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July 18, 2019

As a wave of anti-Israel hate spreads from elite college campuses to public high schools, some Massachusetts parents wanted to fight back. But they were not joined by the major Jewish organizations. What happened in Newton?

Shortly after Rosh Hashanah of 2011, Shiri Pagliuso, a Jewish ninth grader at the Newton South High School, came home with an awkward question for her father. She had learned some things about Israel in school, she said, and she wanted to know if they were true. For example, she asked if it was true that Israel was systematically torturing and killing Palestinian women.

Her father, Tony Pagliuso, pressed her for more information, so the young woman produced the handout she was given at school, titled the Arab World Studies Notebook. In it, Pagliuso found the following line: “Over the past four decades, women have been active in the Palestinian resistance movement. Several hundred have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed by Israeli occupation forces.”

Pagliuso, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, was alarmed that such claims had somehow found their way into the curriculum of a public school. He called his daughter’s teacher, Jessica Engel.

“I fully expected when I called that I would be told, ‘Jeez we didn’t catch this and this shouldn’t be in the curriculum,’” he told an interviewer shortly thereafter. “This was my full expectation. I was very wrong.”

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