A coalition of 83 civil rights, human rights, religious, and education groups urged the California Department of Education to scrap its proposed Ethnic Studies curriculum, noting that the curriculum omits Jews, repeats anti-Semitic talking points, and supports the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. The state legislature is likely to mandate such a course be taught to all high school students before graduation.
“Our 83 civil rights, human rights, religious and education organizations are deeply troubled by the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC),” the organizations wrote in a letter organized by the AMCHA Initiative. The groups range from campus chapters to nationwide organizations championing Israel and opposing anti-Semitism. Specifically, they attacked the curriculum for its “omission of information about American Jews and anti-Semitism, its use of classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, and its blatant anti-Israel bias.”
Adopting a Marxist reading of history, the Ethnic Studies curriculum would teach students that capitalism and American society are fundamentally oppressive to a diverse array of groups such as women, racial minorities, indigenous people, LGBT people, and more. The one historically oppressed group it fails to mention is Jewish people.
Perhaps worse, the curriculum praises the BDS movement. Here is the entry for BDS in the glossary:
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)- is a global social movement that currently aims to establish freedom for Palestinians living under apartheid conditions. Inspired by tactics employed during the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Palestinian-led movement calls for the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of the Israeli government until it complies with International law.
This one-sided view of BDS overlooks the anti-Semitism the movement inflames on American college campuses. Activists have denounced Israel as a “white supremacist state.”
The broad coalition rightly expressed outrage about the curriculum, but they called on the California Department of Education to do more than just rescind the curriculum. They argued that the curriculum “highlight[s] a much deeper and more grave problem – the fact that an educational curriculum can be hijacked by those pushing a political and hateful agenda.”
The coalition asked the state DOE to put “safeguards” in place to ensure that “its drafters will not be permitted to use the model curriculum to promote political, ethnic or religious enmity towards any group, or to weaponize high school students to take action based on such enmity.” Without such safeguards, they wrote, “we fear that whatever model curriculum is adopted … will have an enormously negative impact on the state’s high schools, colleges and universities for years to come.”
The groups demanded a plan to make sure “that all state-sponsored curricula and other instructional materials may never be created or used as tools of political indoctrination that promote hatred and incite harm against any race, religion, group or individual.”
“The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum is deeply troubling – not only for its shocking omission of any mention of Jewish Americans or anti-Semitism or its blatant anti-Israel bias and praise of BDS, but for its clear attempt to politically indoctrinate students to adopt the view that Israel and its Jewish supporters are part of ‘interlocking systems of oppression and privilege’ that must be fought with ‘direct action’ and ‘resistance,'” AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin told Jewish News Service.
Many organizations, outside the 83 that signed on to the AMCHA Initiative message, also condemned the curriculum for anti-Semitism and leaving out the Jewish experience.
“We cannot support a curriculum that erases the American Jewish experience, fails to discuss anti-Semitism, reinforces negative stereotypes about Jews, singles out Israel for criticism and would institutionalize the teaching of anti-Semitic stereotypes in our public schools,” the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, all Democrats, wrote in a letter to the department.
“This is nothing more than an attempt by fringe activists to highjack the model ethnic-studies curriculum for California high schools in the service of radical political goals,” Seth Brysk, the Anti-Defamation League’s central pacific regional director, told JNS.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) also condemned the curriculum in a statement.
“The proposed mandatory ethnic-studies curriculum inexplicably snubs Jews and other ethnic groups as it falls woefully short on inclusiveness of California’s diverse population,” AJC Los Angeles Chief of Staff Dganit Abramoff and AJC Northern California Rabbi Serena Eisenberg told JNS. “It mischaracterizes Jewish history and identity, especially Mizrahi Jews, who comprise a significant portion of the state’s Jewish population; neglects the history and scope of anti-Semitism; and demonizes the State of Israel.”
Anti-Semitism has no place in California’s public schools, and this official support for BDS and attack on Israel should not be pushed down the throats of California students. California residents can leave a public comment here.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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