Parents Ask Jewish Organizations to Restore Fighting Antisemitism As Main Agenda

Tye Gregory of the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco
Tye Gregory of the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco

In a poignant letter addressed to Bay Area Jewish leaders, hundreds of Jewish parents articulated a growing concern over the approach to combating antisemitism and extremism within the educational system. The letter, deeply rooted in the aftermath of the October 7th attacks by Hamas, serves as a critical juncture for reevaluating strategies against the backdrop of Liberated Ethnic Studies and its portrayal of Israel.

The Parents’ concern centers on the disconcerting alignment of certain educational activists with narratives that not only praise “resistance” against Israel but also advocate for the “liberation” of all of Palestine, employing social media to amplify their stance. This pedagogical inclination towards “decolonization,” which depicts Israel as a “settler-colonialist” state, is challenged by the Concerned Parents as both misleading and dangerously reductive. Referencing historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, the letter underscores the dehumanization of Israelis, a process that rationalizes, or even justifies, acts of barbarity under the guise of decolonization.

The crux of the critique against JCRC lies in the broader educational advocacy conducted by Jewish organizations. The Parents point out the paradoxical stance these organizations have taken: on one hand, they fight against antisemitism; on the other, they caution against opposing the ideological underpinnings of Liberated Ethnic Studies, such as the concepts of “decolonization” and “systems of power.” The Parents argue that such a stance inadvertently endorses a skewed pedagogy, devoid of critical engagement with opposing viewpoints, thereby reinforcing antisemitic tropes and positioning Jews as the perpetual oppressors within these narratives.

The letter appeals for a more forthright opposition to decolonial ideologies and other forms of extremist thought permeating the educational discourse. The Parents’ call is not for the silencing of perspectives but for the assurance that educational content remains balanced, critically engaged, and free from dogmatic indoctrination that could fuel antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

On the other hand, Tye Gregory, JCRC executive director, offers an unrealistically optimistic view on the role of ethnic studies in education, especially for Jewish students. Gregory, representing the leadership of three prominent California Jewish organizations, frames ethnic studies not as a threat but as an essential educational discipline that benefits all, including Jews.

Gregory argues that the historical exclusion of minority experiences from educational curricula necessitates the embrace of ethnic studies. By drawing parallels between the importance of Holocaust education and the study of other minority histories, Gregory suggests that ethnic studies serve as a conduit for mutual understanding and respect among diverse communities.

One of Gregory’s critical points is the potential political and social isolation the Jewish community could face by opposing ethnic studies. Such opposition, he argues, would not only estrange the Jewish community from allies but also betray core Jewish values. Instead of rejecting ethnic studies due to the actions of “a few bad actors,” Gregory advocates for engagement and education, highlighting efforts to build meaningful relationships with educational leaders and to ensure Jewish history and values are represented in the curriculum.

Gregory’s essay outlines the comprehensive strategies employed by Jewish organizations to influence and shape ethnic studies curricula. From hiring full-time education professionals to organizing delegations to Israel for educators, these efforts aim to foster a more inclusive and accurate representation of Jewish experiences. Furthermore, Gregory notes the support from state leadership, including Governor Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, as critical to ensuring that any discriminatory content is addressed and rectified.

While Gregory’s optimism is compelling, it warrants a skeptical analysis, especially in light of the concerns raised by the Bay Area Parents and others. The effectiveness of these strategies in mitigating antisemitic and anti-Israel biases within ethnic studies curricula remains a significant concern. The reliance on state officials and educational leaders’ goodwill may not always suffice to counter deeply ingrained prejudices or ideological biases. The challenge lies in advocating for ethnic studies’ values while vigilantly ensuring that these programs do not become platforms for spreading harmful stereotypes or biases against Jews or Israel. Thus far, we have not seen any evidence that ethnic studies does not present an inherently biased view. The notion that there could be a “Jewish friendly” ethnic studies seems far fetched.

Further, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and its representative, Tye Gregory, have yet to respond to the Concerned Parents’ compelling call to action. The response from JCRC and Gregory’s perspective will be crucial in understanding the broader Jewish community’s stance on these issues and their strategy moving forward in combating antisemitism within educational frameworks.

While JCRC does advocate for Israel, one could argue that it prioritizes its political agenda of generally supporting Democrats and progressive causes.  For example, a Presidents’ day post stated “This Presidents Day, we thank President Joe Biden for his unwavering support of Jewish communities who continue to face threats and violence. His support sets the tone for progress across the United States and across the world.”

JCRC’s posts asserting that Biden has a strong record of support of the Jewish community and Israel–when his record is at best, mixed– clearly illustrate that JCRC would never criticize President Biden over Israel or any Jewish issue. This is likely due to the fact that JCRC has more important progressive policy goals at issue that it aligns with President Biden on. For instance, JCRC only praised President Biden when it adopted a new definition of antisemitism, even though that definition weakened the strength of the definition and was developed in partnership with antisemitic groups like the Council on Islamic Relations (“CAIR”).

We are currently experiencing a pivotal moment in Jewish history. Now is the time for Jewish advocacy groups and educational leaders to initiate broader discussions on the effectiveness and direction of current strategies to combat antisemitism, as well as the discussions surrounding Israel in educational settings. As this dialogue unfolds, it will be imperative to balance the need for a diverse curriculum that encourages critical thinking with the equally important need to prevent educational platforms from becoming breeding grounds for extremism and biased narratives.

The Concerned Parents’ letter, therefore, is not just a call for action but a prompt for introspection within the Jewish community and beyond, urging a reevaluation of how educational policies and pedagogies can either contribute to or combat the rising tide of antisemitism in schools.

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