NCSS Issues Strong Position Statement on Antisemitism

On June 10, 2022, the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) issued a Position Statement on “antisemitism, antisemitic violence, and all bigotry and discrimination.” The statement reflects the urgency felt by NCSS members to respond to a spate of recent attacks on Jewish citizens and to a perceived increase in antisemitism in American society. It follows a 2020 resolution on antisemitism.  The current position statement encourages educators to examine their understanding of the Jewish people and consider what constitutes antisemitism.   

The position statement:   

– Includes the widely adopted IHRA definition of what constitutes antisemitism  

– Establishes that Jews are indigenous to the Middle East with their center of worship in Jerusalem 

– Explains that Jews are a people comprised of individuals of diverse backgroundsand that grouping Jews as a race is prejudicial  

– Elucidates that education about the Holocaust must include teaching the history of antisemitism. This history is not limited to Europe or America but includes antisemitism emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.   

NCSS Position statements are developed through a consensus process to present a carefully considered position on a topic of importance. Individual members or regional groups can submit a resolution for approval to the house of delegates (HOD) representing all constituents, followed by approval from the Board of Directors. A resolution can include taking a stance on an issue, leading to a position statement. A position statement is written after a resolution is passed by the Board.

History of the Most Recent Position Statement   

In December 2020, the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) House of Delegates (HOD) passed Resolution # 20-04-8 “Against antisemitism and antisemitic violence,” which was approved as policy by the NCSS Board of Directors in 2021. The resolution was sponsored by the NY State Council and co-sponsored by the Florida, Georgia, and New Hampshire Councils and the NCSS Human Rights Education Community. It condemns all antisemitic attacks, opposes discrimination of any kind and invites the development of a position statement as an organization. It also called for education against antisemitism. NCSS approved and released the resulting Position Statement in June 2022.   

On June 27, 2020, the Marshall Memo, a weekly publication of important ideas and research in K-12 education, featured the Position Statement. However, it has not been widely publicized. It remains to be seen what effect it will have on K-12 curriculums, instruction and educators’ professional development.    

Why is this Position Statement on Antisemitism so Important?  

Educators and students have been given erroneous information about Jews in some curricula. For example, the first version of California’s model curriculum for a mandatory Ethnic Studies Course requirement included prejudicial and inaccurate information on Jews and Israel. Proponents of this biased curriculum, known as Liberated Ethnic Studies, continue to peddle it to California school districts in professional development workshops and actively promote their version as a requirement for graduation.  

The Liberated curriculum falsely depicts Israel as a settler-colonial state, giving “pedagogical importance to comparing and contrasting settler colonialism in the US and Palestine” and promotes classroom discussion of Israel’s alleged “role in the oppression of Palestinians,” representing the Jewish state as a racist enterprise. In addition, it offers resources with only a one-sided view of Israel’s history and current events.  The NCSS position statement sets the historical record straight by establishing that Jews originated in the Middle East and highlights the Jewish presence in Jerusalem going back several millennia. In contrast, the Liberated Ethnic Studies curriculum denies Jews their indigeneity to their ancestral homeland.  

As part of the clarifications for teachers, the Liberated curriculum vilifies Jewish organizations and Zionists as groups of people with malicious intentions and agendas in education. The Liberated curriculum claims “Zionist organizations, their primary goal is to stunt the development of authentic anti-racist curriculum.” It also raises classical antisemitic conspiracy theories of a Jewish cabal, stating These aren’t spontaneous protests from random individuals; they are led, organized and financed by Zionist organizations in the United States and Israel.”   

While the Liberated curriculum lists antisemitism as the final item among 18 topics in the last section of a lesson, it fails to provide any guidance on how antisemitism should be incorporated into class instruction. The Liberated curriculum explicitly acknowledges in notes for teachers on one slide that it is “not sure how to incorporate antisemitism.” It omits the American Jewish experience altogether.  

The NCSS Position Statement calls for using education to combat antisemitism as a form of bigotry and prejudice. It provides a clear definition of what it considers antisemitism and describes the proper role of education to combat it. It clearly addresses the inaccurate portrayals of Jews pushed into schools by Liberated Ethnic Studies and others. Educators in K-12 need to take notice.   

Some of the quotes from the Liberated Ethnic Studies curriculum have been removed from its website following public exposure.