A London-based advocacy group is launching legal action against the UK’s education minister for alleged “discriminatory guidance” to headteachers that was issued following student activism, sparked by Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza.
UK schools came under fire for censoring freedom of expression after students reported facing punishment for displays of solidarity with the Palestinians, including being referred to the government’s ‘Prevent’ counterterrorism scheme.
On May 28, British Education Minister Gavin Williamson sent a letter to headteachers demanding “political impartiality” in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict. It referenced pro-Israel organisations for schools to interact with so that students were exposed to a “balanced” representation of the conflict.
On Monday, right group CAGE sent a pre-action letter for judicial review ahead of planned legal action against the minister, whom they accused of “censoring the view of schools that challenge the state-sponsored narrative on Israel”.
While Gavinson mentioned an alleged rise in antisemitic incidents, CAGE said in its letter that there was no word on the “the increase in discriminatory behaviour towards Muslim pupils by teaching staff”.
In all 47 cases handled by CAGE where students had faced sanctions, Muslims were involved. Teachers who had described the Palestinian flag as a “call to arms” and a “symbol of antisemitism” made headlines in May when several videos went viral online.
In a press release, CAGE’s Managing Director, Muhammad Rabbani, said that in response to expressions of solidarity the “government has sought to censor discussions in classrooms and exert control over any political activity in schools”.
He said his group’s legal challenge would seek to establish “that it is not the function of the executive to choreograph political discussions within schools in the manner of autocratic regimes”.
Fahad Ansari, the solicitor handling the case for CAGE, said the instructions issued by Williamson to the UK’s headteachers “had the effect of not only stifling the legitimate political views of Muslim students in schools across the country, but also justifying their securitisation”.
In a statement reported by The Morning Star, UK’s Department of Education said: “Antisemitism like all forms of racism is abhorrent and has no place in our schools”.
“The Education Secretary wrote to schools to remind them of their responsibility to deal with antisemitic incidents with due seriousness, following a reported increase during the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”