School students plan strike and rally to support Palestine

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
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Some Melbourne school students plan to strike next week to support Palestinians.

The move has attracted criticism from both state and federal opposition MPs who argue students should not be used as “political pawns” in the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Free Palestine Melbourne describes itself as “a community organisation dedicated to raising public awareness of the Palestinians’ hundred-year struggle for freedom”. Details of the student walkout, organised by School Students For Palestine, were posted on the group’s social media feeds on Monday afternoon. Those posts prompted federal Education Minister Jason Clare to release a statement that children should be in class during school hours.

“It’s incumbent on political and community leaders to turn the temperature down and do everything possible to maintain community cohesion,” he said.

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School Strike For Palestine

Free Palestine Melbourne announced the walkout would begin at 12.30 pm – school lunchtime – on Thursday, 23 November. The School Strike For Palestine action will be followed by a CBD protest on the steps of Flinders Street Station 1.30 pm.

One of the students involved in the event emailed a high-profile media outlet to say that groups of student activists were promoting the strike in several inner-city schools, including Brunswick Secondary, Fitzroy High, Princes Hill, and Thornbury High. She said students from schools across the state had also registered interest.

“We’ve been inspired by school walkouts in the US and UK, and we want to make our voices heard,” the student said. “It’s important to show that there are millions who stand with Palestine.”

“Not all school principals have been happy to see us organising a walkout, but we’ve been getting some pretty incredible support from teachers and parents.”

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Government urges schools to condemn strike

Both Victoria’s shadow education minister Jess Wilson and federal shadow education minister Sarah Henderson urged state and federal governments to make it clear that attending the rally would not be an approved absence. They asked schools and students to condemn the event.

“Students should not be used as political pawns by any group,” Ms Henderson said.

“Our kids need to be in school. This protest is not only completely unacceptable, but risks heightening antisemitic behaviour across communities.”

Ms Wilson also said Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan must instruct schools that “this is not an approved nor endorsed reason for student absence”.

Executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council Dr Colin Rubenstein was critical of the proposed walkout.

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“Pro-Palestinian political activists should stay out of the nation’s classrooms,” he said.

Jewish leaders call for action

Other Jewish leaders have also blamed organisers for continued division in the community, with Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dr Dvir Abramovich calling on the Victorian government to take action.

“These guerrilla-style tactics cannot become the new normal in our state,” he said.

The news of the planned student action follows a new survey showing Australians’ sympathies in the Israel-Gaza conflict have flipped. The Guardian Essential poll of 1,150 voters was released on Tuesday and revealed a big drop in people who believe Israel’s reaction to the 7 October violent attack by Hamas is proportionate.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Education Department said schools are communicating with families about the escalating Middle East conflict.

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“Schools also ensure students understand that any form of racism is not tolerated, and nor is any language likely to incite any form of racism, antisemitism or violence,” the spokesperson said.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live