Different Responses from the Jewish Communities of California and Newton
Across the United States, radicalized educators are foisting their anti-Israel agenda onto susceptible schoolchildren. Frequently this is done under the guise of the trendy “intersectionality” concept that associates the Palestinian cause with less controversial “social justice” causes. Feckless school committees and administrators fail to block the infiltration of flawed material into the classroom or reprimand teachers who misuse their classroom stature to indoctrinate students. It is left up to vigilant citizens to oppose the hijacking of public education.
This report examines two cases, one in California, and the other in Newton, Massachusetts, that evoked sharply different responses from their respective Jewish communities:
- The California case involves an attempt to inject anti-Israel activism and anti-Jewish tropes into an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum mandated by California’s legislature.
- The Newton case tracks the insertion of biased units on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into history courses by ideologically-motivated teachers.
In California, exposure of the radical politics embedded in the proposed curriculum elicited a strong reaction from the Jewish community and responsive politicians, including the governor. This impressive grass-roots response persuaded state education officials to delay the curriculum’s implementation and promise to make revisions.
In Newton, the city’s school committee has treated public concerns with disdain. Lacking curiosity to investigate the claims of bias and factual flaws, the school committee has failed to hold the superintendent accountable for ensuring that students receive an education free from bias and indoctrination. An entire generation of Newton children are being inculcated with a distorted depiction of Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Exposing the Attempt by Radicals to Subvert a Legislatively Mandated Curriculum
The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum was mandated by the California legislature in 2016. Its intent is to bring more attention to the experiences of ethnic groups in California that historically encountered discrimination. The groups included were Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians and Arab-Americans.
The inclusion of Arab-Americans and the heavy focus on Islamophobia reflects the political orientation of the drafters. In California, other ethno-religious groups – Jews, Armenians and various Middle Eastern Christian groups, outnumber Arab-Americans and Muslims in California and have substantive claims to having experienced discrimination and persecution. FBI statistics show Jews are far more often the target of hate crimes than Arabs or Muslims.
California’s education officials turned to academics who specialize in ethnic studies to produce a curriculum draft. Several members of the drafting group openly advocate the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The curriculum reflects the drafters’ political agenda.
The BDS movement is not, as its advocates disingenuously contend, a humanitarian campaign to compel Israel to respect Palestinian rights. Its founders explicitly call for the elimination of Israel. The antisemitic nature of the BDS movement has been exposed and thoroughly documented (https://4il.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/MSA-report-Behind-the-Mask.pdf). The United States Congress, the German government and numerous state legislatures have denounced the BDS movement as antisemitic. Even the UN Human Rights Council, a forum dominated by undemocratic regimes, where denunciation of Israel is a routine procedural item, has finally acknowledged the inherent antisemitism of the BDS movement.
While the BDS movement has had no measurable effect on Israel’s economy and foreign relations, its impact is felt elsewhere. As columnist Caroline Glick points out,
BDS in America is directed primarily against American Jews. Its goal is to silence them as a political force in America. American Jews who support Israel are ostracized in universities, and even in high schools. They are subjected to abuse in every quarter.
Jewish students have been subject to increasing harassment and intimidation at California’s universities as a result of BDS activities. Anti-Israel student groups routinely disrupt activities that have anything positive to do with Israel. But even more disturbing, a recent report on the status of anti-Israel activism on college campuses found that radical faculty are the main drivers of anti-Israel activity on campuses.
In this climate of increasing anti-Semitism, that witnessed a murderous attack on Jewish worshippers in Poway, California on April 27, 2019 and the murder of 11 worshippers in Pittsburgh earlier in 2019, one would have expected the drafters to show sensitivity concerning anti-Semitism. But that was not the case. Not only were Jews excluded from the curriculum, the draft included gratuitous anti-Jewish tropes – included in the lyrics to a rap song – and it endorsed anti-Israel activism.
A glossary created by the drafters that includes definitions of numerous forms of bigotry, incredibly, left out anti-Semitism! The glossary did, however, include a lengthy and favorable description of the BDS movement.
The draft was so egregious that a broad spectrum of Jewish groups joined together – with the expected exception of far-left anti-Zionist groups – to call for the state’s review committee, the IQC, to reject the curriculum draft.
The state mandates a public comment period on the proposed curriculum prior to the IQC’s formal review. According to a reviewer of the 20,245 public comments sent to the IQC, 18,457 (91 % of the total) expressed concern with the inclusion of anti-Jewish and pro-BDS content. A mere 116 voiced support for the inclusion of Arab-Americans.
These lopsided results reveal that the agenda promoted by these academic radicals and their sponsors is at odds with expressed public opinion.
Community groups need to be more vocal over the direction of education and not allow a relatively small but well-placed radical clique to determine what students are taught.
Many California lawmakers noted the public response and registered their dissatisfaction with the draft. The Jewish Caucus within the California Assembly was especially incensed by the draft, since the Caucus had supported the bill mandating the Ethnic Studies curriculum. State Senator Ben Allen wrote an eloquent letter identifying the crucial problems in the draft as well as expressing concern with the blatant bias of the drafters.
The strong response by the Jewish community and some politicians compelled state education officials to delay implementation and agree to revisions.
The curriculum implementation has been delayed one year to allow for further review and revisions. A follow-up bill, AB331, currently under consideration by the legislature would have made the curriculum mandatory for all California public school students. Its sponsors have now been alerted to the problems with the draft.
The Struggle for the Integrity of Newton’s Schools
The problem of misguided teaching of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Newton has existed for many years. But in 2011, the problem drew attention when a parent discovered his daughter’s reading assignment, drawn from a discredited textbook, that falsely charged Israeli soldiers imprisoned, tortured and murdered Palestinian women. The parent decided to publicize the problem after he was rebuffed and mocked by school administrators. This incident ignited an eight year – and counting – battle that pits a grassroots coalition of concerned residents against school officials and ideologically-driven teachers.
Independent analysts, including the author of this piece, documented the bias, omissions and overall poor quality of the classroom materials used to teach about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, school officials and elected Newton School Committee members refuse to acknowledge any problem exists. The School Committee has acted as a rubber stamp for the superintendent.
Despite the stonewalling, a small, undeterred cadre of residents has compelled school officials to undertake some half-measures to address the issue. The flawed World History unit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was put on hold until revisions could be completed. After seven years of insisting there was no problem, school officials sent teachers to a brief workshop on the topic at Brandeis University. Whether this will yield any positive results is yet to be determined.
The Newton School Committee has not adopted procedures to properly vet materials used by teachers to avoid a revival of biased and inaccurate teaching. The ideological fervor of certain teachers underscores the need for such procedures.
School officials are also reluctant to address a controversial senior elective developed and taught by a particularly ardent teacher who transmits his political agenda to his students. The teacher’s union rushed to support this teacher, placing his political agenda ahead of the interests of the students.
What Accounts for Such Different Responses and Results?
In California, the Jewish community acted in a cohesive and inclusive manner. The San Francisco JCRC, which had been quietly working on the problem, decided, after some prodding, to include a spectrum of activist groups and individuals in the Jewish community in its discussions. When certain activist groups and individuals pushed for more public exposure of the problem, the JCRC demonstrated flexibility in its approach in order to maintain cohesion.
Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how the curriculum controversy will ultimately play out. Radical educators, who were initially knocked off balance by the strong Jewish communal response, are fighting back in support of the biased draft.
In Newton, no such close cooperation exists between concerned members in the community and the Jewish communal organizations. The superintendent and School Committee members have exploited this space to avoid accountability. An additional problem is the willingness on the part of many residents and some Jewish community groups to blindly accept the assertions of school officials.
Is it Sufficient to Only Address Jewish Community Concerns or Is it Necessary to Oppose All Forms of Political Indoctrination in Schools?
A critical issue for the Jewish community is whether to focus solely on removing elements of the curriculum that antagonize Jews or address the broader issue of radical educators imposing their political agenda on public school pupils. So long as educators feel they can inject their political agenda into the classroom, then all their ideological baggage, including anti-Israel teachings will proliferate.
The Public’s Right to See What Students are Learning
A crucial difference between the two cases involved public access to the curriculum. In California, by law, the public is given a time window during which it has an opportunity to review the curriculum and submit comments. This requirement meant members of the Jewish community could review and identify problems in the curriculum, alert others in the community, contact their political representatives, and then organize an effective response.
In Newton, the school administration stonewalled requests to see the curriculum, even though by state law, access should have been provided. The Newton School Committee backed the superintendent. In a crucial vote in November, 2018, the School Committee unanimously voted against transparency of school materials to the public.
One former member of the Newton School committee, Matt Hills, even advised school officials to withhold material. Access to material was only provided after Freedom of Information requests were filed by activist groups, Judicial Watch and Americans for Peace and Tolerance, threatening legal consequences. As a result, it has been a challenge piecing together how the Israeli-Arab conflict and other Middle East issues are taught and concern remains that biased teaching in the Newton schools continues.
There are lessons to be learned here in the differing circumstances. Public access to the curriculum and related materials is critical. When this access is withheld or obstacles are placed in the path of citizens who want to see what students are learning, this is a red flag that the classroom is being used for indoctrination.