Haredi students at classroom.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
LONDON – The British Jewish community challenged an educational program that seeks to illustrate hardships experienced by Palestinian schoolchildren as claims arose that it is one-sided and partisan.
The National Union of Teachers, Britain’s largest teachers’ union, developed a five-part series called “Beyond the Wall” together with Edukid, an educational charity, to “illustrate the daily struggles experienced by Palestinian children as they try to gain an education.” Those children, the union said, “are living under military occupation.”
Jewish teachers, together with others, complained last week of the biased teaching materials to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which in turn alerted the government of it, the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News reported.
The teachers’ union general-secretary, Christine Blower, said the initiative was inspired by a visit she made with the union to the Palestinian territories in 2013. While there, members of the delegation reportedly “experienced the dignity and resilience of Palestinian teachers and young people.”
The teachers’ union has called in the past for a boycott of Israeli products.
British schools that will join the program will have “vetted links” to Palestinian schools and teachers, as well as options to visit them.
Explaining the rationale behind the project, Blower said that she hopes that by linking classes in the UK and the Palestinian territories, “relationships can be built, and as a result understanding can grow and stereotypes will be challenged and cultures celebrated and commonalities found.”
Edukid made clear that it tries to remain neutral in the conflict. However, critics of the educational material noted that no Israeli children had been profiled in the program, which claims to teach about the hardships encountered by children whose education is limited by political struggles, despite thousands of them being taught under fire from rocket attacks from Gaza.
Chris Turner, Edukid’s chief executive, claimed that the organization tried to obtain the Israeli perspective as well, and spoke to two organizations in Israel about profiling children, but he added that “both declined to work with us when they found out we were also profiling Palestinian children.”
Refusing to name either organization as he was “still hoping to persuade them otherwise,” he added, “We’re trying to be as neutral as possible, and don’t want to take sides. We’re trying to break down stereo - types.”
A Board of Deputies spokesman said Thursday that the organization was concerned that the literature presented a “one-sided and partisan view of the political situation.”
The spokesman added that the board had raised the issue at a senior level with the Education Ministry, “who share our concerns.” It had also requested a meeting with the teachers’ union to discuss the matter.
A spokesman for the union said that it worked in partnership with many organizations, including the Holocaust Educational Trust, to produce materials for schools.
“We have a very strong record on producing well-regarded materials dealing with difficult issues, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, teaching around issues in the Middle East and recently on the Prevent [anti-extremism] agenda.”
Meanwhile, the Education Ministry said that the law was “crystal clear and that all political discussions in schools should be unbiased and balanced.”
Teachers, it added, “should only use teaching materials which are suitable for their children and we trust them to decide which resources to use in their lessons.”