U.K. Jews Protest Tapping of Controversial Activist to Organize Antisemitism Course

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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A pedestrian shelters from the rain in central London, June 2016.
A pedestrian shelters from the rain in central London, June 2016. Credit: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

A pro-Palestinian activist, who defaced the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto and expressed support for the murder of Israeli lawmakers, was revealed to be organizing courses on antisemitism for the U.K.’s largest teachers union on Tuesday, sparking an unusually harsh condemnation from the Jewish community’s representative body.

According to the Jewish News, Ewa Jasiewicz was tapped by the National Education Union to help organize a series of lessons on “Understanding Antisemitism” for union members, in which she promoted material which she said pushed back against the “common Eurocentric understanding of antisemitism.”

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On Wednesday, Marie Van Der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, wrote to the leaders of the NEU to “ensure that this sort of activity is not repeated.”

“As the democratic representative organization of British Jews in the U.K, we are profoundly disturbed by the news that an individual, who engaged in behavior which the overwhelming majority of British Jews deem profoundly antisemitic, has been organizing ‘understanding antisemitism’ workshops for your union,” she wrote.

“To have somebody with this sort of track record organizing antisemitism training workshops for your union is simply grotesque.”

In 2010, Jasiewicz caused widespread outrage when she spray-painted “Free Gaza and Palestine” on the wall of the former Warsaw Ghetto in Poland, where the city’s Jews were imprisoned by the Nazis before being deported to death camps. Over 90,000 Jews died in the ghetto.

Jasiewicz later defended her actions, which was condemned by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Community Security Trust antisemitism watchdog,  as “intended in the spirit of anti-fascist resistance, exemplified by Warsaw ghetto fighters, to the ghettoization and dehumanization of Palestinians in Palestine.” 

In 2018 she was disinvited from speaking at an event staged by a Labor party-linked organization after the Times of London reported that while living in the West Bank city of Jenin 16 years earlier she had written that Palestinians should target Israeli politicians instead of civilians.

“I don’t get why activists can’t go and do the Knesset or something, or do a sophisticated politician bump-off like the PFLP,” she wrote.

She later apologized for her comments.

Asked about her participation in the NEU’s antisemitism training, Jasiewicz told the Jewish News that “the sessions on Understanding Antisemitism were commissioned and run by the North West Black Members Organizing Forum which I as an NEU staff member support and provide the Zoom platform for and communication with members.”

“The workshops were part of a series of anti-racist workshops that they have organized” she said, adding that “the workshops themselves were devised and run” by other people.

According to the Jewish News, dozens of Jewish teachers have left the NEU last month after union co-general secretary Kevin Courtney delivered an address at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign event.

The controversy over Jasiewicz is not the first time that antisemitism training has become politicized in the U.K.

In 2018, the Jewish Labor Movement said that it would not provide such training at a party conference. According to the Independent, the group claimed that it had been instructed not to discuss allegations of antisemitism against prominent Labor members.

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