Schools must be impartial in how they present the Israel-Palestinian conflict after a “concerning” rise in antisemitic incidents, the education secretary has said.
In some cases, Jewish students and teachers have been bullied and antisemitic views expressed, Gavin Williamson said in a message to headteachers.
Such incidents should be treated with “due seriousness”, he said, reminding them of their “legal duties regarding political impartiality”.
The recent violence had, he said, focused attention in schools on the long-standing Middle East conflict.
He said many young people had a “strong personal interest” in the issues, prompting “political activity” by older pupils.
“Schools should ensure that political expression by senior pupils is conducted sensitively, avoiding disruption for other pupils and staff,” said the education secretary.
“It is unacceptable to allow some pupils to create an atmosphere of intimidation or fear for other students and teachers.”
His warning comes as the headteacher of a Leeds school apologised for saying in an assembly that some people saw the Palestinian flag as a “call to arms” and a “symbol of antisemitism”.
Mike Roper, of Allerton Grange school in Leeds, said in a statement issued later that he was “deeply sorry that a particular example I used in that assembly, referring to the Palestinian flag, has caused such upset”, the Guardian reported.
Mr Williamson said school leaders and staff had a responsibility to ensure “they act appropriately, particularly in the political views they express”.
Pupils should be offered a “balanced presentation of opposing views” when political issues are raised, he said.
“Schools should not present materials in a politically biased or one-sided way and should always avoid working with organisations that promote anti-Semitic or discriminatory views,” said Mr Williamson.
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They should not work with, or use materials from, organisations that publicly reject Israel’s right to exist, he added.
More than 250 people, the vast majority Palestinians, were killed in the 11-day flare-up of violence – which saw thousands of rockets fired at Israel and a fierce campaign of air strikes in return.
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