British high school blasted for hosting 'anti-Israel' event

Headmaster: If it weren't for the protests, nobody would show.

A high school in southwest England has come under fire for agreeing to host an anti-Israel event for students on Monday. Sherbourne High School in Dorset is hosting an event entitled "The Occupation: Up Close and Personal, Living in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Scheduled to speak is Sharen Green, a reporter with a local newspaper who has spent time in the Palestinian Territories with the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program. The event is open to all and advertised on the Web site of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign: "Sharen will be telling us about her experiences as an Ecumenical Accompanier, and about the problems of daily life in Palestine." Entries in Green's blog, on the Guardian newspaper's blog-site, highlight the hardships of Palestinians. In one entry, entitled "Something in the Air," Green asks, "Are Israeli factories relocating to the West Bank so that they can pollute the environment more freely?" and maintains that six factories have moved from Netanya "so that they can dump their pollution on them instead of Israel." In another entry, Green compares Ben-Gurion Airport to the Kalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Entitled "A tale of Two Terminals," she says the introduction of airport-style "terminals" at Kalandia is "A charm offensive [that] seeks to persuade you it's a border like any other." She mentioned the hardships Palestinians face at the checkpoint and goes on to say: "The contrast of the two terminals speaks volumes to me about the face Israel gives to the outside world and the one she shows to the hapless people she has been illegally occupying since 1967." Jonathan Hoffman, a financial analyst from north London, wrote to the school's chaplain and headmaster, saying they "did not understand the nature of the speaker they had invited." He said: "Under the camouflage of a humanitarian organization, she would present a nakedly anti-Israel political view." Following the complaint, the school said in a statement: "The school has received some views from members of the public about the public meeting at which the speaker will talk about her experiences in Palestine, on behalf of a joint project of Christian Aid, Quaker Peace and Social Witness and the World Council of Churches. "Sherbourne School believes in the value of open debate as part of informing and educating its pupils. The school has previously invited the chief rabbi to give the annual lecture to commemorate former student who lost his life in New York on 11 September 2001. Terry Waite [who was held in Lebanon] has also delivered this lecture at the School. "Boys from the school have been to Auschwitz. Holocaust Day is marked at the school each year. Judaism is taught as part of its Religious Education. The school is quite ready in principle to allow the Powell Theatre to be used, at its discretion, for other views on major international questions including the unresolved disputes between Israel and her neighbors in the Middle East. Simon McIlwaine, director of Anglicans for Israel, expressed concerns about this "propaganda exercise billed as a lecture and the very biased premises." "Among other things, it is incredible to us, as faithful Anglicans, that a school chaplain should apparently be promoting blatantly anti-Israel propaganda. Christian Aid are not neutral and have been condemned for essentially anti-Semitic advertising campaigns where the Middle East is concerned," he said. The school's headmaster, Simon Eliot, told The Jerusalem Post: "The chief rabbi has not spoken here but was invited to do so on the theme of current international relations." "If we had not been besieged by e-mails and phone calls, I suspect that possibly four or five Sixth Form boys [11-12 graders] studying politics - and with minds of their own and the ability to distinguish between bias and fact, for instance - would have been the sum total of our contribution to the audience. After all the activity of the past days, my guess is that many more will be there and possibly for the wrong reasons. We do have our own school lectures - of which this is not really one - and they are given by a huge range of speakers. I do not believe that we should be told who should come to speak at this school by anyone. After all, we have not heard Monday's talk yet."