US/World News

Controversy looms over anti-Israel texts in Newton, Mass. curriculum

By Jacob Kamaras/JNS.org

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) are at odds over the presence of anti-Israel materials in the public school system of Newton, Mass.

APT — a Boston-based nonprofit “dedicated to promoting peaceful coexistence in an ethnically diverse America by educating the American public about the need for a moderate political leadership” — is calling for reforms in Newton schools to prevent the reappearance of those materials, most notably the Arab World Studies Notebook, which claims that Israeli soldiers murdered hundreds of Palestinian nurses in Israeli prisons.

According to the Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman, the Arab World Studies Notebook was removed from Newton’s public school curriculum. Nevertheless, many parents and other citizens have expressed concern about other anti-Israel materials they say remain in distribution. Local ADL leaders, however, are downplaying the uncertainty as to which anti-Israel texts are still being used in Newton classrooms.

“There is currently no evidence of ‘Saudi-funded hate education’ in Newton public schools,” Acting Director of ADL’s New England Region Robert Trestan and ADL New England Region Board Chair Jeffrey Robbins wrote in a recent letter to the editor in The Jewish Advocate of Boston.

Research by concerned parents and students in Newton has indicated that questions surrounding the curriculum extend beyond the Arab World Studies Notebook. This research reveals the presence of controversial texts in the Newton curriculum that include: A Muslim Primer, which claims that astronaut Neil Armstrong converted to Islam, but that the anti-Muslim U.S. government warned him “to keep his new religion to himself or he could be fired from his government job;” Choices for the 21st Century Education Program, which speculates that a U.S. Navy ship off the coast of Egypt mistakenly bombed by the Israeli air force during the 1967 Six-Day War had been intentionally targeted by Israel; World History-Human Legacy, which, in its discussion of the Jewish state’s 1948 victory in the War of Independence, omits that Arabs rejected the United Nations partition plan and attacked Israel after independence was declared; and Flashpoints, which claims that “over recent decades, Israel has continuously strengthened its influence over American domestic politics and Middle East policy,” also asserting that Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, is the “capital” of Israel, and that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.

In their letter to the editor, Trestan and Robbins were responding to a March 8 APT advertisement in The Jewish Advocate titled “Open Letter to Mayor Setti Warren on Saudi-funded Hate Education in Newton Schools.” The advertisement called for an “oversight committee of parents and scholars to ensure educational integrity on our schools.”

Fleishman declined to comment for this story when contacted by JNS.org. Warren did not return a request for comment.

Trestan and Robbins wrote in their letter that ADL believes Newton authorities “acted responsibly in looking into the matter, and in addressing it appropriately.” But APT President Charles Jacobs disagrees with that assessment, and questioned ADL’s defense of Newton schools in The Jewish Advocate.

“It seemed odd that the ADL would publicly support public officials who have been involved in a cover-up of an antisemitic episode in Newton’s high schools,” Jacobs told JNS.org in a statement. “It took a grassroots effort — in which ADL was AWOL — over a year to get a ‘lesson’ teaching students that Jews in Israel murder Arab women in jail removed from the high schools. According to the American Jewish Committee, that material came from a nationwide Saudi-funded effort to foment hatred of Jews and Israel supporters in American public schools.”

Both Trestan and ADL’s national office did not return requests for comment from JNS.org.

Jacobs elaborated on what prompted APT’s advertisement with JNS.org, noting that the Newton curriculum controversy is part of a national problem.

“Jewish organizations report that public school curricula are propagating anti-Israel viewpoints around the country,” Jacobs said. “So we asked Superintendent Fleishman and Mayor Setti Warren to implement procedures to ensure that such hateful materials are not incorporated into the educational system. We are still waiting. We know that a curriculum organization — [named] Primary Source — in adjacent Watertown, promotes anti-Israel materials in about 50 schools in Massachusetts.” 

 

 

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