Minister condemns ‘inflammatory’ teacher action for Palestine

Minister condemns ‘inflammatory’ teacher action for Palestine

November 27, 2023

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The Victorian Labor government has taken a swing at Melbourne teachers taking “inflammatory” and “divisive” action in solidarity with Palestine this week after the opposition accused Premier Jacinta Allan of going soft on striking students.

A sub-branch of the Australian Education Union covering the inner-city and Maribyrnong regions started a week of action on Monday to show visible support for Palestinians during the Israel and Hamas war by wearing keffiyehs to school inviting an advocates to speak in classrooms.

A protester in a keffiyeh at a pro-Palestinian student rally outside Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

Keffiyeh scarves have become a symbol of Palestinian resistance.

Deputy Premier Ben Carroll, the Education Minister, addressed a press conference on Monday to condemn the action, which comes in the days after a school strike for Palestine.

“This action is inflammatory, it’s divisive, and only sows more seeds of disharmony in our community,” Carroll said. “We’re calling on all teachers that hold a privileged position to teach the curriculum in the classroom not to invite strangers or political activists into the classroom.

“I reiterate, this action is divisive and inflammatory, and I condemn it.”

He said about 20 to 25 teachers from some government schools in the Flemington, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Princes Hill areas supported the motion.

The motion was passed at a regional branch meeting last week, without the endorsement of the broader union.

Carroll reminded teachers of their obligations under the Public Service Act and the Victorian Institute of Teaching code of conduct “to be unbiased, objective, and not have political or personal agendas in the classroom”. He said it was up to school principals to enforce that.

“This flyer specifically calls on [teachers] to bring strangers and political activists into the classroom,” he said. “That is incorrect, and it’s contrary to their stated aims of teaching.”

Carroll said it was a matter for the Department of Education whether there were consequences for those who participated, and said he hoped it did not get to the point of sacking teachers. He was getting advice on whether the department could instruct teachers and staff not to wear specific attire, such as a badge or keffiyeh.

Coalition education spokeswoman Jess Wilson said the government should have been quicker to condemn the “distressing” week of action, noting the opposition released a statement a day earlier.

“Unfortunately, we have a government that’s been flat-footed on this issue,” she said.

“The department is now putting out communication after the fact. This is a failure by the education minister and the premier not to have reacted much faster. The minister said the right thing, but unfortunately, it’s too late.”

Hundreds of protesters joined the School Students for Palestine rally last Friday.

Allan and Carroll repeatedly said students should be in the classroom, but they attracted criticism from Wilson, who said the government needed to harden its stance against students who skipped school to protest.

Thousands of people from the Jewish community signed a joint letter to the premier’s office that described the government’s response as confusing and the involvement of schoolchildren in protests as exploitative.

Carroll on Monday said school communities had been working through tensions.

“I want to commend our schools and our teachers and our principals who over the past month have done an incredibly good job during difficult circumstances,” he said.

“I’ve been out to Jewish schools, Islamic schools, state and private, independent schools, they’re all doing a very important and difficult job at the moment.”

The Education Department and the union have been contacted for comment.

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