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Alumna response to the Beacon School’s moment of silence for Gaza

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On Tuesday, May 15th, students at the Beacon School, an “elite” public high school in Hell’s Kitchen, decided to commemorate the 62 Palestinians who were killed the day before in Gaza during the Great March of Return. A simple announcement over the loudspeaker that lasted a minute somehow warranted a witch hunt on the administration by parents comparing the civilians killed by Israel to ISIS operatives. Some Beacon parents stated their children were subjected to “Hamas propaganda,” and that a political opinion voiced over a P.A. system was inappropriate for a public school. Yet, instead of asking for a conversation, email threads written by Zionist parents attacked and demanded the removal of Beacon’s principal, Ruth Lacey.

We have to ask a few questions when talking about the controversy at Beacon: can students talk and organize freely around political issues in public schools?  Do parents and school administrators have a right to censor these conversations? Finally, is political discourse the issue, or is Palestine the issue?

To answer these questions, understanding the events that transpired a week after the debacle is important.

The day after the moment of silence students at Beacon wanted to reclaim the narrative by trying to organize a forum where members of the school community could speak candidly about the events happening in Gaza. Many Beacon students had backed the moment of silence and wanted to express themselves. “Most people I know were actually in support of the moment of silence,” senior Veronica Bettio said, “but I think the media was also fishing for a controversy and they found a few people with certain views to write that NY Post piece.”

The students did not want their voices to be overshadowed by the media, by the administration, or by a group of angry parents. “I think there is some disparity in how the parents feel and how the students feel,”  junior Matt Klass told the Forward.  

The response? Even though the spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education endorsed the students’ right to hold the moment of silence, the school denied the students’ right to convene a political discussion the day after, which is protected in public schools by the Equal Access Act.  This happened after mounting pressure by some parents. Lacey refused to allow students to host a talk about Gaza, Palestine, and Israel. This was not unexpected, but it is also not justified. The moment of silence was striking, and to leave it solely at that is a disappointment.

As a Beacon alumna, I want to remind the readers that political discussions are not foreign to my old high school. We organized a massive walkout against the Trump administration, had numerous social justice clubs, and frequently engaged in political conversations in our classrooms. I heard no outrage from parents then. Nor did I see any headlines when a Beacon staffer sent an email out promoting a Birthright trip to Israel.

Email sent out to Beacon alumni advertising a Birthright trip to Israel.

Birthright is an organization that serves as a public relations tool for the state of Israel, sends Jewish young adults on a free trip to the Holy Land, a luxury not given to Palestinians in the diaspora. Its purpose? To bring 16,000 Jewish Americans, who only remember the enjoyable moments they had, back home fully equipped with Israeli talking points. Isolated from Palestinians, the trip does not address its neighbors’ living subhuman conditions on the other side of the apartheid wall.  

So political discourse is not the issue at Beacon, nor is one sided political motivations. The issue therefore, is Palestine.

The Zionist Organization of America, the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States, aims to silence discourse around the injustices Israel commits against Palestinians.  The same organization that embraced “alt-right” stars such as Steve Bannon, condemned Beacon and wrote an intimidating letter attacking the school, with no defense of students’ right to a candid conversation. The letter attacked the school for allowing students to remember the lives of those in Gaza, most recently, Razan al-Najjar, a volunteer medic shot in the chest with her hands in the air trying to evacuate the wounded. It seems odd that a powerful organization like ZOA would spend its time focused on an incident in a high school, but silencing discourse is a common strategy of those opposed to Palestinians’ rights.

Palestinian medical Razan al-Najjar helps an injured Palestinian man at an emergency medical tent during clashes with Israeli security forces in a protest, at the Israel-Gaza border, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza strip on April 1, 2018. Al-Najja was killed by Israeli forces June 1, 2018 after being fatally shot while teaching an injured patient. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

The careful targeting of academics and academic institutions is a tactic that occurs in New York City all the time as any pro-Palestinian rhetoric is written off as terrorism or anti-semitism. A few examples include the banning of Students for Justice in Palestine at Fordham University;  restricting speakers from speaking at the City College of NY; and even forcing the resignation of Debbie Almontaser, the principal at the Khalil Gibran School, after she refused to condemn the word “Intifada” in an interview.  

Disrupting discourse is threatening to any democracy. Our schools and academic institutions need to provide spaces where students can reach their own conclusions, not shut them down when we think it gets too complicated or controversial. In order to achieve a democratic society, we must expand our tolerance levels to beyond what we think is palatable. The response by Zionist Beacon parents and the ZOA is more symbolic than anything else: a desperate attempt to suppress student voice and the truth.

I urge educators, parents, and students to always stand against the censorship of political discourse, to provide spaces for conversation, and to insist that discussion of Palestine must always be on the table.

 

Hebh Jamal
About Hebh Jamal

Hebh Jamal is a Muslim Palestinian American. She is a freshman at the City College of NY, and an alumna from the Beacon School. As an activist, she is an organizer at IntegrateNYC, a group that works to desegregate schools in New York, and is an organizer with American Muslims for Palestine.

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9 Responses

  1. eljay
    eljay
    June 11, 2018, 3:30 pm

    … Birthright is an organization that serves as a public relations tool for the state of Israel …

    The purpose of Birthright seems to be to indoctrinate non-Israeli Jews – citizens of homelands other than Israel – with the belief that they are Ancient Israelites entitled to live as supremacists in a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine.

  2. June 11, 2018, 9:04 pm

    Thanks for putting it all in perspective Ms Jamal.

    The Principal at Beacon allowed for the moment of silence and the Zio stooges went nuts demanding that she be terminated. I’m surprised she didn’t go “all in” and host that poltical discussion – what’s there to lose? Antisemitism and barbarianism have already been used to smear the school.

    https://antisemitism-us.tumblr.com/post/174119854379/jewish-parents-outraged-after-ny-school-holds

    https://coalitionforjewishvalues.org/2018/05/did-beacon-high-school-honor-barbarism/

    It may be a while but I think Beacon will one day host that political discussion you mentioned – we know the Zionists will continue to commit atrocities and we know good people (often the young) are now beginning to fight back armed with the truth.

  3. Citizen
    Citizen
    June 12, 2018, 4:04 am

    Appreciate your analysis, Ms. Jamal. Is the ZOA registered under FARA? If not, why not?

  4. Citizen
    Citizen
    June 12, 2018, 4:37 am

    RT and Sputnik were forced to register under FARA.

    • festus
      festus
      June 12, 2018, 12:01 pm

      There is something fundamentally wrong with these Zio people. Can we please stop enabling them?

    • just
      just
      June 12, 2018, 2:25 pm

      Thank you for this Hebh Jamal.

      Citizen~ here’s a great article by Grant F. Smith that should infuriate all Americans:

      “The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is just one of a myriad of organizations which make up the Rubik’s Cube that is the Israel lobby. (Courtesy Irmep)

      On Oct. 17, 2012 the National Archives and Records Administration released long-secret U.S. Justice Department files concerning a decade-long battle to regulate the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) as a foreign agent of Israel. The declassified files, released in response to a 2011 Freedom of Information Act request, reveal why the ZOA—a once-formidable entity whose leaders can be linked to major Israeli covert operations within the United States—may have to struggle to regain its IRS tax-exempt status, mysteriously revoked in May of 2011. …”

      It’s superb. It discusses ZOA/WZO and FARA… etc.

      https://www.wrmea.org/013-january-february/will-the-zionist-organization-of-america-regain-its-revoked-tax-exempt-status.html

  5. annie
    annie
    June 12, 2018, 9:26 pm

    apparently, the assistant principal of beacon school got a death threat: https://nypost.com/2018/05/27/school-behind-silent-tribute-for-gaza-victims-gets-death-threat/

    William Stroud, the assistant principal of the public high school in Hell’s Kitchen, told a parents meeting last week that he had received a death threat after news broke about the silent tribute.

    The NYPD confirmed it had received a harassment complaint.

    probably the JDL or some affiliate. and from the same article:

    The Gaza violence also roiled the private Riverdale Country School in The Bronx, where history teacher Shawn Redden was suspended with pay last week over his interactions with students about the conflict, according to a source.

    Redden, an activist who participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement, went on a diatribe against Israel, according to a parent.

    Redden denied verbally attacking anyone, saying that he “served as a safe haven for all Riverdale students, especially those of minority backgrounds or with minority viewpoints.”

    Asked about his alleged suspension, he said that was “not an accurate description of the status of what I have been told is an ongoing investigation.”

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