(February 6, 2019 / JNS) The disturbing trend that U.S. public schools are fast becoming new ground for anti-Israel activism should concern every American, not just the Jewish community.
Nonprofit watchdog groups and scholars that track anti-Semitism have sounded a warning that anti-Israel bias has crept into middle school and high school classrooms around the country.
Jewish organizations have for years tracked anti-Israel activism on university campuses, but now this type of material is reaching our public schools to our children.
The Boston suburb of Newton, which is predominantly Jewish, has been ground zero for anti-Israel bias in the public schools for several years. Newton is not the only place this is going on.
I recently discovered that the Charleston area high school where my son attends is teaching the Israel-Palestinian conflict from material produced by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the anti-Zionist group that promotes the elimination of Israel. They, like the organization J Street, are major proponents of the BDS movement. There is a body of evidence linking BDS organizations to international terror groups, according to a recent Israeli government report.
The material shown to ninth-graders in the Charleston County School District includes a JVP animated video, an oversimplified depiction of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that’s both historically inaccurate and offensive. The video portrays Israel as the “oppressor” and Palestinians as victims. It depicts former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat without mentioning that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is a terrorist group. At the end of the video, students are urged to boycott the State of Israel.
Going further, students are given a written quiz where the material from the video is re-emphasized. Some of the questions included, “Where do Palestinians live? Answer: In refugee camps. What was Israel founded as? Answer: A Jewish state. What was practiced against non-Jews? Answer: Discrimination. What are Israelis doing to Palestine to gain more land? Answer: They’re taking over, destroying, arresting.”
Presenting one favored side of the Middle East conflict without any effort to counterbalance shows a clear bias. The delegitimization of Israel in the classroom and influencing uninformed teens to join the BDS movement is wrong and should not go unnoticed by the community. Promoting the boycott of the Jewish state has no place in public education.
Never mind that South Carolina was the first state to pass an anti-BDS bill signed into law by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley when she was governor. She was also one of the strongest pro-Israel proponents the United States has had in recent memory at the United Nations. That doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to the public-school curriculum.
We’re living at a time when anti-Israel bias is rampant on college campuses and in higher education. That agenda, experts say, has trickled down to the public schools through instructors who are trained at colleges that often teach and promote anti-Israel activism. They become comfortable teaching anti-Semitic material, they say, and make it part of their curriculum.
But let’s remember that the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution is clear in that it prohibits our government from unduly favoring one religion over another. Further, the Constitution prohibits public schools from choosing sides in religious matters and may not endorse a particular religious perspective. And yet we’re seeing anti-Israel and anti-Jewish lessons being taught in American public schools.
In Newton, parents and the community were outraged to discover that the high school, in 2011, was teaching anti-Israel and anti-Semitic material from the Arab World Studies Notebook, which was funded by Saudi oil company ARAMCO and the Qatari government. The school was forced to remove the book from the curriculum, though other anti-Semitic lessons continued for years. The school superintendent is accused of ignoring concerns of the Jewish community, who argue that anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and false information continues to be taught along with the promotion of Islamic religious beliefs.
After nearly seven years of battling school and elected officials over the issue, last summer a lawsuit was filed on behalf of three Newton residents over allegations that school officials violated open meeting law when comments about the anti-Semitic lessons were wiped from the meeting records.
If it can happen in Newton, it can happen anywhere.
Concern alone will not reverse this trend nor stop public-school teachers from presenting anti-Israel material.
This is not just a Jewish problem. Anti-Israel activism is being taught to children of all religions in the public schools. We need to come together as communities and raise our voices against this emerging practice in our schools. Unless we do so, the trend will only continue and may even become the norm.
Karen McDonough is a freelance writer and the former editor in chief of the Jewish News Syndicate. Her work has appeared in “The Los Angeles Times,” Fox News, “Vanity Fair” and many other publications.