Jewish Groups Release Statement Addressing “Misrepresentations” Regarding Ethnic Studies

February 5, 2021
Photo by Peter Muller/Getty Images

Several Jewish groups released a statement on February 4 addressing “misrepresentations” about the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) issue in the media.

The statement, which was spearheaded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said that recent articles in Jewish publications about the ESMC “have often misrepresented and misinformed on many of the details of the issue, its progression and the ongoing advocacy work that all our institutions are doing.” They proceeded to state that media reports have referenced parts of the initial ESMC draft that are no longer in the current draft as well as Jewish American lesson plans that are “false and out of context” that have yet to be finalized. Additionally, the Jewish groups allege that the recent reports haven’t adequately described the “the full timeline and scope of advocacy work done” by Jewish groups.

“While the curriculum is improved from where we started, it is not yet finalized and there remain problems that must be addressed,” the statement read. “Ethnic studies will always be a subject matter that incorporates different narratives — and that can be exploited against Jews. We know some groups are still trying to promote anti-Israel narratives within Ethnic Studies and trying to bypass the State Board of Education to have local school districts endorse the earlier unacceptable versions of the curriculum.”

Other Jewish groups who signed onto the statement included Anti-Defamation League Los Angeles, American Jewish Committee Los Angeles and San Francisco and StandWithUs.

Sarah Levin, executive director of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), also wrote in a February 4 Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) op-ed that thanks to the work of Jewish groups, the current ESMC no longer mentions the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Instead, students will be taught “that all Jews are indigenous to Israel, they will study the realities of contemporary anti-Semitism, hear about the diversity of Jewish life in America and be exposed — many for the first time — to the stories of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish Americans.” Levin later decried that “some in the Jewish community wish to undo these advances and discredit the Ethnic Studies curriculum outright — including eliminating its important lessons on anti-Semitism. Citing outdated material and misrepresenting the lesson’s content commentators have styled themselves as defenders of Jews in the classroom.”

JTA’s Ben Sales reported that there are two recent pieces about the ESMC that have garnered attention on social media – a January 27 article in Tablet warning that the ESMC is “cleansing Jews from history” and a February 3 piece in Jewish Currents stating that the original authors of the curriculum are dismayed at the changes from the initial draft. According to Sales, the Tablet piece contained information that was “inaccurate or misleading.”

Emily Benedek, the author of the Tablet piece, wrote in a February 1 author’s note that her piece was mainly aimed at the California Department of Education, not Jewish groups. She also noted that while Jewish groups deserve credit for making improvements to the current ESMC draft, school districts are not required to take on the draft as is. Benedek added that “over a dozen school districts have already passed resolutions endorsing the use of the ESMC’s first draft.”

Additionally, Benedek argued that recent changes to the ESMC don’t address the underlying problem of its “critical race theory framework” underpinning every draft. “The crime here appears to be that I dared to surface the views of ordinary Jews—many of them parents, some immigrants—who remain deeply uncomfortable with the curriculum for obvious and profound reasons.”

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