The High Court has ruled that the Department of Education can continue to clamp down on Palestine solidarity in schools.
It denied permission for a judicial review by Cage on Thursday. The human rights group began the legal challenge last year in response to former Tory education secretary Gavin Williamson’s letter to heads during Israel’s assaults in Sheikh Jarrah.
The letter said there had been an “increased focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in many schools” and claimed it related to a “worrying spike in antisemitic incidents”.
Muhammad Rabbani, managing director of Cage, told Socialist Worker, “The decision today is disappointing but unsurprising. It validates the Department of Education’s attempts to police the Palestine debate at our schools in favour of the pro-Israel narrative.
“The choreographing of political discussions in this way within schools is akin to the manner of autocratic regimes and seriously curtails freedom of speech.”
Williamson’s letter gave instructions to head teachers about how they should present Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine. It was said that schools should cut ties with organisations and charities that challenged the state of Israel.
It also recommended that schools worked with organisations that support Israel in order to provide a “balanced” presentation of the occupation.
Cage described the letter as “politicalised and discriminatory”, adding that its legal challenge raises “important questions about free speech and political dissent in schools”. The group said the letter is censoring Muslim students in particular while violating the legal requirement of impartiality in schools.
The lawyer leading the review, Fahad Ansari, spoke to Socialist Worker. He said the court “failed to protect the freedom of expression of pupils who wish to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”
“The Court has essentially enabled the government to compel head teachers and school leaders to adopt a partisan view on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.”
He said this “shifts their role from education to indoctrination”. “Equating the rejection of the state of Israel’s ‘right to exist’ with antisemitism is not only factually wrong but undermines the fight against genuine antisemitism,” Ansari said.
Campaigners have made comparisons between how schools present the war in Ukraine and the occupation of Palestine.
In a survey initiated by Cage, 96 percent of parents confirmed that their child’s school had proactively engaged in discussions around Ukraine. This included holding fundraisers and assemblies and covering it in newsletters.
Many students and their parents were left feeling isolated last year as schools ignored the Israeli war on Gaza. In the survey, people reported how their children had suffered disciplinary punishment and threats or physical aggression by staff for showing support for Palestinians.
The Tories want to silence Palestine solidarity and whip up Islamophobia in schools to bolster the imperialist agenda of the US, Britain and Nato.
Despite the court ruling, the fight for Palestinian liberation continues and the solidarity movement will not be silenced.
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