Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Jew? Lies Taught about Israel and Jews in the Public School Classroom

The material is, among many other things, an assault on the institution of learning. The lies peddled in these handouts, lesson plans and tests must be exposed and the schools held accountable for teaching falsehoods.
January 18, 2024

As NYC public schools wipe Israel off the map in their classrooms, take note of public school classrooms in California. The California state-approved Ethnic Studies Curriculum, rich with anti-Jewish and anti-Western content, has provided teachers an imprimatur to bring into the classroom lesson plans, handouts, PowerPoints, and tests filled with propaganda meant to instruct a generation of activists that Zionists are colonizers and must be rooted out— a euphemism for genocide.

This educational malpractice is on display in Woodside High School and Menlo Atherton High School, both in the Sequoia Union High School District. In Woodside High School, a teacher of World History took the liberty to devote weeks to Israel and the conflict. In Menlo Atherton High School, a teacher of ninth grade Ethnic Studies and History broached the conflict with a unit titled “Life in Palestine Today.” In it, one will find the term Palestine designated to mean “originally their [the Arabs’] land… now the Palestinians are being oppressed by the Israeli government.” An introduction to the “Dominant Narrative” compels students to question stories told by “people in power (such as men, white people, rich people).”

One can only imagine the agony of parents having to help their Jewish child study for the Israel-Palestine Conflict quiz, where, among other things, the correct answer for Hamas—a terrorist organization that videotaped their joy on October 7 of the massacre of Jews in Israel—is “a political party which is continuing to fight against Israel.” In response to the falsehoods being taught in schools, Jewish parents are forming grassroots groups, mobilizing in WhatsApp groups, and reaching out to legal counsel.

A tool of formative assessment, tests are central as they recap the main ideas and concepts from the unit; they also signal to the student that there are correct and incorrect answers. One such quiz given to students in Woodside High School asked students to match terms such as “Palestine,” “Intifada,” and “Hamas” with what the teacher deemed to be the correct answers: “Arab lands currently occupied by Israel,” “uprising,” and “a political party which is continuing to fight against Israel,” respectively.

The “correct” answers should come as no surprise, for these would be the “correct” answers if you were a student in one such classroom, sitting for weeks “learning” about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Having gone through all the documents and PowerPoint presentations, I found that students in the Sequoia Union High School District are being taught material that does not make them better educated. What’s worse, it gives them commonality with the poor children in Gaza and the Palestinian Arab territories in Judea and Samaria, who are raised on propaganda given to them by UNWRA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees—lies that not only “incites extreme anti-Semitism and glorified violence,” according to Israeli NGO  Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, but demonstrates a strong “link with the Oct. 7 massacre.”

We must get rid of the Ethnic Studies curriculum not because there is an antisemitism problem, but because there is a truth problem.

Having obtained and analyzed the many documents from parents who wish to remain anonymous, I have discoveredthat the material is, among many other things, an assault on the institution of learning. The lies peddled in these handouts, lesson plans and tests must be exposed and the schools held accountable for teaching falsehoods. From the many lies masquerading as historical facts, below are the ten starkest lies taught in the California classroom: lies that contribute not only to the world’s fixation on and cultivation of the “big bad Jew,” but also erode the pursuit of truth and critical thinking—goals that once informed the institution of learning.

Lie #1: During his life, he [Jesus] traveled around northern Palestine.”

Truth: In this extract from a document, given to the students on the origins of the three monotheistic religions, Jesus is described as having lived in Palestine. But during Jesus’ lifetime, the term “Palestine” did not exist. It was called Judea, which means “Jew,” as Jesus was born in a Jewish sovereign kingdom called Judea, not Palestine. This historical anachronism incorrectly signals to students that there once was a country or political presence known as Palestine, and implicitly denies Jesus was a Jew.

Lie #2: “Although the population of the Holy Land was very diverse, the majority of people who were living in Palestine around 1900 were ethnically Arab and majority Muslim.”

Truth: In 1900, the land was called the Ottoman Empire and the land we call today Israel was, according to the Ottoman Empire, marked according to municipalities. As such, the Ottomans themselves did not call it Palestine, but rather the “municipality of Jerusalem” or the “municipality of Damascus.” This incorrect term leads to historical misinformation. In fact, in 1896 the denizens of Jerusalem were majority Jewish (62%).

Rhetoric that continues to refer to Israel as Palestine is not only a lie, but one that contributes to what I call “the Great Occupation Lie,” a libel no different than the blood libel or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Lie #3: “Israel won the [1967] war and captured Palestinian territory, nearly doubling its size.”

Truth: Israel did not capture “Palestinian territory” as there was no sovereign Palestinian state or kingdom to capture. Likewise, Israel did not “double its size” because when the Arabs rejected the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, the borders outlined by the U.N. were thus not binding: the borders outlined by the U.N. would be considered binding ONLY if both sides (Jews and Arabs) agreed. Since the Arabs rejected it, the borders were nullified, and the U.N. proposal was thus not binding.

Lie #4: “The Allied forces [of World War I] betrayed the Arabs and claimed Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq.”

Truth: This is historically inaccurate. Before World War I, there were no countries known as Palestine, Transjordan, or Iraq. The League of Nations (the Allied forces) created these countries out of mandates and gave them largely to the Arabs.

Lie #5: “During the 1948 war Israel forcibly displaced 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.”

Truth: Like the ”Great Occupation Lie,” the “Nakba Lie” is not only false but contributes to demonizing Jews and Israel. But like all great propaganda that latches onto truths and then manipulates them, the “Nakba Lie” latches onto the reality that as a result of the war started by the five Arab countries, people on the ground fled war zones. What it fails to mention is that many of the Arabs who fled their homes were told to do so by Arab leaders who promised a swift victory. This has been well-documented by historians.

In fact, the term “nakba” was first used by Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq. But for Zureiq, “nakba” meant something entirely different.  In his book Ma’na al-Nakba (The Meaning of the Disaster), Zureiq described the flight of the Arabs from the region as a direct result of the pan-Arab attack on the nascent Jewish state. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” he wrote, “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” The mistake Zureiq is referring to is that instead of accepting the 1947 U.N. partition plan to divide the British Mandate for Palestine into a Jewish country and another Arab country, the surrounding Arab countries waged a war, putting Arab civilians on the ground in direct danger. Years later Zureiq doubled down in his book published after the Six-Day War, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, again employing the term “nakba” to mean the pan-Arab inability to “confront Zionism.” At that time, Dr. Raphael G. Bouchnik-Chen writes, “the term ‘Nakba’ was glaringly absent from Arab and/or Palestinian discourse.”

Lie #6: “Palestinians, deprived of their land by Israel, lived in 58 refugee camps, both in Palestine and in neighboring countries.”

Truth: In 1949, Jordan and Egypt, two countries that waged war against Israel in 1948, illegally occupied Judea andSamaria (what many today call the “West Bank”) and Gaza. Jordanians placed the Arabs in refugee camps; Egyptians likewise placed the Arabs in refugee camps and did not give them citizenship. Between 1949 and 1967 when the “West Bank” and Gaza were not under Israeli control, there were no calls to “free Palestine.” Jordan did not liberate the Palestinians from Jordanian occupation; Egyptians did not liberate the Palestinians from their occupation. Jordan treated the Arabs as second-class citizens and Egypt kept them in refugee camps, never giving them a path toward citizenship.

Lie #7: “Again [in 1967] Israel won & captured the Egyptian territory of the Sinai Peninsula, the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights, and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.”

Truth: Another lie that latches onto reality is the lie that Israel willy-nilly decided to “capture Palestinian territories.” While it is true that after the Second Arab-Israeli War of 1967, Israel tripled in size, the document fails to mention that the war was once again started by the Arabs when Egypt enacted a casus belli, a declaration of war, by closing the Straits of Tiran. Telling the UN who were stationed at the Sinai border with Israel to leave, Egypt began to mobilize their troops to the border thus signaling preparation for all-out war — not a fantastical reality since Egyptian President Nasser had employed genocidal language in newspapers and on radio programs. The document fails to mention that Israel had fought a defensive war.

Lie #8: “Palestinians are mistreated under Israeli occupation.”

Truth: Deploying language rich with references to decolonization, this highly damaging statement is fraught with lies. First, what is the occupation referred to? Israel unilaterally left Gaza in 2005, uprooting living and dead Jews from the Gaza Strip in hopes that the Palestinian Arabs would finally accept what they had been calling for, their land. And while in Judea and Samaria there is a military occupation, entirely legal according to the Geneva Convention, the land is divided into Areas A, B, C. In Area A the Palestinian Authority has entire control politically over the land.

Lie #9: “Gaza is an open-air prison.”

Truth: In 2005, Israel unilaterally left Gaza. What this means is that the Israeli government took all Israeli presence, from political and military institutions to Jewish Israeli citizens, and uprooted them from Gaza. Moreover, Jewish graves were exhumed and reburied in Israel because the Israeli government knew that the graves would be destroyed and that the Jewish family members would not be able to visit for no Jew would be allowed into Gaza. Please let that sink in. A future Palestinian state means no Jew can physically enter. This is not a theory, it is a reality. In Area A of Judea and Samaria, where the Palestinian Authority fully governs the land and the people, no Jew is allowed to enter.

So how exactly is Gaza an open-air prison after 2005? Of course, as in all great propaganda that sinks its teeth into truths, the truth is that Arabs in Gaza cannot easily enter Israel as there is a border wall. (Gaza also borders with Egypt, whose border with Gaza is on perennial lockdown.) But why would Israel open borders with Gaza, from which rockets have rained ever since 2006? Why would Israel open their borders to a population that has been raised to hate Israel? Sadly, Israel made this mistake as many of the workers from Gaza had work permits and were instrumental in the October 7 massacre. The libel that “Gaza is an open-air prison” is meant to demonize Israel.

Lie #10: “Israel began building its separation wall in the occupied West Bank in 2002.”

Truth: Language is critical to shaping our reality. The word “separation” echoes language used to describe apartheid in South Africa and, for American students, the dark history of segregation. Imagine if the sentence read, “Israel began to build a security wall …” thereby using the correct word for the wall built as a direct result of the Second Intifada—a surge of violent attacks against Israelis coming from Judea and Samaria. Likewise, the term “occupied West Bank” is ironic since the term “West Bank” originates with Jordan, which illegally occupied this region after the War of Independence in 1948.

Jewish parents are rightfully angry. Diana Blum, a parent at Menlo Atherton, expressed her shock and anger: “I think it is egregious that the school still hasn’t notified the parents of the students who were exposed to the factually false and biased lesson. How can they fix a problem they are not willing to admit was made?” A father of a tenth grader at Woodside High School has been asking to see the course materials and source materials, as well as the final exam. The request to see any content from public schools is entirely legal, as all taxpayer money goes toward the salaries of the teachers, the school building, utilities, printers, etc. The father has yet to receive any material and scheduled meetings between him and school administrators continue to be postponed.

At its core, the problem with the Ethnic Studies curriculum in California is not that it is antisemitic, but that it is anti-truth. “I write and say what the teacher wants to hear because I need the grade,” a sophomore in the Sequoia High School district told me. “Even though I know it is a lie.” Adapting to lies buttresses ideological tyranny. How can we demand courage from our youth when they are being desensitized to lying? Do not, therefore, ask them to seek truth, for as George Orwell writes, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”

Inevitably, as more and more egregious curricula will be exposed, a critical question emerges: what are we to do? Many are looking toward mandating training on antisemitism and/or urging schools to adopt the IHRA definition. But if we are to follow Orwell’s sound advice that telling the truth will be an act of revolution, then our duty—not only as Jews, but good citizens—is to demand that education be rooted in critical thinking and the pursuit of truth. As we know, antisemitism is the age-old alarm bell: where there is antisemitism, morality and culture are broken.

As we know, antisemitism is the age-old alarm bell: where there is antisemitism, morality and culture are broken.

The revolutionary strategy, therefore, must not solely focus on antisemitism, for this is a symptom. The danger beyond is the lies that inveigle students into believing they have become educated. We must get rid of the Ethnic Studies curriculum not because there is an antisemitism problem, but because there is a truth problem.

Naya Lekht received her PhD in Russian Literature and wrote her dissertation on Holocaust literature in the Soviet Union. Naya is currently the Education Editor for White Rose Magazine and a Research Fellow for the Institute for Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy. 

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