Jonathan S. Tobin
(JNS) In the past year, controversies over whether critical race theory (CRT) and associated leftist ideologies were being imposed on public schools throughout the country have been something of a dialogue of the deaf. On the one hand, concerned parents worried about a trend in which educators have adopted radical ideas about America and the world. They spoke of how teachers, administrators and school boards were allowing notions about America being an irredeemably racist nation or supporting intersectional notions about the need to support the struggles of all “people of color” against allegedly oppressive beneficiaries of “white privilege.”
Those behind these efforts, as well as some of their mainstream liberal apologists, claim that this is all fiction and that no such efforts were being undertaken in the schools. Yet as evidence piled up of how ideas about race in which students were divided and lectured about the evils of “white privilege”—as opposed to learning the facts about the country’s racist past and struggles to overcome it—and the need for “equity” rather than equality, it was clear that they were gaslighting the nation.
However, a new lawsuit about ethnic studies in Los Angeles illustrates not only how radicals are trying to use the public education system to impose their toxic theories on schoolchildren but the deceptive manner they are using to do it. It also shows that the Jewish stakes in the battle over CRT are much higher than many people understand.
The background to this case—in which the public-interest law firm, the Deborah Project, has sued the “Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum et al” on behalf of the Concerned Jewish Parents and Teachers of Los Angeles—involves a fight that most of the organized Jewish community thought they had already won.
In the spring of 2021, a long-running controversy over the content of California’s proposed ethnic-studies curriculum in the spring of 2021 ended with the Jewish community being satisfied. The first draft of a proposed curriculum had erased the Jews as a group worth recognizing, as well as included anti-Israel and anti-Semitic content. A battle in the legislature and a veto by Gov. Gavin Newsom spiked that proposal and resulted in a new framework for the subject that would supposedly ensure that courses that taught the subject in public schools would be free of anti-Jewish bias, as well as radical leftist critiques of Zionism and other politicized material. The approved curriculum included lessons on Jews, the Mizrachi experience and anti-Semitism, with study of the latter rooted in the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA)’s widely approved working definition.
But as I wrote at the time, confidence that the state’s decision ended the controversy was misplaced. The question remained how the curriculum would be implemented in the state’s school districts, and how school boards and teachers would interpret the guidelines. Moreover, there was reason to believe that the entire idea of interjecting ideas about ethnicity was being pushed by educators with a political agenda rooted in the same toxic ideas that animated the curriculum that California had rejected. Those who were behind the drive to install ethnic-studies courses in schools were dedicated to using public education to have CRT and intersectional ideology go mainstream. That meant that it was more than likely that the approved curriculum would be manipulated by extremists to do exactly what Newsom and the California legislature had thought they had stopped.
As Deborah Project legal director Lori Lowenthal Marcus laid out in an article in the Los Angeles-based Jewish Journal, what’s been going on is that a group promoting something they call the “Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, have with the help of the teachers union in Los Angeles been working covertly to have courses taught in the schools conform to a worldview in which leftist ideas about the need to resist “empire, white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism and anthropocentrism” became the focus of education in California.
As JNS reports, this effort centers on having ethnic studies only touch on black, Latino, Native Americans, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The latter group includes people from the Middle East but pointedly excludes Jews. It sets aside the long history of oppression, religious hatred and ethnic cleansing carried out against Jews because, according to the CRT worldview, Jews are white and therefore privileged oppressors.
What happened was that a number of radicals behind this curriculum have, with the help of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, sought to bypass rules about transparency and public accountability, and impose their own CRT-inspired agenda on ethnic-studies courses. As Marcus discovered during the course of her investigation, the Liberated curriculum group advised teachers to “fly under the radar” and hide their goals, methods and details about their course material only to those administrators, teachers and parents who were ready to back their transformation of the schools into bases for leftist activism.
This would be deeply troubling under any circumstances since, like so many other efforts to use the schools to mainstream these toxic theories, such as curricula based on The New York Times’ fallacious “1619 Project,” their ultimate purpose is to instill hatred for America and to place race at the center of every discussion. This is antithetical to the notion—put forward by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—that promoting equality and judging people by “the content of their character rather than the color of their skin” is the goal Americans should strive toward.
Many liberal Jews have felt free to support the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd in 2020. They regarded the way CRT and intersectionality labeled Israel and Jews as possessors of “white privilege” and belonging to the oppressor class as a peripheral issue, even if it did grant a permission slip for anti-Semitism.
The Deborah Project’s lawsuit demonstrated that hatred for Israel and contempt for Jews—even for liberal groups like the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish federations and community relations councils—are integral to the campaign for Liberated Ethnic Studies. Its advocates regard demonizing Israel as a priority and think of Jews who are even minimally supportive of the Jewish state’s right to exist as supporters of “white supremacy” whose influence must be eradicated.
That these ideas are inherently illiberal is obvious but becomes even more explicit when supporters of Liberated studies in teachers’ unions and elsewhere in the educational establishment say they are opposed to “multiculturalism.” They aren’t interested in actual diversity, which means celebrating the broad mosaic of American ethnic groups from all backgrounds. What they want is a curriculum that is solely focused on an anti-democratic narrative in which certain groups deemed to be victims must be advanced while everyone else is deemed a privileged oppressor who must be penalized.
The bottom line of Liberated courses is that Israel has no right to exist and that Zionism is racism. That is justified by putting forward the lie that Zionism and love of the land of Israel are not an essential part of Judaism. This denies the Jewish people rights not denied to any other group. It is textbook anti-Semitism.
That radical groups supported by the LA teacher’s union are doing this is a disgrace. But it is also, as the Deborah Project’s lawsuit shows, a violation of federal and state laws that prohibit such blatant discrimination.
The wheels of justice grind slowly, and the vagaries of the court system mean that there is no guarantee that this lawsuit will succeed in holding the law-breaking radicals behind this effort accountable. But by exposing their schemes, the case strips the veil of respectability away from those promoting this agenda.
There is no longer any room for doubt about the way that extremists are trying to hijack our public-education system not only to trash traditional values of patriotism and liberalism but to mainstream anti-Semitism. If they aren’t stopped, it will do more than just hurt Americans’ belief in their country and its democratic system. It will also legitimize Jew-hatred in a way that has never happened before on American soil.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.