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‘Too little, too late,’ on keeping antisemitism out of California ethnic studies

Anti-Jewish and anti-Israel materials are “part and parcel of ethnic studies,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of AMCHA Initiative.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom offers an update in San Francisco about the state's progress on the “Kindergarten to College” program, April 26, 2022. Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom offers an update in San Francisco about the state's progress on the “Kindergarten to College” program, April 26, 2022. Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock.

The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California organized a letter to state leaders in late June decrying antisemitic content that was reportedly finding its way into California’s ethnic-studies curricula, which the state will require for high-schoolers.

JPAC thanked Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom last week for the state education board’s letter to school leaders, cautioning that some ethnic-studies materials that vendors have circulated discriminate against individuals or communities. The letter did not specify whether the materials were antisemitic or anti-Israel.

Some have noted the anti-Israel “radical roots” of California’s ethnic-studies curricula, but JPAC sees the discipline differently. It stated in the letter last summer that ethnic studies “deepens students’ understanding of American history, and promotes equity and inclusiveness.”

David Bocarsly, executive director of JPAC, called Newsom “a consistent ally to the Jewish community, particularly throughout the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum development process.”

But Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of AMCHA Initiative, feels differently. She told JNS that the state’s letter to school leaders and other recent messaging is “too little, too late.”

“Instead of dancing around the problem in his recent letter, the governor should explicitly acknowledge the elephant in the room: School districts are adopting anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist curricula and contracting with consultants who vehemently believe anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist sentiments are part and parcel of ethnic studies,” she said.

She added that Newsom’s letter “serves to dilute rather than reinforce” guardrails against bias, bigotry and discrimination and “will only confuse school districts about what, exactly, must be guarded against.”

According to Rossman-Benjamin, there is a silver lining in the state’s letter, which notes that the bill in question “anticipates that a one-semester course in ethnic studies will be required for graduation in the 2029-30 school year.” It does not say that the bill, AB 101, mandates or requires students to take ethnic studies.

“This is important,” she told JNS. “It suggests AB 101 may actually not yet be operative since the bill itself stipulates it is ‘operative only upon an appropriation of funds by the legislature,’ which has not yet happened.”

“California legislators control the purse strings, and they should refuse to appropriate any funds toward AB 101 until they can guarantee antisemitic curricula will not be brought into any classrooms,” she said.  

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