Israel-Palestine education: Pressure grows as cross party MSPs set to ‘express concern’ in letter

“Quality assured” Education Scotland resources on Israel-Palestine were removed in May 2017 and a review into the resources was paused in August 2018

THE convenors of the Scottish Parliament’s cross party group on Palestine are to write to the Deputy First Minister in search of answers about the three year saga over Israel-Palestine educational resources for Scotland’s schools.

Sandra White from the SNP, Claudia Beamish from Scottish Labour and Ross Greer from the Scottish Greens are set to write a joint letter to John Swinney, DFM and Cabinet Secretary for Education & Skills.

The planned letter comes after CommonSpace’s story last week which revealed education materials on Israel-Palestine had been removed following pressure from Jewish and pro-Israel lobby groups last year, and a review into the resources by Education Scotland had been paused by Swinney since August.

REVEALED: Swinney shuts down Israel-Palestine school resources after lobbying pressure

White, who is MSP for the Glasgow Kelvin constituency and convenor of the cross party group (CPG) on Palestine, told CommonSpace that the CPG had established a sub-group on Education specifically to address the problem of the education materials, which she described as “an issue that’s been going on a long time which really should have moved forward by now”.

She said they would be writing to Swinney “to express their concern about the lack of progress” on the materials.

Co-convenor Claudia Beamish MSP, representing the South of Scotland region, told CommonSpace that the letter will be written as soon as possible.

“This is a very serious matter and I will be seeking an explanation from Mr Swinney about the possible political interference,” she said, in an MSP, not co-convenor, capacity.

A joint statement from several Palestinian groups last week spelt out their frustration that the educational resources had been stymied by implacable oppositon from some Jewish and pro-Israeli groups. They warned that the Scottish Government were in “grave danger of allowing political lobbyists to interfere in the teaching and learning of our pupils.”

 

Government documentation revealed opposition to the very idea of educational resources on the issue of Israel-Palestine from the Scottish Friends of Israel since a working group was established to develop the material in 2015. The decision to establish the working group followed a public apology from North Lanarkshire High School after it gave out homework which described Palestinians as “separatist terrorists”.

SFI said in a consultation meeting the proposal to create the resources was “inappropriate and divisive”, would “bring anti-Semitism into the classroom”, and could “upset” Jewish and Muslim children and it was “impossible to achieve a balanced exploration”. In a later meeting the lobby group confirmed they were exploring legal routes to oppose the creation of the education resources.

The materials were “quality assured” by Education Scotland professionals and put on GLOW, the Scottish teaching and learning intranet, in March 2017, after positive feedback from teachers, parents, students and Palestinian groups.

But in May 2017 they were removed by the Deputy First Minister after a meeting with the Scottish Council for Jewish Communities and a review was ordered into them. Claims that a cartoon video on GLOW, produced by Jewish Voice for Peace, was racist were rejected by Education Scotland and academics consulted on the issue, but by August 2018 all work on the materials was paused.

ANALYSIS: When lobbying power and the false pursuit of consensus trumps learning

CommonSpace asked the Deputy First Minister last week why he had ordered the material to be taken down off the site and reviewed in May 2017, why he had then paused all work on this in August 2018 and whether he still believed it was important to produce education resources on Israel-Palestine.

A Scottish Government spokesperson replied: “It is important that schools have access to appropriate materials that provide the broadest possible learning experience, including about the impact of conflict.

“Any resources on a sensitive subject such as Israel and Palestine are going to attract a range of differing opinions. That is why there has been a considerable amount of work over a long period to take account of stakeholder views and ensure the materials in this case are as balanced and objective as possible before being made available.”

Commenting on the issue, Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie, who is also on the Palestine cross party working group, told Broadcasting Scotland that he was: "Very concerned…I think it's safe to say that Mr Swinney will be hearing from the Scottish Green Party about that matter."

CommonSpace asked the Deputy First Minister last week why he had ordered the material to be taken down off the site and reviewed in May 2017, why he had then paused all work on this in August 2018 and whether he still believed it was important to produce education resources on Israel-Palestine.

The next meeting of Holyrood’s Cross Party Group On Palestine is scheduled for 14 November and is expected address the issue of the educational resources.

CommonSpace contacted Palestine cross-party group co-convenor and Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer for comment but he had not responded by time of publication.

Picture courtesy of Andrea Pearson

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