Protect the right to support Palestine in schools

by CAGE Advocacy

Protect the right to support Palestine in schools

by CAGE Advocacy
CAGE Advocacy
Case Owner
Advocacy group empowering the community and working against state violations of the rule of law
on 25th August 2021
pledged of £10,000 stretch target from 255 pledges
CAGE Advocacy
Case Owner
Advocacy group empowering the community and working against state violations of the rule of law

Latest: Sept. 15, 2022

The verdict's in!

Dear supporter


In May 2021, students across the country spoke out against the atrocities that were happening in Gaza and stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people.…

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On the 28th of May 2021, after thousands in Britain demonstrated their support for Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza, Education Minister Gavin Williamson issued a controversial letter to school leaders. 

The letter seemingly curtailed pro-Palestinian support and imposed a pro-Israel state-sponsored narrative in schools. 

It came in a context when hundreds of students, overwhelmingly Muslim pupils, had already been reprimanded in their schools, including expulsions and referrals to PREVENT,  for expressing solidarity with Palestinians. 

This challenge aims at protecting the right to express solidarity with Palestinians in schools without fear of government-imposed censorship.

CAGE is raising £2500 to initiate the first step towards a legal challenge against the Education Minister's discriminatory letter to school leaders on Palestine, so that pupils and teachers can remain safe and free to explore the Palestinian issue.

Please contribute and help us reach our first target. Thank you for your support! 

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Update 4

CAGE Advocacy

Sept. 15, 2022

The verdict's in!

Dear supporter


In May 2021, students across the country spoke out against the atrocities that were happening in Gaza and stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Schools responded to this, reprimanding students with expulsions and detentions, amongst other punishments. The then Education Secretary issued guidance to schools reinforcing their disproportionate response and indicating the "conflict" should be presented in a balanced manner, denying organisations that challenge Israel's 'right to exist'.


This formed the basis for our legal challenge and in August 2021 we launched a judicial review against the government.


We wanted to update you on the outcome of this important legal challenge that we were able to take, with your help.


1) Following our legal claim, the government issued new guidance to schools which backtracked from the initial letter and provided more nuanced direction on how to deal with political impartiality including with specific reference to Israel-Palestine.


2) We presented legal arguments around 'Israel's right to exist' in Court and why this was not protected in International law. As part of this we commissioned two prestigious expert reports and will be publishing them in due course for other activists and campaigners to utilise going forward. 


3) Our duty to take on this challenge arose from the 50 parents and students who we supported after they were punished for expressing solidarity with the Palestinians in schools. 


Unfortunately, the judge did not give us permission to proceed to a full hearing based on a technicality and no doubt the Court did not want to take a decision against the Israeli lobby, however we believe we were still successful in taking this challenge. 


You can read more about why we took this legal challenge here:


We are having a free event in East London on 24 September on how you can continue to defend the rights of Palestinians in your school, please register here:


Kind regards,



Update 3

CAGE Advocacy

Sept. 30, 2021

Government attempts to justify letter to schools by referencing IHRA definition

The Education Secretary has now filed his summary grounds of defence to our legal challenge to the instruction issued to schools on how to discuss Israel/Palestine in the classroom.

We had hoped that the new Minister for Education Nadhim Zahawi would have reconsidered his position in light of the fact that the letter in question was issued by his predecessor Gavin Williamson.

Instead, Mr Zahawi has doubled-down and has, for the first time in these proceedings, sought to justify the Letter by reference to the heavily criticised IHRA working definition of antisemitism. 

The Education Secretary’s primary point is that the Letter’s use of the phrase “Israel’s right to exist” was in fact intended to reflect a reference to ‘the right to self-determination of the Jewish people’, by relying indirectly on an example from the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. 

While conceding that the Letter does not actually mention the IHRA nor the working definition nor the relevant example, Mr Zahawi nevertheless asserts that “the thrust is the same”.

The Difference and why it matters:

There is a significant difference between the two phrases and ‘the thrust’ of each is entirely distinct. 

Under international law there is a right of peoples to self-determination and this may include, but cannot legally necessitate, a State (see, for example, Basque Country, Catalonia or Scotland).

Even the relevant example from the IHRA working definition does not equate the Jewish people’s right to self-determination with “Israel’s right to exist”. 

Indeed, it provides a categorically different example, namely that “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” In other words, it classifies principled opposition to any conceivable Jewish State (on the ground that such a State would by definition be racist) as an example of antisemitism. 

Denying the legitimacy of the State of Israel (because of its contested history and/or contemporary policies and laws) is not considered antisemitic by the IHRA working definition. This is a bad faith, disingenuous attempt to confuse the court by conflating valid intellectual debates with antisemitism. 

This misunderstanding by the Education Secretary illustrates exactly why he should not be dictating to schools which views on this subject-matter are, or are not, acceptable. 

Whether purposefully or not, the Education Secretary’s conflation of “Israel’s right to exist” with the IHRA working definition amounts to a conflation of legitimate criticism of the State of Israel with antisemitism. 

We believe that this conflation has and will continue to result in the silencing of those views which are critical of the State of Israel for fear of being labelled antisemitic. As detailed in our report ‘Repression of Palestinian Solidarity in Schools’,such labelling of pupils by teachers has already occurred.

Our lawyers have drafted a reply to the Education Secretary’s Summary Grounds. The papers will now be placed before a High Court judge who will make a decision as to whether the claim is arguable or not. 

If the claim is arguable, permission will be granted to proceed with the judicial review and a date for hearing the claim will be listed in the near future.

We are still short of our target of £10,000 to cover the costs of this claim. We encourage our supporters to donate generously to this seminal challenge and share the fundriasing page widely. 

As always, we are incredibly grateful for your ongoing support.

Update 2

CAGE Advocacy

Sept. 3, 2021

As Schools Reopen, CAGE Files Claim in High Court

Following your incredible response to our appeal, CAGE was this week able to start proceedings in the High Court against the Education Secretary's instruction to schools on Israel/Pakistan.

Part of the funds raised was used to secure expert opinions from eminent international law jurist Professor John Dugard and Professor Avi Shlaim, emeritus fellow at Oxford University. 

A number of Palestinian civil society organisations also provided evidence in support of the claim, demonstrating the rising popularity of this challenge. These include the Palestinian Return Centre, the Palestinian Forum in Britain, the British Palestinian Policy Council, Europal and Ramallah-based Al Haq.

This seminal challenge will determine whether the Education Secretary breached the Education Act 1996 by promoting a partisan political view, namely Israel's 'right to exist.' In doing so, he sought to silence any debate about the legitimacy of its creation, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and the apartheid nature of the Israeli state.

International law jurist Professor John Dugard said in his evidence: 

“Israel claims that it has the right to exist because the legality of its creation was contested and is still a matter for debate. In order to assert its legitimacy as a State and the legality of its creation, it asserts its “right to exist”. This assertion is not made in the exercise of any right recognized by international law. It is simply a political appeal designed to justify the morality and legality of Israel’s creation and existence as a State.

“To exclude this subject from debate would be a serious violation of academic freedom and freedom of expression”

Professor Avi Shlaim, emeritus fellow at Oxford University said in his evidence:

”Israel’s ‘right to exist’ is not a legal right but an ideological and emotionally loaded catch phrase that served to divert attention from mounting international opposition to its illegal occupation.” 

The Education Secretary now has 21 days to confirm whether or not he intends to contest the challenge and if he does, to provide his summary grounds of defence. 

A High Court judge will then determine whether the claim is arguable and if so, permission will be granted for the case to proceed to a full hearing. 

We are immensely grateful to all our supporters to date. We are still significantly short of our stretch target of £10,000 and appeal to all supporters of Palestinian rights to continue to help us. 

Update 1

CAGE Advocacy

Aug. 24, 2021

CAGE to issue proceedings against Gavin Williamson to the High Court this week

In his response to CAGE's letter before action, the Education Secretary has refused to withdraw his instruction to school leaders. As a result, CAGE will be issuing judicial review proceedings against Gavin Williamson this week. 

The Challenge

Our challenge is based on three primary grounds:

  1. There appears to have been insufficient consultation, if any at all, with stakeholders from impacted communities.
  2. The letter discriminates against Muslim pupils
  3. The letter is in breach of the Education Act 1996 as it promotes a partisan political position by prohibiting schools from working with groups that publicly reject Israel’s right to exist.

Israel’s right to exist has no basis in international law and is simply an emotional politicised phrase that has been used to silence any discussion about the ethnic cleansing that underpinned the creation of the state of Israel, the right of return of the Palestinian refugees forcibly displaced by its creation, and the apartheid nature of Israel’s governance both within Israel and in the Occupied Territories. 

CAGE is bringing this challenge to ensure that pupils in schools across the country are able to discuss and debate the right of Israel to exist both in terms of its creation and its present policies without fear of being censured in any way. 

CAGE has secured expert opinions from a leading international lawyer and a distinguished academic in support of this position.


On the 28th of May 2021, after thousands of pupils in schools across Britain demonstrated their solidarity with Palestine amidst an Israeli military campaign that killed 260 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson issued a letter to all headteachers and school leaders which has had a chilling effect of stifling all expressions of Palestinian solidarity in schools. 

The letter came in the context of hundreds of, overwhelmingly Muslim, pupils, being reprimanded by their schools for showing solidarity with Palestinians. Pupils were subjected to Islamophobic taunts, issued with detention, with some even being expelled and others referred to the government’s counter-extremism programme PREVENT. 

The letter effectively justified the sanctions imposed by the schools and sought to impose a state-sponsored pro-Israel narrative in schools discussing the Palestinian struggle for freedom. The letter directed schools to work with named organisations notorious for supporting Israel and emphasised that “schools should not work with or use materials from organisations that publicly reject Israel’s right to exist.”

Following dozens of Muslim pupils approaching CAGE for advice and assistance to challenge their schools’ punishments, CAGE instructed lawyers to challenge the lawfulness of Williamson’s directive. CAGE prepared a report about the pupils experience which can be read here

Why this case is important

CAGE is striving to protect the freedom of pupils and teachers alike to both debate the legitimacy of Israeli statehood and express solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom.

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