An illustrative view of a school board meeting of the Oakland Unified School District. In May 2020, the school board passed a resolution stating that it supports “the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Draft as written,” despite concerns over anti-Semitism. Source: JNS Screenshot.
By Robert Witrock
Emily Benedek wrote an alarming expose in Tablet Magazine on Jan. 27, detailing California’s proposed high school ethnic studies program. The program puts forth numerous antisemitic stereotypes and anti-Israel paradigms to replace earlier European-based history.
Since the 1960s, ethnic studies has been pushed, initially a good thing. Not only did the efforts lead to Black Studies but eventually Jewish Studies, Latino Studies, Gender Studies, etc. Increasing influence of BDS, Farrakhan pride, and other far left paradigms has resulted today in an ethnic cleansing of any Jewish-American history, viewing American Jews as a white privileged rich group. Never mind the associated apartheid-only view of the Jewish State.
Some recent background:
In 2016, California’s then Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a mandate to develop an ethnic studies program for high schools in California. With California’s public schools being the most ethnically diverse in the United States, this appeared as a positive development in understanding our global diversity, egalitarianism and combating bigotry.
Elina Kaplan, a former high-tech manager, Soviet-Jewish refugee and nonprofit leader, agreed with the mandate’s objectives.
To fulfill the mandate, a draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum was released in 2019. Kaplan was shocked what the draft contained. A list of historic U.S. social movements — ones like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Criminal Justice Reform — also included the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement for Palestine.
A list of 154 influential people of color made no mention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, or Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, though it included many violent revolutionaries. Capitalism was classified as a form of “power and oppression.” Forms of oppression such as “classism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and transphobia” were listed, yet antisemitism was not. Jewish Americans were not even mentioned as a minority group. Marxist code words were used throughout the document.
This new Ethnic Studies curriculum may prevail throughout the California school system of 6 million children. It would “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, capitalism… and other forms of power and oppression,” according to the proposal.
To fight the adoption of the ESMC, Kaplan used her nonprofit leader expertise and co-created, with two other women, the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies. The effort was urgent, she knew, because since California has the largest school system in the country, any curriculum it adopts will be exported to the rest of the U.S.
Clarence Jones, former legal counsel and speechwriter for Martin Luther King Jr., in a letter he wrote to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s Instructional Quality Commission, called the ESMC a perversion of history “for providing material that refers to non-violent Black leaders as ‘passive’ and ‘docile’.”
Critical race theory in education, writes Daniel Solorzano, a scholar cited in the ESMC, “challenges the traditional claims of the educational system such as objectivity, meritocracy, color-blindness, race neutrality, and equal opportunity.” Critical race theorists argue that these traditional claims act as a camouflage for the self-interest, power, and privilege of dominant groups in U.S. society.
In 2020, Gov. Newsom signed into law AB 1460, which requires that every student in the Cal State system — the largest four-year public university system in the country, of which San Francisco State is a part — take a three-unit course in ethnic studies.
Antisemitic and anti-Zionist language is found in the law — for example, a description of prewar Zionism: “the Jews have filled the air with their cries and lamentations in an effort to raise funds and American Jews, as is well known, are the richest in the world.” Anti-Zionism is built into the theory and the discipline of ethnic studies, which demonizes Israel as an apartheid settler-colonialist Nazi state.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of AMCHA Initiative, which fights campus anti-Semitism, points out that all 13 founding members of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association are BDS activists. CESA, the national home base for critical studies, passed a resolution in 2014 to boycott all Israeli academic institutions, and the group’s past four biennial meetings included multiple sessions demonizing Israel.
Benedek writes, “But of even greater concern to Jews, (Rossman-Benjamin) believes, is the singling out of Jewish students as enjoying racial privilege. ‘I don’t see any way that Jewish students can sit in an ethnic studies class and not feel they have a double target on their backs,’ she said, fearing hatred and violence will ensue. First, because they’re Jewish, and considered white and part of the 1%, the purported villains of the teaching, and then through an assumed association with Israel. ‘There’s a state requirement that you have to sit through a class that says to Jewish students they have extraordinary racial privilege and yet forbids them from speaking because ‘this course is not about you?’ If you don’t accept it, you’re publicly shamed and ostracized — you can’t even speak up and say, ‘I’m not sure if I think that all white people are racists’.”
“Brandy Shufutinsky, an African American Jewish woman pursuing an Ed.D. in international multicultural education at the University of San Francisco, opposes the ESMC. ‘It needs to be scrapped. Its foundations are faulty,’ she told Tablet, having more of a ‘political agenda than an educational one.’ Her interest is personal. The mother of four, she is concerned that ‘other states will follow the lead of California, and may have an impact on my own children in the future’.”
“I’m a progressive Democrat and have been for my entire life, and I come from a family of Democrats,” she said. “I don’t understand how someone who claims to be progressive can say they are against Israel. Israel is one of the most successful countries in terms of the indigenous rights movement. They have reclaimed a culture that was decimated and denied, reclaimed their religion, their peoplehood, and language in their traditional indigenous land. This is something that progressive people all around the world should hold up as an example, not demonize.”
Shufutinsky has no patience for young people calling Israel an apartheid state. “They don’t know the history of apartheid — they’re too young to have experienced it themselves, and they seem not to have read too deeply about it either. It’s easy for people to imagine that Arabs are all Black and brown and the Israelis are all white. But it’s not true. Israelis are not white, but that’s a lie that the ethnic studies curriculum is built on.”
The California’s State Board of Education will vote on the curriculum on March 17.
These anti-Jewish stereotypes and potential public policies of those on the left as well as the right need to be called out, from whatever community they emanate. These views and shift in public policy and education are dangerous for the Jewish community, not only in California, but across the U.S., including New Orleans.