The Jews of Massachusetts are facing a storm of institutionalized enmity as anti-Israel curricula are spreading to public schools statewide. On February 1, 2022, I published an article describing how state-wide guidelines on teaching the Middle East had been changed in 2018 to tilt heavily against Israel. Massachusetts public school teachers were told to instruct their students about “Palestinian loss of land and the creation of refugees by Israeli military action” and that there had been a “diverse mix of cultures (e.g. Jews, Palestinians, and Arabs of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Druze backgrounds) in the region in the late 20th and early 21st centuries,” among other things.
In their opposition to a case I filed to take anti-Israel bias out of the curricula in Newton, MA, lawyers for the Massachusetts Teachers Union argued that these lessons were taught pursuant to the state’s standards and that they are required by law. If indeed the standards are followed, they will ensure that children across the state are indoctrinated to believe that indigenous Palestinians were driven out of their homes by the Israeli army, and that Israel is continuing this “ethnic cleansing” today. It was disconcerting to learn that when asked about how to fix these standards, Jewish leaders in Boston said they were not aware of the anti-Israel changes.
Yet it was pursuant to this state-sanctioned, agenda-driven version of history, that children in a Newton high school were shown the film Ismail on the school’s “Middle East Day.” The film’s opening scene depicts Nazi-like Israeli soldiers in 1948 force-marching Palestinians, with only the belongings they could carry, to refugee camps all the while ordering them, imitating the Nazi “macht schnell,” to move faster, mocking them, and striking them with the butts of their rifles. Newton students have been taught that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and Tel Aviv the capital of Israel, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is definitively not a clash of civilizations or religions, but merely a border dispute (heavily hinting that it could easily be settled by risk-free Israeli concessions), and that the Palestinians—and not the Jews—are the true indigenous people of Israel. The Jews’ ancient, historical connection to the land has been obscured, and Palestinian terrorism, as well as their leaders’ repeated rejection of the Jewish state, has been obfuscated. These false and deceitful lessons are the new standard.
On January 17, 2022, I wrote to Massachusetts Jewish leaders—the ADL, Federation, AJC, and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)—pleading with them to take action against this hateful indoctrination being taught under the guise of education, but they have not responded. They have, however, communicated with other members of the Jewish community who were alarmed by my article thanking them for “sharing their concerns,” assuring them that they “consider any and all allegations of anti-Semitism in Massachusetts’ curricular content with the utmost of gravity,” and that they are “actively investigating.” Follow-up letters to these organizations asking about what they are doing to investigate and exactly what they advise the community to do, however, have been ignored. It is important to note that the revised anti-Israel standards that I discovered can be verified with a click of a mouse on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website, and going to page 158; any common citizen can easily “investigate.”
In 2021, in order to put a halt to the rising incidents of anti-Semitism in Massachusetts and the anti-Semitic lessons being taught in Massachusetts schools, Representative Steven Howitt introduced an amendment to the budget, “Condemnation and Definition of Anti-Semitism,” which would have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. Espousal of this definition would prohibit 1) comparing Jews to Nazis and 2) denying the Jewish right to self-determination. Claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor and ahistorical and propagandistic lessons would also have been blocked, but both the ADL and the JCRC refused to support the amendment. Jewish Voice for Peace, the Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine, and the Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East, among others, organized to oppose the bill. The amendment was subsequently removed.
As if this were not enough, Massachusetts Jews are now facing yet another educational onslaught in the proposed ethnic studies bill, entitled “An Act Relative to Anti-Racism, Equity and Justice in Education.” The preamble to the bill states that,
Whereas the events of 2020…including…the murder of George Floyd have elucidated the emergent nature of the social, economic and health disparities caused by racial inequity, including but not limited to: police brutality, profiling and murders of Black and brown people, anti-Asian violence…[T]he insurrection of January 6, 2021 revealed the imminent danger posed by rampant disinformation and white supremacy to the safety and integrity of our nation… [W]hite-centric history ha[s] fostered lies, systemic inequality and outright violence, it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth that education in dismantling racism be taught to all students…, that truth and reconciliation regarding slavery, genocide, land theft and systemic racism is centered, that students of color and students from immigrant and indigenous communities may find their rightful place reflected in the history they learn….
This type of legislation was just passed in California with very negative consequences for Jews. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has alerted the community to the dangers this legislation presents. CAMERA’s analysis shows how an ethnic studies curriculum in Massachusetts will likely have the same anti-Israel and anti-Semitic content as the California one, and how this will put a target on the back of every Jewish child. As we have all come to expect with woke-inspired efforts, anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish violence are not mentioned in the bill’s preamble. The woke movement that has captured academia has already evoked far more anti-Semitism than is actually being reported by the media.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston (JCRC), instead of fighting back, seems eager to align the Jewish community with an ideology that is inimical to Jewish interests. Relieved to have the only Jewish seat at the table of the Commission for Anti-Racism in the proposed bill, the JCRC—in testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Education—glowingly endorsed identity pedagogy, and did not comment on the problem that this approach creates for the Jewish community. They wrote only that they are “aware that research has shown that students are empowered when they see themselves and their history reflected in their school curriculum, leading to better grades and higher graduation rates.” (The only study on the effects of an ethnically oriented curriculum that I am aware of evaluated a pilot program in San Francisco, which improved attendance rates and grades for at-risk Hispanic students and boys.) The JCRC did make general procedural complaints to the Committee, writing that there are no members from the legislature or the administration on the proposed board, that the definitions in the goals section are vague, and that the board’s fiscal power has no oversight. The American Jewish Committee voiced the same mild definitional concerns. It seems their strategy is to bless the general concept of teaching identity politics, while at the same time hoping their weak and ineffective protests will demonstrate their efforts to challenge those behind the identity politics. It is an approach that maintains the JCRC’s embrace of its left-wing “allies,” even as this same strategy, adopted for the same reasons by Jewish leaders in California, is failing to protect the community from the spread of anti-Jewish “lessons” in the public schools. Jewish leaders in Boston have neither explained nor discussed this approach with the community, and have not told the community of the same strategy’s defeat in California.
The obvious peril for Jews in such a mandated ethnic studies curriculum rests in how Jews will be portrayed. In California, the original model for ethnic studies cited examples of “successful” social movements fighting for change. Included in the model is the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement, with a link to its website, which claims that the movement aims “to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.” Analysts of the BDS movement explain that its real aim is the destruction of Israel. As they seem to be doing in Boston, Jewish leaders in California tried to have it both ways: endorse the general concepts of teaching about identities and “white oppressors”—to stay on the good side of their progressive allies—but eliminate the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements. Here’s the catch: although they were successful in getting the final version approved by Californian authorities to omit teaching about BDS, California teachers are in fact free to use whatever model they choose because individual school districts are autonomous, just as they are in Massachusetts. Indeed, CAIR and the San Francisco-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center are brazenly promoting the original version, not the one approved by an education board, whom they characterize as people “more concerned with listening to the whispers of lobbyists and the voices of the oppressors than the cries of the oppressed.” Indeed, authors of that version, which incorporates critical race theory, are avidly promoting its use to school districts. In that original version, which will very likely be taught in many California schools, Israel will be defamed as a settler, colonialist, apartheid empire, which violates international law and should be dismantled.
If any version of the ethnic studies bill gets the nod in Massachusetts, even one that deletes the worst anti-Israel materials, radical and leftist teachers will presumably follow their California comrades. Notably, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, the California organizer responsible for producing the first version of the California bill, as well as Samia Shoman, the author responsible for the most anti-Semitic lessons in that version, are both consulting for the Ethnic Studies Now! Organizing Committee of the Boston Teachers Union, and the version currently being taught in a pilot program in Boston schools looks almost identical to the original California one. It is even possible that the same anti-Semitic ethnic studies curriculum that is being pushed in California, and is already being piloted in Boston schools, may become sanctioned in Massachusetts, even though Massachusetts regulations require that teachers review all educational materials for simplistic and demeaning generalizations, lacking intellectual merit based on race, religion, or national origin, among others, and provide balance and context for any such stereotypes depicted in such materials.
In California, the group responsible for the first version of the ethnic studies curriculum has established relationships with many California school districts, and based on this foothold, has managed to persuade schools to use its curriculum instead of the approved one. A school superintendent there justified his district’s use of this controversial curriculum by explaining that the group has been working with his district for some time “and most of them have been working with them in some capacity in our region.” This development should alarm Jews in Massachusetts. Already, some curriculum in Massachusetts is being subcontracted out to Primary Source, an organization whose curriculum on the Middle East is sponsored by Qatar Foundation International, an arm of the Qatari government, and has a distinctly anti-Israel point of view. Moreover, since Primary Source already has contracts with more than 50 Massachusetts school districts, if an ethnic studies bill passes here, Primary Source will likely peddle its already prepared curriculum to schools who must teach ethnic studies.
Finally, as one has come to expect, there is no provision in the proposed bill on ethnic studies for the inclusion of any Jewish topics, any mention of the many Jewish men and women who contributed to American history from 1654 onward, and no mention of their being oppressed in all lands they lived in, expelled from many. And no study of the remarkable achievements of Jews in spite of these impediments. The creators of this identity ideology would explain that this is because Jews, who have been persecuted for millennia, have become white oppressors—in spite of the almost daily attacks against them.
Jewish leaders, even those with progressive agendas, should be protecting the Jewish community, and contesting proposed anti-Semitic educational standards instead of being surprised by them and “investigating” long after the fact. Massachusetts Jewish organizations are trying to have their cake and eat it too: embracing a left that has now turned on Jews as a whole, while begging to be spared. They have not informed the community that this is their strategy, nor have they responded to proof of its failure elsewhere. Instead, huddled in their private offices, they deflect questions and concerns from those they are meant to serve – and while they are hiding, the Ethnic Studies campaign marches on, unopposed: recently, on March 31, 2022, the Committee on Education to which the proposed ethnic studies bill was referred for study, reported it out of committee favorably, along with fourteen other “anti-racism” bills, all of which were also recommended to pass. The other bills called for legislation to develop “alternative” processes for granting educator licensure to achieve educator diversity, for DESE to implement standards and objectives on cultural studies, to establish a permanent commission on anti-racist education to develop anti-racist curriculum, and similar.
Soon, if “Ethnic Studies” is not exposed as viciously divisive and stopped, a large proportion of the state’s school children will be “learning” that the Jewish state is inherently racist and cruel, and that the Jewish students sitting in their classroom support such evils.
Given the behavior of local Jewish leadership—their aversion to conflict, their unrequited embrace of an increasingly radicalized left, and their preference to operate behind closed doors and out of sight of the community—it is only by publicizing these dangers urgently and broadly that we might get our “leaders” to stand up and fight for us.