If you’ve been following the ethnic studies controversy in California over the past few years and came away thinking the Jewish community had emerged relatively unscathed, think again.
The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) was unanimously adopted in March of this year by the California Board of Education. Some members of the Jewish community pushed for the inclusion of Jews in that curriculum, and once satisfied with various modifications, ultimately supported it. Others had grave concerns about the curriculum’s underlying ideology, which presents the world in binary terms of oppressed versus oppressor—largely along racial lines. This framing should have raised red flags, especially for Jews.
Now, with the ESMC ideological underpinnings in place, the very people who authored and promoted earlier versions of the ESMC—versions so explicitly anti-Semitic they were unable to pass—are now pushing a “Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” that contains even more extreme prescriptions than the original. The goal, they explain on their website, is for teachers “to be part of a larger movement.”
Rather than giving voice to marginalized people, as the authors claim, the curriculum seeks to indoctrinate California’s K-12 students into what Elina Kaplan, co-founder of the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies (ACES) describes as a “narrow ideological agenda” that “misappropriates the focus on local ethnic groups’ real obstacles and accomplishments and shoehorns a one-sided advocacy message.”
Their website promotes a curriculum “toolkit” that refers to “The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish Community Resource [sic] Council (JCRC), and Simon Wiesenthal’s Museum of Tolerance” as “Zionist organizations” whose “primary goal is to stunt the development of authentic anti-racist curriculum.”
The curriculum authors, who define Zionism as “a nationalist, colonial ideology,” claim that there is a “current apartheid in Israel” and that Israel’s “settler colonialism” has “pedagogical importance” and therefore must be included in California’s ethnic studies curriculum. They intend to teach children that Zionism calls for the “expansion of Israel as a Jewish state” in what they refer to as “historic Palestine” and “by any means necessary.” And they want to convince the children of California that “Zionist organizations” try to “silence discussion of Palestine/Israel.”
What makes Israel an appropriate subject for a curriculum that is supposed to be about ethnic groups in the United States? The authors want California’s young minds to subscribe to the conspiracy theory that there are clear “connections between the struggle for Palestinian rights and the struggles of Indigenous, Black and brown communities, and other marginalized groups impacted by U.S. policies, both within and outside of U.S. borders.” They want teachers to “integrate Palestine” into their curriculum by making a connection between “Native American history,” “gentrification and forced relocation, criminalization of youth,” and “hip-hop as resistance,” to “settler colonialism in Palestine.”
Here’s the kicker: California is about to pass a bill mandating ethnic studies as a graduation requirement, and school districts are not required to use the “approved” version. In fact, 14 school districts have already passed resolutions endorsing this anti-Semitic version.
That any California school district would permit children to be taught anti-Semitic falsehoods about Jewish organizations, Zionism and the history of Israel is shocking, but no longer surprising. We have been warning the Jewish community that this illiberal ideology will continue to give rise to anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.
Several mainstream Jewish groups continue to publicly support these kinds of curricula. The strategy of working within the progressive world in order to influence discourse about Jews made sense in the past, but it has become increasingly clear that this is a failed strategy. Sooner or later, well-meaning Jews must come to realize that to go along with this ideology is to countenance its inevitable anti-Semitic manifestations. Until the underlying ideology is rejected, the Jewish community will be playing an endless game of whack-a-mole with anti-Semitic curricula, programs and incidents.
David Bernstein is the founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values (JILV.org). Follow him on Twitter @DavidLBernstein.
Pamela Paresky is Board Chair of JILV, Visiting Senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago’s Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge (SIFK), and Senior Scholar at the Network Contagion Research Institute. Follow her on Twitter @PamelaParesky.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.