(December 2, 2013 / JNS) The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) New England Region is being scrutinized for its treatment of allegations of anti-Israel teaching materials in the public school curriculum of Newton, Mass., as well as for the amount of credit it has taken for dealing with anti-Semitism at Northeastern University in Boston.
ADL is not making its findings on the Newton teaching materials publicly available, The Jewish Advocate of Boston reported in its Nov. 29 edition. On the Northeastern issue, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) say the ADL failed to acknowledge their work to combat anti-Semitism at the university.
APT recently took out an advertisement in Boston-area newspapers that highlighted research by concerned parents and students on anti-Israel texts that have appeared in Newton schools. The texts mentioned in the ad include “The Arab World Studies Notebook,” which claims that Israeli soldiers murdered hundreds of Palestinian nurses in Israeli prisons; “A Muslim Primer,” which claims that astronaut Neil Armstrong converted to Islam; “Flashpoints: Guide to World History,” which asserts that Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, is the capital of Israel and that Jerusalem is the capital of “Palestine;” and other materials.
Leaders from the ADL, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP, which is Boston’s Jewish federation) said in a Nov. 6 statement that “based on a careful review of the materials at issue by ADL and JCRC, there is substantial reason to believe that the allegations made in the [APT] ad are without merit.”
ADL officials, meanwhile, have made conflicting statements on the existence of an ADL report on Newton schools. ADL New England Regional Director Robert Trestan told The Jewish Advocate that a report of the ADL’s investigation does not exist, while ADL New England Region Board Chair Jeffrey Robbins said, “It’s an internal report. People do this stuff internally all the time. … It involves all kinds of proprietary research.” Robbins did not immediately return a request for comment from JNS.org, and Trestan was out of office from Nov. 28-Dec. 2 and could not be reached for comment by press time.
“We don’t know if the ADL secured the curriculum from the Newton school committee in order to conclude, as they do, that there are no problems,” APT President Charles Jacobs told JNS.org. “They have not shared their ‘careful review’ of the materials with anyone, including reporters, calling it ‘proprietary.’ They seem to have had a greater urgency in defending school officials and the mayor than in getting the facts from parents and students. This is clearly not the quality effort we would expect from a well-funded organization with vast local and national resources. Disappointing.”
CJP President Barry Shrage told JNS.org that he has seen reports by the ADL and the JCRC on the Newton schools issue, and that the reports show how on the alleged presence of anti-Israel texts, APT has been “picking and choosing individual things that in context said something very different than what APT claimed they said.” Shrage said he believes questions on the issue that have gone unanswered by APT include: When were the anti-Israel teaching materials used? How were the materials used? How many parents have complained to the school district about the materials?
In Shrage’s estimation, it is hard to believe that Newton parents have been afraid to come forward to the district about the anti-Israel texts, as has been claimed.
“The truth is that the Newton school district gets complaints all the time,” Shrage said. “Where are the parents and where are the complaints [on the anti-Israel texts], and what does that say about whether there’s really a pattern of abuse [by Newton] here?”
According to The Jewish Advocate, two texts referenced by APT’s recent ad on Newton schools are no longer in use; a link on the Newton North High School library website to “Flashpoints: Guide to World History” was taken down after it was deemed inappropriate, and the distribution of “The Arab World Studies Notebook” was discontinued during the 2011-12 school year. The current state of Newton’s teaching materials is unclear beyond the school system “being unwilling to release material without some kind of payment for it, which is actually the law,” Shrage told JNS.org.
“By what stretch of the imagination are we disrupting an entire school system when we have very few examples of when this [material] has been used?” he asked.
In another recent joint statement with CJP, this one addressing the issue of anti-Semitism at Northeastern University, ADL’s Trestan and Robbins said, “Over the past year we have worked closely with officials at Northeastern regarding those concerns [of anti-Semitism]. Northeastern has devoted considerable resources to addressing this issue, and has done so in a thoughtful and responsible manner. It has undertaken a number of concrete steps to remedy these concerns, and has done so in admirable good faith. Importantly, Northeastern has hired a Professor of Israel studies who will co-direct Middle East studies at Northeastern.”
Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA Center for Law and Justice, explained that ZOA “prepared a letter back in July detailing all of the problems that Jewish students were suffering” at Northeastern. The letter noted that international affairs professors Denis Sullivan and Berna Turam as well as economics professor M. Shaid Alam promoted an anti-Israeli agenda and mocked Jewish students for their views. ADL followed up by sending Northeastern President Joseph Aoun its own letter, which Tuchman said repeatedly referenced ZOA’s initial letter.
“ADL never sent us a copy of [their] letter, never reached out to us to work together on the issue,” Tuchman told JNS.org.
“We would be much more effective if we were working collaboratively,” she said.
Tuchman added that ADL also did not mention the work of ZOA and APT on Northeastern anti-Semitism in a recent letter by ADL New England Region Board Chair Jeffrey Robbins to his board.
“No mention of the fact that ZOA contributed to that effort, no mention of the fact that [Northeastern] Hillel contributed to that effort, no mention of the fact that [APT President] Charles Jacobs contributed to that effort,” Tuchman said.
“The notion that it was the ADL and CJP, and no one else is responsible, is just patently false,” she said.
CJP’s Shrage told JNS.org that he has called both ZOA National President Morton A. Klein and Tuchman to apologize for CJP and ADL not mentioning ZOA’s involvement on the Northeastern issue.
Jacobs told The Jewish Advocate that when ZOA and APT first brought up the issue of Northeastern anti-Semitism, ADL dismissed their concerns. ADL has also “opted to discontinue all advertising in The Jewish Advocate after learning this story (on the Newton and Northeastern issues) was going to press,” the newspaper reported Nov. 29.