California’s Department of Education released its recommendations to revise the state’s proposed ethnic-studies model curriculum at the end of July, as the original draft curriculum had come under fire for containing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel content, in addition to not addressing issues of anti-Semitism or including Jewish Americans.

Sarah Levin, executive director of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement that while CDE’s new version “is an improvement over past versions, some of the supplemental materials that have been included are deeply problematic and exclusionary.”

“These supplemental materials ignore the stories of all our coalition members—who together represent an estimated 60 [percent] of Californians who hail from the Middle East and North Africa—while portraying the Arab American experience as a monolith to represent the region,” she continued.

“The materials fail to adequately discuss anti-Semitism—and characterize American Jews only in the context of how some have secured white privilege, which is misleading and erases the experience of a significant part of our community, including Middle Eastern and North African Jews, as well of other Jews of Color.”

In August 2019, Jewish and pro-Israel groups slammed an ethnic-studies curriculum proposal over its “blatant bias against Israel,” including sections about the boycott of Israel, in addition to employing classic anti-Semitic tropes.

In response to outrage at the draft, Newsom apologized to California’s Jewish community, vowing that it “will never see the light of day” and be substantially revised.

The latest revised CDE draft recommends the curriculum focus on “African American Studies, Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x Studies, Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies, and Native American and Indigenous Studies,” though there are subtle differences such as noting that Arab Studies and others are to be considered as Asian Studies.

“The use of these four groups as an umbrella for a myriad of ethnically and culturally diverse representations was replicated when courses in ethnic studies were developed at the high school level,” said CDE. “It is important to note that there are groups that are sometimes addressed under the broadly defined umbrella of those core groups. For example, Arab Americans and Pacific Islanders have often been covered within the study of Asian American Studies.”

The CDE calls for content that calls out capitalism as a form of oppression, and highlights movements for study that were started and run by Socialists and Marxists, such as the Third World Liberation Front and the Black Lives Matter movement, which hold anti-Israel views.

Removes references to BDS movement

Regarding Jewish concerns, the new CDE draft has removed the glossary where BDS had been defined as a “liberation movement,” in addition to the full sections on Pacific Islanders and Arab-Americans that contained anti-Israel pejoratives.

Also removed is a University of California “A-G” course on Muslims and Arab Americans that included teaching about Islam, including its five pillars of faith, and about the “political and social turmoil between Palestine and Israel.” CDE explained that it was removed for technical reasons: “This course outline has significant problems with the resource links which rendered it unusable. Of the 86 total hyperlinks, 34 do not work, 2 have potential copyright issues, and 7 are behind a paywall or require a purchase to access.”

However, CDE added a UC a-g pre-approved course ostensibly taught in a charter school in the California town of Eureka that has a unit on Jewish Americans that seeks to examine the differences between them and Irish Americans, and what it means to be either in the 21st century. An a-g course is a high school course requirement students must take to be admitted to the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU).

The unit seeks to “discuss parallels between language used to describe Irish and Jewish immigrants to those used in the early years of the United States to describe Native Americans. Students will investigate labor disputes and how they were ended and how that relates to the redefining of white. Posing questions on who gets to decide those that get to join the ‘club’ and why.”

Additionally, “students will write a paper detailing certain events in American history that have led to Jewish and Irish Americans gaining racial privilege. They will be asked to think critically about why and who is allowing this evolution in white identity and how this shift is affecting the identity of Irish and Jewish Americans.”

CDE kept a UC a-g approved section on teaching about the Nation of Islam, and its philosophy and expansion. The course recommends students watch the Mike Wallace documentary about NOI titled “The Hate That Hate Produced.”

The Nation of Islam “has maintained a consistent record of anti-Semitism and racism since its founding in the 1930s,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Although CDE stated that ethnic-studies courses “address race within the context of how white dominated culture impacts racism and other forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” it does not define or provide content about either.

Moreover, in one UC a-g pre-approved course is a recommended resource edited by San Francisco State University professor Rabab Abdulhadi, University of Southern California associate professor Evelyn Alsultany and University of Illinois at Chicago professor Nadine Naber—all of whom have a history of anti-Israel activism. The book is titled Arab & Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, & Belonging.

San Francisco State University professor Rabab Abdulhadi. Source: YouTube.

AMCHA Initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin said that “the curriculum remains incredibly problematic and concerning.”

“The ethnic-studies movement, known as ‘critical ethnic studies,’ which is what this curriculum is a product of, is based on an ‘us vs them’ model,” she told JNS. “It views Jews as white and privileged, and not part of the ‘us,’ and is blatantly anti-Zionist.”

Rossman-Benjamin went on to say that “the goal of ‘critical ethnic studies’ is not to educate, but to indoctrinate students into adopting certain political views and engaging in specific forms of political activism, including those that vilify and harm Jewish students. Even more concerning is that right now, a California bill is moving through the legislature that will require all California high school students to take one of these classes, which, given that there are no safeguards against it, could easily become political and divisive at the sole discretion of the teacher.”

She called on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to not sign AB-331 into law “until safeguards are put into place to ensure any ethnic-studies required classes be based on pedagogically sound principles, not ones that push a specific political agenda and could easily lead to ethnic bigotry, including anti-Semitism.”

Ethnic studies to become required material for some

Despite the release of the revised curriculum, in recent months more than a dozen California school boards have adopted resolutions in support of the previously proposed ethnic-studies model curriculum.

As local school boards debate the issues regarding the ethnic-studies curriculum, bills in the California Assembly is being pushed forward that would require ethnic studies as a graduation requirement for high schools and California State University, known as AB-331 and AB-1460, respectively.

The California State Capitol in Sacramento. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

AB-331 is a bill that, if passed, would require ethnic studies as a California high school graduation requirement, starting with the 2024-25 school year, “based on” the ethnic-studies model curriculum developed by the state.

It was introduced in the Spring of 2019 by Assembly Member Jose Medina, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee and is a member of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.

AB-1460 is a bill that would require California State University students, starting with the 2021–22 school year, to take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate.

Several members of the Academic Engagement Network penned an open letter in opposition to AB-1460 that has gotten more than 100 signatures from faculty across the CSU campuses.

StandWithUs co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein told JNS that while her group appreciates CDE “for taking out content that was explicitly anti-Israel and antisemitic, and including new guidelines to promote critical thinking,” at the same time, the proposed curriculum “still has significant flaws that must be fixed.”

The Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), which is an advisory board to CDE and other state and education boards, will review and revise the draft and post it online on Aug. 13 for a 30-day period of public review and comment ending on Sept. 30.

In November, the IQC will consider revisions and direct submission of the resulting curriculum to California’s State Board of Education following a 45-day period. The SBE is expected to take action on the proposed curriculum on March 17–18, 2021.

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