Over the past several years concerns have been raised over antisemitic and anti-Zionist content being baked into school curricula. And in this case, it’s not Palestinian or Arab State education materials that are being criticized. Rather, the focus has been upon otherwise commendable state efforts to develop ethnic studies model curricula to teach students about the histories, experiences, contributions and struggles of minority groups. Several groups, including the Jewish community, have expressed concern. While some communities like Sikhs and Armenians protested their exclusion from some drafts, the Jewish community was critical of the presentation of the American Jewish experience and for including antisemitic language and anti-Israel content.
Earlier this month, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cordona to share his concerns about the issue. Gottheimer’s letter discusses how some school districts are considering curricula that claim that “criticism of Israel’s policies of apartheid and oppression of Palestinians is not antisemitism.” And he notes that such a claim goes against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which includes denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination, such as by claiming Israel is a racist endeavor. Gottheimer called on the Department of Education to ensure that schools don’t teach bigoted curricula and for a “united, bipartisan and national commitment” to address antisemitism.
Among those copied on Gottheimer’s letter was California Gov. Gavin Newsom. California’s state board of education has weathered what is now a four-year battle over an ethnic studies curriculum that was initially highly criticized and then revised to address many of the concerns raised by the Jewish community and others. The revised curriculum was unanimously adopted last week. Despite many positive changes, some members of the Jewish community are still concerned about the curriculum content. For now, California’s model curriculum is optional, and schools in the state are not required to offer it. But pending legislation to make a high school ethnic studies course a graduation requirement will almost certainly reignite the debate on a multitude of concerns expressed by the Jewish community and others.
While we see the merit of educating primary and secondary school students on ethnic studies and minority community issues, we are troubled by the unrelenting efforts of those who seek to manipulate the process to promote antisemitic content, delegitimize Israel and challenge the right of Jews to self-determination. Antisemitism and the security of our community are a continuing concern. In addition to disquieting high-profile incidents we see rising antisemitism in more subtle places — like in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and anti-Israel rhetoric on college campuses — and we see it festering in unchecked ethnic studies curricula proposals.
Good education can be an antidote to hate and discrimination. But the process takes work and requires a nuanced sensitivity to significant issues of concern to each minority community. We encourage continued vigilance by our community and applaud the supportive efforts of Gottheimer. We invite other members of Congress to join the effort.