(September 11, 2022 / JNS) In recent years, anti-Semitism in the U.S. educational system has been primarily associated with the demonization of Israel at institutions of higher education. Activism that targets Jews and a rise in support for the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement among students and faculty underscores the increasing anti-Semitism on American campuses.
However, efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state are now moving from higher education to K-12 public schools. Attempts to falsely label Israel an “apartheid state” and promote similar forms of defamation are being aided and abetted by teachers unions and normalized by mainstream Jewish groups.
Last year, California became the first state to pass a law mandating that public school students must complete an ethnic studies course before receiving a high school diploma. A small group of self-identified “ethnic studies experts” were tasked with drafting an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. The draft authored by those “experts” was thrown out by California’s governor after thousands of alarmed Jewish Californians and others pointed out its virulently antisemitic content. The initial drafters then formed the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium, of which many union members are affiliated, and are actively promoting all the bad portions that were banned by the California government.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed revealed that embedded in the Consortium’s materials are references to Israel as a “colonial settler state” founded “through genocide.” The authors of that op-ed brought a lawsuit on behalf of concerned Jewish parents and teachers against the Liberated Consortium, the LA teachers union and others for inserting—admittedly, where necessary by stealth—into public schools the very discriminatory content banned by the state.
But prominent teachers unions have overridden parental opposition. These organizations include and the National Education Association (NEA), of which the California teachers unions are a part, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
AFT President Randi Weingarten’s embrace of intersectionality’s foothold in K-12 classrooms was evidenced last year. In an interview with The Jewish Telegraphic Agency on the AFT’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Weingarten derided Jews as “part of the ownership class.” This comports with progressive rhetoric that libels Jews as wielding outsize power and influence.
Weingarten has also subordinated the issue of education to attacks on Israeli policy. She called the Jewish state’s 2018 Nation-State Law “despicable” and issued a statement the following year condemning the Israeli government’s decision to deny visas to anti-Semitic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
The second-largest teachers union in the U.S., United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) which is part of the NEA, considered but ultimately decided to postpone a vote on a pro-BDS motion last year. The move follows an earlier vote by UTLA chapter chairs calling for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and expressing support for BDS. The head of the LA Teachers Union is a major advocate of the Liberated Consortium and its content.
In other states, the Seattle Education Association and the United Educators of San Francisco have voted to endorse BDS. Weingarten’s excuse for refusing to confront the Israel-hatred emanating from these local unions is based on her false claim made to Anti-Defamation League (ADL) leader Jonathan Greenblatt that a “national union does not override locals over differences or questions of policy.”
In fact, AFT’s lobbying on behalf of extended Covid-19 school closures, which kept millions of children from attending in-person classes and, studies confirm, resulted in unprecedented learning loss, easily debunk her assertions of powerlessness on issues of anti-Semitism.
In fairness, the AFT is not alone in its disregard for anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in the classroom. During the NEA’s annual meeting in July, the country’s largest teachers union voted in favor of a vague measure backing members who “educate students about the history, geography and current affairs of the Palestinian people.”
The behavior exhibited by national unions is emboldening school districts to adopt troublesome “culturally inclusive” curricula, often depicting Israelis as colonists. Reporting for CAMERA, Steven Stotsky notes that Massachusetts teachers unions are proposing an ethnic studies model similar to the one passed in California. A bill authorizing ethnic studies instruction in schools is under consideration in the Massachusetts legislature, with five Boston area schools piloting the lesson plans.
Last year, New York congressman and Republican candidate for governor Lee Zeldin requested that the Department of Education investigate anti-Semitism in New York City public schools after a cohort known as NYC Educators for Palestine called on teachers to follow the lead of other unions and support the BDS movement.
Educators forced to defend their Jewish identity include a 30-year veteran of the Department of Education who was told by a colleague, “you better check yourself” after sharing her family’s experience during the Holocaust. Yet unlike teachers, children lack the luxury of easily relocating when faced with anti-Semitism.
Perhaps most disturbing is the organizational response by some Jewish groups. Fox News recently revealed that the ADL is peddling intersectional material steeped in critical race theory, along with praise for anti-Semitic activists, to thousands of educators. While it pledged to review its educational manual, the ADL is the most prominent example of Jewish institutional indifference to ethnic studies.
Following CAMERA’s revelation that Newton, Massachusetts high school students were being fed a one-sided diet of anti-Israel propaganda, Karen Hurvitz reported that the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the ADL issued perfunctory statements of alarm or expressed “mild definitional concern” about such educational guidelines.
Interestingly, some of these same institutions lobby against school choice. Their efforts will effectively prevent Jewish youth from finding refuge from a hostile learning environment.
While incidents of Jew-hatred aimed at young adults at universities are painful to digest, these acts of aggression will soon impact an even younger cohort should teachers unions and the Jewish groups supporting them continue their dual objectives of bolstering ethnic studies and removing school choice.
Irit Tratt is a writer who resides in New York. Her work has been published by the American Spectator, The Jerusalem Post, The Algemeiner, and Israel Hayom.
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