Anti-Israel Bias Still Alive in Newton Schools?

A roiling years-long controversy over anti-Israel bias in Newton public schools has received national attention, after CAMERA released an in-depth study of factually-false classroom materials used to teach the Arab-Israeli conflict and Islam.

While citizens have called for redress, it’s unclear whether city officials have grasped the intensity of public outrage about the issue – and done enough to rectify it.

Some city figures have given private and occasionally public comment pledging stringent vetting of classroom materials for academic merit and have promised transparency so the public can readily know what’s happening in the classroom.

If adhered to, vetting and transparency can be important steps. However, the question remains whether the inaccurate, distorted and propagandistic teaching materials have, in fact, been removed.

Are they indisputably gone after years of complaint and after citizens were forced to resort in 2014 to a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) legal measure to compel the city’s release of all relevant teaching materials? And what content will replace the distorted depictions of Israel – including omission of Israel’s multiple peace offers, omission of Palestinian demonizing of Jews and their ancient ties to the land and myriad factual errors?

The answers aren’t clear.

One reason to question whether Newton has finally established a new regime of academic seriousness is a separate and troubling anti-Israel episode that occurred on May 24, 2017.

 That’s when an inflammatory, school-wide program took place at Newton North entitled “Middle East Day” with hundreds of students attending lectures and interactive presentations.

One guest speaker was the ferociously anti-Israel Amahl Bishara, a Tufts University professor and activist in the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign that demonizes Israel, seeking to isolate, weaken and subvert the nation economically and culturally.

She has helped spearhead a move by the American Anthropological Association seeking to pass a BDS measure. She also signed a petition supporting Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian convicted in the terrorist killing of two Israeli students and recently deported from the U.S. for concealing her crime on immigration papers.

Bishara’s presentation at the high school reportedly included a hail of radical statements and distorted allegations. Attendees relayed that there was no opportunity for students to challenge or discuss the litany of attacks on Israel.        

Who invited Bishara? Her views are easily known; they’re spelled out on her Tufts profile page, in You Tube appearances and in various BDS endorsements which all convey her extremist positions. Her academic work is focused largely on anti-Israel themes and delivered in the parlance of the hard left. She, for instance, charges Israel with “settler-colonialism” and lumps all Israelis in “the settler population” whether they live in Hebron or Tel Aviv.

She alleges “ethnic cleansing [of Arabs] in Jerusalem,” a factually absurd charge. In reality, the city’s Arab population has grown substantially faster than the Jewish population since the unification of the capital city in 1967. Then the Arab population was 26 % of the total and today it’s 37%. 

There were other extremist figures in the lineup of Middle East Day, including an appearance by Jeff Klein from the radical Mass Peace Action group.

Klein is an anti-Israel extremist who boasts of his connection to Britain’s George Galloway, a man who has equated Zionism to Nazism and extols Hamas and Hezbollah, both deemed terrorist organizations by the U.S, the E.U. and Israel

Klein participated in 2009 with Galloway in the “Viva Palestina” convoy seeking to undermine Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The blockade, legitimate under international law, prevents transfer of arms to Hamas in Gaza.

Some sessions of Middle East Day may have presented balanced, factual information and opportunity for students to question and discuss issues. But inclusion of any virulent anti-Israel speakers making false, incendiary statements that fuel misperception and incite prejudice is educationally indefensible.

What does it portend going forward that with all the tensions related to concerns about anti-Israel bias in the curriculum, just four months ago extreme anti-Israel speakers were given a platform?

 School Committee Members, the Superintendent, the Mayor and City Councilors all need to appreciate that concerned citizens are prepared to stand up for the rights of students and the educational integrity of the schools, no matter how long it takes.

Andrea Levin is Executive Director and President of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America

This column was originally printed in the Jewish Advocate on November 3, 2017