Anti-Israel ‘lessons’ in American classrooms
Can anti-Israelism, which is the new form of anti-Semitism, lead back to the older types?
Anti-Israel and anti-Semitic curricular materials have now become endemic in American public schools. Examples abound and are surfacing from Massachusetts to California where concerned and sometimes angry parents are reacting.
At issue is not only the insidious nature of materials that inculcate anti-Israel biases disguised as history and multicultural lessons, but also – just as has been the case too often on American campuses – the often flaccid response by educators, elected officials and sometimes the mainstream Jewish community.
American Jewish organizations came late to the problem of anti-Israelism on the campuses. If this same poison spreads to the entire public school system, America will become a very different place for its Jews.
A few hours of simple Googling fetches dozens of examples around the country. But starting here in Newton, Massachusetts, a leafy, heavily Jewish Boston suburb, I have seen the phenomenon up close and personal. Students in Newton were taught that Jews in Israel murder Palestinian women in jails. That “lesson” comes from the Arab World Studies Notebook, a work funded by the Saudis and condemned as propaganda by the American Jewish Committee.
When concerned parents and tax-payers asked Newton’s school committee (also heavily Jewish) to remove the text, they resisted for more than a year, defending the text as providing the “Arab point of view.” After a year of protest the school superintendent relented, explaining he was removing the text because it was “outdated.”
We’ve just now learned that Newton students are given PLO-produced maps to learn about the history of Israeli “occupation” of “Palestine.” One of the maps labeled the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem as an “illegal Israeli settlement,” and another map claimed entire Palestinian cities are “walled in” by Israel.
The Newton school superintendent claimed the point of the map exercise was simply to demonstrate different perspectives, yet not one single map could be found representing the mainstream Jewish perspective.
Now for the rest of the country: In Williamson County, Tennessee, one biased text asks students: “If a Palestinian suicide bomber kills several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant, is that an act of terrorism or wartime retaliation against Israeli government policies and army actions?” Complaints by a dozen angry parents – who were supported by their Jewish Federation – forced the publisher to remove the offending language from all electronic versions and future 10th and 11th print editions.
The local Jewish Federation then joined with parents to help school officials better train teachers about the realities of Middle Eastern conflicts.
In New York, preparatory materials for the famed Regents exam falsely claim that Israel prevailed militarily in 1948 only due to strong support from the US.
This is Arab propaganda, utilized to both demonize America and to explain the failure of the six Arab armies which attacked the tiny Jewish state.
In Albany, New York, an English teacher had her students write an essay, as part of a persuasive writing exercise, imagining themselves to be Nazis, and assigned some of them the task of describing why Jews are evil. After this case came to light – the result of assertive parents – the school superintendent publicly apologized and the teacher was removed from the classroom.
At New York’s Riverdale Fieldstone prep school, administrators held an Israel-Palestine day and under the pretense of “evenhandedness” invited Rashid Khalidi and Tony Judt as featured speakers to represent “both sides” of the conflict. Both Khalidi and Judt believe the State of Israel should not exist.
Rabbi Avi Weiss, one of the panelists, withdrew from the conference upon learning about the contents and opted instead to organize a counter-demonstration.
The school refused to allow a single pro-Israel speaker at this event. Among invited speakers were noted anti-Israel advocates Sara Roy from Harvard and Fawaz Gerges from Georgetown.
Meanwhile, teachers instructed students not to speak to the protesters or the media, and the school’s principal announced at the end of the conference that they just heard a “comprehensive” analysis of the Middle East conflict from distinguished speakers and to remember, “the protesters are outnumbered.”
This event drew strong criticism from the Zionist Organization of America, the Anti-Defamation League, and several politicians.
At the Campbell Middle School in Smyrna, Georgia, a parent complained about an assignment which promoted a sympathetic understanding of Islamic treatment of women. Pam Geller, a pro-Israel advocate, reported that other lessons from the same curriculum, written by InspirEd Educators, Inc., “explain” homicide bombing and Jew hatred from the point of view of multicultural tolerance of Islam.
One lesson describes a video left by a female Hamas homicide bomber, who describes her act of martyrdom as “…my most wanted wish that I asked God Almighty to fulfill.” Another lesson in the curriculum is an editorial titled “A Palestinian’s Plea” that concludes with, “It is not hard to understand why people would take their anger and frustration out on somebody, and it is understandable that person would be Jewish. It is the Jews that take our land, it is the Jews that destroy our homes, and it is the Jews who have killed our children!” The school principal defended the misogyny assignment – on the basis of teacher autonomy – but the school superintendent deemed the lesson inappropriate and declared that such materials need to be fully vetted before being placed in the hands of teachers.
The study of Arabic in public schools has become yet another opportunity to bash Israel: This summer, the Tucson, Arizona, Unified School District requested their school board’s permission to accept money from the QFI, a Qatar-based foundation, to implement “innovative curricula and teaching materials to be used in any Arabic language classroom.”
QFI is closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and has named several institutions after Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the de facto spiritual leader of Egypt’s Brotherhood who can be seen on Youtube inciting throngs in Cairo to kill all the world’s Jews. (Of note: QFI was founded by Sheikha Bint Hamad al-Thani, the founder of Al Jazeera.) In 2011, Tucson had a problem with another Brotherhood- affiliated group, MECHA, which was trying to recruit Mexican students to attend an “occupied peoples conference” at which Palestinian and TUSD students would share their experiences living in “occupied territories.” Tucson’s superintendent, Dr. Garcia, stated her concerns about the organization’s “anti-Semitic tone and tenor on our campuses.”
Can anti-Israelism, which is the new form of anti-Semitism, lead back to the older types? In Pine Valley, New York, a rash of anti-Jewish attacks took place over the course of several weeks at a local high school. One Jewish student had a swastika painted across his face; another was beaten with a hockey stick. Holocaust and anti-Semitic “jokes” were directed at Jewish students. Swastikas were left on walls for weeks on end. Some of the taunting actually took place under the watchful eyes of certain teachers.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo interceded with a terse letter to the state’s department of education demanding an explanation and requesting that the police’s human rights division initiate an immediate investigation.
If the major Jewish “defense agencies” (ADL, AJC, JCRCs, Federations) respond to the K-12 problem as poorly as they have responded to anti-Israelism on campus, there will be hell to pay.
The writer was named one of America’s top 50 Jewish leaders by The Forward. He is the president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance in Boston and is widely known for having helped emancipate African slaves in Sudan.