columnAntisemitism

Antisemitism in the schools spreads beyond the Ivy League

A riot at a high school in Queens, N.Y., targeting a pro-Israel teacher is the latest incident that shows how Islamism and toxic woke ideology is fueling Jew-hatred.

Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, in New York City. Credit: Tdorante10 via Wikimedia Commons.
Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, in New York City. Credit: Tdorante10 via Wikimedia Commons.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

The tally of antisemitic incidents in which mobs have called for Israel’s destruction—and even the genocide of Jews on the streets of American cities and on elite college campuses—grows with every passing week. But the shocking footage of a student riot at Hillcrest High School in Queens, N.Y., shows just how far the poison of Jew-hatred has spread in the educational system.

In the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist atrocities, antisemitism has gone both viral and mainstream. The Hillcrest High riot might be considered just one more example of what happens when the lies about Israel being an “apartheid state” that commits “genocide” or about the necessity to “free Palestine” are fed to impressionable and ignorant youngsters. But as frightening as it might have been, the worst thing about it was the way school authorities reacted to it.

On Monday, Nov. 20, hundreds of students at the school staged a planned demonstration inside the school. They were prompted by the fact that a female Jewish teacher, who has taught at New York City public schools for 23 years—the last seven at Hillcrest—posted a picture of herself attending the Nov. 14 “March for Israel” in Washington, D.C. In it, she is holding a sign printed by the American Jewish Committee that says, “I Stand With Israel.”

Witnesses described what happened as hundreds of students flooded into the halls chanting anti-Israel slogans, waving Palestinian flags and banners, committing vandalism and shouting abuse at the teacher, who they said “had to go.” The New York City Police Department responded to the emergency, and with their help, the teacher reportedly fled her classroom. According to some accounts, she spent hours in a locked office while the students ran amuck. Eventually, the police and school officials herded the teenage rioters back into classrooms, and the besieged teacher was able to leave the building. Social-media posts by students, published subsequently by the New York Post, contained vulgar threats as well as antisemitic propaganda.

Defending the rioters

This isn’t the only case in which high school students have joined those on college campuses, as well as others demonstrating on the street, in acting out their hatred for Israel and Jews. In this case, their actions were not only particularly egregious but also put New York City Department of Education officials and city government on the spot. 

There was no public acknowledgment of the incident by authorities until the New York Post published a story about it days later after videos of the rampage were posted on TikTok. Yet even after the extent of the outrage became known, the reaction from those in charge spoke volumes about why such a thing had happened in the first place. Rather than an immediate promise of a crackdown, arrests and stern warnings about the consequences of a possible repetition of this hate crime, the tenor of the statements from New York City Schools Chancellor David C. Banks was more about the need to understand the motivations of the rioters and to condemn those sounding the alarm about the incident than anything else.

New York City Schools Chancellor David C. Banks. Credit: New York City Public Schools Press Office via Wikimedia Commons.

An alumnus of Hillcrest himself, Banks seemed most concerned with downplaying the story and defending the students at a press conference held at the school a week after the riot.

He complained about “misinformation” about what happened and asserted that the teacher was never in “direct danger.” If that is true, that begs the question as to why the calls for assistance were such that the NYPD reportedly responded by sending 25 police officers to the scene. Perhaps he would have considered it dangerous if the cops had arrived after the rioters got their hands on the teacher rather than in time to save her.

Banks acknowledged that “violence, hate and disorder have no place in our schools,” and spoke of potential disciplinary actions. But he was clear that it was more important to rationalize the motives of the rioters and to defend them against charges of supporting terrorism than to ensure that violence, hate and disorder are severely punished.

According to The New York Times, “The chancellor also called for a measure of understanding, saying the war was a ‘very visceral and emotional issue’ at Hillcrest, where about 30 percent of students are Muslim. ‘They feel a kindred spirit with the folks of the Palestinian community,’ Mr. Banks said, adding that the ‘notion that these kids are radicalized’ was irresponsible.”

No one present demanded that Banks explain why a mob chanting for Israel’s destruction with the usual “from the river to the sea” mantra while threatening a pro-Israel Jewish teacher is not evidence of radicalization.

That view was echoed by others who spoke at the event, including the student body president, who defended the idea of students conducting what he said was intended as a “peaceful protest,” that just got out of hand by kids who “lacked maturity” and just wanted “to enjoy themselves.” School administrators agreed, since they, too, think that demanding the firing of a Jewish teacher for backing the Jewish state is a reasonable exercise of the student’s First Amendment rights and not an example of bigotry. If Banks and others don’t think that the students were radicalized, it’s because they—following the lead of corporate media outlets like The Times that have mainstreamed antisemitic attacks on Israel’s existence—believe that there’s nothing particularly radical about such a position.

That mindset governed the way the school handled the incident. As reporting about the lead-up to the riot shows, administrators were aware of the plans for the “peaceful protest” against a member of their faculty for expressing her Jewish identity and beliefs. But instead of acting to ensure that this bigoted attack would be forestalled, they simply let it happen. They were more afraid of being labeled “Islamophobic” or confronting a student body with a record of violence than of protecting Jews from antisemitism.

They are not alone in thinking this way. The initial reaction to the Post story from New York City Mayor Eric Adams was to post on X: “The vile show of antisemitism at Hillcrest High School was motivated by ignorance-fueled hatred, plain and simple, and it will not be tolerated in any of our schools, let alone anywhere else in our city.” But Adams, generally regarded as an ally to the Jewish community, followed that up with another post about the need for “outreach” with such students.

Banks’s justification for the riot and the New York City Department of Education’s full-court press to defend the rioters rather than the Jewish teacher demonstrates that such behavior is being tolerated. 

This may seem reasonable to those who agree with the mob that a Jew publicly standing with Israel is a provocative act worthy of being protested. Imagine, however, the reaction from school authorities had a mob of white students targeted an African-American teacher for supporting the black community against violent attacks. Or if a school with a 30% Jewish population was the scene of a riot in which kids threatened an Arab or Muslim-American teacher. 

We know exactly what would have happened. The story would have been on the front page of the Times the next day, rather than buried inside the paper a week later. And those involved would have not just been immediately expelled from school but subjected to arrests with liberal politicians clamoring for the rioters to be prosecuted as adults rather than minors. Certainly, their chances of being admitted to college would be compromised.

But as the Times article made clear, the main concern of authorities was not so much about the riot as the possibility that—as in the case of a high school rally against Israel in San Francisco where the antisemitic “from the river to the sea” chant was employed—those involved would be identified because a video of their actions was viewed by millions on X.

Suffice it to say that the Hillcrest rioters are unlikely to get much more than being forced to sit through some meaningless sessions about diversity that will downplay the threat to Jews while focusing on the problem of Islamophobia, which is what attempts to hold Muslims accountable for spreading hatred of Jews is usually labeled.

Hillcrest High School
Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, in New York City in January 2021. Credit: Ron Adar/Shutterstock.

The consequences of indoctrination

As angry as the public should be about both the incident and the pleas for understanding of the rioters’ state of mind, the problem goes beyond the travails of a New York City public school system that is already widely viewed as failing its students and their families.

The hate that the students spewed as they sought to attack a Jewish teacher is not merely the product of a few teenagers’ extreme political beliefs. It is the result of years of indoctrination about “white privilege” and “decolonization” throughout the schools that, contrary to liberals, has now spread into primary and secondary education. It’s also due to the Muslim-American community’s embrace of hatred for Israel and support for groups like Hamas.

The leading anti-Israel group on college campuses throughout the nation is Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which traffics in the crudest antisemitic propaganda. As the Post reported this week, they’ve also created a cut-and-paste toolkit for high school students to use for planned “Days of Resistance” and walkouts to publicize their hate for the one Jewish state on the planet. Among the graphics they provide to kids is one that depicts a hang-glider descending on protesters—an invocation of the Hamas slaughter and gang rape of young Israelis at a music festival on Oct. 7.

This amply illustrates the danger that the spread of toxic left-wing ideologies like critical race theory and intersectionality pose. Groups like SJP clearly cross over the line that separates legal protests guaranteed by the First Amendment into incitement to violence and thus deserve to be banned from college campuses as some leaders, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have tried to do.

For all of the lip service that is paid to the post-Oct. 7 surge of incidents of hate crimes targeting Jews, so long as we’re asked to “understand” the motives of those who buy into the antisemitic propaganda that fuels these attacks rather than to seek accountability for those who commit and justify them, they will continue unabated.

American antisemitism is no longer a problem of a few “lone wolf” armed right-wing lunatics or even the toleration of a small cadre of Jew-hating leftists who use anti-Zionism as a thin disguise for their efforts to intimidate, shun and silence the entire Jewish community.

What happened at Hillcrest High is a warning that woke ideas and acceptance of Jew-hatred come with consequences Americans are only just beginning to glimpse. The mainstreaming of the lies about Israel—and the nature of the Palestinian war to destroy it and commit the genocide of its Jewish population—has reached a critical point. High-schoolers in Queens have been led to believe that they are entitled to riot, threaten and chase a Jewish teacher who had the temerity to stand with Israel out of school and not face the most severe punishment. If that is so, then U.S. education is in a downward spiral that will require urgent and even radical reform if it is to be saved.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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