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Wake up, California: Jews are a persecuted minority, too

As originally proposed, the state’s ethnic studies curriculum offered a harmful one-sided narrative about Israel and the Jewish people, where it even mentioned them at all.

A fourth-grade class at Acorn Woodland Elementary in Oakland California, May 2019. Credit: Diablanco/Wikipedia.
A fourth-grade class at Acorn Woodland Elementary in Oakland California, May 2019. Credit: Diablanco/Wikipedia.
Gina Roberts
Gina Roberts

California claims to be a model for the United State. But how can that be, when its officials are so woefully backward in their understanding of discrimination and exclusion?

One does not have to be black or brown to face the wrath of ignorance and hate. I should know. As a conservative transwoman, I’ve faced many challenges, but you might not know it by looking at me. Despite this simple fact, a K-12 ethnic studies curriculum proposed by the state excludes the oldest minority in the world—Jews—who have arguably suffered more retribution and persecution than any other minority in the world. Should this curriculum be enacted, even in its current, revised format, California students will have no idea that this is the case.

As originally proposed, California’s ethnic studies curriculum was riddled with anti-Jewish and anti-Israel content. From the glossary to the required reading, the curriculum offered a harmful one-sided narrative about Israel and the Jewish people, where it even mentioned them at all.

Not once throughout the curriculum were Jews characterized as an ethnic minority or frequent target of racism. If Jews were mentioned, it was in an offensive and disparaging context. For example, under the curriculum, teachers were encouraged to use a poem implying that Jews control the media and use it to manipulate the public—a common anti-Semitic trope. It even actively promoted the anti-Semitic BDS movement and used BDS’s false claims that Palestinians live under Israeli-imposed “apartheid conditions.”

This curriculum comes just days after a newly released study found that 63 percent of young American adults do not know that six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and 11 percent believe that Jews caused the Holocaust. Some 23 percent of respondents said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, had been exaggerated or weren’t sure.

Understandably, the curriculum was met with outrage when it was released to the public. The message was clear; this curriculum would not be acceptable to teach our children. The State Board of Education went back to the drawing board and recently returned a draft that, while no longer containing overtly anti-Semitic themes and lessons, still leaves a lot to be desired.

The new draft still contains problematic requirements, such as mandating study of the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF)—of which a prominent leader made grotesquely anti-Semitic comments and called for “victory to the Arab people” over Israel. It also unfairly focuses on the experience of Arab Americans—neglecting that of the many diverse Middle Eastern communities in California, including Jews—while leaving the door open for teachers to promote anti-Israel views.

Anti-Zionism and BDS have no place in the classroom. These are political viewpoints that too easily veer into the territory of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hate.

Perhaps most importantly, the curriculum does not adequately cover anti-Semitism and various other forms of hate across the political spectrum that are worthy of inclusion. Before the ethnic studies curriculum can be implemented, we need changes that give all minority communities in California equal recognition and respect.

Denying history is a sure way to repeat it. This is why state leaders presumably felt it was so important to require ethnic studies in the first place. However, for Jews, denying their history is more than an oversight; it is a hostile act of anti-Semitism—and one employed by the enemies of Jewish people for decades.

There is too much at stake when it comes to molding young minds and their understanding of prejudice. If we don’t properly educate them on the suffering of Jews as an ethnic minority, we will be educating the next generation of bystanders to displays of anti-Semitism, or worse.

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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