A coalition of 80 Jewish groups sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, on Sept.10 urging him to veto AB 331, a bill that would mandate ethnic studies as a requirement to graduate high school.
The letter, which was spearheaded by the AMCHA Initiative, argued that the most recent draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) from the State Board of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) suggests that the curriculum will focus on Critical Ethnic Studies. The letter describes Critical Ethnic Studies as “firmly rooted in Marxist ideologies that divide society into oppressed and oppressor groups based primarily on race and class, and, as part of its disciplinary mission, uses the classroom to indoctrinate students into narrow political beliefs and political activism.”
Additionally, the latest ESMC draft has “an anti-Jewish bias,” the letter stated, pointing to how the draft offers school districts the opportunity to teach a class on Irish and Jewish Americans where students have to write a paper about how Jews and the Irish have obtained “racial privilege” in the United States.
“At a time when anti-Jewish sentiment, hostility and violence has reached truly alarming levels, indoctrinating students to view Jews as ‘white’ and ‘racially privileged’ is tantamount to putting an even larger target on the back of every Jewish student,” the letter said.
The letter goes on to say that Critical Ethnic Studies has an anti-Israel bias, pointing to its promotion of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Several empirical studies have shown strong correlations between faculty who use their classrooms to express support and advocate for anti-Zionist causes, including BDS, and anti-Semitic incidents that target Jewish students for harm, including physical and verbal assault, vandalism, bullying and harassment,” the letter stated. “That is why last summer more than 18,000 members of the Jewish and pro-Israel community submitted public comments decrying the overt anti-Israel bias and explicit promotion of BDS in the first draft of the ESMC. Many also noted that a majority of the ethnic studies experts hired or appointed by the California Department of Education to develop the first draft curriculum had publicly expressed support for BDS or other anti-Zionist sentiments.”
Before the IQC approved the most recent ESMC draft on Aug. 13, it was announced at the last minute that Arab American Studies will be included in the ESMC and the sample lesson for the course won’t be released until November, thus “making it impossible for members of the Jewish community to raise concerns and warn of the danger to Jewish students if anti-Zionist propaganda and BDS promotion are inserted into that lesson.”
The letter also noted that there are no safeguards in place to ensure that high school teachers don’t promulgate their political agenda in their classrooms.
“In the absence of such safeguards and in light of the overwhelming evidence that the final draft of the model curriculum will embrace a highly politicized and divisive Critical Ethnic Studies approach that can’t help but incite hatred and harm against some students, particularly those who are Jewish, we believe that signing AB 331 into law will be a disaster for our students and our state,” the letter stated.
However, if Newsom decides to sign the bill into law, then the Jewish groups requested that he sign it on the condition that safeguards are implemented to ensure that teachers can’t use “their classrooms for the purpose of one-sided partisan advocacy or activism.”
Among the Jewish groups that signed the letter included Club Z, Students Supporting Israel, and World Jewish Congress North America.
Additionally, a coalition of 11 Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish organizations spearheaded by JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) argued in a Sept. 8 petition that Arab Americans are the only ethnic group from the MENA region to be included in the ESMC and that it’s imperative that Jews from the Middle East and anti-Semitism are included in the curriculum as well.
“Dismissing us and others from the MENA region seeking inclusion — Kurds and Iranians of various faiths — the State ignored the rules they must follow — that the ESMC be balanced, portray peoples proportionately, and not discriminate on the basis of nationality, race, ethnicity, or religion,” the petition stated.
It also argued that the state needs to “draw clear redlines against BDS, antisemitism, and discrimination” as well as “uphold its promise of transparency and public input in reviewing all proposed Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum content.”
The initial ESMC draft proposed in 2019 was scrapped after Jewish groups criticized the draft for excluding anti-Semitism and promoting the BDS movement as a “liberation movement.” The most recent draft that the IQC approved in August scrubbed all references to BDS and requires to students to watch the late journalist Mike Wallace’s “The Hate That Hate Produced” documentary about the Nation of Islam, Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) reported.
Additionally, according to JNS, a course under the new ESMC draft recommends a book titled “Arab & Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, & Belonging,” which is co-authored by San Francisco State University professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who said during a 2019 UCLA guest lecture that Zionists are white supremacists.
Public comment on the current ESMC draft will end on Sept. 30; the State Board of Education will vote on its approval in March 2021. If AB 331 is signed into law, then the ESMC will be required for state high schools in 2024-25.