UK teachers encouraged to join pro-Israel unions

Jewish teachers in the United Kingdom are bring encouraged to join unions to combat anti-Israel rhetoric.

January 23, 2013 05:16
3 minute read.

teaching Aramaic in a Jish classroom 521. (photo credit: JUDITH SUDILOVSKY)


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The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of UK Jewry, has issued a call for Jewish teachers to join the National Union of Teachers and similar academic organizations.

The call, which went out last week, comes after years of discontent with unions such as the NUT due to actions and statements that some of their Jewish members have perceived as anti-Israel.

England’s Jewish Leadership Council, which is cooperating with the board on this matter, has instructed educators to join the Jewish Teacher’s Association in order to strengthen the Jewish presence in the larger union.

Improvement in the NUT can only “come from within,” the Board of Deputies believes.

“The perceived and often actually hostile attitude to Israel in many unions has led to Jewish members renouncing their memberships, and this is understandable,” Board of Deputies spokesman James Martin told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“However, this unfortunately deprives them of the opportunity to make and influence policy that is the right of any trade unionist, and it has often meant that the field is left clear for the most radical elements to set the agenda,” he continued.

“There are other issues affecting Jewish teachers, too, such as time off for religious observance, and issues of pay and conditions that should properly be the remit of a trade union working for its members, rather than a flight of foreign policy fancy.”

Stephen Hoffman of the Zionist Federation of the UK agreed with Martin, but added the caveat that while “there is a tendency for some union leaders to take a knee-jerk anti- Israel position that can incite anti-Semitism,” such positions do “not reflect the views of union members.”

In a letter to Jewish teachers regarding the new initiative, Jewish Teachers Association chairwoman Flora Richards explained that for many union members who belong to her association, “the perceived NUT rhetoric around Israel/Palestine has led to them feeling uncomfortable as Jews within the Union. Many Jewish teachers feel Zionism and a connection to Israel is a core part of their identity and the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish State has struck at Jewish teachers and made their position within NUT untenable.”

However, she urged Jewish teachers to renew their NUT membership, saying, “We must be advocates for Judaism and Israel from within NUT. We must be part of the discussion, rather than complaining from the outside.”

The NUT, she indicated, threw its weight behind recent Palestine Solidarity Campaign efforts to lobby Parliament.

Jewish teachers began resigning from the union during the second intifada in 2002, when a delegation at the NUT conference in Bournemouth accused Israel of carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing more deadly than suicide bombings.

At the time, Jewish teacher Rochelle Marks stated that the union “is not fair or just, as you have never invited an Israeli speaker or someone from the Jewish community to speak on the Middle East.”

The following year, the union published a set of guidelines for teachers in order to combat anti-Semitism.

The NUT did not respond to requests for comment.

Richards referred the Post to the case of Ronnie Fraser, a mathematics instructor and a member of the University and College Union. Fraser, the son of Holocaust survivors, is currently suing the UCU over allegations that it created a “hostile environment” for Jewish members.

Last year, the academic union dismissed the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s delineation of several anti-Zionist assertions as anti-Semitic.

In a statement last year, Fraser called the union “institutionally anti-Semitic,” saying that “the UCU, the leading trade union partner of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, made this move in an attempt to delegitimize and redefine anti-Semitism.”

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