Kerry school denies anti-Semitism


The principal of one of Kerry's biggest secondary schools, Coláiste na Sceilge in Cahersiveen, has rejected claims by an Israeli journalist of anti-Semitism and pro-Palestinian bias in the school.

Principal John O'Connor said students and teachers always acted on "humanitarian basis " and, far from indoctrination, the school instilled critical thinking.

In a column published in English language daily the Jerusalem Post on January 25th, journalist Sarah Honig tells of encountering anti-Semitic remarks and overwhelming bias towards Palestine during a school-backed fundraising event to help Palestinians buy olive trees, a Trócaire project, on the streets of Cahersiveen.

The claims are provoking strong reaction among readers in Israel and the US, including calls for a boycott of Ireland as a tourist destination. One letter writer to the newspaper, who grew up in New York, has called on Israelis to choose their holiday destinations more carefully.

In the article, under the headline "Another tack: that unwitting indecency", Honig described what she had encountered in "outlying County Kerry". She claimed

teenagers from the school told her "Jews are evil" and had killed Jesus. Banners held up by the teenagers called on the public to "Save Palestine" and there were posters of the Palestinian flag, she said.

A teacher accompanying the teenagers had also expressed bias, she claimed.

"The squawk was all about rights, but distinctly not about the rights of Jews, which are excluded from the official curriculum. The violated rights are those of Palestinian Arabs and the violators are Israeli Jews. And all this is crudely imparted under the auspices of a state’s school system,"

Honig wrote. "The bottom line for Cahersiveen’s juvenile fund-raisers, without one redeeming exception, was that the Israelis are the tyrants and the Palestinians the sainted victims. It’s black and white, with no grays, no depth, no background. There was no qualm about who deserves the unstinting sympathy of decent folks."

Mr O'Connor issued a statement saying he is shocked by the claims. "The students and teacher vehemently deny the remarks attributed to them. Part of our mission statement states that we are committed to developing people who are fair, caring, assertive. And we are," he said.

He said Coláiste na Sceilige has worked with Trócaire's Pamoja human rights project for the last number of years. As part of this project, his school had raised money for HIV clinics in Uganda and housing in Honduras, he said.

According to the Trócaire website on the project, "the olive tree is a symbol of the Palestinians’ deep rooted connection to their land. Ancient olive groves in the West Bank have been destroyed by the Israeli occupation, and many olive farmers no longer have access to their traditional lands".

This evening a spokesperson from Trócaire said they were surprised at the report.

"We know the school and the teacher well and we are surprised as they are about this report. The school principal as we understand has investigated the matter and has denied these remarks were made."

There has been strong reaction on blogs and in letters to the newspaper.

The Jerusalem Post published a letter on Monday in which reader Naftali Bertram said Israelis must choose their holiday destinations more carefully.

"Let’s spend our converted shekels in countries that are more friendly to Israel and Jews," he advised.