January 19, 2020

S.F. Schools Under Fire Over Anti-Zionist Course

The Jewish community is pushing back against the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) after it provided a contract to an anti-Zionist organization to hold workshops on “cultural empowerment.”

SFUSD’s board voted 6-1 on May 22 to provide the contract to the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC). The contract allows the organization to offer workshops once a week at five San Francisco high schools.

Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) spokesman Jeremy Russell told the Jewish News of Northern California after the May 22 vote that it would “be very difficult for the district to enforce its nondiscrimination policies on an organization that fundraises on an anti-Zionist platform.”

AROC has a long history of anti-Zionism, including a 2014 tweet from the organization stating, “Help us kick Zionism out of the Bay Area.” Its website also refers to Israel as “racist” and “exclusionary.” AROC Executive Director Lara Kiswani said in November 2014, “Bringing down Israel really will benefit everyone in the world and everyone in society.”

In 2015, Kiswani told Al Jazeera, “No Arab is going to be OK with the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, so inherently we must take a position of solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

AROC also led the 2014 Block the Boat campaign to prevent a cargo ship partly owned by an Israeli company from reaching the Port of Oakland.

Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Regional Director Seth Brysk said in a statement to the Journal, “ADL has deep and continuing concerns about the Board of Education’s selection of [AROC] to conduct trainings for SFUSD. AROC has a long history up to the present of consistently engaging in strident and extreme anti-Israel activism and trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes in keeping with their biased views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Kiswani] has proclaimed as much in multiple instances evoking long-standing, offensive and hurtful anti-Jewish stereotypes of money, power and nefarious motives.”

Brysk added, “SFUSD should only partner with providers that are inclusive and will reinforce the district’s goals of creating respectful schools and communities.”

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) also denounced the contract in a letter to SFUSD. “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination surely have no place in your schools, either,” ZOA wrote.

After the May 22 vote, AROC posted on its Facebook page, “After 3 years of not being allowed to work with OUR community in SF public schools, 3 years of attacks from Zionist organizations, and 3 years of pressuring the Board of Education, AROC’s MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) is finally reinstated! We can now continue to support Arab youth in the Bay Area!”