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California ethnic studies curriculum delayed after attack on its comparison of Israel to South Africa

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A bill that would have required all California high school students to take an ethnic studies course will be delayed for at least a year after pro-Israel groups complained that the curriculum failed to address anti-semitism and singled “Israel out for condemnation.” Some of the backlash was initiated by an organization that is funded by the Israeli government.

When Assemblyman Jose Medina announced the delay on August 22, he declared that he was committed to eventually making ethnic studies a requirement in the state, but indicated that “ample time” was needed to produce a final version of the curriculum. “I strongly believe in the tenets of ethnic studies and continue to assert that it is time for California to make the subject a requirement for all students,” said Medina. “It is not a question of whether the subject itself is necessary but rather, how do we ensure the curriculum is comprehensive, rigorous, and inclusive enough. This underscores the importance of taking the time necessary to ensure we get the curriculum right.”

The state’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Advisory Committee had produced a draft of an Arab American Studies course that detailed the community’s underrepresentation in mainstream culture. The proposed curriculum also included a glossary that defines the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

BDS is “a global social movement that currently aims to establish freedom for Palestinians living under apartheid conditions,” it explains. “Inspired by tactics employed during the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Palestinian-led movement calls for the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of the Israeli government until it complies with International law.”

These inclusions were opposed by a number of groups including the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, which is comprised of 16 Democratic state legislators. The organization sent an 8-page letter to the chair of the California Education Department’s Instructional Quality Commission, alleging that the proposed curriculum was anti-Jewish. The letter notes that while a definition of Islamophobia is included in the glossary, a similar definition of antisemitism does not appear.

The letter also claims that the definition of BDS amounts to a “not-so-subtle promotion” of the movement. “Singling out the Jewish State in this fashion and placing BDS alongside domestically-focused civil rights movements is especially problematic as BDS is an international movement whose focus goes significantly beyond the disciplinary boundaries of American ethnic studies…”

The proposed curriculum also faced attacks from the right-wing, pro-Israel group Stand With Us, which issued an action alert on the subject and called upon its supporters to flood the department with comments. “The State of California is currently reviewing a model Ethnic Studies curriculum, which openly promotes hateful boycotts against Israel and omits antisemitism as a form of bigotry,” read the alert. “…We especially encourage parents, high school students, and educators to comment and share how this model curriculum will impact them personally.”

Perhaps most notably the program was targeted by Act.IL, a global pro-Israel campaign that is funded by the country’s government. According to documents obtained by Electronic Intifada, the group had a $1.1 million budget in 2018. The organization has an app that calls upon its users to earn points and prizes by promoting Israel online and trolling pro-Palestinian posts throughout the internet.The Act.IL app stems from a project that’s based out of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya (IDC), an Israeli university. During the Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2012 and 2014, the group of students was assembled to defend Israel online.

California ethnic studies program was a target of almost 20 “missions” shared to the app’s online army of more than 15,000 people. Act.IL called on its user to attack the curriculum based on the model Arab American Studies course and the BDS definition. Some of these missions included giving low rankings to the California Department of Education’s Facebook page, spamming the Facebook page of the California State Superintendent, and directing users to contact the California Governor over the program’s alleged antisemitism.

Palestine Legal submitted a public comment on the curriculum during the debate and noted that the effort to reject the program is part of a much wider effort to stifle pro-Palestinian sentiment in schools throughout the country. The organization has documented 1,247 such incidents between 2014 and 2018 and cites a number of examples where parents and pro-Israel groups have initiated campaigns targeting the curriculum of various high schools.

Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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16 Responses

  1. RoHa on August 23, 2019, 11:07 pm

    What the devil is “Ethnic Studies” ?

    Instead of pissing about with these Mickey Mouse “studies” , they should hire some real teachers from Finland and Singapore to teach real subjects. Things worth knowing.

    Physics.
    Chemistry.
    Literature.
    Mathematics.
    Music.
    Geography.
    History.
    ENGLISH GRAMMAR.

    Give them a foundation so that they can work out the rest for themselves.

    • Peter in SF on August 24, 2019, 12:48 am

      In California, “Ethnic Studies” means the study of four groups: Blacks/African Americans, Chicanos/as & Latinos/as, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.

      The local NPR station’s talk show had an hour about it a couple of days ago:
      https://www.kqed.org/forum/2010101872871/californias-ethnic-studies-curriculum-to-be-revised-after-draft-critiqued-as-too-p-c-and-anti-semitic
      The host of the show actually said that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic.
      And if you listen to the show, you’ll hear a really bad job of defending Ethnic Studies being done by guest Natalia Deeb Sossa, associate professor, Chicana/o Studies Department at UC Davis. With friends like these, Ethnic Studies doesn’t need enemies.

      • RoHa on August 25, 2019, 12:29 am

        “In California, “Ethnic Studies” means the study of four groups: Blacks/African Americans, Chicanos/as & Latinos/as, Native Americans, and Asian Americans.”

        And what, if anything, would the kids learn about the groups?

      • Talkback on August 25, 2019, 4:06 am

        Peter: “The host of the show actually said that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic.”

        Coprolalia Zionica has become epidemic. We should put more emphasis on mental studies.

      • Mooser on August 25, 2019, 12:41 pm

        “And what, if anything, would the kids learn about the groups?”

        https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/modelcurriculumprojects.asp

      • RoHa on August 25, 2019, 7:40 pm

        Thanks, Mooser. So they learn how to prepare an agenda for a meeting.

      • eljay on August 26, 2019, 5:43 am

        || RoHa: Thanks, Mooser. So they learn how to prepare an agenda for a meeting. ||

        The world needs telephone sanitisers.

      • RoHa on August 26, 2019, 9:00 am

        In my more misanthropic moments (which phrase should not be interpreted as suggesting that I have any non-misanthropic moments) I tend to think that the Golgofrinchans had a good idea. We do not have the necessary arks, yet, but our impending doom stories are a little more sophisticated than that of a mutant space goat.

      • eljay on August 26, 2019, 9:56 am

        || RoHa: In my more misanthropic moments (which phrase should not be interpreted as suggesting that I have any non-misanthropic moments) I tend to think that the Golgofrinchans had a good idea. We do not have the necessary arks, yet, but our impending doom stories are a little more sophisticated than that of a mutant space goat. ||

        Climate change, right. Unfortunately, that’ll only get us wind turbines and electric cars, no space arks.  ;-)

    • echinococcus on August 24, 2019, 7:07 pm

      RoHa,

      Beware. You’re slitting the throat of America’s sacred cow in plain daylight.
      Anyway, some of the real subjects you listed are no longer on the school curriculum. It’s very variable across the states and the counties (yes we also have counts — no earls) but I believe that often Literature is now called English, without its unwelcome baggage of grammar; physics, chemistry etc. have been lumped into Science or somesuch; Geography, History, Psychology (perhaps some other things, too) are sold under the label “Social Studies”. Always “Studies”.

      • RoHa on August 24, 2019, 8:21 pm

        “called English, without its unwelcome baggage of grammar”

        That has been horribly obvious for a long time.

      • Mooser on August 27, 2019, 2:20 pm

        “I can spell all the words that I use,
        And my grammar’s as good as my neighbours’.”

      • RoHa on August 27, 2019, 7:13 pm

        I’ve seen your neighbours’ grammar.

      • Mooser on August 28, 2019, 11:19 am

        “I’ve seen your neighbours’ grammar.”

        And I have read your comments.

  2. Misterioso on August 24, 2019, 8:48 am

    “California ethnic studies curriculum delayed after attack on its comparison of Israel to South Africa”

    Let’s cut to the chase! Comparing “Israel” to apartheid South Africa is entirely appropriate:

    Hendrik Verwoerd, then prime minister of South Africa and the architect of South Africa’s apartheid policies, 1961: “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” (Rand Daily Mail, November 23, 1961)

    Jacobus Johannes Fouché, South African Minister of Defence during the apartheid era, compared the two states and said that Israel also practiced apartheid. (Gideon Shimoni (1980). Jews and Zionism: The South African Experience 1910-1967. Cape Town: Oxford UP. pp. 310–336. ISBN 0195701798.

    “Former Foreign Ministry director-general invokes South Africa comparisons. ‘Joint Israel-West Bank’ reality is an apartheid state”
    EXCERPT: “Similarities between the ‘original apartheid’ as it was practiced in South Africa and the situation in Israel and the West Bank today ‘scream to the heavens,’ added [Alon] Liel, who was Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria from 1992 to 1994. There can be little doubt that the suffering of Palestinians is not less intense than that of blacks during apartheid-era South Africa, he asserted.” (Times of Israel, February 21, 2013)

    Video: Israeli TV Host Implores Israelis: Wake Up and Smell the Apartheid
    https://www.youtube.com/wat

    Ronnie Kasrils, a key player in the struggle against the former South African apartheid regime, minister for intelligence and a devout Jew: “The Palestinian minority in Israel has for decades been denied basic equality in health, education, housing and land possession, solely because it is not Jewish. The fact that this minority is allowed to vote hardly redresses the rampant injustice in all other basic human rights. They are excluded from the very definition of the ‘Jewish state’, and have virtually no influence on the laws, or political, social and economic policies. Hence, their similarity to the black South Africans [under apartheid].” (The Guardian, 25 May 2005)

    Shlomo Gazit, retired IDF Major General: “[Israel’s] legal system that enforces the law in a discriminatory way on the basis of national identity, is actually maintaining an apartheid regime.” (Haaretz, July 19, 2011)

    In its 2015 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, published in 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor acknowledges the “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.” (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor)

    “Construction, Not Destruction”
    “While Israeli Arabs constitute 20 percent of the population, Arab communities’ jurisdictions occupy just 2.5 percent of the state’s land area, and the process of approving new construction in Arab towns takes decades.” (Haaretz Editorial, April 4, 2017)

  3. RobertHenryEller on August 24, 2019, 9:49 am

    Again and again and again: If Israel is a valid example, and worthy of criticism, how is the complaint “We’re being singled out!” valid? After all, the definition of an “example” is that it is one among many. That it is only one doesn’t invalidate using any particular example as an example. No one is obligated to choose another valid example just because another is offended.

    And frankly Israel is a singularly good example. Why? Because Israel insists that it’s a democracy. If, upon examination, Israel is indeed found to be a democracy, Israel will in fact be found to not be an example at all. So, if Israel believes that it’s a democracy, as it claims, that claim should be easy to verify, and we can all go “Excuse us,” and go on our way.

    But if Israel is not a democracy, it’s claims to be singled out because of anti-Semitism is meaningless. What matters in the comparison of Israel to South Africa is whether or not Israel is a democracy. And that’s all that matters. No one is accusing Israel of being a Jewish State.

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