Sheff cooking the books for Palestinian schoolchildren

By Adam Cailler

MANCUNIAN Marcus Sheff has the distinct honour of having won three Northern Jewish Soccer League titles in a row with Sedgley Park Celtic.

But the 53-year-old has much bigger challenges on his hands as chief executive of Impact-SE - a research and policy organisation that monitors and analyses education to determine compliance with international standards on peace and tolerance.

The father of 16-year-old Aleni and Adam, 13, explained: "Impact grabbed me from the moment I heard about it. I realised that text books in schools are unique and authoritative

"They can radicalise or be a barrier to radicalisation - especially in the Middle East.

"I went to Washington recently and met seven congressmen and a senator. I showed them the Palestinian Authority's curriculum for ages seven to nine.

"It shows them that they should be martyrs - some were shocked, some knew it already, but they all agreed that this was a fundamental barrier to peace.

"If enough people understand it, and are involved, there can be change."

Marcus added: "The PA and the Israeli ministry of education know it's unsustainable.

"We have gone through every page and every line of 173 text books, publicising it all in English.

"You cannot teach an eight-year-old, in a maths lesson, to add up the martyrs from the first and second intifadas.

"The Iranian curriculum is just as terrible, but the difference is that they don't pretend it isn't.

"The PA is reliant on international organisations who believe in peaceful ways to resolve the crisis.

"President (Mahmoud) Abbas comes out and says that they will wipe out incitement on one hand, while knowing full well what these text books are teaching the next generations."

Marcus, who attended Prestwich Jewish Day School (now Yesoiday Hatorah), in Manchester, had meetings in China last month.

He added: "I met leading party people and think tanks who drive government policy.

"America doesn't want to finance hate, neither do European countries, nor China.

"Simply put, the PA will follow the money. There has been an increase in radicalisation outside the Middle East as well, which means these standards should be adopted.

"All it is is generic standards, about respect for the other person, no hate in school education, peace-making and gender-equality among other things."

Marcus, who is married to Inbal, has been involved in the political world since he made the move to Israel at the age of 23.

The Leeds University graduate was a journalist for The Nation.

This involved him interviewing politicians in Tel Aviv, where the majority of the parties were based at that time.

This, he admitted, was a lot easier to do in those days than it is now, as you could bump in to anyone at any time . . . even in the toilet.

He explained: "Interviewing the seventh president of Israel, Ezer Weizman, in the toilet was a highlight of my journalism career.

"I saw him, wanted to ask him a particular question and stood next to him while he was doing his business.

"I asked him whether he was considering going into a government of national unity with Likud.

"His answer was 'I don't see why not'."

After The Nation went out of business because it went from a weekly to a daily, he joined the Jerusalem Post.

He was only there for two years before opening his own strategic communications company, The Word Shop.

The change in careers was because, simply put, a journalism career was not financially viable at the time.

The Manchester City fan's first foray into politics was during his first day on campus as a fresher at Leeds University.

He recalled: "This was at the time when Jewish societies were faced with being banned. Getting involved in student politics wasn't the first thing on my mind, but there were protests from the Palestinian Society at the J-Soc stall during freshers' fair.

"The idea that Jewish students could not come together because of their affection for Israel still seems now to be a racist idea.

"We needed to educate the group of undecideds who needed to be talked to and needed to hear the other side."

Marcus was heavily involved in the National Union of Students as head of its anti-racism committee during the time when John Mann MP was leader of the organisation.

He feels that the current NUS, under leader Malia Bouattia, deals with Jewish students in an appalling manner.

"In my day, John would have laid down on the tracks before letting Jewish students get dealt with in the way they are dealt with today.

"As hard as we had it then, it doesn't come close to the bigotry that they face today. It really is horrifying."

Born in Whitefield, Manchester, Marcus was a member of Jewish youth group Bnei Akiva and came from a Zionist household.

His mother, Sylvia, awarded an MBE in 1994, served as assistant national director of the Conservative Friends of Israel.

Sylvia also led the 35 Group - the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry - helping secure freedom for many Soviet Jews including Anatoly Sharansky, who later became an Israeli politician using the name Natan Sharansky.

Marcus' late father, Alan, a dentist, was president of Whitefield Hebrew Congregation and was a member of Scroll Lodge with the Freemasons.

Marcus added: "The shul and lodge were his passions, while my mother's fight was to save Jews from Russia.

"I was brought up in a family where Jewish issues were the priority.

"BA was a good place to be a young Jewish person.

"The values of BA, in terms of Zionism, still remain with me although I haven't been frum since I was 18!

"Spending a gap year in Israel made me less frum - it was an eye opener about Jewish identity and showed me that you didn't have to have an Orthodox way of life.

"We still make kiddush and havdalla, but we are like most Israelis these days."

Marcus was also chief executive of The Israel Project from 2007 to 2014, where he was in charge of making sure worldwide media outlets had the facts to broadcast.

He explained: "This wasn't so easy, as you could have a sympathetic BBC journalist in Israel who would broadcast your facts while a not-so sympathetic BBC journalist would be based in Gaza and there was nothing you could do about what they wanted to broadcast.

"The problem of explaining Israel's position - especially in conflict - is always going to be difficult."

Away from his professional life, Marcus follows Manchester City through thick and thin.

And his son Adam has followed suit.

He said: "The only thing he will wear, apart from school uniform, is his Manchester City kit.

"My favourite player of all-time is Colin Bell.

"I've been going since 1967 and we do pop over to see a couple of games each season.

"The jury is still out on Pep Guardiola. I'm sure he's got a system, but I just don't think anyone understands it yet."

Marcus and his son are confident of victory in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal at Wembley.

If not, his Twitter account, @marcusjsheff, where he admits that "Manchester City will be the death of me", will probably not make happy reading.

© 2017 Jewish Telegraph