The cognitive war against Israel, a campaign on college campuses for well over a decade, has helped in positioning the Jewish state as an alleged racist, colonial oppressor of an innocent indigenous people, an illegal regime that exists on land wrongly confiscated from Palestinians.
Zionism, it is alleged, is a corrosive political ideology that inspires both the creation of an apartheid nation and the undiminished lust for more Palestinian land for a Greater Israel.
In this narrative, the Palestinians are cast as perennial victims whose human and civil rights are deprived for them due to white supremacy, racism, and the predations of an Israeli military that brutally enforces this unjust, illegal state of affairs.
Activists, both on and off campus, have been successful in promoting this flawed and factually inaccurate narrative, but the perceived injustices being done to the ever-aggrieved Palestinians resonates with young liberal minds who have an understandable affinity for the underdog and victim—especially if that bias and hatred are characterized by racism and oppression—exactly how Israel is now mistakenly perceived by many of its ideological foes.
Now, the same slanders, lies, and contortions of history and facts about the Israeli/Palestinian debate are being introduced to younger audiences with impressionable minds: school children.
A recent example of this troubling trend was revealed when critics became aware that the Newark, New Jersey school board had included an anti-Israel book on its mandatory reading list. The book, A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird, found its way into the sixth-grade English curriculum for the 2022-23 school year, and, according to the description on Amazon, “explores the human cost of the occupation of Palestinian lands through the eyes of a young boy.”
Of course, the same premise that campus activists chant about when they scream, “Free, free Palestine,” the factually false assertion that the land allegedly occupied by Israel is or ever was Palestinian land, is taken as truth, so Israel is already guilty in this narrative of having stolen others’ land.
Moreover, the book depicts Israelis as a malign, brutal, militaristic force that constrains the life of the young protagonist of this book in a capricious and cruel way for which there is, of course, no context or justification of why Israel had to occupy the land in the first place or maintain barriers and checkpoints to deter terrorism.
Karim, the 12 year-old through whose eyes the book unfolds, complains that his father is “humiliated” by having to go through Israeli checkpoints, but young readers would have no way of knowing that the reason such checkpoints exist is not because the IDF is sadistic and wishes to inflict pain on the Palestinians, but because Israeli citizens have seen decades during which psychopathic terrorists tried to kill them with knives, suicide vests, rockets, mortars, and even vehicles in discos, pizza parlors, cafes, and even in their homes as they slept.
Israelis are not even described in the book in ways that would make them human. They are embodied in their military machinery, heartless, sadistic, and deadly. “The Israeli tank that had been squatting at the crossroads just below the apartment block for days now had moved a few metres [sic] closer,” the reader is told. “He could imagine the great armoured [sic] machines lying down there, like a row of green scaly monsters, crouched waiting to crawl back up the hill and pin the people of Ramallah down in their houses again . . . .”
When Israelis are not depicted as being mere extensions of war machines, they are dehumanized in language which would justify terror against them for their immoral, inhuman behavior. “Human?” Karim says. “You call those settlers human?”
“In their eyes, we’re nothing — inferior, barely human,” Karim’s uncle says. “We’re not bad,” Karim answers. “They are. Look how many Palestinian kids they’ve murdered. We throw stones at them. They shoot bullets at us, to kill.”
Young Palestinian boys do throw rocks at Israeli soldiers and passing cars, it is true. But omitted here is the inconvenient fact, for instance, that, in addition to rock throwing, since Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005, Hamas terrorists have launched over 25,000 rockets and mortars into southern Israeli towns with the express purpose of murdering Jews, not to mention the random terror attacks against Israeli civilians by individual terrorists with guns, knives, and explosives within Israel proper and in the West Bank.
In justifying the inclusion of this book on a school reading list, a spokesperson for the district commented that the book’s addition to the curriculum was appropriate because it “elevates historically marginalized voices, strengthens and sustains a focus on the instructional core and provides opportunities to learn about perspectives beyond one’s own scope. [emphasis added]” Of course, critical race theory (CRT), which has also been popularized in public schools, elevates historically marginalized voices in the same way, except in the case of CRT it is white people, not Jews, who are the oppressors and people of color, not Arabs, who are the perennial victims of this racist oppression.
In a letter to Newark’s superintendent of schools criticizing the adoption of this book, Morton Klein and Susan Tuchman of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) pointed out that students will form a false and negative perception of Israel and Jews after reading this book. Why? Because, as they pointed out in their letter, the author was “clever, repeatedly sending the false and outrageous message to her young readers that Israelis are heartless and cruel, that their goal is to humiliate Palestinian Arabs and make their lives a misery, and that Jews are stealing other people’s land.”
They pointed to such inflammatory and biased passages as, “[T]he Israelis won’t be happy until they’ve driven us all out and grabbed every inch of Palestine for themselves.” “Israeli soldiers,” they wrote, are ‘playing with us. They’re the cats and we’re the mice.’ Israelis are described as ‘the enemy,’ as ‘occupiers,’ and as ‘animals.’” “Students will also come away thinking that terrorism and violence against innocent Jews and Israelis are legitimate and even desirable,” they pointed out. “Laird repeatedly refers to terrorists who have harmed and murdered Jews and Israelis as heroes and martyrs.”
Given that this may be the only account sixth graders ever read about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it is more than likely that students will absorb this malignant picture of Israel, Zionism, and Jews and carry it forward to high school and college.
In Los Angeles, a school system that serves some 664,000 students, a similar troubling process is taking place in which an ethnic studies curriculum also positions Zionism in a negative light; accuses Israel of embodying a white supremacist, racist, colonial regime; and draws parallels between the system of apartheid allegedly inflicted on the Palestinians at the hands of Jews with the apartheid that actually took place in South Africa.
In fact, the perfidious ethnic studies curriculum being proposed for California’s public schools was so outrageous and one-sided against Israel and Jews themselves, that a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Deborah Project to enjoin those responsible for conceiving of this mendacious, even malicious curriculum.
The case, Concerned Jewish Parents and Teachers of Los Angeles, et al Plaintiffs, v. Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium; United Teachers of Los Angeles; et al, denounces the sections of the curriculum related to the Jewish state, claiming that, “It falsely and libelously makes the accusation and teaches and attempts to teach California’s public school teachers and children that the Jewish state commits unspeakable crimes including genocide, ethnic cleansing, land theft, and the imposition of apartheid, all of which accusations are false.”
The progressive activism is suggested in the very name of the primary Defendant, the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium (LESMC). It is a group of radical educators pushing its own narrative instead of facts, which includes, as one of the Complaint’s exhibits revealed, an ideology that involves the language of Marxist radicalism, to “Critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, and heteropatriarchy” while “Challeng[ing] imperialist/colonial hegemonic beliefs and practices on the ideological, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized levels.”
And the purpose of this liberated curriculum? To transform educators and students into activists for progressive change, to “connect ourselves to past and contemporary resistance movements that struggle for social justice on the global and local levels.” Since when is it appropriate for students to be recruited into a resistance movement by radical teachers?
In the struggle for social justice, Jews and Israel, of course, are cast as oppressors of “people of color,” “brown” Palestinians, so among its other defects, the curriculum, the Complaint contended, “. . . falsely and libelously makes the accusation and teaches and attempts to teach California’s public school teachers and children that the Jewish state commits unspeakable crimes including genocide, ethnic cleansing, land theft, and the imposition of apartheid, all of which accusations are false.”
Defendants nonetheless assert in the LESMC that “the Jews of Israel . . . are ‘white’ and that their presence there is solely a function of the ‘fact’ that they are ‘colonialists.’” As they frequently are on college campuses now, Jews are said to enjoy “white privilege” and therefore, especially if they support Israel, are not considered a victim group worthy of or needing protection. In LESMC’s oppressor/oppressed narrative, Jews are part of the racist oppressor group and, according to the Complaint, “Defendants call these people ‘white’ because in the eyes of the Defendants they are oppressors and they are oppressors only because they are Jews.”
The danger of superimposing activism and radical ideology on a curriculum is that it teaches feelings rather than facts, narratives rather than history. “Defendants are injecting their views into the LAUSD curriculum—views which are, by design, racist—with the intention of driving Zionist ideas out of the public square, and to make it impossible for people committed to Zionism to manifest that commitment publicly,” the Complaint contended. LESMCC’s “ultimate goal is, as they proclaim, to transform all public school students into ‘social justice warriors’ who will espouse, and act on, the political opinions held by the individual Defendants in this case and espoused by all Defendants.”
Typical of other anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activists, the Defendants focus their opprobrium on the Jewish state alone, ignoring human rights abuses by authoritarian regimes around the world with far worse records than Israel’s. Working definitions of anti-Semitism have designated that holding Israel to a standard different than behavior expected of other countries, that is, selectively criticizing Israel alone, is, in fact, anti-Semitic. The Complaint noted that “Defendants and the LESMC vilify and demonize no other foreign state in the world . . . Ignoring, and thereby tacitly condoning the worst human rights abusing nations in the world, the LESMC instructs Los Angeles public schoolchildren only to revile and reject Israel.”
Even Zionism—Jewish self-determination—is attacked in this curriculum. “The LESMC,” the Complaint notes, “also explicitly denounces the Jewish religious principle of Zionism, proclaiming falsely both that Zionism is morally wrong and that it is not actually a tenet of the Jewish religion.” As other critics of Israel do, Zionism is falsely framed as a political ideology alone, one that is based on the illegal acquisition of territory and the subjugation of the indigenous Palestinian people through occupation and control. Just as Jew-haters are quick to define what does and does not constitute anti-Semitism, activists also feel free to define what Zionism is, although never in a positive way.
The Complaint confirmed as much when it observed that the curriculum “denounces as morally reprehensible an idea, a form of ethnic identity, and a religious commitment, that is, and has for millennia been, central to Jewish belief, Jewish practice, and Jewish identity: the commitment to Zion and to the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, their ancestral homeland, and the reconstitution and the defense of a sovereign Jewish state in that homeland.”
Teaching children tolerance for historically marginalized or mistreated ethnic groups is certainly a worthwhile and valuable goal for educators. Unfortunately, when teachers see themselves as agents of social change and feel entitled to promote radical, progressive ideology to young minds then students are not being taught tolerance and acceptance, they are being indoctrinated.
And in an era that has seen a frightening spike in the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes—far in excess of those against any other ethnic group—curricula that vilify, slander, and malign Israel, Zionism, and Jews themselves will likely see a new generation of students schooled in hate and made to absorb the bias and hatreds of their teachers.