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UK: Rights group challenges Williamson's schools guidance on Palestine

CAGE condemns education minister's intervention as an attempt to censor political discussion on Palestine in schools
Williamson's letter was sent to headteachers days after students said they were reprimanded for their Palestine activism in school (AFP)

A human rights group launched a legal challenge on Monday against UK Education Minister Gavin Willamson on guidance he gave to schools about how they should handle student protests against Israel's bombardment of Gaza. 

CAGE, a rights group in London, submitted the challenge and accused Williamson of censoring "discussions" on Palestine and attempting to control political conversations on the issue in schools.  

Earlier this year, Williamson sent headteachers across the UK a letter calling on school leaders and staff to "act appropriately" when they express political views on Israel-Palestine.  

He called on schools to clamp down on anti-semitism and reminded headteachers of their "legal duties regarding political impartiality", urging them to present a "balanced presentation of opposing views" on Israel-Palestine.  

"This case will seek to establish that it is not the function of the executive to choreograph political discussions within schools in the manner of autocratic regimes," said Muhammad Rabbani, Managing Director of CAGE. 

"This violates the tradition and legal requirement of impartiality that has been the bulwark against state propaganda. We should respect the experience and judgement of school leaders and not politicians seeking to foment 'cultural wars'."

Fahad Ansari, a solicitor leading the judicial review, added: “the instruction issued by the Secretary of State has had the effect of not only stifling the legitimate political views of Muslim students in schools across the country but also justifying their securitisation for simply demonstrating solidarity with the victims of Israeli apartheid.”

The Department of Education did not respond to Middle East Eye's (MEE) request for comment at the time of writing. 

Williamson's intervention came days after MEE reported that schools across Britain were clamping down on pro-Palestine activism on school premises. Some students were disciplined for wearing keffiyehs and holding Palestine flags. 

Several students who spoke to MEE said they were threatened with detention, expulsion, and being blocked from taking their exams if they continued protesting for Palestinian rights on school premises. 

MEND, a not-for-profit company that supports British Muslims, also recorded 146 statements from students detailing how schools attempted to shut down support for Palestine. 

One student was reprimanded for wearing a "Free Palestine" badge. In another school, teachers claimed it was Palestine's fault that it was being bombed. 

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