Jewish groups have expressed outrage at the involvement of a Warsaw Ghetto graffiti vandal in the organisation of antisemitism training for the National Education Union (NEU). Although the NEU insisted that Ewa Jasiewicz had no say over the content or delivery of the sessions, Campaign Against Antisemitism can reveal that they were led by two fringe Jewdas activists.
The three-part course was organised by Ewa Jasiewicz, through the North West Black Member Organising Forum of the NEU.
Ms Jasiewicz is infamous for spraying the slogan “Free Gaza and Palestine” on the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto in 2010. The vandalism breached the International Definition of Antisemitism and was roundly condemned by the Jewish community. Now with the NEU, Ms Jasiewicz was previously a union organiser with Unite and has spoken at an event with the pro-Corbyn pressure group, Momentum. She has previously had to apologise for comments that appeared to incite terrorism, and Jeremy Corbyn has reportedly called her a “very good friend”.
Campaign Against Antisemitism wrote to the NEU about Ms Jasiewicz’s involvement in the course. In a reply from the Joint General Secretaries of the union, Mary Bousted and the outspoken Kevin Courtney insisted that Ms Jasiewicz “facilitated the organisation of the event at the request of members but had no role in deciding or delivering the content of any sessions.”
However, Campaign Against Antisemitism can reveal who did lead the sessions and their content.
The course leaders, Eran Cohen, who works in the tech centre and is an Education Officer for the United Tech and Allied Workers, and arts activist Keziah Berelson, have both been involved in the far-left fringe Jewish group, Jewdas, and either support or have defended BDS — the campaign to boycott the Jewish state — the tactics of which an overwhelming majority of British Jews find intimidating. Mr Cohen is reportedly a self-professed anti-Zionist who has previously been described as a ‘Jewish’ Jeremy Corbyn.
Jewdas is a fringe Jewish group which appears to pride itself, as its name suggests, in taking positions that many in the Jewish community would see as a betrayal. For example, it has suggested that Campaign Against Antisemitism is run as a money-making scam by its volunteers, has said that “Israel is itself a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of”, and claimed that those calling out antisemitism in the Labour Party are “playing a dangerous game with people’s lives” before claiming that the entire crisis is a “bout of faux-outrage” that “is the work of cynical manipulations by people whose express loyalty is to the Conservative Party and the right wing of the Labour Party”.
The three online sessions, all held in May, were billed as part of the NEU’s “ongoing antiracist organising and racial literacy-building work in the region”. They were intended to “place an emphasis on antisemitism’s self-perception as ‘punching upwards’, in contrast to other forms of racism which ‘punch down’,” with the first session exploring the history of antisemitism, the second on alleged racism within the Jewish community and the third on intersectionality.
The reading materials for the sessions included a video by the late former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, who was described as a “prominent right-wing rabbi”, despite his long working relationships with two Labour Prime Ministers; excerpts from Judith Butler, a far-left academic who is involved in the highly controversial and fringe American group, Jewish Voice for Peace; extracts from work by Hannah Arendt and Jean-Paul Sartre, both of whom had controversial views on antisemitism; writings by a French Marxist philosopher known for his harsh criticism of Israel; and other materials from Jewish Voice for Peace and the Jewish Anarchist ‘Treyf’ podcast.
With the exception of the video from Rabbi Sacks and some material from Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, almost all of the resources were from fringe and unrepresentative authors and, in some cases, from groups widely considered to be hostile to the Jewish community.
Campaign Against Antisemitism sought to contact Mr Cohen and Ms Berelson for comment.
It is absolutely extraordinary that these course leaders and these materials could be deemed appropriate for antisemitism training. The fact that Ms Jasiewicz was not directly involved in selecting the resources or delivering the sessions is no reassurance given that the speakers — who may well have been contracted by her — appear to have provided a warped view of what antisemitism is. This is all the more concerning given the dire relations between several trade unions — including the NEU — with the Jewish community.
Recently, Jewish teachers have lamented that the NEU has failed them, with a significant number resigning their membership en masse. One Jewish teacher has also recently complained that the NEU classes him as black, notwithstanding his protestations. It is unclear whether that is why a course on antisemitism was being organised by the North West Black Member Organising Forum.
In their reply to Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Joint General Secretaries said: “The NEU has a proud record of tackling racism and antisemitism. Like other forms of racism antisemitism is on the rise and needs to be urgently tackled. Our website points to teaching and learning resources to support teachers and leaders in tackling antisemitism in education.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “The involvement of the notorious Warsaw Ghetto graffiti vandal, Ewa Jasiewicz, in arranging antisemitism training for the NEU is insulting enough. Regardless of the precise level of her participation, inviting two fringe figures to lead the sessions with resources from utterly misleading and highly controversial sources shows that the NEU is not serious about tackling antisemitism at all. It is no wonder that we routinely receive complaints from Jewish members of this union and others in the sector and that Jewish teachers have lately resigned en masse from the NEU. If these sessions reflect what the NEU believes antisemitism is, it has no hope of attracting these teachers to return.
“We would urge teachers, union officials are others who are interested in learning about antisemitism to contact us for training or consult our website and resources or those of other mainstream Jewish organisations or antisemitism specialists.
“If you rely on fringe figures for education on antisemitism, your perspective on anti-Jewish racism will be accordingly fringe and you will not be able to show the real solidarity with your Jewish colleagues that a union is supposed to instil.”
Campaign Antisemitism has produced teachers’ guides for classes on antisemitism, which have been endorsed by the BBC. We have also recently produced a short resource for pupils and parents who encounter antisemitism at schools.
Do you or your friends/family have stories of schoolteachers or pupils facing antisemitism at schools in the UK? Contact us at [email protected] or call +44 (0)330 822 0321.