Capitol Alert

What about the Nazis? Lawmakers question ‘anti-Jewish’ curriculum for California schools

California Jewish lawmakers are calling for revisions to a proposed state ethnic studies curriculum that they said promotes anti-Semitic stereotypes and unfairly criticizes Israel, according to a letter they sent to the Department of Education last month.

The letter was sent by the California Legislative Jewish Caucus to Soomin Chao, chair of the commission that oversees the implementation of the state’s first high school Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.

The lawmakers said the proposed curriculum “erases the American Jewish experience, fails to discuss anti-Semitism, reinforces negative stereotypes about Jews, singles out Israel for criticism and would institutionalize the teaching of anti-Semitic stereotypes in our public schools.”

The letter calls the omission of anti-Semitism “deeply troubling,” citing recent violence targeted at Jews. In October 2018, a gunman killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. In April, another gunman killed a worshiper and injured others at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue near San Diego.

The letter also cites the August 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where torch-carrying men marched to a Confederate monument and chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

“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.

The model curriculum is the first proposed after a law passed in 2016 that required the commission to construct ethnic studies courses. Schools are not required to adopt the coursework.

“Research shows that culturally meaningful and relevant curriculum can have a positive impact on students,” the curriculum’s website says. “Students that become more engaged in school through courses like ethnic studies are more likely to graduate and feel more personally empowered.”

An advisory committee created a curriculum that it presented to the commission in May. The commission then made a dozen amendments to the curriculum and opened it up for a public comment review period through Aug. 15, department spokesman Scott Roark said. The department also added its own recommendations.

The lessons untangle political, religious and social oppression of marginalized communities. They include hundreds of pages of suggested plans on a variety of topics that range from the Civil Rights Movement to demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock to the #MeToo movement.

But the legislators claim in their letter that Jews were intentionally excluded from the curriculum due to political bias, despite the commission’s goal to provide courses that highlight the history of groups that have faced and continue to deal with oppression.

They also allege that the curriculum doesn’t include a definition for anti-Semitism, despite offering one for Islamophobia, and doesn’t discuss recent hate crimes against and shootings in Jewish communities.

“To have a curriculum that has so much about various forms of racism and bigotry, and not have a single mention of anti-Semitism is extraordinary,” said state Sen. Ben Allen, chair of the caucus and a Santa Monica Democrat.

The curriculum also includes song lyrics that “inappropriately” discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the caucus likened to “the propaganda of the Nazi Regime” and singles out the Jewish state for “special critique and condemnation.”

One plan includes lyrics from a song called “Somos Sur” by Ana Tijoux, in collaboration with Shadia Mansour, a Palestinian hip-hop artist.

“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.”

Allen said that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond reached out to him directly to discuss the detailed concerns. Thurmond is expected at the next caucus meeting at the end of August.

Roark said the department’s recommendations will be considered along with public comments during a two-day commission meeting that begins on Sept. 19.

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.