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NY private school fires Jewish teacher for anti-Zionist statements

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Today the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the Fieldston School fired a Jewish history teacher, J.B. Brager, after Brager published anti-Zionist comments.

It is the second time in two years that a Jewish history teacher has been forced out of a private New York high school due to anti-Zionist statements. In 2018 longtime history teacher Joel Doerfler left the Riverdale Country School after administrators canceled his class on the history of the conflict because of his questioning of the official narrative.

In both cases, outraged Jewish donors to the schools are said to have pushed the school administrations to take a stand against anti-Zionism.

JB Brager portrait, from their twitter feed.

Brager was fired amidst a controversy at the school over a speaker, Kayum Ahmed of Columbia Law School, who said last November that Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians stems from Jewish persecution during the Holocaust.

The JTA cites two tweets by Brager:

According to Tablet and the Washington Free Beacon, sometime following Ahmed’s remarks, Brager tweeted, “I refuse to ‘reaffirm the value’ of ethno-nationalist settler colonialism.”

Brager commented again after the principal of the Fieldston upper school announced a school assembly featuring two Zionist rabbis, Ammiel Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue and Joshua Davidson from Temple Emanu-El. JTA says that Brager tweeted,

“for a school assembly on anti-Semitism, SURE GO AHEAD and invite two white men who run Reform congregations, both of whom are Zionists, one [Davidson] that wrote that the ‘most insidious strain [of American anti-Semitism] is that of anti-Zionist intersectionality [on the far-left].’”

Hirsch is also a firebreather, who has likened the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace to Osama bin Laden.

A letter to Fieldston trustees protesting Brager’s firing as evidence of the “weaponization of anti-Semitism” by one group of Jews against another has already gotten over 150 signatures today. It says Fieldston fired Brager to signal to “conservative Jewish donors” that it would “punish dissenters.” The firing of a “progressive, queer, Jewish teacher” is highly concerning, the letter says, at a time that many at Fieldston have sought to address racism at the school.

Key excerpts of that letter:

We are absolutely outraged that the Fieldston School has fired a Jewish history teacher, JB Brager, in the midst of a furor over alleged anti-Semitism at the school.

Voices from inside the school have made it clear that the administration fired JB in response to pressure from a small set of conservative parents, who in turn were supported by smear attacks on JB in the right-wing press. Those attacks focused on JB’s gender expression and personal investment in human rights struggles. Rather than stand up against such attacks, Fieldston has embraced them.

We see clearly that Fieldston administrators Jessica Bagby and Nigel Furlonge are not interested in addressing anti-Semitism or protecting Jewish community members, but in signaling to conservative Jewish donors that the school will punish dissenters from those donors’ views. This weaponization of anti-Semitism is the subject of a pitched battle within Jewish communities, with organizations like the Anti-Defamation League attacking tens of thousands of young, progressive, and Orthodox Jews as “anti-Semites.” It is despicable that Fieldston has lent its strength to the side of this intra-community battle that supports Trump policies, endless wars, Islamophobia, and anti-Black racism….

Fieldston is an extremely privileged school in a city of people, most struggling against combined racial and economic injustice, who have broadly pledged to resist the racist, anti-immigrant, and violent directions of national policy. This is the wrong time for Fieldston to allow its privileged circles to shut down and punish the pursuit of anti-racist ethics.

Signatories to the letter include many Jews, such as Jonathan House, who writes, “My father was on the Board of Ethical Culture [Fieldston School] in the 50s and/or 60s… My family is both Jewish and has always opposed Zionism.”

But Zionist advocates say that 95 percent of the Jewish community is pro-Israel. Certainly Zionism is an orthodoxy among older Jews, and coverage of the Fieldston controversy that Brager was caught up in conflates Jews and Zionists (much as they were conflated during the attacks on Joel Doerfler).

Kayum Ahmed, from the Columbia Law School site.

Speaker Kayum Ahmed is a lecturer at Columbia Law and an executive at the Open Society. In his November 21 speech, he spoke of “the fluidity between those who are victims becoming perpetrators” and related that idea to Israel. “Jews who suffered in the Holocaust and established the State of Israel today—they perpetuate violence against Palestinians that [is] unthinkable,” he reportedly said.

Sean Cooper reported at Tablet that Ahmed’s comments shocked Jews, and hit on a faultline at the school between the privileged and those who are engaged in intersectional politics.

Jewish parents at Fieldston who heard about Ahmed’s remarks were shaken and outraged, texting in chat circles and even threatening, privately, to withdraw their children from the school…. [S]ome of the Jewish students present registered the moment with fear and confusion, according to multiple parents and others familiar with the event….

“If someone was coming to Fieldston to talk about apartheid and went off on a rant about the pea-sized brains of women who belong in a kitchen, or repeated racist tropes, or ranted about any form of homophobia or racism or sexism, immediately—immediately—teachers would have stood up and said, ‘that’s not how we feel, that’s not an idea we share,’” one parent told me. “And immediately after that a note would have gone out to every parent, condemning the remarks, offering counseling for those harmed and detailing education to prevent similar incidents in the future. And yet the students in that assembly saw none of that, because it’s part of the assumption at Fieldston that Jewish students are rich and white and thus privileged, so it doesn’t matter.”…

Cooper said the tensions went back to a 2015 project at the school to identify “affinity groups” on the basis of identity, but these groups that did not include Jews. Jewish parents were upset that they were understood to be privileged. The process “shocked and frightened certain Jewish parents—first erasing what they understood to be the history of Jewish exclusion, isolation and murder, while simultaneously confining Jews to the category of history’s not-good people,” Cooper reported.

During a 2017 controversy over that diversity program The New York Times quoted the head of the school, Jessica Bagby, as saying that Jewish and Zionist parents felt alienated by the program.

We have a problem in that some members of our community who identify themselves as Jewish, and some who even might identify themselves — self-identify — as Zionists, do not feel embraced by this program

Brager is a queer activist in their 30s who was hired at the school in August 2018, according to Brager’s website. They have a Ph.D. in women and gender studies from Rutgers University and a body of political/artistic work, including a lot of writings and comics.

Brager tweeted this anti-Zionist message during Hanukkah:

Making latkes tonight for my birthday and Channukah, text me if you want to come over. No Zionists.

Brager’s 2015 review of a book published by the dissident Israeli soldiers’ group Breaking the Silence emphasizes the erasure of Palestinians:

the Palestinian is conversely always missing. If Gaza is a land without a people, we are presented with a Goldilocks fiction of occupation, where Goldilocks is the victim because the bear’s beds are too hard and too soft, and they don’t want her in their home at all.

Brager faulted the militant groupthink of Zionism:

I could show this video [by B’Tselem of a raid on a Palestinian home] to any number of Israelis or Zionists who would see nothing wrong with this picture. [Two books under review] are ultimately about the gaze, about the ability of Israelis to see themselves as perpetrators and about the ability of Palestinians to return, refuse, or otherwise manage the disciplining gaze of military and international aid organizations alike.

One happy conclusion from this controversy. The embattled territory is a private NY high school. Ahmed teaches at Columbia Law and his comments have not prompted some deep interrogation, evidently. Columbia was embattled 10 years ago famously, but anti-Zionism is established now in academic communities. (Just ask Bari Weiss.) Anti-Zionism is today an default stance in progressive circles, and it’s coming to the Democratic Party. Fieldston is a relatively small pond in a conservative Jewish community. And yes, this is a pitched struggle.

Update: Jewish Democratic Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Max Rose have slammed Ahmed’s comments in a letter to Fieldston administrators sent two days before Brager’s firing. They ascribe the uptick in attacks on Jews to speech critical of Israel. “Violent antisemitic groups have singled out and targeted Jewish communities in our districts as ‘Zionists’…”

“There should be no place in our national discourse for hate-filled speech targeting any group,” wrote Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) and Congressman Max Rose (NY-11) in a letter to the Head of School and Principal. “As Jewish Members of Congress dedicated to combatting anti-Semitism, we would like to understand how such a speaker could be invited to address ECFS students, what steps the school has taken to hold those responsible accountable, how the school has communicated to students and parents that such rhetoric is unacceptable, and how ECFS will implement processes to prevent future incidents.”




Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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40 Responses

  1. Misterioso on January 10, 2020, 1:31 pm

    More proof that the “love affair” between American Jews and “Israel” is rapidly falling apart. No suprise! It’s happening all around the world. No wonder Zionist leaders are panic stricken.

  2. eljay on January 10, 2020, 1:44 pm

    … Zionist advocates say that 95 percent of the Jewish community is pro-Israel. …

    Assuming Zionists are correct, it is a truly depressing statistic that “95% of the Jewish community” – that is to say, 95% of all the people in the world who have chosen to embrace the religion-based identity of Jewish – are hateful and immoral supremacist hypocrites who believe that their religion-based identity grants to them the right:
    – to be supremacists;
    – to have a supremacist state; and
    – to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality (a.k.a., “necessary evil”) they would not have others do unto them.

  3. bcg on January 10, 2020, 2:35 pm

    I have a niece and a nephew who go to Fieldston – I went New York two years ago to attend their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and I hung out with some Fieldston parents at a party afterwards. What you really need to know about Fieldston is that this is a school the top 1%, the international global elite, send their kids to. If you’re a diplomat or high government official or a captain of industry jetting around the world making deals, this is where you send your kids, and the kids are the people who will be running things 20 years from now.

  4. annie on January 10, 2020, 3:16 pm

    there were only 8 dems voting against that war powers legislation the other day. these 2 congresspeople were both on that list.

  5. Mooser on January 10, 2020, 6:29 pm

    Jewish ‘tribal unity’ is an antisemitic trope, which we cannot, must not, burden ourselves with. It is a pernicious trope, and it won’t be easy to get rid of. But if we all work together, we can do it!

  6. Kay24 on January 11, 2020, 4:44 am

    This makes for interesting reading – a comprehensive list of pro Israel groups in America, that is doing Israel’s bidding here.
    This explains why the US will always be controlled by Israel’s minions, who make sure the aid, weapons, and protection by the US, never ceases. We will forever be in the clutches of Israel.

    The Israel Lobby A List.

    “The pro-Israel special interest group is one of the most significant and pervasive special interest groups in the United States. It consists of numerous institutions and individuals that work to influence Congress, the president, academia, the media, religious institutions, and American public opinion on behalf of Israel. It has been active in the U.S. for many decades.

    The lobby works to propagandize people of all faiths, races, and political backgrounds. It tries to claim that those who disseminate facts they dislike are “antisemitic” – even the many Jewish and Israeli individuals and organizations who work for peace.

    Below is a partial list, in no particular order, of groups and individuals that publicly support Israel.”

  7. Talkback on January 11, 2020, 4:57 am

    It’s astonishing how much Josh Gottheimer and Max Rose are lying in their letter. First they claim that a comparsion between the plicies of Israel and the Nazis happened, which didn’t. Then they claim that the IHRA definition of antisemitism identifies as one of the examples of antisemitism “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israel policy to that of the Nazis” allthough the IHRA definition only encompasses the first two sentences. And then they ommit that even these examples are context dependent and one has to include the overall context.

    The claim that “Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians stems from Jewish persecution during the Holocaust” was researched by Dan Bar-On.

  8. echinococcus on January 11, 2020, 9:22 am

    “Brager is a queer activist in their 30s who was hired at the school in August 2018, according to Brager’s website. They have a Ph.D. in women and gender studies from Rutgers University and a body of political/artistic work, including a lot of writings and comics.”

    This is very confusing. How many Bragers are you talking about?

    • Keith on January 11, 2020, 2:01 pm

      ECHINOCOCCUS- “This is very confusing. How many Bragers are you talking about?”

      I suspect that you know the answer already. Apparently, Phil is using politically correct gender neutral phraseology to describe this (transgender?) queer activist. After all, Phil is a Democrat.

      • echinococcus on January 11, 2020, 11:41 pm

        Suspected it but didn’t know. Weiss is, after all, too much of an adult and of a professional journalist to commit this kind of ludicrous rape of language. The pronouns used might be politically correct gender-neutral but number-neutral they are definitely not.

        Is being Democrat an acceptable excuse for folly?

        I suggest that such people use Finnish, Turkish or any other language with gender-neutral pronouns, so as to avoid contempt of the public.

      • Keith on January 12, 2020, 5:07 pm

        ECHINOCOCCUS- “Weiss is, after all, too much of an adult and of a professional journalist to commit this kind of ludicrous rape of language.”

        Love the sarcasm!

        ECHINOCOCCUS- “Is being Democrat an acceptable excuse for folly?”

        Ever since the Clinton led New Democrats decided to compete head on with the Republicans for fat-cat/corporate dollars they have totally abandoned even the pretense of supporting the working class even as they embrace neoliberalism. How then to appeal to voters when you have nothing to offer? The Republicans appeal to racism and religious fundamentalism. The Democrats primarily to identity politics and empty rhetoric. So now “progressive” no longer involves anything of substance but, rather, verbally pandering to a multitude of niche group identifiers. So for Democrats, transgenders and imperial feminists are in and working stiff “deplorables” are out, and their rhetoric reflects that.

      • echinococcus on January 12, 2020, 6:02 pm


        No sarcasm anywhere, every word is meant.

        One point, though: competing for fat-cat dollars, as you say, is only one mechanism of the single-party ruling-class ownership, and not the main one. Many other mechanisms work alongside it, like eg the redistribution demands by the Democrat sheepdog at every election season, or the veiled or unveiled dictatorship threat by the military… and the creation of fads, or madness of the crowd — the fine art of our times.

      • Mooser on January 17, 2020, 1:56 am

        This objection to the Rabbi using the plural pronoun “they” is ridiculous. I am sure it is done for religious reasons. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a minyan these days? Every little bit helps. And as for us, (me, myself and good old I) we can say: they is my shero.

      • echinococcus on January 17, 2020, 11:03 am


        Did you mean the good Rabbi Philip* Weiss, author of the quote?

        As for the hardship of getting a miñan… a good many among the upwards-struggling young men-and-women and people of any-other-preferred-sexual-designation that I know do express a strong desire to convert into the tribe, as they unsurprisingly do smell what side their whole-wheat gluten-free is dairy-free buttered on. So no problem: just convert the men and drop the rest. They’ll be enough.

      • Mooser on January 17, 2020, 4:06 pm

        “As for the hardship of getting a miñan… “

        Got rid of my Aerostar years ago, but I liked it while I had it. Did not consider it a hardship. Just part of that upward struggle.

      • RoHa on January 17, 2020, 11:07 pm

        “just convert the men and drop the rest. ”

        I don’t understand this minyan stuff. Does it have to be all male? A filly minyan is not allowed?

      • echinococcus on January 18, 2020, 10:37 am

        To one uninterested in the arcanes of theology, like yours truly, it looks like what I try to summarize below. Considering that there are several practicing religious people in the room, I would appreciate their lights on the puzzling thing:

        1. Only men, and full ten (10) of them, are a quorum for prayers. Including the Rabbi or Chaham, who is not indispensable but leads the prayers when he (or she) is present,

        2. Women, who do not count toward the minyan as far as we pagans know, can be Rabbis/C. (albeit limitedly to some sects-or-denominations, far as I remember),

        3. One of the most current prayers is translated as “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe*, who has not made me a woman.”; women being left with “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me according to Your will.”

        Of course, no one should be looking for any logic in religion, but still it gets one thinking.

        * etymologically challenged translation, but that’s irrelevant now

        ** I prefer writing it miñan as was done in earlier times in my family. Avoids confusion with the Minyan pottery so dear to Greek archeologists.

      • Mooser on January 18, 2020, 10:52 pm

        “A filly minyan is not allowed?”

        Okay, that is changing. Women can help drive the sports car, too.

  9. Keith on January 11, 2020, 11:39 am

    PHIL- “Jewish parents were upset that they were understood to be privileged.”

    When reality conflicts with ideology it creates anger and confusion usually resulting in a strengthened belief in the ideology. Self-deception is the rule, not the exception.

    • Jon66 on January 11, 2020, 6:05 pm

      True irony when coming from the unrepentant Marxist.

      • Keith on January 12, 2020, 4:37 pm

        JON66- “True irony when coming from the unrepentant Marxist.”

        Louis Proyect is the “unrepentant Marxist”, not me. In fact, I consider Marxism to be an outmoded misrepresentation of our modern political economy, more akin to a quasi religion than an analysis of social organizational dynamics. Belief in Marxism is the Left’s Achilles heel which is one of the reasons that the Left is so ineffectual. Capitalism’s major innovation was the monetization of power. Money is power, economic power in fluid form, the primary instrument of social control. If interested, follow the link.

      • Mooser on January 13, 2020, 12:02 pm

        “Capitalism’s major innovation was the monetization of power. Money is power, economic power in fluid form, the primary instrument of social control.”

        Wow! Have you read Marx? He says the exact same thing!

      • Keith on January 13, 2020, 2:43 pm

        MOOSER- “Wow! Have you read Marx? He says the exact same thing!”

        The only Marx I have read is the “Communist Manifesto” which is full of sound and fury signifying little. The emphasis is on class warfare and property ownership. I am unfamiliar with “Das Kapital” and have no interest in reading this massive volume. If I can’t do a better job of analyzing 21st century capitalism from the vantage point of 2020 than Marx writing in 1850, then I am hopelessly stupid. I believe that Marx got a PhD in economics which, in my view, is the closest one can get to a frontal lobotomy without actual surgery. All of Marxian theory is little more than propaganda designed to seize power by organizing the factory workers during the growth phase of 19th century industrial capitalism. Since you try to give the impression of knowledge of Marxist philosophy, perhaps you can provide a quote where Marx refers to the essence of capitalism as the monetization of power? Or perhaps you are a Marxist economist in the same vein that RoHa is a scientist and climatologist? Hopefully, this will be my last comment on Marx and the “unrepentant Marxist.”

      • MHughes976 on January 13, 2020, 5:48 pm

        Marx’s doctoral thesis – I read it once – was about Hellenistic philosophy. I seem to remember praise of Epicurus as ‘the true radical enlightener of antiquity’ – scientific method and all that. For some complex Hegelian reason radical enlightenment could go no further until there had been some new input. Greek philosophy then ground to a halt – it was like ‘the death of a hero at the height of his powers’. Rather strange stuff.

      • echinococcus on January 13, 2020, 8:55 pm

        It’s true that Marx didn’t make much of his youthful thesis work, in fact tended to avoid talking about it, and for a good reason. But referring to it now should now be a good thing, because it can widen even further the field of all possible, and often nonsensical or hateful stuff, that people call “Marxism”. Why, even Keith’s example of “Marxists” are some beings so harmful and obnoxious as American Imperial Trotskysts… At that point, throw in Hellenistic Hegelianism, too, it can’t hurt. Marxism is whatever will float your boat, especially as a negative example.

      • Mooser on January 17, 2020, 4:14 pm

        “It’s true that Marx didn’t make much of his youthful thesis work”

        Hmmph, I don’t know. Many people say the character and ideas Marx developed early were the basis of his later work.

      • Mooser on January 18, 2020, 11:41 pm

        And let’s settle this for once and for all: SJ Perelman only wrote, at most, a few lines for Marx. Considering that Marx posited himself as a strict anti-capitalist, I suspect e. e. cummings was a major influence.

  10. scott9854958 on January 12, 2020, 1:54 pm

    It’s wrong that Brager was fired, but I wonder if anyone would come to her defense if she was say Irish-American or (gasp) a WASP. In the end it really shouldn’t matter that she’s Jewish or queer. She has a point of view and she’s being bullied for it.

    • Mooser on January 13, 2020, 11:58 am

      “She has a point of view and she’s being bullied for it.”

      Don’t you think a private, for-profit institution has the right to control itself and its own staff?
      Are they supposed to accept just any kind of behavior and ideology?
      There’s a lot riding on this, you know! Would we have gained all the acceptance in America if people thought we are all socialist hippies with ummm, questionable morals?

  11. Talkback on January 14, 2020, 1:09 pm

    Nowadays in the United States a Jew can get fired when s/he opposes ethno-nationalist settler colonialism, allthough this ethno-nationalist settler colonialism is Jewish.

    What a fine example of Jewish racist exclusivism.

  12. Stogumber on January 15, 2020, 1:53 pm

    “Anti-Zionism is today an default stance in progressive circles, and it’s coming to the Democratic Party.”
    Bur not to the British LabourParty where – after the retreat of Corbyn – all prospective new leaders seem to cave in.

  13. hophmi on January 18, 2020, 9:48 am

    So happy to see that Fieldston made the right decision to fire a hate figure. Hate figures should always understand and be reminded that while they have First Amendment rights to say what they want, they have no right to a job, let alone a job that enables them to spread hate to children.

    • annie on January 18, 2020, 9:50 am

      hate figure? you’re so extreme hops.

      • echinococcus on January 18, 2020, 10:04 am

        I’ll bet you a shiny new popsicle to an old smelly sock that he will not (and cannot) write a precise definition of “hate figure”.

      • Mooser on January 18, 2020, 11:11 pm

        “hate figure? you’re so extreme hops.”

        Extreme? No, “Hophmi” is just refusing to be burdened by that insidious anti-semitic trope about ‘tribal unity’.
        Nor is he at all, at all, influenced by that old ‘shanda fur di goyim” trope. Not at all. ‘As goes the right, so goes the all-rightnik will never apply to “Hophmi”.

        That’s why he sounds just like Franklin Graham. Oh, BTW “Hophmi”, I just Googled “hate figure”. Oh, there is such an expression, but as usual you’ve got it bassackwards.

        Unless you think that Rabbi Breager should become a person to be publicly hated and reviled. Is that what you meant?

    • Talkback on January 18, 2020, 1:06 pm

      According to hophmi any teacher who refuses to reaffirm the value of ethno-nationalist settler colonialism spreads hate to children!

      WOW. Just think about that for a moment and how f**ed up this is.

      But I guess it tells you anything you need to know about Zionists, their deep rooted racism and what and who they actually hate.

    • eljay on January 18, 2020, 2:17 pm

      || hophmi: … Hate figures should always understand and be reminded … ||

      And yet no matter how often you Zionist hate figures are reminded, you remain incapable – or, worse, unwilling – to understand.

  14. Ossinev on January 18, 2020, 2:24 pm

    ” they have no right to a job, let alone a job that enables them to spread hate to children”
    That in a nutshell rules out the vast majority of Jewish teachers in Israel.

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