Feature Stories Latest

Jewish, pro-Israel groups express mixed reactions to adoption of California’s ethnic-studies track

(JNS) Jewish and pro-Israel groups expressed mixed reaction to the California Board of Education’s unanimous approval of the state’s ethnic-studies curriculum that had become a flashpoint over concerns about antisemitism and anti-Israel bias.

“The just-approved model curriculum, while not perfect, addresses the major concerns our community identified nearly two years ago: It keeps out denigrating content about Jews, Israelis and Israel; includes lesson plans on the Jewish American experience, as well as references to and definitions of antisemitism; and adds language to protect students from discrimination,” said Tyler Gregory, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council.

The curriculum focuses on the history and struggles of four core groups—Asian, African-American, Latino and Native American—but has also evolved to include lessons on Jewish, Armenian, Arab, Sikh and other communities in the United States. For now, it will serve as a guide for school districts that want to offer the option for ethnic studies, although California is considering a bill to make high school ethnic-studies course a graduation requirement, which has become a point of debate within the state.

The approved ethnic-studies curriculum has undergone several revisions since the first draft was revealed in August 2019, which Jewish and pro-Israel groups strongly criticized for containing antisemitic and anti-Israel content, including a mention of the BDS movement, in addition to not addressing issues of antisemitism or including the input of Jewish Americans. Alongside Jewish groups, several other minority groups, including Koreans, Sikhs, Armenians and other ethnic/religious groups, also criticized the curriculum for leaving out their American experiences.

Last fall, Jewish and pro-Israel groups applauded revisions to the ethnic-studies curriculum, which included the removal of a widely criticized lesson that framed the Jewish community as having “gained racial privilege,” while ignoring antisemitism and white-supremacist violence against Jews. The final draft largely removed denigrating content and included two lesson plans on Jewish Americans. It also includes a discussion of antisemitism and an additional sample lesson about Jewish Americans.

“While not perfect, the new curriculum is a vast improvement from the initial draft and it addresses many of our community’s concerns. As district school boards across the state now adopt the curriculum, it is critical to ensure that the content is thoroughly vetted and any antisemitic, including anti-Zionist, elements are opposed,” said Israeli-American Counci co-founder and CEO Shoham Nicolet.

Other groups, however, expressed concern over the curriculum’s adoption.

“Despite many improvements since the rejected first draft, the ESMC remains problematic,” said Max Samarov, executive director of research and strategy at StandWithUs. “It should have been revised to fix the new Arab American studies lesson plan, which was submitted last minute with almost no time for public review. JIMENA’s [Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa] lesson should have been moved to the Asian American section to teach about antisemitism alongside Islamophobia. The Third World Liberation Front, which is the origin story of ethnic studies, should have been covered in a way that acknowledges its flaws along with its positive impact.”

Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project, echoed that sentiment, saying “the board’s decision to adopt a curriculum that is divisive and fraught with bigotry is clear evidence of systemic Jew-hatred in education—present not just in California but on campuses throughout the country.”

Another focal point for debate was critical race theory, which detractors contend can cause divisions among ethnic groups but is supported by ethnic-studies practitioners.“While on the surface, the curriculum approved by the state appears improved over the rejected first draft, it remains firmly rooted in the principles of Critical Ethnic Studies, which unlike the broader field of ethnic studies, has a politically and activist-driven mission that will incite hate and division and is dangerous for all high school students,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative.

She noted that more than 100 university scholars and academics recently argued that the curriculum “contains numerous empirically false and politically motivated claims about the educational benefits of ethnic studies” and have asked the state to withhold approval until these claims are removed.

“Most profoundly concerning for the Jewish community is the portrayal of Jews, filtered through the lens of Critical Ethnic Studies, as ‘white’ and ‘privileged,’ ” said Rossman-Benjamin. “At a time when anti-Jewish sentiment, hostility and violence has reached truly alarming levels, indoctrinating students to view Jews as ‘white’ and ‘racially privileged’ is tantamount to putting an even larger target on the back of every Jewish student.”

Main Photo: The flag of California. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

SHARE
RELATED POSTS
Temple Israel intruder granted accelerated rehabilitation
Known anti-Israel critic appointed head of UNHRC Gaza probe
“Pianist of Willesden Lane” is back at Hartford Stage

Leave Your Reply