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Gillian Keegan criticises union for ‘inappropriate’ Israel-Palestine motion

Gillian Keegan has strongly criticised the National Education Union over a motion to be debated at its annual conference describing Israel’s government as “racist” and “guilty of apartheid policies”.

The education secretary said the motion and amendments were “wholly inappropriate and completely ignore the horrific terrorist attacks committed by Hamas on 7 October … These motions reflect the NEU’s divisive ideology, which I don’t believe is representative of our teachers.

“Teachers have a duty to remain politically impartial and to ensure all sides of contested views are presented fairly and without bias or prejudice. These proposals will cause significant hurt to members of the Jewish community and the thousands of Jewish children and parents in British schools.”

The motion, to be discussed by delegates to the NEU’s gathering in Bournemouth next week, calls on the union to “publish and circulate educational resources that members can use to increase understanding of Palestine and Israel”.

It claims that Israel’s government is the main driver of the conflict and calls on the UK to stop “being an enabler of Israel’s apartheid policies”, while an amendment says attempts to clamp down on the right to protest and discuss the issue must be opposed.

Daniel Kebede, the NEU’s general secretary, said the union had a long history of standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The war in Gaza has, however, increased sensitivity around the issue, and schools have found themselves on the frontline.

An amendment says there has been a rise in the number of Prevent referrals for pupils showing solidarity by wearing Palestine Solidarity Committee badges and stickers. Charities have also reported an increase in reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia involving schools and pupils.

Commenting on the motion, the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who stepped down as an education minister this week, said: “Perhaps the NEU should concentrate on teaching and education.”

He claimed it was “no wonder” some Jewish members had left the NEU. “If this motion was passed, the NEU would be an uncomfortable place for some Jewish members, especially after the horrific atrocities of 7 October.”

The law in England requires schools to remain politically impartial. Teachers must not promote partisan political views and should ensure the balanced treatment of political issues.

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Kebede denied that teachers were taking a political stance. “Teachers discussing this issue will do so in a way that’s supportive and allows young people to form their own opinions around a world that is incredibly complex. I think the majority of the public clearly want a ceasefire. They want to see humanitarian aid flow into Gaza. It’s not a position that is, I think, far from where the majority of people are.”

The NEU conference will also debate holding a formal ballot on industrial action after its members in England voted overwhelmingly in support of strikes in a consultative ballot. More than 90% of NEU members voted in favour of strike action for a government-funded, above-inflation pay rise, with a turnout of 50.3%.

“The result demonstrates the mass discontent within our profession to which the government should take notice,” said Kebede. “Urgent steps are required to tackle the crisis in education, and our members know this.”