Teachers for Palestine commit to “show solidarity” in the face of disciplinary warnings

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Hundreds of vocal Victorian teachers may face potential disciplinary action from their employers when the new school year begins, following a series of pro-Palestine forums and protests organised over the summer school holiday break.

But supporters of the Teachers and School Staff for Palestine movement around Australia – with the support of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network – remain committed to raising awareness aimed at stopping the conflict. In Victoria, the group is urging people to follow up on the lack of government response to an open letter – signed by hundreds of educators and school staff and sent to the state’s Education Minister Ben Carroll in December 2023 – that calls on the federal government to sever diplomatic and military ties with Israel.

The letter claimed teachers were being subject to “disciplinary threats related to anti-Semitism”.

Concerns that anti-Israel events compromise child welfare

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin says educators participating in anti-Israel events compromised the welfare of children in their care.

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“Parents place their trust in teachers every day and expect teachers to keep their politics out of the classroom,” he said. “If a teacher cannot do this, schools need to act to protect the profession and our children.”

Zionist Federation of Australia CEO Alon Cassuto said the Teachers for Palestine movement was “promoting dangerous radicalisation in our children’s classrooms”.

“This is offensive to all students and risks the safety of Jewish students in an already tense environment where anti-Semitism is on the rise,” he said.

Parents are divided about educators’ role during global conflicts

On social media, a range of parental opinions are regularly shared in parenting forums and individual school group chats, with some parents saying that, while international conflicts can be a relevant topic for classroom debates, classroom teachers should not share their personal views on the Palestine conflict.

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But for one parent of two primary-aged children at a public school in Melbourne’s north-east, knowing that teachers are openly talking about their feelings around the war in Gaza is not an issue.

“Kids today absorb so many things that are happening in the world from social media – they know it’s going on,” Eleanor says. To me, it’s weirder if teachers don’t talk about it. If the kids ask questions, I would hope the teachers answer them.”

Read more: The complexity of teaching in times of conflict

Whether those potential questions may be getting answered with a firm personal opinion that highlights whether a teacher is supportive of the Teachers and School Staff for Palestine movement, is, Eleanor says, “not a concern – as long as it is not delivered in a way that is supported by facts and some kind of gentle guidance that is about encouraging kids to learn more for themselves”.

“Their school is very multi-cultural and from what I’ve seen, the teachers have a track record of being inclusive,” she says.

A Victorian Department of Education spokesman said its employees should not use their jobs to make political statements.

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“The overwhelming majority of principals and school staff continue to do an excellent job … in supporting their school communities through what continues to be for so many a deeply distressing time,” he said.

“In term four, 2023, we communicated with all government schools to remind staff of their professional obligations as well as the importance of treating each other with respect, understanding and sensitivity.”

Delivering a responsible educational response is key, says advocacy group

In a statement from Teachers and School Staff for Palestine Victoria, the group said it’s “confident” teaching and learning about the genocide in Palestine from a human rights perspective is the “responsible educational response to the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza”.

“Silence or equivocation in the face of genocide is never the lesson we teach students, and it is never the appropriate response from educators,” the statement read.

Teachers and School Staff for Palestine Victoria added that its members had connections to a diverse range of communities, including those of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths, with the group saying it “rejects the assumption that all Jewish students identify with Israel’s agenda”.

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“The imposition of this conflation on Jewish students has led to division and alienation in our school communities,” the statement read.

“The expectation that only some histories and world events should be addressed by teachers in schools is indefensible and would make teaching the curriculum rigorously and respecting our diverse education communities impossible.”

The group described an upcoming forum slated to run before the start of the 2024 school year, which will include a panel of teachers discussing ways to use the roles as educators to “show solidarity with Palestine in our schools and classrooms” , as an “opportunity for educators to be safely in dialogue with one another and continue our work of teaching respectfully and inclusively”.

“(We) reiterate our commitment to the social, emotional, and cultural wellbeing of all members of the Victorian community, and expect such a commitment to be universal,” the statement read.

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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