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April 8, 2021 2:57 pm

US Antisemitism Watchdog Opposes Ethnic Studies Course Requirement in California Assembly Hearing

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

The California State Capitol Building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A Jewish organization that concentrates on fighting antisemitism in schools and academia told a California Assembly hearing on making a controversial ethnic studies curriculum a requirement for graduation could “incite hatred and division among all students,” and particularly against Jewish students.

The Education Committee hearing was held to consider bill AB 101, which “requires students, commencing with the graduating class of 2029-30, to complete a one semester course in ethnic studies, as specified, in order to receive a high school diploma,” according to the committee agenda.

It would also require an ethnic studies course be offered for grades nine through twelve.

The course would be based on the state’s recently approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, which has already undergone several revisions in response to Jewish groups’ concerns about antisemitic content.

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Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director the AMCHA Initiative, told the Wednesday hearing that the problems with the curriculum have not been solved.

“Despite four revisions, the approved ethnic studies curriculum remains firmly rooted in Critical Ethnic Studies, a narrow conceptualization of the field that is politically- and activist-driven,” she said. “As an organization that investigates campus antisemitism, we have witnessed how courses based on Critical Ethnic Studies incite hatred and division among all students.

“In addition, filtered through the lens of Critical Ethnic Studies, Jews are viewed as ‘racially privileged oppressors,’” she added. “And at a time when anti-Jewish hostility and violence has reached unprecedented levels, indoctrinating students to view Jews in this way is tantamount to putting an even larger target on their backs.”

The March approval of the fourth draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, after a contentious multiyear debate, was met with mixed reactions from Jewish organizations, including praise for revisions made during the process as well as some concern over elements that remained and the possibility of requiring the course.

The American Jewish Committee said it that it was encouraged by the removal of “pervasive” antisemitic material from earlier drafts and the integration of Jewish lesson plans. But, the AJC said, “revisions of curriculum were a salve but ultimately not curative of the fundamental flaws at the heart of the original curriculum.”

Rabbi Meyer H. May, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s executive director, said the Center was “encouraged that the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum released today does not include any content that is, or can be perceived as, antisemitic or anti-Israel.”

JIMENA, or Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, praised the changes from earlier drafts, saying, “We are heartened that our advocacy efforts resulted in California’s State Board of Education’s official adoption of a lesson plan JIMENA produced, which centers the experiences of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish Americans.”

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, said that the group was “disappointed that this model curriculum was approved as is, despite massive numbers of students, parents, and concerned citizens calling for reasonable and important changes.”

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