More than 100 people showed up to protest anti-Semitism in the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) and in education more broadly on the afternoon of March 7.
The “Teach Love Not Hate” protest, which was sponsored by End Jew Hatred, Yad Yamin, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and The Lawfare Project, among others, took place in front of the West Los Angeles Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard.
Naya Lekht, director of education at Club Z, said at the protest that the ESMC teaches students to look at the world “through systems of oppression,” resulting in viewing Jews and Israel as “guilty” of their success. This is why, she argued, the fact that the ESMC has a lesson plan about Jews of color is not enough to solve the systemic problems with the curriculum. “It is a band-aid and contributes to the problem as it sows division among us. We are not Jews of color or LGBTQ Jews, we are Jews from Judea, we are one people!” She urged California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, to “say no, dismantle or fix” the ESMC.
Joshua Washington, executive director of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, pointed out that a day before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr said that there was increasing radicalization among some in the Black community that “there are some who are color-consumed and see a kind of mystique in being colored, and anything non-colored is condemned.” King, he added, explicitly rejected that line of thinking. “What we are saying now with this Critical Ethnic Studies curriculum is an academic reiteration of the color consumption he described. This is part of why many like Dr. King are excised from the curriculum and Dr. King himself lambasted and belittled as weak and docile.”
Washington added that several civil rights leaders are ignored and disparaged in the curriculum while it glorifies “militant violence.” He also said that the history of Jews and the Black-Jewish alliance is underrepresented in the curriculum, while Arab studies are overrepresented and fail to mention “the centuries long slave trade of Africans that still continues today.” Washington warned that more than 20 school districts in California have adopted the first ESMC draft that many Jewish groups viewed as problematic.
“If your school district is one of those districts, it is up to you to apply serious pressure on your child’s school to get rid of this,” Washington said. “Apart from espousing poisonous doctrine, the curriculum is filled with lies and half-truths and complete distortions. It isn’t a celebration of different culture; it’s a celebration of a single destructive ideology.” He added that “no revision can redeem this Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. What can redeem it is a return to the drawing board with a new group of authors with more diversity of thought and not a group of people with the clear and obvious anti-Jewish, anti-Black and anti-peace agenda.”
“No revision can redeem this Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.”
Another speaker was Dr. Sheila Nazarian, a Los Angeles-based plastic surgeon and Iranian-American immigrant. She said she felt like she needed to speak out since one of her daughters is about to enter high school and is four years away from college.
“Lots of the worst parts of the curriculum have been changed… but it’s not enough,” Nazarian said, explaining that the ESMC “put Jews into a neat little box” as “privileged,” “white,” and “powerful and different and not to be trusted. That attitude is the problem – the Jew-hatred. And that is much harder than changing the curriculum.” In order to truly end Jew hatred, Nazarian said that people needed to feel the Jewish people’s right to exist, not just understand it through facts and logic.
“That starts when you believe in your own right to exist,” she said. “It starts when you look in the mirror and you like what you see. It starts when you transform, when you heal and when you speak up… we have been silent for too long and you know what? It’s left a vacuum. And that’s our own fault.”
Following Nazarian was Jennifer Karlan, a California high school student and member of Club Z. Karlan argued that the Jewish community is an “afterthought” in the ESMC. “How is this possible? How is it that we can teach about ethnic minorities and ignore the history and persecution of the Jewish people?”
She said that she has friends who have been called a “k—” in 2021 and have had hidden their Jewish identity due to concerns about being ostracized for loving Israel. “How can we end hatred if we first do not acknowledge it in classrooms? How can we change history if we first do not teach it?
“California, as a senior, as a student, I urge you: do not let Jewish students be told that their stories don’t matter. Do not let Jewish students be told that their suffering doesn’t exist. Protect Jewish students.”
Pro-Israel activist Micha Danzig argued during his speech that the current ESMC draft still has myriad issues, including that “it still lionizes even more Jew-haters” like Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Linda Sarsour and perpetuates an oppressor vs. oppressed narrative. “For centuries, anti-Semitism has largely been a conspiracy theory about ‘all powerful, nefarious’ Jews who seek to oppress people. Any curriculum that embraces these concepts is inherently dangerous for Jews.”
Jewish Journal Editor-In-Chief David Suissa also spoke during the protest, arguing that his main issue with the ESMC was that it inculcates students with the notion that their core identity is based on their ethnicity rather than their individuality.