Three weeks after the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the union representing City University faculty, passed an anti-Israel resolution that urged the nation’s largest urban public university to boycott Israel, an anonymous letter authored by NYC Educators for Palestine, seeks to do the same for the city’s public schools.
“As we teach our students to understand the world and seek respect and justice for all people, we have no choice but to speak out against the injustice being committed against the Palestinian people. Our profession demands that we work for life, that we work for peace, and that we work for the opportunities for all people to thrive.”
The letter does not attempt to present a two-state view of two nations with legitimate claims to their place in the Middle East. After listing numerous grievances such as military checkpoints, demolition of buildings, and “Zionist censorship,” the authors point to Israeli military actions as harmful towards the education of Palestinians. Nothing is said in the letter about the violence and anti-Semitism that are taught in Palestinian schools.
As leftists are careful in their use of language not to offend ethnic, gender, and racial sensibilities – real and perceived – the letter appears to use an anti-Semitic trope in describing American foreign aid to Israel. “This is money taken from the families of New York City by a nuclear power with one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. We simply cannot be silent while money for our families and children here go instead to terrorizing families and children abroad.”
The image of Jews depicted as thieves has a deep history going back to periods when Jews were limited to certain professions, and the decades following emancipation, when Jews competed with gentiles for the same jobs. To accuse Israel of “taking money” in a democratic society where elected officials voted on it is as much an insult towards this government as it is concerning Israel.
In contrast to the PSC, the authors note that the United Federation of Teachers invests in Israel Bonds, and its former leader Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers, opposes the boycott of Israel in her role as a member of the Jewish Labor Committee. The letter recommends the site teachpalestine.org as a resource for history and literature on “Palestinian oppression.” A glance at the site shows children’s books and articles on Silwan that omit the city of David HaMelech; and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that has nothing on Shimon HaTzadik, whose tomb predates its Arab namesake.
The anonymity of the authors is not the result of fear but rather to feign victimhood, to say that when one speaks up for the Palestinians in the classroom, it could result in disciplinary action. The letter cites Amanda Bueno, principal of Middle School 136 in Brooklyn, who emailed her colleagues in May to make “a public commitment to Palestinian Liberation.” Bueno did not lose her job but was rebuked by Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter. “The MS 136 principal must apologize for her email. This was a clear exercise of poor judgment and we will take appropriate follow-up action. We must teach complex current events without bringing our political activities or beliefs into the classroom.”
As most Orthodox Jews in New York do not attend public schools, the controversy on teaching the story of the Middle East does not directly affect most children in this community. Recognizing the impact on public opinion that results from a biased education, Jewish educators should look carefully at the textbooks, libraries, and lessons that appear in schools, to ensure that descriptions of Israel are written in an objective manner.
“The idea of quality public education where all of us were made good Americans of every type, as in our days, is long gone in America,” former CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld wrote. “No school district will be immune to this horrific deconstruction of American culture, history, anti-Zionism, and all the rest.”
New York has the largest public school system in the country. When a small-town school adopts a BDS resolution, it receives attention on social media, but impacts few students. But when public schools in New York adopt a certain policy, other schools across the country rely on it as an example.
By Sergey Kadinsky