In 2016, California initiated a process to create a required ethnic studies course for high school students. This well-meaning effort has been hijacked by an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agenda that could create decades of harm. Fortunately, the Jewish community is well organized to respond to this kind of hateful material, and we are having an impact.
The curriculum has two key problems. First, it singles out Israel for specific and out-of-context criticism. Among other issues, the curriculum calls the Boycott, Divestiture, and Sanctions movement a “global social movement that currently aims to establish freedom for Palestinians living under apartheid conditions.” Further, the curriculum quotes without much context a Palestinian rapper who among other things identifies the press as being controlled by Jews. The material quickly moves from anti-Israel to anti-Semitic.
The second issue concerns Jews in California. The Persian Jewish community (60,000-plus) is ignored amid a discussion of Middle Eastern people in California. There is no mention of Jews in the curriculum even though there are close to one million Jews living in California. The inability to even see a Jewish minority from the Middle East or more established Jewish communities suggests at best blindness and at worst genuine anti-Semitism intentionally erasing Jews.
The curriculum has received deservedly harsh and overwhelming criticism. JCRC, JIMENA and others have brought attention to this problematic material and helped show the team developing the curriculum that a new draft is needed. At this point, JCRC informs me that the first draft is being discarded in favor of a new one.
This means we are having an impact. Our concerns are resonating and the curriculum is being started again from scratch. To those who commented, yasher koach. Your words had impact and derailed something that would have inculcated a generation of Californians with negative Jewish stereotypes. A team from Kol Emeth and Etz Chaim met with our State Senators to explain our concerns and get their support on the needed changes to this curriculum. There will most likely be additional such hearings and meetings in September. If you are interested in being involved, please contact Carmel Johnson. More people means more impact. At this point, any further input should ask for transparency of process, avoidance of hateful language, and a focus on critical rather than dogmatic thinking.
Were this anti-Semitic and anti-Israel material to go forward, a generation of California high school students would be indoctrinated in negative stereotypes and out-of-context information. It could cause incalculable damage to the Jewish community and to widespread support of Israel. We must stop this small group from seizing control of a curricular initiative to spread calumnies and false information. I applaud JCRC, our KE team that met with local representatives, and everyone who has made clear that we need a do-over. We need to keep organized, keep up the pressure, and help the state formulate a curriculum that honestly and helpfully teaches ethnic diversity in California.
I will continue to stay aware of the process. I will let you know as things develop how you can help.
Rabbi David Booth