The Deborah Project is a public interest law firm currently representing a group of Jewish parents and teachers in the Los Angeles Public Schools. We are counsel for these Californians in a case that demands the Los Angeles School District bar the use of antisemitic teaching materials that teaches LA’s public school students Israel is a white supremacist state, that deny the connection between Zionism and Judaism, and that characterizes Zionism as racist.
Is this a case worth pursuing? We think so, but not everyone does. In fact, three leaders of the California Jewish Community published an op-ed recently on JPost taking us to task for trying to prevent children in California’s public schools from being fed an antisemitic diet. They claim that we have concluded that the community “has failed to address the problems”–on that we can agree.
Rather than applauding Jews who protect each other, and who are working to protect all California children from learning to hate and to accept being hated, the critics charge us with opposing the very idea of all ethnic groups learning about one another. They claim we tar all ethnic studies proponents as antisemites. If they had read the Complaint we filed on behalf of our California clients, they would know we think nothing of the sort. It is only the “Liberated” or “Critical” version of ethnic studies, which includes the hateful antisemitic material, that we are combatting.
But we also know, because the leaders of the Liberated Ethnic Studies movement say it out loud: Their version of ethnic studies is not about multiculturalism or diversity, and they are not interested in having all groups learn about one another. The ethnic studies proponents we’ve gone after say clearly that they are interested only in having kids learn about the victimizations of four particular ethnic groups and no other ethnic group is to be included, no matter how much discrimination those others have endured. These same “experts” promote educational material which states that the very idea of a Jewish state is racist; and that the creation of Israel is a project of white supremacists, ignoring the inextricable and millennial connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and the fact that more than half of Israel’s Jews are people of color, whose ancestors have lived in the Middle East for thousands of years.
These hateful teachings are not the bad dream of some tiny minority of marginal or misguided people, as the op-ed authors would have readers believe. These are the teachings of the leaders of the Liberated Ethnic Studies movement. That’s why these self-styled “experts” embraced an antisemitic curriculum in the first place. And it’s also why, when the State removed the antisemitic material and then enacted “guardrails” to keep the Jew-hatred out of California’s classrooms, the “experts” denounced the State’s action and pledged to disregard it. They encourage teachers to hide what they’re doing not only from parents but even from administrators who want to obey the guardrails.
A key problem is that the leaders of the “Liberated” or “Critical” Ethnic Studies movement have a tremendous amount of power in the teachers union in California, and the teachers union is a powerful political force that cannot be ignored. Our research revealed that the leader of the LA teacher’s union, for example, is both a firm advocate of Liberated Ethnic Studies and a hater of Israel, who backs inclusion of the worst antisemitic material in her district’s curriculum.
The immense power of the teachers unions means that the problem we’ve identified and confronted is not by any means limited to a small minority of California’s public-school districts. The teachers union is active everywhere, and is powerful everywhere. We’ve seen the antisemitic materials and mindset seep into the teachers unions at the state and national level, as well as the local ones.
In fact, in addition to challenging the antisemitic curriculum on the merits, The Deborah Project has also launched a statewide campaign to compel California’s school districts to reveal how they are using taxpayer dollars to teach falsehoods to their students about Israel and her Arab neighbors. Using the state’s Public Records Law, we’ve issued requests to many dozens of districts, and have already gone to court with several, to force transparency for these antisemitic teaching materials. The districts that are most committed to teaching this hate are, not surprisingly, also the most committed to resisting public disclosure. When the material is really bad, we’ve learned it’s almost always written by the Liberated Ethnic Studies “experts” who are lauded by some of our critics as friends of the Jews. Our public disclosure efforts make clear that, as much as we might wish these people were really fair towards Jews, it just isn’t so.
The Jewish community has done some good things in California about ethnic studies, including pressing for the issuance of a letter sent out a few weeks ago by the Secretary of Education warning that antisemitic ethnic studies material violates California law.
The letter, however, does not solve the problem because the “experts” insist on teaching the hate even though they know it violates California law. They do that because —and they also say this out loud—they think the lawmakers misapprehend ethnic studies. According to the “experts,” authentic ethnic studies must include all of the antisemitic material that the Secretary of Education wants removed. So these experts simply break the law and teach others to break it. Sending letters has not fixed that problem and will not do so.
That’s why we have felt the need to initiate a more forceful approach. The Jews deserve impact and justice, not just good words.
People who think the law is bad and promise to violate it are not going to be stopped—they have not been stopped—by letters from political and community leaders or anybody else. The only chance we have to stop them is to call them to account in court. All Jewish leaders should be working together, on all fronts, to help make that happen.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the Legal Director of The Deborah Project