February 19, 2020

LAUSD Accused of Hosting Anti-Israel Teacher Course

A local pro-Israel organization has accused the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) of hosting an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel continuing education course for its teachers.

In an Oct. 20 letter to the LAUSD school board, Jack Saltzberg, executive director of a nonprofit called the Israel Group, wrote that a two-day course for L.A. educators promoted “the Palestinian cause, while blatantly vilifying and polarizing Jews and the State of Israel, based on false history, lies, mistruths, and standard anti-Semitic canards.”

He pointed out that the Fellowship of Reconciliation, whose L.A. chapter offered the course, indicates on its website that it supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, known as BDS. According to its website, Fellowship of Reconciliation is a national network of community organizers dedicated to rallying for “domestic and international peace and justice, nonviolent alternatives to conflict, and the rights of conscience.”

The continuing education course, “Learning About Islam and the Arab World,” took place on Oct. 14 and Oct. 21 at the Koreatown headquarters of the district’s largest teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Educators who attended the course received salary points, a district metric used to allocate raises.

Taught by two LAUSD teachers, the course included a Socratic seminar titled “Palestine/Israel” and a presentation called “Palestine Today: No Way to Treat a Child,” according to an agenda the Israel Group said it obtained. Saltzberg posted the agenda and other materials he said he obtained from the course on his website, theisraelgroup.org.

The Israel Group also sent a letter of complaint to the Orange County Board of Education about a course of the same name being offered by Fellowship for Reconciliation members to Orange County teachers. That course first convened on Oct. 4 and was set to continue on Oct. 25.

Other pro-Israel groups including the Los Angeles-based StandWithUs picked up Saltzberg’s letters. StandWithUs posted a call to action on its website that included contact details for district board members and a sample letter of concern.

District spokeswoman Shannon Haber said in an email to the Journal the district received complaints from concerned citizens, but did not say if they included parents or teachers.

In a separate statement, she said LAUSD approved the course in 2013 after it was “reviewed for multicultural awareness, respect for diversity, dialogue, and non-violent conflict resolution.” The statement added that course approval “does not constitute an endorsement of the L.A. Unified. Outside vendors, educators, and foundations are encouraged to submit classes for consideration.”

School board member Nick Melvoin, who is Jewish and whose district includes parts West L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, said in an email he is working on “ensuring that there is no promotion of hate speech, violence, or religious intolerance” in professional development courses.

He said a district staff member attended the Oct. 21 session to observe whether “the program presented an unbiased view. I have heard no developments that suggest otherwise, but I have and will continue to press the Superintendent and her staff for a full report to evaluate all relevant information.”

The teacher’s union where the course took place also said in a statement it was working with the district to identify the next steps.

“The course is based on false history and mistruths.” – Jack Saltzberg

Fellowship of Reconciliation said the course was organized by a grass-roots chapter in L.A. rather than the national office in New York. Grass-roots chapters “are independent entities that coordinate their own campaigns and educational programming on a wide range of peace, justice, and human rights issues,” Ethan Vesely-Flad, the group’s director of national organizing, wrote in an email. The group’s local chapter could not be reached before the Journal’s deadline.

After receiving reports about the course, the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement calling it “problematic,” saying it contained “substantial misrepresentations and distortions of established historical facts, omissions of relevant facts, and inflammatory language.”

However, the ADL stopped short of condemning the district, adding “the instructor openly stated that the workshop presented only the Arab perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and “encouraged participants to both fact-check course content.”

Saltzberg, who founded the Westlake Village-based Israel Group in 2014, said in an email that he heard about the L.A. course after a non-Jewish teacher attended the Oct. 14 seminar and sent him the course material.

He wrote that his goal is not just for the district to cancel the workshop or sever ties with the organizer, but rather “for every public school district in the nation to be on notice and warned before they decide to sponsor such an anti-Semitic and one-dimensional course.”