Teachers won’t be silenced on Palestine

More than 70 Victorian teachers and school staff attended a forum “Teachers for Palestine: why there’s no ‘neutrality’ on genocide” on 22 January, despite the Opposition Education spokesperson calling for the Education Department to discipline attendees.

In the wake of the forum, more department circulars have warned teachers against displaying “bias” when discussing “current events in the Middle East”.

And yet STEM programs like First Lego League and Beacon are among 35 programs in Australian primary and secondary schools that are funded by global weapons companies like BAE systems and Lockheed Martin, which are profiting from the genocide in Gaza.

The use of these programs is in breach of the Department’s own “inappropriate materials” policy, but the Department makes no visible effort to ensure schools are not using them.

The broader Trade Unionists for Palestine Victoria group has also been campaigning to end the harassment and victimisation of science teacher Jason Wong.

Jason spoke at a weekend protest calling for Education Minister Ben Carroll to end his threats against teachers who have expressed solidarity with Palestine. Jason made the point that many others, including the Secretary General of the UN, have made—that there is a context for Hamas’ violence on 7 October.

The Department of Education is now investigating Jason for misconduct, and the Victorian Institute of Teaching is also investigating Jason’s registration.

More than 500 unionists have signed a petition calling for the Department to end its investigation. When Zionists threatened to mobilise outside Jason’s school, 31 January, Trade Unionists for Palestine called a counter-action.

In the face of this, the Zionists retreated, but a protest of up to 100 unionists outside the Department of Education in solidarity with Jason went ahead.

Members of Teachers and School Staff for Palestine have begun moving sub branch and regional union support for bans on weapons sponsored programs, and in solidarity with Jason.

Victorian Greens MPs, union groups, student groups, parents and Palestinian leaders have made videos calling on teachers to continue to teach for Palestine.

The group is planning another protest outside the Department of Education to launch a campaign for a union ban on weapons sponsored school programs, and resources to support teachers to teach about Palestine.

Sydney organising

In Sydney 60 teachers and supporters attended a forum with Randa Abdel-Fattah, writer and human rights activist of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage, discussing the repression in schools against support for Palestine.

A day of action on 13 February saw 12 schools so far wear badges, keffiyeh and t-shirts into work. More reports from schools are still coming in.

Fifty attended a rally at Education Minister Jason Clare’s office to finish the day. In some schools staff wore Teachers for Palestine t-shirts all day but in other places signs of support had to be more subtle due to a crackdown against teacher involvement.

Teachers participating reported finding new allies, starting new conversations about Gaza, and distributing copies of a booklet the group has produced “We can’t be neutral on genocide” to colleagues. Another 500 colour copies will be distributed to union activists and schools.

Teachers and School Staff for Palestine in NSW is also planning a day of wearing the keffiyeh in schools on Harmony Day on 21 March, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to make support for Palestine visible.

Many teachers have been told nothing about Palestine can be discussed in classes at all unless it goes through the principal.

Teachers standing up to this censorship and repression deserve everyone’s support.

By Lucy Honan

Magazine

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