A coalition of Jewish advocate groups sued a California school district Monday, alleging that the school board passed an anti-Israel ethnic studies curriculum without due transparency due to concerns about how the Jewish community might react.
The Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) approved new courses in April on ethnic studies that accused Israel of being an apartheid state and committing war crimes against Palestinians. Rachel Lerman, senior counsel for the Brandeis Center, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the coalition, which includes the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs and the American Jewish Committee, felt the board had withheld important information about the curriculum to prevent backlash from the Jewish community.
“[E]veryone agrees that no matter how much you favor ethnic studies, it’s not a place for antisemitism, and there’s really some very strong anti-Israel propaganda in these curricula,” Lerman said. “That affects the Jewish community, because anyone who supports such an evil, terrible, racist, awful place must be evil, terrible and racist themselves, so we think it’s a danger to students in the classroom. It’s also a danger to the community. You don’t want to raise a whole generation of kids to think that way.”
The lawsuit states that California’s Brown Act requires school boards to give the public appropriate notice when ‘”collaborative decisions’ are being made.” The board allegedly failed to meet these requirements by approving materials “that were not sufficiently described in the Board agendas and included portions of ethnic studies instructional materials that it intended to use but had hidden from the public,” according to the lawsuit.
“There should be enough there that the public understands what the agenda holds. It can’t just be bare bones,” Lerman said. “It has to be a little bit more detailed, and here people … were just clueless. Our allegation is there was no meaningful notice or opportunity to get public comment.”
Jewish Groups sue CA school district, alleging that Board hid anti-Semitic content from the public during the approval process; coverage in @JNS_org by @mwecker; cc @ADL @AJCGlobal @PotomacLawGroup @StandWithUs https://t.co/yTOTH7jNqa
— The Brandeis Center (@brandeiscenter) September 12, 2023
One of the courses on world history includes a list of textbooks and resources with a book titled “The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing.” In the book’s description, it argues that America has contributed to Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians.
In the World Geography course, students learn about “cultures of power” and one unit features a YouTube video that accuses Israel of war crimes against Palestinians and compares the Jewish state to apartheid in South Africa. Students are also encouraged to read an article from the Middle East Monitor, which places the blame for the state of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on Israel, rather than the terrorist organizations at the head of the Palestinian government.
“This vulnerability is compounded by the fact that the Palestinian Authority (PA) acts with little regard to Palestinians living in ‘Area C’ who are left to withstand and resist Israeli pressures alone, often resorting to Israel’s own unfair judicial system, to win back some of their basic rights,” according to the article. “In other words, ethnic cleansing, which has been Israel’s strategic goal all along.”
The lawsuit also notes that a Public Records Act (PRA) request obtained by the coalition found that during the subcommittee’s deliberative process in 2022, the board mentioned that they needed to figure out an answer to the “Jewish question” and asked, “Do we have to create a response?”
“You can see what it says and it is disturbing,” Lerman told the DCNF. “Our assumption, or inference, was that they were worried that Jewish community members would complain about this anti-Israel stuff if they found out about it, or maybe were already asking about it.”
The PRA request notes show that a group the board may have spoken about the “Jewish question” with is the Xicanx Institute for Teaching and Organizing (XITO), a grassroots education collective that works to create “inclusive” environments in K-12 and college education, according to their website. The lawsuit, however, says that XITO is a “controversial ethnic studies group” that believes Israel is engaging in “settler colonialism” while calling Zionism “a nationalist, colonial ideology.”
Lerman told the DCNF that Jewish groups were consulted only after they discovered the curriculum, and noted that the process is still underway. She said that she and her colleagues hoped that the lawsuit would force SAUSD to comply with California law and “send a message” to other school districts that they need to be “more transparent.”
“[W]e want to be clear that we are not saying there should be no ethnic studies,” Lerman told the DCNF. “There’s a lot of groups out there that say that, but our coalition is not saying that. We’re saying ethnic studies needs to be what it was intended to be, which is a study that introduces students to other ethnicities, the challenges they’ve faced and the benefits they brought to the state, but is absolutely not a vehicle for antisemitism.”
SAUSD told the DCNF that it does not comment on pending litigation due to district policy.
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