After feeling that some of the teachers unions in Britain are acting in a way that could be construed as anti-Israel, the Board of Deputies of British Jews – the body that represents the voice of the country’s Jews – is calling on Jewish teachers to join unions like the National Union of Teachers in greater numbers.
Teachers who heed the call made jointly with England’s Jewish Leadership Council should also become members of the Jewish Teacher’s Association and work to change the unions’ biases from within, say the groups. Board of Directors Spokesman James Martin says that while it is understandable that the anti-Israel moves made by the unions have led to resignations by Jewish teachers, the best way to change these things would be to work within the organization, not outside it.
“However, this unfortunately deprives them of the opportunity to make and influence policy that is the right of any trade unionist, and it has often meant that the field is left clear for the most radical elements to set the agenda,” he continued.
“There are other issues affecting Jewish teachers, too, such as time off for religious observance, and issues of pay and conditions that should properly be the remit of a trade union working for its members, rather than a flight of foreign policy fancy.”
Stephen Hoffman, speaking for the Zionist Federation of the UK, said that he agreed with call but said that it is important to distinguish between the policies favored by the union leadership and the point of view held by union rank and file. He said that knee-jerk anti-Israel reactions can seem designed to incite anti-Semitic feeling, but most members don’t share these views.
In a letter to Jewish teachers regarding the new initiative, Jewish Teachers Association chairwoman Flora Richards explained that for many union members who belong to her association, “the perceived NUT rhetoric around Israel/Palestine has led to them feeling uncomfortable as Jews within the Union. Many Jewish teachers feel Zionism and a connection to Israel is a core part of their identity and the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish State has struck at Jewish teachers and made their position within NUT untenable.” However, she urged Jewish teachers to renew their NUT membership, saying, “We must be advocates for Judaism and Israel from within NUT. We must be part of the discussion, rather than complaining from the outside.”
The wave of resignations due to anti-Israel union policies begun during the second Intifada in 2002 when the NUT delegation accused Israel of ethnic cleansing during a conference in Bournemouth.