Teachers’ unions help anti-Semitism gain a foothold in K-12 public schools


In recent years, anti-Semitism in the American educational system has been primarily associated with the demonization of Israel in institutions of higher education. Activism targeting Jews and rising support for the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement among students and faculty underscore growing anti-Semitism on US campuses.

However, efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state are now shifting from higher education to public K-12 schools. Attempts to falsely label Israel an “apartheid state” and to promote similar forms of defamation are aided and abetted by teachers’ unions and normalized by mainstream Jewish groups.

Last year, California became the first state to pass a law requiring public school students to take an ethnic studies course before receiving a high school diploma. The Liberated Ethnic Studies Curriculum Consortium, which includes teachers’ unions, has advocated for the new standards.

The Wall Street Journal reported which are embedded in the Consortium’s documents are references to Israel as a “settler state” founded “by genocide”. In response to Governor Gavin Newsom signing the legislation, Jewish opponents of the requirement filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new educational guidelines.

But prominent teachers’ unions have overwhelmed parental opposition. These organizations include the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA).

AFT President Randi Weingarten’s endorsement of embedding intersectionality in K-12 classrooms was on full display last year. In a interview with The Jewish Telegraph Agency on AFT’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Weingarten ridiculed Jews as “part of the landlord class”. This fits with progressive rhetoric that defames Jews as wielding outsized power and influence.

Weingarten also subordinated the issue of education to attacks on Israeli policy. She called the 2018 nation-state law the Jewish state “contemptible” and issued a statement the following year, condemning the Israeli government’s decision to deny visas to anti-Semitic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

While Weingarten publicly insists she is against BDS, she does not dispute attempts to smear Israel by local teachers’ unions. The second-largest teachers’ union in the United States, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), considered but ultimately decided to postpone the vote on a pro-BDS motion last year. The move follows an earlier vote by UTLA chapter presidents calling for an end to US aid to Israel and expressing support for BDS.

In other states, the Seattle Education Association and the United Educators of San Francisco voted in favor of BDS. Weingarten’s excuse for refusing to confront the hatred of Israel emanating from these local unions is based on his false claim makes the leader of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jonathan Greenblatt, that a “national union does not prevail over differences or issues of policy”.

In fact, AFT’s lobbying for extended Covid-19 school closures, which has prevented millions of children from attending in-person classes and, studies confirm, led to a loss of unparalleled learning, easily debunks his assertions of powerlessness on issues of anti-Semitism.

In fairness, the AFT is not alone in ignoring anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in the classroom. At the NEA’s annual meeting in July, the country’s largest teachers’ union voted in favor of a wave measure supporting members who “educate students about the history, geography and current affairs of the Palestinian people”.

The union’s Peace Education initiative guides educators in facilitating Israel-related dialogue through an online resource, Learning for justice. The program contains “ready-made” lesson plans smearing Israel, as well as links to organizations such as TeachPalestine and TeachMideast. For example, a video from the anti-Israeli group Jewish Voice for Peace features Palestinians talking about life under “Israeli occupation” alongside progressive Jews “struggling” with Zionism. Representing an “Israeli settlement” bus line, the TeachMideast map dubbed “visualizing Palestine” is a chilling image given the recent spate of attacks on Israeli buses.

Behavior displayed by national unions encourages school districts to adopt embarrassing “culturally inclusive” curricula, often portraying Israelis as settlers. Reporting for CAMERA, Steven Stotsky Remarks that the teachers’ unions in Massachusetts offer a model of ethnic studies similar to that adopted in California. A bill to allow ethnic studies to be taught in schools is pending in the Massachusetts legislature, with five Boston-area schools piloting the lesson plans.

Last year, New York Congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin demand that the Department of Education is investigating anti-Semitism in New York City public schools after a cohort known as NYC Educators for Palestine called on teachers to follow the example of other unions and to support the BDS movement.

Among the educators forced to defend their Jewish identity is a 30-year veteran of the Ministry of Education who was Told by a colleague, “you better check yourself” after sharing his family’s experience during the Holocaust. Yet unlike teachers, children do not have the luxury of moving easily when confronted with anti-Semitism.

Perhaps most troubling is the organizational response of some Jewish groups. FoxNews recently revealed that the ADL peddles intersectional material steeped in critical race theory, as well as praise for anti-Semitic activists, to thousands of educators. While it has pledged to revise its teaching manual, the ADL is the most prominent example of Jewish institutional indifference to ethnic studies.

Following CAMERA revelation that high school students in Newton, Massachusetts were being fed a one-sided diet of anti-Israel propaganda, Karen Hurvitz reported that the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), American Jewish Committee (AJC) and ADL had issued superficial statements of alarm or expressed “mild definitional concern” about these educational guidelines.

Interestingly, some of these same institutions lobby against school choice. Their efforts will effectively prevent Jewish youth from finding refuge in a hostile learning environment.

While incidents of Jew-hate targeting young adults in universities are painful to digest, these acts of aggression will soon impact an even younger cohort if teachers’ unions and the Jewish groups that support them continue their dual purpose of strengthening ethnic studies and suppressing school choice.

Irit Tratt is a writer residing in New York. His work has been published by American Spectator, The Jerusalem Post, The Algemeiner and Israel Hayom.


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