Published: September 23, 2011
by PETER GRUNER
A ROW has erupted between Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and a senior Town Hall official over advice warning primary schools against taking part in a Palestinian literature festival.
Former children’s laureate Michael Rosen is among those taking part in the event, organised by Haringey Justice for Palestine group, which runs from September 29 to October 2.
Mr Rosen is also angry about the advice that schools should not become involved. He said: “It’s very disappointing and a rather strange way to behave by Islington Council. Instead of entering into a conversation with the organisers they have simply taken the word of someone and then taken this somewhat draconian step to advise people not to take part.”
The advice came from the Labour-controlled council’s corporate director of children’s services, Eleanor Schooling, who warned that the “political” nature of the event might contravene the 1996 Education Act.
Two schools, including Duncombe Primary in Upper Holloway, were due to take part in the Tottenham Palestinian Literature Festival. Both have since reluctantly withdrawn from the event.
However, it appears that Ms Schooling had been advised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who had expressed concerns.
In a letter to one of the organisers, Ms Schooling wrote: “The board also expressed concern that the proposed workshops would present issues in a way that was divisive and might cause discomfort to some pupils.”
Mr Corbyn said he was very unhappy with the advice from Ms Schooling. “She really should not have sent this letter out,” he added. “The Board of Deputies are hardly objective in this matter. Their record of denunciation of all things Palestinian is well known.”
He hopes to attend the festival himself. “It’s a great opportunity for children to understand the wealth and joy of Palestinian literature and a little of the history of the region,” he said.
“It’s not in any way biased, but a festival which will encourage children to broaden their horizons. The children were looking forward to it. I’d like to think there is still time to resolve the issue.”
Barrie O’Shea, head of Duncombe Primary, said he had reluctantly agreed not to take part following guidance from the council.
“The children were really upset,” he said. “They were looking forward to the festival. They had written poems for a workshop and put in a lot of work. They were especially looking forward to meeting former children’s laureate Michael Rosen.”
Mr O’Shea said he had worked with Israelis and Palestinians in the past.
At the time of going to press, the Board of Deputies of British Jews had not replied to a telephone request from the Tribune to comment.