VCE supplier apologises over anti-Israel slur

Ramona Chrapot in the Mount Scopus Memorial College library. Photo: Peter Haskin

A SIX-week dispute over an anti-Israel falsehood disseminated by a VCE educational resources supplier appears to have been settled, with the organisation issuing a full apology, acknowledging the factual incorrectness of the material and severing ties with the teacher who authored it.

It all began when Mount Scopus Memorial College senior student Ramona Chrapot encountered a sample answer in her SAC coursework on how discrimination affects health and wellbeing, which stated, “An example of an individual being persecuted for their religion could be the Arab families living in Israel who practise the Islam religion rather than the Jewish religion. Including unlawful demolition of homes and forced displacement and detainment of these families.”

When Mount Scopus principal Rabbi James Kennard explained to the educational resources company, Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER), that the sample answer was emphatically false and a slur against Israel, it announced a recall of the materials, but declined to apologise unconditionally or take action regarding the author.

With Rabbi Kennard’s communications with ACHPER’s senior management stalling, the issue escalated with Member for Caulfield David Southwick raising it in Parliament. Last week as the controversy continued, Education Minister James Merlino stated he was “appalled at how ACHPER has handled this matter”, adding it could affect the renewal of ACHPER’s Education Department service agreement next year.

As the pressure mounted, last Friday, ACHPER issued a new statement, “We understand and acknowledge that to present this interpretation as fact in learning material was wrong, and entirely inappropriate. It should not have happened, and we are taking action to prevent it occurring again.”

And in a letter to the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) and in an online statement, ACHPER said it had now commissioned an independent review, adding, “We apologise unreservedly to the Australian Jewish community and others who may have been offended.”

However, ZFA president Jeremy Leibler and Zionism Victoria president Sharene Hambur, who both met with Merlino, had noted that “while the apology and independent investigation is a step in the right direction, ACHPER must acknowledge that the relevant example was not simply an inappropriate ‘interpretation’ but factually incorrect. 

“This issue is not simply about apologising for offending the Jewish community. This is about holding an institution that purports to represent teachers to the most basic academic standards of ensuring that the material it disseminates is factually correct.

“ACHPER failed and will continue to fail this standard until it explicitly acknowledges that the example was not a misunderstanding or a question of interpretation but simply factually incorrect,” Leibler and Hambur stated.

Southwick, who had called on Merlino to take action earlier this month, wrote to ACHPER’s chair Peter Wright on Monday this week, and the following day told Parliament that Wright had acknowledged the sample answer was factually wrong, ACHPER had committed to cutting ties with the author, and that “this teacher will not be further engaged by ACHPER until the review is concluded”.

Describing the sample answer as “a heinous libel”, Rabbi Kennard, who had insisted ACHPER needed to dissociate from the teacher to restore its credibility, said afterwards, “Many questions remain. In particular, why the libel was not identified by the proofreaders; why there was such a lack of alacrity and urgency in responding … I hope that the promised review will answer these questions fully.”