A New Way to Help Jewish Students on Campus
As a Jew who fled the Soviet Union in pursuit of freedom, I aim to raise my children to be proud Jews and informed American citizens.
There are approximately 500,000 to 750,000 Russian-speaking Jews living in the US today, and I can confidently say that nobody who immigrated to the US had to hide the fact that they were Jewish.
And yet, in 2021, we find ourselves in a situation where American Jews are being openly discriminated against, not only in garden variety Jew-hatred, but also in a concerted effort to redefine our identity to fit a popular narrative.
Many criticisms have been written about the abomination that is the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC), whose stated goals are to promote civic responsibility, encourage cultural understanding, and promote self and collective empowerment.
It’s an admirable and worthy endeavor. But the fact that it’s currently in its third draft — after so many troubling parts of the curriculum have come to light — should be enough to make us all pause and reevaluate its premise.
What this educational malpractice accomplishes is pitting selected minorities against an imaginary boogeyman. It portrays Jews, vis-a-vis “Zionists,” as guilty of privilege and colonialism. ESMC is a tragic continuation of the systemic antisemitism that makes Jews the scapegoats of the world’s problems. To wit, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), a prime example of antisemitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, is finely woven into the fabric of this sham of an effort.
I have too often heard students come to me shaken by egregious comments made by teachers and/or peers. In schools, they are forced to defend Zionism from libels such as “Zionism is racism” and that the IDF is a “baby-killing” machine. Our children deserve the same protection and human dignity to freely express their Jewish identity as others. And yes, Zionism is integral to that identity. Our classrooms are inundated with anti-Zionism, a virulent denial of the basic right to self-determination. It is today’s most prevalent and potent form of antisemitism — an attack on a basic Jewish right masked as an anti-racism cause.
Broad anti-hatred legislation cannot solve this problem. These attacks are unique to Jews. Jewish students deserve protection; lumping Jew-hatred together with other forms of hatred and racism is not only misguided, but will not help to address the phenomenon that is antisemitism.
That is why the Jewish Students Bill of Rights is such an important development. Created in 2020 by our organization, it is designed to tackle antisemitism in high school classrooms in a way that has never been done before.
It outlines the five basic rights Jewish students should be entitled to at their schools: (1) free expression of their Jewish identity, (2) a fair education, (3) a safe learning environment, (4) a comprehensive definition of antisemitism, and (5) fair protections. None of this is radical or controversial. These rights should not need to be stated so clearly and directly. Yet sadly, they do.
Minority rights have taken center stage in public debate over the past few months. Jewish rights are no less important than those of any other community.
The concerns of countless Jewish teenagers cannot be dismissed. We are calling on high schools, universities, and educational boards across the country to adopt the Jewish Students Bill of Rights. We are calling on Jewish day schools, synagogues, JCCs, and every Jewish organization to spearhead this effort and pave the way for our students. We are asking them to commit to something that should go without saying: creating a safe high school and campus experience for Jewish students. Doing so would not only be hugely beneficial to young Jews. It would send an important and powerful message to America as a whole: in 2021, there is no place for Jew-hatred in our society.
Masha Merkulova founded Club Z in 2011 to provide teens with a platform to connect to Israel, Jewish history, Zionism, and one another.