The Antisemitic Gall of a ‘Liberated’ Ethnic Studies Curriculum
by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
The educator-activists who launched the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Institute (LESMC), a recently established California-based educational consulting group for K-12 schools, want you to know they’re not afraid of controversy.
Why else would they prominently display on their website, under the heading “Preparing to Teach Palestine: A Toolkit,” several webpages expressing unbridled animus towards the Jewish state and its supporters — even before posting curricula materials about any other ethnic group?
This is an especially brazen move, given that the founders and principals of LESMC were also responsible for developing the highly controversial first draft of California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum — whose lessons on Arab-Americans contained antisemitic stereotypes, defamation about Israel, and the promotion of BDS and anti-Israel boycotts, which rightly outraged the Jewish community. This blatant antisemitism was one of the primary reasons that the draft was rejected by the California State Board of Education in 2019.
With the LESMC’s tenacity and the help of pending California legislation mandating ethnic studies courses for high school graduation (AB 101), their “liberated” model curriculum is likely to become the curriculum of choice in school districts throughout the state — a thought that should terrify the Jewish community in California and well beyond.
Judging by the LESMC’s “Teach Palestine” webpages, the final “liberated” curriculum will look like the first draft of the state’s model curriculum on steroids: Students are taught that Israel is guilty of “settler colonialism,” “apartheid,” and the murder of Palestinian children; that Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism but is rather a racist ideology calling for the “expansion of Israel as a Jewish state in historic Palestine by any means necessary”; that Zionists are responsible for “vicious attacks that equate any mention of Palestine with antisemitism”; and that the primary goals of well-funded Zionist organizations are to “prevent teachers and students from making [the] connection between … apartheid-era South Africa and the current apartheid in Israel,” to “stunt the development of authentic anti-racist curriculum,” and to “silence discussion of Palestine/Israel … on college campuses, and … in K-12 education.”
Students will also be offered “tools to fight for justice from the US to Palestine” that include “resources on how to start your own BDS campaigns.”
For their part, teachers are urged to see that embracing such an anti-Zionist narrative is a “liberatory act” and an essential part of “anti-racist teaching.” They are also urged to “Organize your school! Organize your district!” to engage in anti-Zionist activism and to fight the “Zionist backlash,” which is described as “the treacherous waters of white supremacy.”
These webpages are a clear indication that anti-Zionism — an eliminationist ideology that denies Israel’s very right to exist and calls for its adherents to work towards bringing an end to the Jewish state — is a core tenet of the “liberated” ethnic studies curriculum. Not surprisingly, the organizations whose curricular resources are included in the Teach Palestine webpages are open about their anti-Zionist orientation and support for anti-Zionist activism, especially BDS.
The “liberated” curriculum also encourages the vilification of Jewish communal organizations that support Israel and speak out against antisemitism. For example, the first resource listed on the Teach Palestine resource page, under the heading “Understanding Zionism and Zionist Organizations,” is “#Drop the ADL, The ADL Is Not An Ally: A Primer.”
The fourth resource links to a 124-page document filled with denigrating remarks on a wide range of Jewish organizations, including Hillel International, the Jewish Federations of North America, numerous Jewish charities, and the Jewish media.
It goes without saying that the LESMC’s overtly antisemitic webpages are deeply disturbing to the Jewish community. But it’s the unmitigated chutzpah of LESMC’s leaders — who clearly believe that openly advertising the antisemitism at the heart of their curriculum is an asset rather than a liability — that ought to really frighten the Jewish community.
The LESMC’s chutzpah seems to be paying off. With the active support of ethnic studies departments and faculty on Cal State and University of California campuses, along with the endorsement of the state’s two largest teachers’ unions, the group has already made significant progress in marketing their consulting services and “liberated” curriculum to school districts throughout the state:
- Hayward Unified announced its ethnic studies framework will be “informed by and will include…the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.”
- The Santa Cruz County Office of Education announced a 5-session ethnic studies series for teachers, counselors, and administrators, at which “content will be developed in conjunction with the …. LESMC and will include lesson planning examples and ideas.”
- The Jefferson Elementary School Board approved a contract for the consulting services of an educator who is a member of the LESMC faculty.
- Salinas Unified School District approved a contract with an LESMC member to design its ethnic studies course and provide consulting services.
- The Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum is listed as the sole Ethnic Studies resource on San Francisco Unified School District’s Resources webpage for History/Social Sciences educators.
- The Chair of San Diego Unified School District’s Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee has described herself as “Lead Author for the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Coalition.”
Alarmingly, the LESMC’s ambitions are not limited to California. Just last month LESMC co-founders, along with a coalition of more than a dozen anti-Zionist organizations, announced the launch of a new organization — the National Liberated Ethnic Studies Coalition — dedicated to fighting “Zionist and rightwing attacks” while promoting their antisemitic curriculum across the country.
The “Liberated” group is clearly on a roll. And if AB 101, the ethnic studies high school graduation requirement bill currently making its way through the California legislature, is signed into law in the coming month or months, it is likely that LESMC’s “liberated” curriculum — including its blatantly antisemitic lessons — will be adopted by many if not most of the state’s more than 3,000 high schools. And it’s only a matter of time before many other states follow California’s lead.
Unfortunately, although members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus were vehemently opposed to the antisemitic first draft of the state’s model curriculum, they have been disappointingly silent about the dangers posed by the “liberated” curriculum should AB 101 become law. In fact, all 10 of the Jewish Caucus Assembly members voted to support the bill when it was heard on the Assembly floor earlier this summer.
Make no mistake: a curriculum whose core tenets include an ideology that calls for and works towards the destruction of the religious and historic homeland of the Jewish people, and that encourages Jewish students to reject their identity and disparage their community, is a morally depraved curriculum, and rotten to the core.
So, too, is a bill that would facilitate the adoption of such a virulently antisemitic curriculum by every high school in the state. As AB 101 makes its way to the Senate floor, Jewish Caucus senators must stand up on behalf of Jewish students and the Jewish community in California and well beyond, and do their utmost to stop this extremely dangerous bill.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is the director of AMCHA Initiative, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to combating antisemitism at colleges and universities in the United States. She was a faculty member at the University of California for 20 years.