Anti-Semitism hits New York public schools

Central Park in New York. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Tyler Loveless

A group of New York City public school teachers sent a clear message at the end of the school year: their classrooms are no longer a welcoming or safe space for Jewish students.

This group, called “New York City Educators for Palestine,” published a letter which describes a series of disturbing and hateful views on Israel.

Without context, the letter states that Israel killed 212 Palestinians last month. The letter does not mention how many people killed were Fighters of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), as opposed to civilians.

It also omits the fact that many casualties were caused by the 680 failed rockets fired by Palestinian militants who failed and killed Gazans. There is no mention of the terrorist organization Hamas, nor of the 4,300 rockets shot at Israeli civilians in less than two weeks.

These educators claim to want to help their students understand the world, but their letter does exactly the opposite. Their one-sided framing of last month’s Israel-Hamas escalation does a huge disservice to anyone who reads it, including students in New York City public schools. Distorting the conflict in this way not only hands them out as dishonest educators, but also makes it clear that Jewish students are not safe in their classrooms.

As witnesses from New York anti-Semitic crime rate is skyrocketing, a letter pushing for the formal adoption of a position accusing Israel of terrorism, Zionist censorship and ethnic cleansing – all talking points used in targeted harassment and violent attacks against Jews – is intolerable and dangerous.

Paragraph by paragraph, the letter deals with lies. It promotes the false claim that Israel has a “program of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians, who are indigenous to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea” – when in fact no such ethnic cleansing takes place. This statement also ignores the fact that the Jewish people are indigenous to the Land of Israel.

In a particularly blatant assertion, the letter states: “This is money taken from New York families by a nuclear power with one of the most technologically advanced armies in the world.” The Jewish state absolutely does not “take” money from New York families – and the language of that phrase intentionally misleads readers and reinforces anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish power and greed.

The letter then asks union educators in New York City to push their unions to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the same anti-semitic movement who attacked the Jews on university campuses.

According to the AMCHA Initiative, an NGO that monitors trends in anti-Semitism, there are almost six times the likelihood of encountering anti-Semitic activity in schools where faculty members have approved a boycott of Israel. Additionally, schools with more teacher boycotters tend to have more incidents that target Jewish students to harm them.

The anonymous group of educators who signed this letter pledged not only to support this cause, but also to incorporate this hateful language into their programs. This commitment clearly expresses the intention to create a hostile learning environment for more than 100,000 Jewish students and to radicalize hundreds of thousands of other children against Israel and the Jews. The potential consequences young students being taught damaging disinformation about the history and homeland of their Jewish peers cannot be underestimated.

Given the threat to the security of the Jewish people in New York and across the country as the result of anti-Israel rhetoric, opposing this attempt to hijack the public school system is a matter of national importance. Educators in New York City public schools should not be allowed to adopt a position that encourages hatred and perpetuates violence.

As a Jewish educator, I am the proud heir to a tradition that has placed serious and rigorous education at the forefront for millennia. But teaching is of very little value unless the subject is taught with the intention of making the student a better person. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, one of the main modern Jewish leaders, said: education must be “moral education”.

The New York City Department of Education and all other relevant stakeholders must heed Rabbi Schneerson’s words and encourage public school teachers to engage in moral education by disavowing the vitriol contained in this letter.

Sasha Goodman is a New York-based Jewish educator who has worked with students of different age groups in the United States and Israel.

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