Saturday, December 3rd | 9 Kislev 5783

July 2, 2021 11:10 am

Antisemitism Comes to NYC Public Schools

avatar by Sasha Goodman


Central Park in New York. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Tyler Loveless

A group of New York City public school teachers sent a clear message at the end of the school year — their classrooms are no longer a welcoming or safe space for Jewish students.

This group, called “New York City Educators for Palestine,” released a letter that outlines a series of disturbing and hateful views on Israel.

Without context, the letter declares that Israel killed 212 Palestinians last month. The letter fails to mention how many of those killed were Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) combatants, as opposed to civilians.

It also omits the fact that multiple casualties were caused by the 680 failed rockets fired by Palestinian militants that fell short and killed Gazans. There is no mention of the terrorist organization Hamas at all, nor the 4,300 rockets fired at Israeli civilians over the course of less than two weeks.

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These educators claim they want to help their students understand the world — but their letter does just the opposite. Their one-sided framing of last month’s Israel-Hamas escalation does a tremendous disservice to anyone who reads it, including NYC public school students. Misrepresenting the conflict in this way not only tips their hand as dishonest educators, but also makes it clear that Jewish students are not safe in their classrooms.

As New York witnesses skyrocketing antisemitic crime rates, a letter pushing the formal adoption of a position that accuses Israel of terrorism, Zionist censorship, and ethnic cleansing — all talking points used in the targeted harassment of and violent attacks on Jews — is intolerable and dangerous.

Paragraph by paragraph, the letter traffics in falsehoods. It promotes the false allegation that Israel has a “program of ethnically cleansing Palestinians, who are indigenous to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea” — when in fact no such ethnic cleansing takes place. This statement also ignores the fact that the Jewish people are indigenous to the Land of Israel.

In an especially egregious claim, the letter states, “This is money taken from the families of New York City by a nuclear power with one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world.” The Jewish state is absolutely not “taking” money from New York families — and the language of this sentence intentionally misleads readers, and bolsters antisemitic tropes of Jewish power and greed.

The letter then asks unionized New York City educators to push their unions to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the very same antisemitic movement that has attacked Jews on university campuses.

According to the AMCHA Initiative, an NGO that monitors antisemitism trends, there is almost six times the likelihood of encountering antisemitic activity at schools where faculty members have endorsed a boycott of Israel. Furthermore, schools with more faculty boycotters tend to have more incidents that target Jewish students for harm.

The anonymous group of educators who signed this letter pledged not only to support this cause, but also to integrate this hateful language into their curricula. This commitment makes clear an intention to create a hostile learning environment for over 100,000 Jewish students, and to radicalize hundreds of thousands of other children against Israel and Jews. The potential consequences of young students being taught harmful misinformation about the history and homeland of their Jewish peers cannot be understated.

Given the threat to the safety of Jewish people in New York and across the country as the result of anti-Israel rhetoric, standing against this attempt to hijack the public school system is a matter of national importance. New York City public school educators must not be allowed to adopt a position that fosters hate and perpetuates violence.

As a Jewish educator, I am a proud inheritor of a tradition that has put serious and rigorous education front and center for millennia. But teaching has very little value unless subject matter is taught with the intent to make the student a better person. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, one of modern Jewry’s foremost leaders, put it: Education must be “moral education.”

The New York City Department of Education and all other relevant stakeholders must heed Rebbe Schneerson’s words, and encourage public school teachers to commit themselves to moral education by disavowing the vitriol in this letter.

Sasha Goodman is a New York-based Jewish educator, who has worked with students across various age groups in the US and Israel.

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