Like many hothead progressives around the world, I preach antiracism, teach multiculturalism and recognize the United States to be a politically and culturally imperialistic society.
Proper revolutionary that I am, I have no problem with guerrilla warfare against oppressive regimes, and I fully recognize that "terrorism" can be a political term used to invalidate the violent behavior of one group and justify that of another.
One might say I’m an all-around, groovy radical. And yet, I’ve got a major problem with compassion for Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up Israeli citizens.
Sure, progressive folk cluck in sympathy when the leg of an Israeli girl flies clear across a pizzeria or when the spine of an Israeli boy gets sliced by shrapnel. This sound of distress, however, often is accompanied by an undertone of accusation: It is Israel’s fault, the narrative goes, that these tragedies happen; by creating Palestinian desperation, Israel has created Palestinian terrorism.
Clearly, Palestinians are suffering, and their situation must be remedied — the sooner the better. The question is, who was responsible for creating their situation and who is accountable for remedying it?
The Arab world is called just that for a reason: Beginning in the Arabian Peninsula about 1,300 years ago, Arab Muslims launched a brutal campaign of invasion and conquest, taking over lands across the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout the region, Kurds, Persians, Berbers, Copts and Jews were forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death and in the name of Allah.
Jews were one of the few indigenous Middle Eastern peoples to resist conversion to Islam, the result being they were given the status of dhimmi — legally second-class, inferior people. In the best of circumstances, Jews were spared death but forced to endure an onslaught of humiliating legal restrictions — forced into ghettos, prohibited from owning land, prevented from entering numerous professions and forbidden from doing anything to physically or symbolically demonstrate equality with Arab Muslims.
When dhimmi laws were lax and Jews were allowed to participate to a greater degree in their society, the Jewish community would flourish, both socially and economically. On numerous occasions, however, the response to that success was a wave of harassment or massacre of Jews instigated by the government or the masses.
This dynamic meant that the Jews lived in a basic state of subservience: They could participate in the society around them, they could enjoy a certain degree of wealth and status and they could befriend their Arab Muslim neighbors, but they always had to know their place.
The Arab-Israel relationship and the current crisis occur in the greater context of a history in which Arab Muslims have oppressed Jews for 1,300 years. Most recently, anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the Arab world in the 1930s and 1940s.
Jews were assaulted, tortured, murdered and forced to flee from their homes of thousands of years. Throughout the region, Jewish property was confiscated and nationalized, collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars at the time.
Yet the world has never witnessed Middle Eastern and North African Jews blowing themselves up and taking scores of Arab innocents with them out of anger or desperation for what Arab states did to the Jewish people.
Despite the fact that there were 900,000 Jewish refugees from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, we do not even hear about a Middle Eastern/North African Jewish refugee problem today, because Israel absorbed most of the refugees. For decades, they and their children have been the majority of Israel’s Jewish population, with numbers as high as 70 percent.
To the contrary, Arab states did not absorb refugees from the war against Israel in 1948. Instead, they built squalid camps in the West Bank and Gaza — at the time controlled by Jordan and Egypt — and dumped the refugees in them, Arabs doomed to become pawns in a political war against Israel.
Countries such as Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Lebanon funded assaults against Israeli citizens instead of funding basic medical, educational and housing needs of Palestinian refugee families.
In 1967, Israel inherited the Palestinian refugee problem through a defensive war. When Israel tried to build housing for the refugees in Gaza, Arab states led votes against it in U.N. resolutions, because absorption would change the status of the refugees. But wasn’t that the moral objective?
Israel went on to give more money to the Palestinian refugees than all but three of the Arab states combined, prior to transferring responsibility of the territories to the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s. Israel built hospitals and educational institutions for Palestinians in the territories. Israel trained the Palestinian police force.
And yet, the 22 Arab states dominate both the land and the wealth of the region. So who is responsible for creating Palestinian desperation?
Tragically, the Arab propaganda war against Israel has been a brilliant success, laying on Israel all the blame for the Palestinian refugee problem. By refusing to hold Arab states accountable for their own actions, by feeling sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers instead of outrage at the Arab propaganda creating this phenomenon, the "progressive" movement continues to feed the never-ending cycle of violence in the Middle East.
Loolwa Khazzoom is the editor of “The
Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern
Jewish Heritage” (Seal Press), and she is an Israel correspondent for the Jewish
Telegraph Agency. You can find Khazzoom on the web at
Multiculturalism at Work
Among those who care about public education, “multiculturalism” is one of today’s favorite buzzwords. But at the Community School, a magnet campus that falls under the auspices of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the concept of multicultural education has been in place for 25 years.
It all began with the Airdrome Plan, a visionary project that brought together Jewish- and African-American families in what has been billed as the LAUSD’s first attempt at voluntary neighborhood integration.
Airdrome Street, a few blocks south of Pico Boulevard, is a nondescript residential thoroughfare that starts in the vicinity of Beverlywood, then wends its way east through Pico-Robertson toward the Fairfax district. Along a one-mile stretch of Airdrome sit two public elementary schools: Canfield Elementary is just west of Robertson Boulevard; Crescent Heights Elementary lies between La Cienega Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. Back in 1971, at a time when school desegregation had become a pressing local issue, the population of Canfield was virtually all white, and heavily Jewish. Crescent Heights, meanwhile, was almost 100 percent black.
This state of affairs was unacceptable to parents like Clive Hoffman. Hoffman, born and reared in South Africa, felt that his own formal English-style education was inadequate for someone destined to live in the modern world. As he puts it, “I wanted my children to have an experience that was broader than the 3 R’s in a multicultural environment.” He and other like-minded Jewish parents in the Canfield neighborhood joined with African-Americans from Crescent Heights in proposing that the two schools merge.
The original plan was a radical one: it called for all youngsters from the two neighborhoods to attend kindergarten through the third grade at Canfield, then move to Crescent Heights for the upper grades. It also put forth the principle of “parent governance,” giving moms and dads the authority to hire faculty and chart the direction of the combined school. This first proposal, which was vigorously opposed by a group of Canfield “concerned parents” fearful about property values and a possible negative impact on their children’s education, was rejected outright by the school board. A second plan, in which a smaller group of students would be voluntarily merged on the two school sites, also met with defeat. It was at this point that supporters of the Community School concept found Alan Friedman, a pro bono attorney, and began preparing a lawsuit against the LAUSD.
Circa 1974, a landmark judicial ruling introduced cross-town busing as a way to integrate the schools of Los Angeles. In this charged political climate, the Community School finally gained approval as an autonomous entity on the two campuses. The Community School began with 120 children, all of them there voluntarily. From the beginning, there was an on-site expert in multiculturalism who helped the children understand their own ethnicity and that of others. In those early days, when 90 percent of the white students came from Jewish homes, the Jewish experience was an important part of the curriculum at every grade level. Jewish holiday observances were studied; the school put on seders and Purim carnivals. Older children studied the Holocaust, which led to spirited classroom discussions of the correlation between genocide and slavery.
As the Community School’s reputation grew, it moved to a site at the rear of Louis Pasteur Jr. High School. In 1977, it became a district magnet school, open to children from all over the LAUSD. Integration mandates stipulate that 40 percent of its students must be white, and 60 percent must represent a combination of other minority groups. Today, the school has 360 students, representing roughly equal-sized white, African-American and Asian contingents, along with a smaller Hispanic group. About 40 percent still come from the immediate neighborhood, and a sizable number are still Jewish. A waiting list of more than 600 is a testament to the school’s enduring popularity.
Some things haven’t changed. The school still embraces a multicultural curriculum, and parents still gather at town hall meetings to hire faculty and make policy. Under Principal Pam Marton, the Community School has found ways to incorporate a variety of cultures. In the past year, students have used an in-depth study of dance as a way to delve into the daily lives of Mexicans, Koreans, African slaves and the Chinese who built the railroads. Though the Jewish experience has been somewhat crowded out by other elements in the curriculum, students still visit sukkahs, and explore Jewish holiday observances. In December, the annual holiday program blends Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa celebrations. When the fifth graders study immigration, Jewish children are encouraged to share their family stories.
Thanks in part to enthusiastic parental involvement, the Community School can boast an impressive list of accomplishments. Last year it was named a California Distinguished School for 1998-2001. It is one of 36 schools in the nation to participate in a flagship program of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Transforming Education through the Arts. Its brand-new playground was built in part through a grant from the Anne and Kirk Douglas Foundation. Parents raise $75,000 a year to give their children enrichment opportunities on campus.
A recent event, complete with entertainment and a dinner prepared by the parents, honored the school’s founding families. Clive Hoffman, for one, is “absolutely ecstatic” that the school has grown and flourished. He’s proud, too, that after 25 years it is “still based upon our model, the model of parent governance.” For Hoffman and his family, the Community School was a special place that pulled two communities together and gave children a broader outlook on the world around them. Hoffman describes his two daughters, both long-ago graduates of the Community School, as having “spent their lives working in multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic settings. They feel totally comfortable in all kinds of surroundings.”
Tripping Over Memory Lane