LONDON: A headteacher at a school in the UK has apologized after he called the Palestinian flag threatening and a possible “call to arms.”
Pro-Palestine activists gathered at Allerton Grange School in the city of Leeds to protest on Monday after the head, Mike Roper, made the comments in a livestreamed assembly, a video of which was later shared online.
Roper made the comments after pupils complained that posters and Palestinian flags they were wearing were confiscated by teachers last week.
In an effort to explain the school’s policy, he told pupils: “By using a symbol such as the Palestinian flag … some people see that flag and they feel threatened, they feel unsafe and they worry because for other people that flag is seen as a call to arms and seen as a message of support for anti-Semitism, for being anti-Jewish.”
But after criticisms were posted on local pro-Palestine social media groups, Roper and the local educational authority issued a joint apology, saying: “In a diverse school like Allerton Grange, with such a rich mix of communities, it is not surprising that divisions on the international front will be felt. It was in an attempt to address those tensions that I gave an assembly to all students on Wednesday morning.
“I am deeply sorry that a particular example I used in that assembly, referring to the Palestinian flag, has caused such upset within the community. That was never my intention.”
Protester Yasmin Ahmed from Leeds said: “The kids at that school were displaying the Palestinian flag in a peaceful way to make a statement about how they felt about what is happening over there, and to display their anger and their solidarity. For the headmaster to then issue a video saying that the Palestinian flag is a call to arms and a symbol of anti-Semitism was shocking and inflammatory.”
The statement also garnered significant criticism on social media, with Scottish Green Party politician Ross Greer tweeting: “Imagine being a Palestinian kid at this guy’s school, being told your national flag is inherently hateful. Absolutely outrageous and racist behaviour from someone in a position of power.”
An online petition calling for the headteacher’s dismissal has received hundreds of signatures.
“He has caused concern and alarm within the Muslim community due to his extremist views and has caused distress, upset and anger within the surrounding Muslim community,” it said.
This is the second time this year that a school in the area has caused controversy with members of the local Muslim community following the actions of a staff member.
Parents and community leaders picketed outside Batley Grammar School in March, demanding the sacking of a religious studies teacher who showed pupils an image of the Prophet Muhammad in a lesson.