The past year and a half have unearthed some unfortunate truths in America. In addition to the catastrophic pandemic, we have seen a rise of hate speech and crimes against many communities, including African-Americans, Asian Americans, transgender individuals, immigrants—and the Jewish community. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, anti-Semitic attacks in LA are up by more than 60 percent so far in 2021.
There’s a special role that educators can play in teaching young people to reject xenophobia and racism. The LA Unified School District (LAUSD) and the teachers’ union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), have historically been at the forefront in doing just that. However, recently activists within the union expressed support for a resolution backing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the State of Israel, calling for an end to all U.S. aid to Israel, and urging the organization to endorse a cultural, economic and academic embargo of the country.
This week, the LAUSD School Board recognized this problem and unanimously passed a resolution affirming the value of Jewish students, staff and families—a welcome measure, but one that does not go far enough in calling out anti-Semitism. Instead, the UTLA resolution must be withdrawn.
I don’t believe that criticism of Israel or its policies is necessarily a manifestation of anti-Semitism. Nor do I always agree with every policy of the Israeli government. But for an organization that represents the very people tasked with educating our region’s youth to single out only one country and people in the world for condemnation smacks of anti-Semitism and is a danger to the safety of Jewish teachers and children within LAUSD and beyond.
During the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, individuals drove up and down the streets of Los Angeles yelling anti-Jewish slogans and assaulting groups of people who are Jewish or whom they perceived to be Jewish. These attacks were mirrored in cities across the country and the world. We can’t allow our schools to be manipulated by those who would use events taking place in and around Israel as an excuse to target Jewish Americans here in our city.
Instead of seeking to divide students and their parents across the southland, our schools and teachers should help people find common ground. After all, we can both support Israel’s right to exist as a nation and advocate for a region in which all peoples can live in dignity with peace and self-determination. We must try to live up to these ideals—which are American ideals—in our institutions here, including our schools.
I recognize the pain of the Palestinians and empathize with their desire for a truly independent state. And I understand on a personal level the critical importance of Israel to all Jews. I would not be here today as an elected leader if not for the state of Israel. My mother was born in Haifa to parents who escaped the pogroms in Russia. My father lived to start a family because he escaped Romania to find refuge in what became Israel. I would not be alive today if not for the welcoming home they found in Israel. My children would not be alive if not for Israel.
No matter what is happening in the Middle East, we cannot be silent when bigotry rears its ugly head. In a democracy, people are free to disagree, but our most sacred institutions should not join a call for the end of a nation or people. That is what is at stake with the UTLA resolution. It is an issue that transcends politics as it calls into question the safety and security of our children.
I believe this is a teachable moment. UTLA is not the enemy here—the teachers they represent are heroic, selfless and integral to the fabric of local communities. My hope is that their leadership and membership meet the challenge at hand effectively and intelligently by rescinding this resolution immediately. Taking swift action on this misguided resolution will send a message to students and parents that building a more just and tolerant world starts here in our schools.
Ron Galperin is the son and grandson of Holocaust survivors and currently serves as the elected Controller of the City of Los Angeles.
This article first appeared in The Jewish Journal.
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