on flag-wearing or other symbols of support for Palestine, and platforming groups that Muslims have previously condemned.

Local activists in Redbridge warn that the advice will cause “significant distress and anxiety” to Muslims across the borough, most of whom consider Palestine a red-line issue. 

The advice letter to headteachers was written by Colin Stewart, the Director of Education for Redbridge Council.

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Parents United explained their areas of concern in the complaint letter addressed to Redbridge Councillor, Jas Atwal. 

Examples of the concerns expressed by Parents United include:

  • The description of the situation as a “conflict” which, fails to recognise the power imbalance of Israel as an established state with a powerful military and neglects the historical context and downplays severe violations of international law.
  • Resources recommended including by The Community Security Trust (which collaborates with pro Israel organisations), which has published a handbook for teachers that encourages them to dismiss claims of Israel practicing apartheid as a “simplistic and binary view of the issue” with no acknowledgment of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the World Health Organisation and B’Tselem describing Israel as committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians.
  • The advice given to the wearing of “political colours” and flags by students which discourages the expression of solidarity with what has been described by the UN Human Rights Council and others as a genocide.
  • The explanations provided to those who flag the double standards of how Ukraine and Palestine are supported, with regards to the humanitarian nature and support for children and women, provides no support for Palestine although it should apply equally to Palestine, especially after this guidance was provided.
  • The statement made on the 9th of October included at the end of this guidance makes no reference to the well documented violence against innocent civilians in Palestine that has occurred daily in the last 75 years and which is always escalated , whether it is following an attack on Israel or not.
Parents United Redbridge

Speaking to 5Pillars, Fathima Shukry, a founding member of Parents United, explained how “deeply disturbed” local parents are by this advice: “We are deeply disturbed by the level of discrimination in the advice issued by Colin Stewart. He has recommended Solutions Not Sides as one of the resources despite complaints from the Muslim community in 2021.

“We feel that our community has been let down by the Council. Either schools have been silenced or have refused to acknowledge the truth of the situation (in Palestine) despite leading Human Rights Organisations declaring that an apartheid system is being operated by Israel. The victims of Israeli air strikes are in thousands. It is clear which side is the aggressor and which is the victim, which is the occupier and which is the occupied.”

Faitma Shukry added: “Despite the raw images we have been seeing since October 7, of majority Muslims being murdered because of their ethnicity and the alarming rise of Islamophobia directly connected to Palestine in the UK, the council has not made any attempts to mention the extra anguish and pain Muslim students may be feeling at any point.

“Instead, conversations have been silenced, flags taken down, and badges removed. Once again, Muslims are reminded that we are only on the the agenda when our votes need be collected. Otherwise and in all other important spheres, we remain second-class citizens.”

Fatima additionally told 5Pillars that she thinks Redbridge Council is being “Islamophobic.”

Solutions Not Sides is a controversial government-backed organisation which has been criticised for promoting the “misleading two sides narrative” on Palestine-Israel in British schools.

The organisation has its origins in an NGO with links to Israel and has received government funding alongside promotional support to deliver its message of “both sides have suffered” to tens of thousands of British schoolchildren, often in Muslim majority areas.

Several stories have arisen since October 7, where UK schools have been accused of gagging Muslim students and parents over Palestine solidarity.

A school in East London, Barclay Primary School, is currently embroiled in a dispute with parents after the school published a letter last November warning that students or parents who express “offensive” comments on Palestine could be reported to the UK government counter-extremism initiative, Prevent.

A student of Palestinian decent is at the centre of the row after wearing a coat with a Palestinian flag stitched on to school during Children in Need day.

Elsewhere, a school in West London, Greenford High School, was forced to deny allegations of penalising students who painted Palestinian flags on their hands amid a dispute with a Muslim mum whose child was involved in a fight outside school gates.

Parents United have not yet received a response from Redbridge Council to their complaint letter.

However, 5Pillars understands that the ten working days timeframe for a requested response has not yet been passed.

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