Victorian teachers defy intimidation to support Palestine

As Israel ramped up its genocide, and our own state and federal education ministers threw their weight behind it, teachers in Victoria used our rank-and-file networks and the Trade Unionists for Palestine campaign to take collective action.

We met up at the weekly rallies and in online meetings, formed a Whatsapp group of more than 100 educators, and started planning our own “week of action”.

Our plan was to replicate Sydney teachers’ actions, wearing keffiyehs or badges and t-shirts with Palestinian flags to work, having watermelon morning teas, and holding a vigil for the children, educators and all Palestinians killed.

The ruling class is always anxious to control what teachers do in the classroom, but never more so than when we expose the depravity of Australia’s alliance with Israel. Across Victoria, principals enacted department directives to shut down our week of action.

Teachers were warned to feign ignorance when discussing Israel and Palestine with students, others were told to remove keffiyehs, flags and badges.

Teachers were issued warnings for handing out information to colleagues about Israel’s genocide. Shockingly, one teacher was sent home for giving a flyer about the week of action to a colleague in a staff room!

Our group responded immediately to each instance of repression. When the teacher was sent home for handing out our flyer, we mobilised for the regional Australian Education Union (AEU) meeting scheduled for that evening.

In an excellent show of solidarity about 20 Teachers and Support Staff for Palestine attended and won motions supporting her, Palestine, and the week of action.

The union meetings helped consolidate us as an organised and fighting group.

Seven regions have passed strong Palestine resolutions. School sub-branches have successfully forced principals to retract “warnings”, and groups of rank-and-file teachers have defied explicit directives to remove keffiyehs.

Just before our week of action we won a muted and belated victory, with AEU leaders sending out a bulletin defending our right to have “respectful” discussions about Palestine at work and with students. More than 200 people came to our vigil, and most of them participated in some way in the week of action.

More than 1000 educators have signed an open letter calling for Education Ministers to end their military and diplomatic support for Israel, and we held a fiery speak out at the Department of Education, symbolically delivering the letter.

When school goes back we will hit our union meetings with motions about participating in a “Palestine in our classrooms” week. This will mean refusing to teach programs with links to weapons manufacturers (there are an alarming number of STEM programs linked to them). And exploring the questions avoided by our teaching resources and suppressed by media and the government.

Ben Carroll, our Education Minister, has accused us of being inflammatory, and threatened that we are breaking the Code of Conduct.

Zionists are lobbying for the sacking of one of our members who spoke out at the Department of Education. But the more resistance we meet, the clearer it is that the government depends on teachers and schools to normalise war and their complicity with genocide. We are organised, and with the momentum of the global movement, we won’t be silenced.

By Lucy Honan

Magazine

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