Education

What California Jews found ‘alarming,’ misleading about state’s ethnic studies proposal

At Modesto synagogue, a stand against hate

In the aftermath of a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people Saturday, a vigil was held Sunday at Congregation Beth Shalom in Modesto.
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In the aftermath of a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people Saturday, a vigil was held Sunday at Congregation Beth Shalom in Modesto.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on Wednesday agreed to revisit the state’s proposed ethnic studies curriculum after Jewish lawmakers objected to a draft that they said omitted anti-Semitism and the Jewish experience.

Here’s a look at excerpts from the curriculum that concerned Jewish lawmakers and community organizations.

Boycott Israel

A suggested lesson asks student groups to research social movements. One prompt leads to the “Boycott, Divestment Sanctions” movement, a Palestinian rights campaign that discourages companies and governments from doing business with Israel.

Other prompts focus on Black Lives Matter, women’s rights and gay rights.

California Jewish lawmakers said it was inappropriate to liken an international campaign targeting the Jewish state to domestic civil rights movements.

No mention of anti-Semitism

The curriculum does not discuss recent violence directed at Jews, such as the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“We find it alarming – to say the least – that at a time when Nazis are marching openly in Charlottesville chanting ‘Jews will not replace us,’ and Jews in our own state are being physically attacked in houses of worship, the (commission) would intentionally turn a blind eye to hatred and discrimination against our community,” the letter reads.

Exclusion from immigration narratives

Some lessons encourage students to consider why people from different parts of the world immigrated to the U.S. The lessons do not include the Jewish experience in the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were killed.

Song lyrics

Certain lessons involve music. Jewish lawmakers contested the inclusion of “Somos Sur” by Ana Tijoux, in collaboration with Palestinian hip-hop artist Shadia Mansour.

“For every free political prisoner, an Israeli colony is expanded,” Mansour raps. “For each greeting, a thousand houses were demolished. (Israelis) use the press so they can manufacture, but when my sentence is judged, reality presents itself.”

California Jewish lawmakers referred to the lyric as a “classic antisemitic trope about Jewish control of the media.”

“It is difficult to fathom why – especially at a time of rising antisemitism and real fear in the Jewish community – the state of California would want to actively promote a narrative about Jews that echoes the propaganda of the Nazi regime.”

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