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Chief representative of British Jews calls for antisemitism probe into UK’s biggest teaching union

22 April 2024, 07:07 | Updated: 22 April 2024, 13:30

Chief representative of British Jews calls for antisemitism probe into UK’s biggest teaching union
Chief representative of British Jews calls for antisemitism probe into UK’s biggest teaching union. Picture: Alamy

By Joseph Draper

The nation’s biggest education union has allowed antisemitism to “fester” within its ranks, the UK’s most senior representative of the Jewish community has warned.

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The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the National Education Union - the NEU - has become a “hostile environment” for Jewish teachers since the outbreak of war in Gaza.

It comes after a Jewish man said he felt like he was at a Nazi rally when the crowd screamed at him until he was forced off stage as he attempted to speak at the union’s annual conference earlier this month.

The conference in Bournemouth triggered a wave of complaints by teachers “horrified’ by what they saw, the Board said, revealing exclusively to LBC that it had summoned the NEU for urgent talks.

The Board compared the situation to the institutionalised antisemitism which took hold of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

It also called for an independent team to investigate claims of racial abuse against Jewish members.

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Responding to the unprecedented intervention, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner urged the trade unionist movement to tackle antisemitism – just as she and Keir Starmer did when they took over the party.

LBC has spoken to several Jewish teachers, including two NEU representatives, who said they feel unsafe – and claimed that many of their colleagues are leaving the union, choosing to sacrifice the protection it provides.

One union rep from London said his complaints of antisemitism were “filed and forgotten” after a woman at a local meeting said the Jews have “all the money”.

He said three of his colleagues had already handed in their membership cards.

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Another rep said Jewish teachers were “afraid to make themselves known” because of the “vitriol” they experienced – and knew five who had left the NEU.

Peter Block, a retired supply teacher from North London, attempted to oppose a motion on Israel in front of hundreds of delegates at the NEU conference, describing it as a “glorification” of Palestinian terror group, Hamas.

A video of the crowd screaming, jeering, and slow clapping him off-stage has been obtained exclusively by LBC.

Mr Block told LBC that he was left intimidated by the “howling mob” - comparing the “frenzy” of “screaming and flag waving” to one of Hitler’s rallies.

Angela Rayner responded to the Board of Deputies’ intervention by advising trade unions to “acknowledge that antisemitism is a problem” and have a “programme to tackle it”.
Angela Rayner responded to the Board of Deputies’ intervention by advising trade unions to “acknowledge that antisemitism is a problem” and have a “programme to tackle it”. Picture: Alamy

He said he had not received a formal apology after the NEU president Emma Rose, who chaired the debate,  turned off his microphone and forced him to leave the stage.

Such was the intensity of anti-Israeli anger that another Jewish teacher scheduled to oppose the motion was too afraid to go on stage, Mr Block said.

The motion in question, which was later passed by NEU delegates, condemned Israel’s government as the main source of conflict in Palestine – without referencing the bloody attack by Hamas on October 7 which sparked the current war in Gaza.

Speaking exclusively to LBC, the Board of Deputies’ director of public affairs, Daniel Sugarman, said that the treatment of Mr Block “sent a message” to other Jewish members that they will be “targeted” if they speak out.

He added: “A particular sort of political ideology has taken over in the same way as it took over the Labour Party.

“I think that it's increasingly clear, unfortunately, that the NEU is a hostile environment for any Jewish person who supports Israel's right to exist.

“Particularly since October 7 – but heightened by what happened at the conference - Jewish people are absolutely horrified at the way that this is playing out in the NEU.

“There is a profound concern within the Jewish community that an organisation with such issues has direct access to the minds of British children.

“I sincerely hope this is a wakeup call.”

An NEU spokesperson told LBC it has a “zero tolerance approach” to antisemitism and all other forms of racism, and that it “absolutely and wholeheartedly refutes” Mr Block’s characterisation of the debate.

They said Mr Block was given an additional minute to speak after the crowd began shouting at him before he was “politely” asked to conclude his speech.

Angela Rayner responded to the Board of Deputies’ intervention by advising trade unions to “acknowledge that antisemitism is a problem” and have a “programme to tackle it”.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the National Education Union - the NEU - has become a “hostile environment” for Jewish teachers since the outbreak of war in Gaza.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the National Education Union - the NEU - has become a “hostile environment” for Jewish teachers since the outbreak of war in Gaza. Picture: Alamy

The education secretary Gillian Keegan told LBC that the NEU’s “divisive ideology” was causing “significant hurt” to Jewish teachers, parents, and children.

Mr Sugarman urged the NEU leadership to engage with its Jewish members after allowing antisemitism to “fester for years”, adding that it “urgently” needed an independent complaints process.

He criticised a decision to allow controversial pro-Palestine activist Anas Altikriti to speak during the conference.

Dr Altikriti said in November last year – weeks after Hamas killed over 1,000 Israelis and kidnapped hundreds more - that hostage taking was a “very important part” of any “act of resistance” and called reports that the terrorist organisation had raped women a “lie”, according to the Daily Telegraph.

LBC understands that the NEU’s general secretary, Daniel Kebede, was also due to speak at the event on Palestine but that he withdrew when the focus changed to include discussions on “wider issues”, claiming he was “unaware” of which speakers were attending.

The NEU said he would not have attended “since learning of the reported views” of Dr Altikriti.

Mr Kebede has already been criticised after he and Jeremy Corbyn were photographed holding a pro-Palestine banner days before the conference alongside Ismail Patel, who reportedly “saluted” Hamas for “standing up to Israel”, and Adnan Hmidan, who said he “loved” the terrorist group’s founder, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

Mr Sugarman said: “What, if any, due diligence is there to share platforms with people who have made such despicable comments?”

The chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, a charity which teaches school children about antisemitism, questioned the leadership of the union.

Karen Pollock CBE, who is also vice president of the Jewish Leadership Council, told LBC: “You have to question what sort of leadership this is and what direction this person is trying to take an education union in.”

The NEU said Mr Kebede attended many pro-Palestine rallies but that he “does not know” Mr Patel and Mr Hmidan.

In a statement, the union said: “The NEU absolutely and wholeheartedly refutes this characterisation of the debate at the NEU annual conference.

“The NEU has a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism and every other form of racism.

“The NEU’s General Secretary, Daniel Kebede, who was not in the hall for the debate, on hearing that Peter had been heckled personally and immediately sought him out at conference to offer his personal apology for the interruptions to Peter’s speech.

“The NEU has met with the Board of Deputies of British Jews with follow up meetings scheduled to discuss how we can work together to combat antisemitism through education.

“There needs to be a strong current in education of work on antisemitism and the NEU is happy to be engaging with the Board of Deputies and others on this.”

Dr Altiktriti has also been approached for comment.

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