The most recent wave of brutal attacks from the Israeli government and IDF (Israel Defence Forces) directed against Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and in Gaza has quite rightly sparked mass protests and working class solidarity worldwide.

In London, for example, an estimated 150,000 gathered in support of Palestine. This broad feeling of solidarity has spread far and wide, including into our schools, with many young students joining demonstrations in support of the Palestinian struggle or even organising their own.

The British government has consistently supported the state of Israel for many decades, mostly because it serves their imperialist needs – whether that be arms profiteering, for example when selling Israel F-35 warplanes, or British troops receiving specialist training from the IDF before being deployed in Afghanistan.

Considering this close relationship, it’s no surprise that the British education system – or at least the caricature of education that is the official curriculum – also supports the concept of Zionism and defends the Israeli state from criticism wherever possible.

Against this backdrop many headteachers have come down hard on protesting students, accusing many of anti-Semitism. This clearly displays the political ignorance at the heart of our education system.

Mike Roper, headteacher at Allerton Grange School in Leeds, after confiscating students lanyards displaying the Palestinian flag during a recorded assembly, scandalously went as far as describing the Palestinian flag as a “call to arms”.

He also tried to claim that the flag is seen by many as a “symbol of anti-Semitism” – repeating the age-old and thoroughly defunct adage that being anti-Zionist or against the Israeli state and its actions in Palestine is somehow in and of itself anti-Semitic.

This notion is obviously ludicrous. Despite it being discredited time and time again, it is nevertheless repeated by the right-wing and liberal media and politicians, who want to uphold the the British ruling class’ mutually beneficial relationship with Israel, and use the mere claim of antisemitism as a stick to beat the left with.

After the speech was posted online it went viral and quickly prompted accusations of “blatant Islamophobia”. This in turn sparked protests against the school, as well as an official investigation into the issue. Many have commented on the headteacher’s total lack of integrity.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated case, there have been similar clampdowns on Palestine solidarity protests in schools, for example at Clapton Girl’s Academy in East London, and at Manchester’s Loreto college – where the staff actually shut the college for a day to avoid a student-led protest.

The whole situation is reminiscent of the recent student struggles at Pimlico Academy, where militant action on the part of students was in the end successful in overturning the racist policies of that school’s headteacher.

It is worth pointing out that the NEU (National Education Union) which organises teachers has for many years shown consistent support for the Palestinian struggle, for example by sending yearly delegations to the region. This clearly shows where most ordinary teachers actually stand.

The issue is that there are always some (particularly well-paid headteachers) who are willing to push the government’s official line to try and curtail the rising solidarity and militancy shown by students.

After a very tough year of difficult teaching conditions and constantly shifting COVID regulations, it’s unsurprising that the NEU has seen a sharp rise in membership, alongside industrial action being threatened throughout last year.

This strength could be used to ensure that staff and students can freely support the cause of the Palestinian people without being clamped down upon by higher management.

For all the attempts to hamper the movement, the fact so many young students are willing to stand up for Palestine is an extremely positive development. It is clear that times are changing. The mere accusation of anti-Semitism can no longer be used to silence criticism of the atrocities that the Israeli state commits against Palestine.

The violence and oppression inflicted upon the Palestinian people will continue as long as the reactionary Israeli regime exists. The only way that the Israeli regime can be brought down is through an international revolutionary struggle. That includes the struggle here in Britain to overthrow our own imperialist ruling class, who are a key pillar of support for Israel.

More and more young people, including school students, are looking for a solution to the situation in Israel-Palestine. Marxist students can respond to this with a socialist programme:

  • No to silencing solidarity with Palestine in our schools!
  • Down with the Israeli occupation! Intifada until victory!
  • For an international mass movement to bring down the forces of imperialism!
  • For the right of the Palestinians to a homeland, as part of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East!

Ben Ward

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