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July 2, 2021 11:13 am
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Fighting Public School Teachers Who Attack Jews and Israel

avatar by Gil Troy

Opinion

A march by members and supporters of the Seattle Education Association teachers union. Photo: Twitter.

In our topsy-turvy world, teachers are now bullying students — if they’re Jewish or like Israel.

The Seattle Education Association (SEA) recently passed a resolution endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, and perpetuating the “Deadly Exchange” Lie — i.e., that the IDF is supposedly coaching the Seattle police and others in the aggressive policing techniques that killed George Floyd.

Tellingly, the triumphant SEA press release tweeted out on June 14, was misspelled, saying “The resolution endoreses [sic] the Palestinian call to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel.”

The mistake says it all: if, as its website claims, SEA truly was #CommittedToOurSchools, wouldn’t the leadership focus on getting the facts right, getting the spelling right, and representing all teachers and students equally rather than alienating the Jews and non-Jews who support the Jewish state?

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I take this issue personally because I grew up in a teachers’ union’s warm embrace. I know how much good they can do. Both my parents were teachers. What they lacked in disposable income, they made up for in job security and union health benefits. We could go to top eye doctors and physicians, because the UFT — the United Federation of Teachers — was behind us. Had the union distracted itself with delegitimizing Israel or other offensive crusades, my brothers and I might not have had the basic services my parents could not otherwise afford.

More broadly, in an age when truth is under assault, educators should not spread lies, such as the libels about Israel’s anti-terrorist training for American police — as if racist American cops need Israelis to coach them on racism or brutality.

Are there no Seattle teachers who wonder how it is that the Jews — this time in the guise of Israel — are always found guilty of the great sin of the moment? That obsession reflects poorly on the accusers, not the accused.

Educators should also teach their students to beware of the LSA: the Land of Sloppy Analogizing. Education should cultivate humility, acknowledging that your world is not the same as someone else’s. But viewing the Israeli-Palestinian national conflict through the distorting lens of America’s racial conflict isn’t about searching for truth, or widening your horizons — it’s about arrogantly equating Jerusalem’s power dynamics with Seattle’s, despite the 6,774 miles separating them.

And while educating teachers to avoid micro-aggressions that might make any student uncomfortable, teachers should avoid encouraging these macro-aggressions against Israel, Jews, and pro-Israel non-Jews.

Let’s face it. The current attack on Israel isn’t just about politics, it’s about identity — and Palestinians are making it a zero-sum game. That’s why when the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators condemned Jew-hatred, simply affirming that Jews “have the right to life, safety, and freedom from scapegoating and fear,” Palestinians felt “unrepresented, silenced, or marginalized.”

In a sane world, condemning Jew-hatred wouldn’t be seen as slighting Palestinians. But because pro-Palestinian protests keep targeting Jews, and because Palestinians are running an all-or-nothing, with-me-or-against-me campaign, they caricature the most benign statement opposing prejudice against others as being prejudicial against them.

Moreover, it is an identity issue for Jews, too. After 73 years, Israel is central to most Jews’ identity — even now, despite all the media bias.

With Zionism such a pillar of modern Judaism, all these attacks on Israel and Zionism naturally bubble over into attacks on Jews and Judaism. And let’s be clear: Zionophobia, an irrational bigotry against Zionists and Israelis, is as bad as racism, sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism.

A fair union, seeking to represent all educators and students, would think with sensitivity of Seattle’s 63,000 Jews and sit out this war.

Because the SEA and the United Educators of San Francisco, among others, have instead decided to lash out, the pro-Israel community has no choice but to push back. These are warning signals: first the professors turned on us, then the high school teachers, now it’s elementary school teachers, too. They risk raising a next generation of American kids instinctively hostile to Israel — and Jews.

Every teacher who cares, both Jewish and non-Jewish, should draft a resignation letter to the union.

Clearly marking it as a “draft,” the educators should send in their warning: that they are considering resigning if this kind of insensitive, distracting politicization of the union continues, and if this resolution is not rescinded. They should also look into suspending their dues payments or placing them in escrow in a secure bank account until the matter is resolved.

At the same time, parents, students should protest. They might pick one day for a day or hour of protest, or a lunch-hour sit in.

Sitting idly by and grumbling is no longer a valid option. Jews are being bullied and feeling bullied from coast-to-coast. That’s not the America I know. All Jews who feel attacked, disrespected, and marginalized, should reach out to fellow Jews and non-Jews for help, then stand up for themselves. The more we whimper and whine, the more our enemies will bluster and bully.

We have to trust the American public and American politicians to recognize who is the victim and who is the victimizer here. And it’s a win-win. Either you stand up and mobilize allies to help stop the scourge, or you stand up and affirm your dignity. That’s the American way, the Jewish way, the Zionist way — the only way.

Gil Troy is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American History and three books on Zionism. His book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and  My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.

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