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US Jewish leaders asleep in the face of anti-Israel school curricula

If “Ethnic Studies” is not exposed as viciously divisive and stopped, a large proportion of Massachusetts children, like those in California, will be “learning” that the Jewish state is inherently racist and cruel.

A school classroom. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A school classroom. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Karen Hurvitz
Karen Hurvitz

Massachusetts Jews are facing a storm of institutionalized animus as anti-Israel curricula are spreading to public schools statewide. Jewish leaders in the Bay State know about these developments, but to date have not told their constituents.

In an Feb. 1 article, I described how state-wide guidelines about teaching the Middle East had been changed in 2018 to tilt heavily against Israel. Massachusetts public-school teachers were told to instruct their students, among other things, about “Palestinian loss of land and the creation of refugees by Israeli military action,” and that there had been a “diverse mix of cultures (e.g. Jews, Palestinians and Arabs of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Druze backgrounds) in the region in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.”

In their opposition to a case I filed to take anti-Israel bias out of the curricula in Newton, lawyers for the Massachusetts Teachers Union argued that these lessons were taught pursuant to the state’s standards and that they are required by law. If, indeed, the standards are followed, they will ensure that children across the state are indoctrinated to believe that indigenous Palestinians were driven out of their homes by the Israeli army, and that Israel is continuing this ethnic cleansing today.

It was disconcerting to learn that when asked about how to fix these standards, Jewish leaders in Boston said that they were not aware of the anti-Israel changes.

Yet it was pursuant to this state-sanctioned, agenda-driven version of history that children in a Newton high school were shown the film “Ismail” on the school’s “Middle East day.”

The film’s opening scene depicts Nazi-like Israeli soldiers in 1948 force-marching Palestinians, with only the belongings they could carry, to refugee camps, all the while ordering them, imitating the Nazi “macht schnell!,” to move faster, mocking them and striking them with the butts of their rifles.

Even before the guidelines were changed, Newton students were taught that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and Tel Aviv the capital of Israel; that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is definitively not a clash of civilizations or religions, but merely a border dispute, heavily hinting that it could easily be settled by risk-free Israeli concessions; and that the Palestinians, not the Jews, are the truly indigenous people of Israel.

The Jews’ ancient, historical connection to the land was obscured, and Palestinian terrorism, as well as their leaders’ repeated rejection of the Jewish state, was obfuscated. Now these false and deceitful lessons are authorized.

On Jan. 17, I wrote to Massachusetts Jewish leaders—from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish Federation, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)—pleading with them to take action against this hateful indoctrination being taught under the guise of education. But they have not responded.

They have, however, responded to members of the Jewish community who were alarmed by my article with anodyne notes thanking them for “sharing their concerns,” “assuring” them that they “consider any and all allegations of anti-Semitism in Massachusetts curricular content with the utmost of gravity,” and that they are ”actively investigating.”

Follow-up letters to these organizations asking about what they are doing to investigate, and exactly what they advise the community to do, however, have been ignored. It is important to note that the revised anti-Israel standards that I discovered can be verified with a click of a mouse on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, and going to page 158; it does not take long to “investigate.”

In order to put a halt to the rising incidents of anti-Semitism in Massachusetts and the anti-Semitic lessons being taught in Massachusetts schools, House Rep. Steven Howitt (R-Mass.) introduced an amendment to the budget in 2021 that would have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

Four hundred fifty organizations worldwide have adopted this definition, including the U.S. government and several states. Adoption of this definition would prohibit comparing Jews to Nazis and denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example, by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor; it would have prohibited these ahistorical and propagandistic lessons.

Both the ADL and the JCRC refused to support the amendment. Jewish Voice for Peace, the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine and the Unitarian Universalists for Peace in the Middle East, among others, organized to oppose the bill. The amendment was removed.

As if this were not enough, Massachusetts Jews are now facing yet another educational onslaught in the proposed ethnic-studies bill, entitled “An Act Relative to Anti-Racism, Equity and Justice in Education.”

The preamble to the bill states that: “Whereas the events of 2020 … including … the murder of George Floyd have elucidated the emergent nature of the social, economic and health disparities caused by racial inequity, including but not limited to: police brutality, profiling and murders of Black and brown people, anti-Asian violence … [T]he insurrection of January 6, 2021 revealed the imminent danger posed by rampant disinformation and white supremacy to the safety and integrity of our nation … [W]hite-centric history ha[s] fostered lies, systemic inequality and outright violence, it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth that education in dismantling racism be taught to all students … that truth and reconciliation regarding slavery, genocide, land theft and systemic racism is centered, that students of color and students from immigrant and indigenous communities may find their rightful place reflected in the history they learn …”

This type of legislation was just passed in California, with very bad consequences for Jews. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has alerted the community to the dangers that this legislation presents. CAMERA’s analysis shows how an ethnic-studies curriculum in Massachusetts will likely have the same anti-Israel and anti-Semitic content as the California one; how, as it stands now, the curriculum is infested with anti-Semitism; and how this will put a target on the back of every Jewish child.

As we have all come to expect with woke-inspired efforts, anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish violence are not mentioned in the bill’s preamble. The woke movement that has captured academia has already evoked far more anti-Semitism than is actually being reported by the media.

The Boston JCRC, instead of fighting back, seems eager to align the Jewish community with an ideology that is inimical to Jewish interests. Relieved to have the only Jewish seat at the table of the Commission for Anti-Racism in the proposed bill, the JCRC—in testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Education—glowingly endorsed identity pedagogy and did not comment on the problem that this approach creates for the Jewish community.

It wrote only that it is “aware that research has shown that students are empowered when they see themselves and their history reflected in their school curriculum, leading to better grades and higher graduation rates.”  (The only study on the effect of an ethnically oriented curriculum that I am aware of evaluated a pilot program in San Francisco, which improved attendance rates and grades for at-risk Hispanic students and boys.)

The JCRC did make general procedural complaints to the Committee, writing that there are no members from the legislature or the administration on the proposed board; that the definitions in the goals section are vague; and that the board’s fiscal power has no oversight. The AJC voiced the same mild definitional concerns.

This signals their strategy—namely, that they will bless the general concept of teaching identity politics, while at the same time hoping to protect the Jewish community against the representation of Jews that those behind the identity-politics ideology are promoting. It is a strategy focused on maintaining the JCRC’s policy of embracing its left-wing “allies,” even as this same strategy, adopted for the same reasons by Jewish leaders in California, is failing to protect the community there from the spread of anti-Jewish “lessons” in the public schools.

Jewish leaders in Boston have neither explained nor discussed this strategy to the community, and have not told the community of the same strategy’s defeat in California.

There is an obvious peril for Jews in such a mandated ethnic-studies curriculum: It is how Jews will be portrayed. In California, the original model for Ethnic Studies cited examples of “successful” social movements fighting for change.

Included in the model is the BDS movement, with a link to its website, which claims that the movement aims “to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.”

Analysts of the BDS movement explain that its real aim is the destruction of Israel. As they seem to be doing in Boston, Jewish leaders in California tried to have it both ways: endorse the general concepts of teaching about identities and white oppressors—to stay on the good side of their progressive allies—but eliminate as much as possible the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements.

Here’s the catch: Although they were successful in getting the final version approved by Californian authorities to omit teaching about BDS, California teachers are, in fact, free to use whatever model they choose, because individual school districts are autonomous, just as they are in Massachusetts.

Indeed, in response to these Jewish efforts, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the San Francisco-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center are brazenly promoting the original version, not the one approved by an education board whose members they characterize as people “more concerned with listening to the whispers of lobbyists and the voices of the oppressors than the cries of the oppressed.”

Authors of that version, which includes critical race theory, are avidly promoting its use to school districts. In that original version, which will very likely be taught in many California schools, Israel will be defamed as a settler, colonialist, apartheid empire that violates international law and should be dismantled.

If any version of the ethnic-studies bill—even one that deletes the worst anti-Israel materials—gets the nod in Massachusetts, radical and leftist teachers here will presumably follow their California comrades: notably, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, the California organizer responsible for producing the first version of the California bill, as well as Samia Shoman, the author responsible for the most anti-Semitic lessons in that version.

Both are consulting for the Ethnic Studies Now! Organizing Committee of the Boston Teachers Union, and the version currently being taught in a pilot program in Boston schools looks almost identical to the original California one. It is even possible that the same anti-Semitic ethnic-studies curriculum that is being pushed in California, and is already being piloted in Boston schools, will become sanctioned in Massachusetts, as did the changed version of the DESE standards.

This is in spite of Massachusetts regulations  requiring that teachers review all educational materials for simplistic and demeaning generalizations; lack of intellectual merit based on race, religion or national origin, among others; and provide balance and context for any such stereotypes depicted in such materials.

In California, the group responsible for the first version of the ethnic-studies curriculum has established relationships with many California school districts, and based on this foothold, has managed to persuade schools to use its own curriculum instead of the approved one. A school superintendent there justified his district’s use of this controversial curriculum on the grounds that the group has been working with his district for some time “and most of them have been working with them in some capacity in our region.”

This development should alarm Jews in Massachusetts. Already some curriculum in Massachusetts is being subcontracted out to Primary Source, an organization whose curriculum on the Middle East is sponsored by Qatar Foundation International, an arm of the Qatari government, and has a distinctly anti-Israel point of view.

Moreover, since Primary Source already has contracts with more than 50 Massachusetts school districts, if an ethnic-studies bill passes here, Primary Source will likely peddle its already prepared curriculum to schools that must teach ethnic studies.

Finally, as one has come to expect, there is no provision in the proposed bill on ethnic studies for the inclusion of any Jewish topics, any mention of the many Jewish men and women who contributed to American history from 1654 onward. And no mention of their being oppressed in all lands in which they lived, as well as expelled from many. And no study of the remarkable achievements of Jews, in spite of these impediments. The creators of this identity ideology would explain that this is because Jews have become whites, allied with white oppressors.

Jewish leaders, even those with progressive agendas, should be protecting the Jewish community, and contesting proposed anti-Semitic educational standards, instead of being surprised by them and “investigating” long after the fact.

Massachusetts Jewish organizations are trying to have their cake and eat it too: embracing a left that has now turned on us, while begging for it to leave us in peace. They have not told the community that this is their strategy. They have not answered when shown that this same strategy seems to have failed in California.

Instead, huddled in their private offices, they deflect questions and concerns from those they are meant to serve. Soon, if “Ethnic Studies” is not exposed as viciously divisive and stopped, a large proportion of our state’s school children will be “learning” that the Jewish state is inherently racist and cruel, and that the Jewish students sitting in their classrooms support such evils.

Given the behavior of local Jewish leadership—its aversion to conflict, unrequited embrace of an increasingly radicalized left and preference to operate behind closed doors and out of sight of the community—it is only by publicizing these dangers urgently and broadly that we might get our “leaders” to stand up and fight for us.

Karen Hurvitz is a Massachusetts attorney and artist, and counsel for Education Without Indoctrination.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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