Muslim parents in dispute with Jewish school over pro-Israel politics

King David Primary School, Birmingham. Pic: Elliot brown (Flickr)

Muslim parents at Birmingham’s King David Primary School have expressed dismay at the school’s “Zionist ethos” ahead of the Jewish school’s planned celebrations of Israel’s birthday.

On Tuesday May 14, the Muslim-majority Birmingham school plans to host a celebration of Ha’Atzmaut, otherwise known as Israel’s National Day or birthday.

Israelis and other Zionist groups worldwide observe Yom Ha’Atzmaut to commemorate the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which was proclaimed by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948.

Ha’Atzmaut is celebrated on an annual basis at the school, as are other Israeli holidays.

However, 5Pillars has learned that Muslim parents with children at the school are “distraught” and “extremely upset” with the celebration amid a breakdown in internal harmony at the school since last October.

Speaking to 5Pillars, a parent at the school, Poli Begum, explained how King David’s celebration of Israel’s National Day has impacted her family amid the ongoing massacre unfolding in Gaza.

“We were distraught. As a parent, I am extremely upset that King David School is a place where politics is front and centre of the the school ethos without any regard to the mental well-being of our children. As a family we have friends and family who have been killed and their homes destroyed in Gaza yet the school is celebrating Israel Day and expecting our children to be present when this happens.”

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She added: “Our children go to school for a broad and balanced education in an apolitical safe environment. Unfortunately the school is not such a safe place and we as a family feel vulnerable and fearful of speaking out. The headteacher has sent reminders that the school is not a place for political discussion yet they are happy to be celebrating what is without doubt a political event. It is our firm held belief along with many other parents that the school is disingenuous in its mantra of neutrality and our children and families are treated with disrespect when such events like Israel Day take place especially at this current time.”

Celebrating Israel’s birthday

In a newsletter sent out to parents on Thursday, King David explained how students are expected to celebrate the Israeli festival.

“Children are invited to bring blue & white clothes to change into at school. We will enjoy some delicious birthday cake!”

In previous years, the school has offered fundraising opportunities, including a Year 5’s “Israel fair.”

King David Primary School online newsletter discussing Israel’s birthday celebrations

The school also normally raises funds for a Jewish charity based in Israel called Ohel Sarah UK.

5Pillars understands that the initial intention was to fundraise for Ohel Sarah again but due to anger by parents over the charity’s use of IDF soldiers on their website, the school has decided to fundraise instead for Yad Vashem – the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre.5

Shamaila Kauser, who has decided to move her child out of the school in protest had this to say.

As a long standing parent who trekked for miles to bring my children to what I believed is an orthodox Jewish school with Jewish values that I cherished, each year I become more and more dissatisfied with the changing ethos of the school who have now stated that they are a Zionist school and parents don’t have a say in this. 

“I have decided to move my daughter to a different school as King David doesn’t feel like a school that cares about my child and her feelings about children being slaughtered, instead they are raising money to send to an individual who was directly involved in the killing of innocent children.”

‘Zionist ethos’

We understand that relations between Muslim parents and the school have become tense, and not long after October last year Muslim parents began an email exchange with the school headteacher and school governors.

During the exchange, alarmed Muslim parents claimed they felt “misled” about the school’s “Zionist ethos.”

One letter from parents that we have seen, sent to Headteacher Mr. Langford on 08/11/2023, listed a number of areas parents wanted to discuss with the school to better understand the school’s interpretation of Zionism.

“Many parents were surprised to hear in your email response that the school had a Zionist ethos, in seeking further understanding, could you elaborate on the specific connotations of the term ‘Zionist’ within the context of the school curriculum. We had always warmly embraced the Orthodox Jewish identity of the school (as noted on the school website and the Ofsted Report) and had not been aware of any political ideological inclinations of the school. Please may we know when the Zionist association had been incorporated into the school ethos and through which process?

“Parents who have now become aware of the Zionist ethos feel misled as they now have to plan for an unanticipated school move for their child, which causes social and emotional distress to the children who have formed beautiful friendships with their peers.”

According to one email from parents, a meeting was held on 23/11/2023, with 14 parents in attendance, as well as, Mr Langford and Mrs Cohen (Head of Religious Studies).

The meeting minuets say that: “Mrs Cohen gave the definition of Zionism, as understood by the school – ‘a worldwide Jewish movement that resulted in the re-establishment and development of the state of Israel in her historical homeland.

“Parents explained that the general understanding among the parent body is that the term implies a certain militancy beyond this definition, which could have a bearing on the current tensions in the Middle East.'”

But despite efforts by the school to alleviate parents’ concerns, 5Pillars understands that many Muslim parents remain deeply unhappy.

Mostly Muslim students

King David Primary School, based in Moseley, is an orthodox Jewish Voluntary Aided Primary School.

It was founded by the Birmingham Hebrew Congregation in 1843 as the Hebrew National School. It later became Birmingham Hebrew School and ultimately, as it is now known, King David School, when it moved to its present site in 1965.

According to the school’s website, their aim is to “provide a sound secular and religious education,” as well as, “striving to provide an environment in which all children are enabled to reach their full potential within the framework of the National Curriculum and developing emotionally in a happy and caring Jewish atmosphere.”

King David Primary School has previously been celebrated in pro-Israel press for having “mostly Muslim students.”

Year 5’s Israel fair cake, 2022 | credit: @KingDavidBham

In 2018, an estimate published in a British-Zionist newspaper claimed that 80% of students were Muslim, although the school didn’t clarify this at the time.

One parent informed 5Pillars that, since October 2023, several parents had already decided to ditch the school, while several others were aiming to follow suit.

5Pillars reached out to the school for further comment on parent concerns, their Zionist beliefs and past fundraising for charities which are promoted by members of the IDF.

The school failed to respond.

According to reports, at least 34,904 Palestinians have been killed so far in Israel’s ongoing offensive on the Gaza Strip since last October 7.

The Health Ministry in the besieged enclave claim that another 78,514 other people have been injured in the onslaught. Most of those killed are women and children.

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