Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan has defended Melbourne students’ planned classroom walkout in support of Palestine.
The leader called it a “fundamental principle of our democracy that must not and should not change”, while Opposition Liberals warned against similar marches.
School students have been urged to stage the walkout on Thursday November 23 by pro-Palestine activism group Free Palestine Melbourne.
According to the event, which was shared to Facebook on Monday, participating students will undertake the “citywide event” from 12.30pm before heading off to congregate at the Flinders Street Station steps at 1.30pm.
Both the Victorian Department of Education and the Victorian Student Representative Council have also defended the students’ right to protest.
“It’s my expectation that students go to school on that day,” Ms Allan said in press conference on Tuesday.
“In terms of … individual school attendance that’s very much a matter for local schools.
“We live in a democracy. Being able to come together and hold a rally, a peaceful rally, depending on the issue that you’re concerned about or the issue that you’re exercised about, that’s a fundamental principle of our democracy that must not and should not change.”
But the Opposition has launched a scathing attack on the march-out and the Premier’s support for it.
“Political activists cannot be allowed to bring the current and extremely complex conflict in the Middle East into Victorian classrooms,” shadow minister for education Jess Wilson told NCA NewsWire.
“The Premier and the Education Minister must instruct schools that this is not an approved nor endorsed reason for student absence.
“The recent displays of violence on Victorian streets and targeted attacks towards Victoria’s Jewish community, reinforce the need for the government to prevent further harm and disunity from spreading in our schools.”
Deputy Premier and Education Minister Ben Carroll said the “most powerful thing” students could do on Thursday was “be at school”, and that it would be up to individual school communities to decide whether striking students should be punished.
The “Melbourne-based solidarity action community organising group for a Free Palestine” has also urged students to distribute leaflets and posters around their schools to promote the protest.
“Come along to our organising hub at 83 Sydney Road Brunswick to pick up posters and leaflets for your school,” the event said.
Jewish community advocates have reportedly held an urgent meeting regarding the strike and have seen a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the weeks since the conflict escalated in Gaza and Israel.
This latest planned strike comes after more than 100,000 Palestine supporters rallied in Melbourne’s CBD on Sunday, according to the event organisers.
“This mass movement is growing thanks to every one of you who pushes through the dominant warmongering anti-Palestinian narrative and tells the truth of Israel’s genocide,” the group said in a post to social media.
“Marching together WEEKLY until the end of genocide, siege and colonialism in Palestine.”
It marked the fifth week in a row that pro-Palestine protests were held across the country’s major cities, and came days after a pro-Palestine burger restaurant was destroyed in a fire in Caulfield.
The state’s Department of Education said many students were being affected by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
“Schools are communicating with parents and carers about the current situation, including advice on ensuring that students know where to go for additional support,” a spokesperson told NCA NewsWire.
“Schools also ensure students understand that any form of racism is not tolerated and nor is any language likely to incite any form of racism, anti-Semitism or violence.”
A Victorian Student Representative Council spokesperson said it supported the rights of students to “participate in safe, responsible activism”.
“The power of student voice is not limited to education reform and should be listened to, and amplified in, all areas of their civic participation,” they said.
“We encourage students to do their research and be aware of their rights and responsibilities as activists and to take all possible measures to care for their own physical and mental wellbeing as well as considering the wellbeing of others being impacted.”
As of Monday the Palestinian death toll in Gaza surpassed 11,200 killed in Israeli attacks since October 7, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
At least 4506 of those killed were children and 3027 were women.
The death toll in Israel from Hamas’ attacks stands at more than 1200, revised from the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s initial count of 1400.