When it comes to attacks on Israel in the educational sphere, most of the action and attention have focused on colleges and universities. But perhaps we should be paying closer attention to our high schools.
In a controversy that has been going on for seven years now, teachers in Newton, Massachusetts stand accused of introducing anti-Israel bias into the curriculum. Miriam Elman offers details here. I won’t get into those details, but the beginning of the controversy, which concerned the use in Newton classrooms of a text called the Arab World Studies Notebook, conveys the flavor.
Among many other signs of bias, the Notebook refers to “foreign Jews,” as it, according to an American Jewish Committee report, “denies Jewish ties to Jerusalem.” The Notebook, the report explains, was not just a Newton thing. It had been distributed to numerous teachers and used in workshops for educators across the country.
I thought of the Newton controversy when I read a Jewish Telegraphic Agency story about “an optional training opportunity for teachers” called “Teaching Palestine.” The training, run by “Teachers for Social Justice,” is for “critical educators who want to teach about Palestine and the Palestine liberation struggle.” The workshop explains not only how to teach Palestinian history but also “how to counter objections from Zionists” to an “anti-Zionist curriculum.”
Further information about this year’s workshop isn’t available. But a previous Teachers for Social Justice workshop featured Muhammad Sankari, a youth organizer with the Arab American Action Network. Sankari is the author of a poem relating the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri to a host of other kinds of violence. Watch for the common denominator in the last line of the passage.
“I could call this place Montgomery, or South Africa, or Palestine, or the Congo
Could say this is another casualty of Colonialism;
Because asphalt always seems to crack the same way under the weight of oppression
And the same distinct dusty hot smell permeates every ion of occupied air
Another death attributed to a Zombie paramilitary trained by Zionism LLC.”
One can only imagine how that workshop fulfilled its promise to “break down Zionism, as well as relate the situation in that part of the world to displacement, eviction, brutality, and resistance that may look familiar to Chicago students.” Sankari’s co-teachers were Shira Tevah, then a member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN), and Ruby Thorkelson, who, though she kept a lower profile, signed on to an IJAN letter calling for “the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.”
At least one activist from Jewish Voice for Peace, a virulently anti-Israel organization, was involved in creating the more recent workshop.
Prejudiced people are entitled to teach prejudiced workshops, of course, just as those who are offended are at liberty to object. When a school district north of Chicago included “Teaching Palestine” among its recommendations to staff, “local teachers, synagogues and national organizations,” including the pro-Israel educational organization, StandWithUs, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, did just that. The district responded to the protests by withdrawing the recommendation.
That’s a good outcome, but it’s hard to know how widespread this sort of thing is. While we focus on anti-Israel activities at the college level, comparatively limited attention is paid, as Miriam Elman observes, to the middle school and high school level. It’s safe to assume that the boycott Israel movement, which targets cultural and educational institutions, is working at those levels, indirectly—our K-12 teachers are trained at colleges and universities—and directly, through workshops like the one in question.
Leaders like Elman, the Executive Director of the Academic Engagement Network, which fights the boycott Israel movement at our colleges and universities, urge us to keep an eye on K-12 education.
We had better listen.