Sunday, December 22, 2013

Anti-Israel ‘lessons' in American classrooms

Far from being a problem exclusive to local schools, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic curricular materials are endemic in American classrooms.

At issue is not only the insidious nature of materials that inculcate anti-Israel biases disguised as history and multicultural lessons, but also the flaccid response by educators, elected officials and sometimes the mainstream Jewish community.

Examples abound and are surfacing from Massachusetts to California where concerned and sometimes angry parents are reacting.

In Williamson County, Tenn., one biased text asks students: "If a Palestinian suicide bomber kills several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant, is that an act of terrorism or wartime retaliation against Israeli government policies and army actions?"

Complaints by a dozen angry parents - who were supported by their Jewish Federation - forced the publisher to remove the offending language from all electronic versions and future 10thand 11th-print editions. The local Jewish Federation then joined with parents to help school officials better train teachers about the realities of Middle Eastern conflicts. In New York, preparatory materials for the famed Regents exam falsely claim that Israel prevailed militarily in 1948 only due to strong support from the United States. (There was almost none. The Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were major allies). This is Arab propaganda, utilized to both demonize America and to explain the failure of the six Arab armies that attacked the tiny Jewish state.

In Albany, N.Y., an English teacher had her students write an essay, as part of a persuasive writing exercise, imagining themselves to be Nazis and assigned some of them the task of describing why Jews are evil. After this case came to light - the result of assertive parents - the School Superintendent publicly apologized and the teacher was removed from the classroom.

At Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a prep school in New York, administrators held an Israel-Palestine Day and, under the pretense of "evenhandedness," invited Rashid Khalidi and Tony Judt as featured speakers to represent "both sides" of the conflict. Both Khalidi and Judt believe the state of Israel should not exist. Rabbi Avi Weiss, one of the panelists, withdrew from the conference upon learning about the contents and opted instead to organize a counter-demonstration. The school refused to allow a single pro-Israel speaker at this event. Among the invited speakers were noted anti- Israel advocates Sara Roy from Harvard University, Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch and Fawaz Gerges from Georgetown University. Meanwhile, teachers instructed students not to speak to the protesters or the media, and the school's Principal announced at the end of the conference that they just heard a "comprehensive" analysis of the Middle East conflict from distinguished speakers and to remember that "the protesters are outnumbered." This event drew strong criticism from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and several politicians.

At the Campbell Middle School in Smyrna, Ga., a parent complained about an assignment that promoted a sympathetic understanding of Islamic treatment of women. Pro-Israel advocate Pam Geller reported that other lessons from the same curriculum written by InspirEd Educators Inc. "explain" homicide bombings and Jew hatred from the point of view of multicultural tolerance of Islam. One lesson describes a video left by a female Hamas homicide bomber who describes her act of martyrdom as "my most wanted wish that I asked G-d Almighty to fulfill." Another lesson in the curriculum is an editorial titled "A Palestinian's Plea" that concludes with: "It is not hard to understand why people would take their anger and frustration out on somebody, and it is understandable that person would be Jewish. It is the Jews that take our land, it is the Jews that destroy our homes and it is the Jews who have killed our children!" The school's Principal defended the assignment on the basis of teacher autonomy, but the Superintendent deemed the lesson inappropriate and declared that such materials need to be fully vetted before being placed in the hands of teachers.

The study of Arabic in public schools has become yet another opportunity to bash Israel: This summer, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) in Arizona requested its school board's permission to accept money from Qatar Foundation International (QFI) to be used to implement "innovative curricula and teaching materials to be used in any Arabic language classroom." QFI is closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and has named several institutions after Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the de facto spiritual leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, who can be seen on YouTube inciting throngs in Cairo to kill all the world's Jews. (Of note: QFI was founded by Sheikha bint Hamad Al Thani, the founder of Al Jazeera.)

In 2011, Tucson had a problem with another Muslim Brotherhood affiliated group, MEChA, which tried recruiting Mexican students to attend an "occupied peoples' conference" at which Palestinian and TUSD students would share their experiences living in "occupied territories." Tucson's Superintendent expressed concerns about the organizations "anti-Semitic tone and tenor on our campuses."

Can anti-Israelism, which is the new form of anti-Semitism, lead back to the older types? In Pine Valley, N.Y., a rash of anti- Jewish attacks took place over the course of several weeks at a local high school. One Jewish student had a swastika painted across his face; another was beaten with a hockey stick. Holocaust and anti- Semitic "jokes" were directed at Jewish students. Swastikas were left on walls for weeks. Some of the taunting actually took place under the watchful eyes of some teachers. New York's Governor interceded with a terse letter to the state Education Department demanding an explanation and requesting of the police Division of Human Rights to initiate an immediate investigation.

American Jewish organizations came late to the problem of anti-Israelism on the campuses. If this same poison spreads to the entire public school system, America will become a very different place for its Jews.

Contributor Charles Jacobs is a political activist who co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Group and also the David Project, and also the organization Americans for Peace and Tolerance.

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