Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
While public school teachers and their unions demonstrated a shocking obstinacy during the ongoing pandemic regarding opening up of schools to in-person learning for America’s students, they seemed to have found the energy at the same time to continue their activism and advocacy for teaching children to hate themselves because of the color of their skin, distrust law enforcement, blame white supremacy for systemic racism and the victimhood of marginalized people of color, identify their gender fluidity, and a bucket full of other progressive notions that animate what now currently passes for public education.
While a covert campaign to make critical race theory part and parcel of school curricula has been the most visible part of the activist educators’ efforts to corrupt teaching of America’s children, not far behind has been a troubling, pernicious campaign to demonize Israel and Zionism and to make the Palestinian cause the centerpiece of a campaign to slander the Jewish state and indoctrinate students with lies, contortions of history and fact, and outright propaganda that perpetuates Palestinianism as part of the cognitive war against Israel.
In May, as one troubling example, soon after Israel had initiated its campaign to suppress Hamas’s rocket fire from Gaza during an 11-day conflict, the 6200-member United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) teacher’s union passed a grotesque “Resolution in Solidarity with the Palestinian People” which, in addition to calling on the Biden administration to end all aid to Israel, denounced Israel’s alleged “forced displacement and home demolitions” of Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem and its imposition of “a regime of legalized racial discrimination.” The resolution concluded by committing its membership to sign on with the anti-Semitic BDS campaign itself, stating “that UESF endorse the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel,” thereby becoming the first K-12 teachers’ union in the United States to endorse the BDS movement.
Not to be outdone by its union brethren further north, chapter chairs of the United Teachers Los Angeles, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the second largest teacher’s union in the country, also voted overwhelmingly in May in support of a statement, almost identical to the San Francisco version, that expressed its “solidarity with the Palestinian people and call for Israel to end bombardment of Gaza and stop displacement at Sheikh Jarrah . . , [called] on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to stop aid to Israel [and endorsed] the international campaign for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against apartheid in Israel.”
At its annual meeting this summer, though the measures were defeated, the 13- million member National Education Association (NEA) voted on two anti-Israel resolutions, New Business Item 29, which claimed that “The Arab population of Palestine has again risen up in a heroic struggle against military repression and ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the Israeli state and extreme nationalist forces in Israeli society” and New Business Item 51, which urged members to “recognize the existence and sovereignty of Palestine and Palestinian children and families and their human right to access a quality education and live freely as outlined in United Nations Declaration of Human Rights”—even committing the union to spend over $70,000, of all causes on earth, to promote programmatic activities in support of the Palestinian cause.
California teachers have also been embroiled in a contentious five-year process by which the state created its ethnic studies curriculum to serve as a way of indoctrinating students on aspects of critical race theory and how, allegedly, systems of oppression serve to maintain a white power structure over oppressed people of color. Jewish critics of the proposed curriculum, and there have been many of them (with some 100,000 public comments being submitted during the drafting of different versions of the curriculum) were particularly alarmed that the Jewish experience was ignored in the initial drafts and that rather than being presented as an oppressed minority themselves, Jews were said to enjoy white privilege and, therefore, part of the white hierarchy which has social, economic, and political control over people of color.
As it happens, the controversial first draft of California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum was drafted by activists who created an educational organization called the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Institute (LESMC), a California-based educational consulting group for K-12 schools. Prominent on its website (revealed by the AMCHA Initiative, a campus anti-Semitism watchdog group) is a section named “Preparing to Teach Palestine: A Toolkit,” which, unsurprisingly, is replete with anti-Israel slanders, lies, and contortions of history and fact—part of a continuing campaign to prepare teachers to indoctrinate students on the predations of Israel, Zionism, and, by extension, Jews.
“In California,” the organization’s toolkit page proclaimed defensively, “attacks by Zionist and other right-wing organizations on the inclusion of Arab American studies—and specifically Palestine—in the CA Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) have shone a spotlight on Palestine and importance of including it in ethnic studies curriculum.” Moreover, because critics of pro-Palestinian rhetoric and behavior regularly point to the sometimes-blatant anti-Semitism just under the surface of anti-Israel activism, the organization tried to push back against such charges, absolving them of any responsibility for their bigotry. “The vicious attacks that equate any mention of Palestine with antisemitism,” they claimed, “have pushed teachers, unions, and districts to understand that honest discussion of Israel’s role in the oppression of Palestinians is not antisemitism.” Not only are they innocent of hatred against Jews, but it is the Zionists themselves who are oppressive. How so? According to LESMC, “. . . Zionists are organizing to police curriculum on Palestine. They often try to isolate and attack individual teachers to scare other educators away.”
The resources offered to teachers in these pages are animated with the leftist, radical language of progressivism, with parts of the “liberated curriculum” including the typical slanders against Israel which describe it as a rapacious colonial oppressor of an innocent indigenous people, and the belief that Zionism is a racist ideology with a foundational lust for as much Arab land as it can illegally attain, completely divorced from anything to do with Judaism itself.
And, using the language and ideology of intersectionality—the commonality of victimhood among oppressed people everywhere—the toolkit suggested that teachers “Integrate Palestine into your curriculum so it’s not a ‘multicultural add-on’ but an illuminating comparison.” And to help students draw comparisons between suffering close to home and that alleged despair of the Palestinians at the hands of Israel, the resource suggested that teachers use as examples the “impact of continuing colonial control on water resources at the US/Mexico border and in Gaza, using statistics to look at forced removals in your city and East Jerusalem, impact of ideology comparing Manifest Destiny to the Promised Land, efforts to bury history and the struggles to resurface those histories,” all of which pointing to the perfidy and malignant nature of the Jewish state.
In August, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, New York Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa, and New York City Department of Education Chancellor Meisha Porter in which he described his alarm at a statement issued on July 11th by a pro-Palestinian teacher’s group, New York City Educators for Palestine. Zeldin correctly noted that the letter accused Israel of “terrorism, ethnic cleansing and other talking points all too commonly used to fuel violent attacks on and discrimination against Jews” and that if teachers recklessly use such anti-Israel rhetoric in schools it “will only escalate and embolden anti-Semitic attacks and vitriol throughout our country.”
Parroting the dozens and dozens of virtue-signaling statements that flowed out of universities and associations after the latest Gaza offensive, the NYCEP statement, of course, ignored completely the 3200 rockets fired by Hamas into Israel for the sole purpose of murdering Jews and bemoaned the precarious state of the Arab Palestinians. “As we teach our students to understand the world and seek respect and justice for all people,” the statement read, apparently not including Jews in that group of people, “we have no choice but to speak out against the injustice being committed against the Palestinian people.”
Predicting that they might be asked why, of all nations on earth, they had decided to condemn the Middle East’s only democracy, the statement claimed that Israel is solely responsible for the conflict, that “We are obligated to respond to the injustice wreaked on historic Palestine. The rights and dignity of Palestinians are equivalent to that of all humanity.”
It is one thing for teachers to commit to a cause they believe in personally; it is another thing, however, when they seek to indoctrinate their students with a one-sided, biased ideology aimed at slandering and libeling Israel, and particularly when that teaching includes falsehoods, distortions, and no historical context. For example, the statement included the mendacious claim that “Palestinian land has been colonized for over seven decades,” that is, for the entire period of Israel’s existence. Any group that suggests that Israel-proper is a colony built on Palestinian land is recklessly and delusionally ignoring history and fact.
It is inexcusable that educators in America’s public schools have decided to become pro-Palestinian activists; that they have decided it is appropriate and productive to bring that activism to the classroom and include false history and contortions of fact in school curricula; that the Palestinians are perennial guiltless victims of Israel’s oppression; that Israelis—and by extension, Jews—have become part of white supremacy and colonial oppression; and that educators have decided it is critical to push this propaganda and bigotry down the throats of impressionable students and teach it as fact.
The naked anti-Semitism lurking behind the statement showed itself when these Israel-hating educators “also call on unionized educators to have their unions endorse BDS, a movement that aims to put non-violent pressure to end the Israeli regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people.”
Even more disgusting is the suggestion in the statement that aid to Israel should cease and that the aid is an example of Jews depriving New Yorkers of funds that might be spent domestically. “Over $3.8 billion yearly of taxpayer money funds the purchase of weapons by the Israeli military,” the statement read. “New York City alone gives almost $145 million dollars [sic] a year to the Israeli military . . . . This is money taken from the families of New York City by a nuclear power with one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. We simply cannot be silent while money for our families and children here go instead to terrorizing families and children abroad,” in other words, Jews are taking money from New Yorkers to randomly terrorize “families and children” without justification. And any necessity for Israel defending itself from the many foes who wish it harm is simply ignored, as if the military aid the U.S. gives Israel every year is not based on the fact that homicidal Arab aggression against Israel has been a fact of life since the Jewish state’s birth.
Apparently, too, these woke educators have no issue with the billions of U.S. aid given annually to such countries as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan, countries which are far less friendly to the United States and not reliable strategic and diplomatic partners (not to mention the fact that almost all U.S. aid to Israel is spent on American military equipment).
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) periodically conducts surveys to assess college graduates’ knowledge of American history. The results are dismal. “Over one-third of the college graduates surveyed,” ACTA found, “could not place the American Civil War in its correct 20-year time frame.” Moreover, almost “half of the college graduates could not identify correctly the term lengths of U.S. senators and representatives . . . Nearly half of respondents failed to identify the correct term lengths for the houses of Congress,” and, suggesting at least some pop culture awareness, “Ten percent thought that Judith Sheindlin —‘Judge Judy’—is on the Supreme Court.”
Public schools are clearly failing in their effort to educate children in the basic facts of history, not to mention the necessary math and writing skills they will use later in their lives. So while test scores continue to fall and achievement in American schools compares poorly to that in other countries, teachers who are failing in their basic duties have nevertheless become social activists, progressives with a radical agenda to sexualize children, indoctrinate students about supposed systemic racism and white supremacy, scare students into mistrusting purportedly racist law enforcement, and, as part of the notion of intersectionality, elevate the Palestinian cause and lying to children to make them believe that Jews and Israelis are the sole oppressors in the Middle East, malign forces that deprive an indigenous people of the human and civil rights and whose self-determination, in the form of Zionism, should be discredited and crushed and the Jewish state destroyed.
Even if this campaign were not based on lies, slanders, distortion, and falsehoods, it is not the role of public-school educators—who are neither subject experts nor unbiased observers—to propagate this corrosive and malignant ideology.