I am a Zionist
According to CBS, “At least 30 Jewish families have transferred out of the Oakland Unified School District over fears of anti-Semitism during the Hamas-Israel war. Jewish families in the Bay Area progressive enclave felt targeted by one of the Oakland teachers’ unions and the district at large after educators held a ‘teach-in’ that focused on pro-Palestine lessons.”
Lesson plans were being taught that said, “Draw the Zionist bully’ or “I is for Intifada, J is for Jesus.”‘ Rebecca noted of the teaching materials featured in the ‘From Gaza to Oakland’ teach-in. ‘And to me, it felt like – honestly – we were being targeted and singled out and alienated.’
Welcome to teaching social justice in 2024, where the education materials reinforce the ideology and hatred against Jews that are the hallmark of pro-Hamas rallies
The Oakland exodus was preceded by a teach-in that the local Council on American and Islamic Relations president Zahra Billoo framed as an opportunity to promote inclusion and a “good opportunity to counter some of the misinformation about Israel.” Billoo, some of you might recall, has promoted inclusion by stating that she is not going to: “legitimize a country (Israel) that I don’t believe has a right to exist” and that “Zionist organizations” and “foreign policy organizations who say they’re not Zionists but want a two-state solution…are your enemies.”
This past Saturday, the Oakland parents’ announcement was followed by another teach-in for “incorporating Palestinian history, narratives, and culture into K-12 classrooms” in Oakland, California. The most recent event was funded and run by the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) through its “Teach Palestine Project,” according to documents obtained by the advocacy group Parents Defending Education (PDE).
Both teach-ins relied heavily on the Teach Palestine curriculum. One section of the material focuses on “systems of oppression” with lessons on the “Four I’s of Oppression,” power and privilege, and colonialism. One example provided in lessons on colonialism focuses on “Palestinian dispossession of lands/identity/culture through Zionist settler colonialism.”
Not surprisingly, Jewish teachers are leading the charge to demonize Israel in educational curricula.
Jody Sokolow, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, is a co-founder of the Coalition for Liberated Ethnic Studies (CLES), which calls for Israel’s elimination and co-coordinator of the Teach Palestine Project of the Middle-East Children’s Alliance (MECA).
Marcy Newman, who also teaches secondary school children, is a founding member of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) and a Jewish Voice for Peace member. Newman has had a hand in creating anti-Israel materials and indoctrinating her students. For example, she has a section to promote (sic) “understanding of Manifest Destiny compared to the Zionist concept of the Promised Land, the ideology that led to the colonization of Palestine.”
Newman also encourages having sixth-grade students act out scenes where Israeli soldiers brutalize pregnant Palestinian women:
“One of the most powerful scenes depicted by my students in their role play was of a Palestinian mother forced to give birth at a checkpoint. As students learned, checkpoints are a feature of Palestinian life that reinforces the “security” apparatus of the separation wall. There are many reports of Palestinian women forced to give birth to their children at checkpoints.
My students imagined a militant response:
Palestinian Woman: I need to go to the hospital. I am bleeding into my shoes! (Wailing).
Israeli Soldier: Wait, right there. You cannot go through now.
Palestinian Woman: Please! I’m bleeding!
Israeli Soldier: Okay, you can go, but only you. Lift your skirt, and let me see if you have a bomb underneath.
Palestinian Woman: But I need my daughter to come with me. (Lifting her skirt) This is so humiliating.
Israeli Soldier: No. Just you. Your daughter goes home. Now go before I change my mind!
(The child breaks away from the Israeli soldier. She runs to pick up a stone on the ground, launches it at the soldier, and screams, “Free Palestine.”)
(Other people, encouraged by her determination and defiance, pick up her chant and repeat it ten times.)
Oakland is not alone. As Leil Lebovitz wrote in a 2019 Tablet article: “Efforts to politicize the study of the Arab-Israeli conflict are already underway in Skokie, Illinois; Charleston, South Carolina; Manhattan and elsewhere. And as some residents of Newton came to realize, what makes fighting back against these efforts so frustrating is the fact that the legacy Jewish institutions that have traditionally represented the community in such cases now find themselves at a loss, reaching out to school districts and local governments once stacked with allies and finding instead a new and alarming hostility. “
It should be apparent that the single-minded mission of these intertwined activities is to make delegitimization and dehumanization a standard approach to education, social action, politics, and policy. Moreover, the consistency of the world view that those seeking to eliminate Israel are the oppressed and Jews anywhere – primary schools, colleges, political institutions, etc. are the oppressors. Operation Al Aqsa Flood – as Hamas branded its savage pogrom on October 7th, is an act of resistance, an act of decolonization. Meanwhile: “The adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism on American college campuses has unleashed unhinged and unchecked violence against Palestine solidarity activists.
We can’t expect the Jewish parents of k-12 students to dismantle this apparatus, much of which is financed by and led by anti-Zionist Jews. However, it is both possible and necessary to fight for their children’s future, if for no other reason than to show the next generation that a Jewish future is worth fighting for. And at present, the law is on their side. It is illegal to deny parents access to teaching materials. It is illegal to deliberately hide – through euphemisms and outright lies – the goals and programs that anti-Zionists want to implement. It is illegal to systematically single out the Jewish people, to deny them – as most of these materials do – the same historical agency to self-determination and self-definition that other ‘ethnic’ groups are granted in Ethnic Studies programs. Jewish parents have the right and power to assail the educationally spurious claim that teaching about Palestinians in the US requires teaching falsehoods about Jewish supremacy, colonialism, or genocide. Parents of all faiths and backgrounds who support Israel have the same right to run for school boards to prevent them from being hijacked by Jew-haters.
It is frightening to think that one group can gain control over what children learn in service to the goal of eliminating Israel. Lawsuits are critical for righting wrongs. But Jewish parents also need help to both challenge and prevent the spread of Jew-hatred. For example, The Deborah Project, which is dedicated to working with Jewish parents to file lawsuits and challenge the participation of anti-Israel bigots on school boards and the use of anti-Israel curricula, has also identified the need to provide Jewish parents with legal counsel and resources for identifying problems before they emerge.
Ultimately, Jewish parents – at least those who care about their future as Jews – may have to follow in the footsteps of the Oakland parents. To that end, Jews should push for more money for charter schools and vouchers and legislation requiring the posting of curriculum and all teaching materials online. Holocaust education needs to be revitalized to incorporate more materials on Jewish history, including the 4000-year dream of returning to a Jewish state.
Finally, Jewish organizations and entrepreneurs need to invest in Zionist education. Nearly 60 years Arthur Herzberg observed there is no Zionist education in the U.S., no schools, no teaching seminaries, no commitment by Zionists to the notion that the education of a Zionist kind of Jewish personality is of prime concern. . .” Since then, the situation hasn’t changed, but the need for Zionist education has become critical. Hertzberg stated: “The task of Zionism in our time is to educate our children for that pervasive citizenship, and to create the modes of joint endeavor, with Israel as the center, which will create and retain that citizenship.”
If we are to preserve and enhance the contribution of Diaspora Jews to the state of Israel and our common destiny, we must fulfill that task speedily in our time.