By Irit Tratt, JNS
In recent years, antisemitism in the U.S. educational system has been primarily associated with the demonization of Israel at institutions of higher education. Activism that targets Jews and a rise in support for the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement among students and faculty underscores the increasing antisemitism on American campuses.
However, efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state are now moving from higher education to K-12 public schools. Attempts to falsely label Israel an “apartheid state” and promote similar forms of defamation are being aided and abetted by teachers unions and normalized by mainstream Jewish groups.
Last year, California became the first state to pass a law mandating that public school students must complete an ethnic studies course before receiving a high school diploma. The Liberated Ethnic Studies Curriculum Consortium, which includes teachers unions, advocated on behalf of the new standards.
The Wall Street Journal reported that embedded in the Consortium’s materials are references to Israel as a “colonial settler state” founded “through genocide.” Responding to Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing of the legislation, Jewish opponents of the requirement filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new educational guidelines.
But prominent teachers unions have overwhelmed parental opposition. These organizations include the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA).
AFT President Randi Weingarten’s embrace of intersectionality’s foothold in K-12 classrooms was evidenced last year. In an interview with The Jewish Telegraphic Agency on the AFT’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Weingarten derided Jews as “part of the ownership class.” This comports with progressive rhetoric that libels Jews as wielding outsize power and influence.
Weingarten has also subordinated the issue of education to attacks on Israeli policy. She called the Jewish state’s 2018 Nation-State Law “despicable” and issued a statement the following year condemning the Israeli government’s decision to deny visas to antisemitic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
While Weingarten publicly insists that she is against BDS, she does not challenge attempts to malign Israel by local teachers unions. The second-largest teachers union in the U.S., United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), considered but ultimately decided to postpone a vote on a pro-BDS motion last year. The move follows an earlier vote by UTLA chapter chairs calling for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and expressing support for BDS.
In other states, the Seattle Education Association and the United Educators of San Francisco have voted to endorse BDS. Weingarten’s excuse for refusing to confront the Israel-hatred emanating from these local unions is based on her false claim made to Anti-Defamation League (ADL) leader Jonathan Greenblatt that a “national union does not override locals over differences or questions of policy.”
In fact, AFT’s lobbying on behalf of extended Covid-19 school closures, which kept millions of children from attending in-person classes and, studies confirm, resulted in unprecedented learning loss, easily debunk her assertions of powerlessness on issues of antisemitism.
Not just the American Federation of Teachers
In fairness, the AFT is not alone in its disregard for anti-Zionism and antisemitism in the classroom.
During the NEA’s annual meeting in July, the country’s largest teachers union voted in favor of a vague measure backing members who “educate students about the history, geography and current affairs of the Palestinian people.”
The union’s Education for Peace initiative guides educators in facilitating Israel-related dialogue through an online resource, Learning for Justice. The program contains “ready to use” lesson plans smearing Israel, along with links to organizations such as TeachPalestine and TeachMideast.
For example, a video from the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace features Palestinians speaking about life under “Israeli occupation” alongside progressive Jews “grappling” with Zionism. Depicting an “Israeli settlement” bus route, the TeachMideast map dubbed “visualizing Palestine” is a chilling image given the recent surge of attacks on Israeli buses.
The behavior exhibited by national unions is emboldening school districts to adopt troublesome “culturally inclusive” curricula, often depicting Israelis as colonists.
Reporting for CAMERA, Steven Stotsky notes that Massachusetts teachers unions are proposing an ethnic studies model similar to the one passed in California. A bill authorizing ethnic studies instruction in schools is under consideration in the Massachusetts legislature, with five Boston area schools piloting the lesson plans.
Last year, New York congressman and Republican candidate for governor Lee Zeldin requested that the Department of Education investigate antisemitism in New York City public schools after a cohort known as NYC Educators for Palestine called on teachers to follow the lead of other unions and support the BDS movement.
Educators forced to defend their Jewish identity include a 30-year veteran of the Department of Education who was told by a colleague, “you better check yourself” after sharing her family’s experience during the Holocaust. Yet unlike teachers, children lack the luxury of easily relocating when faced with antisemitism.
Perhaps most disturbing is the organizational response by some Jewish groups. Fox News recently revealed that the ADL is peddling intersectional material steeped in critical race theory, along with praise for antisemitic activists, to thousands of educators. While it pledged to review its educational manual, the ADL is the most prominent example of Jewish institutional indifference to ethnic studies.
Following CAMERA’s revelation that Newton, Massachusetts high school students were being fed a one-sided diet of anti-Israel propaganda, Karen Hurvitz reported that the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the ADL issued perfunctory statements of alarm or expressed “mild definitional concern” about such educational guidelines.
Interestingly, some of these same institutions lobby against school choice. Their efforts will effectively prevent Jewish youth from finding refuge from a hostile learning environment.
While incidents of Jew-hatred aimed at young adults at universities are painful to digest, these acts of aggression will soon impact an even younger cohort should teachers unions and the Jewish groups supporting them continue their dual objectives of bolstering ethnic studies and removing school choice.
Irit Tratt is a writer who resides in New York.