Why We March Against Jew-Hatred in Education | Opinion

One of our most sacred responsibilities as parents is to make sure our children receive a proper education. When we place our kids in the state's care for eight hours per day, we hope and expect they will come home with more knowledge than they had before leaving the house in the morning. And while we want that information to increase their chances of succeeding in the world, we also want them to come home kinder and more open-minded.

We don't want them to come home hating Jews. Yet, with California's ethnic studies model curriculum, that's a real risk.

In October, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have made completing ethnic studies a mandatory requirement of high school graduation. To his credit, Newsom recognized the ethnic studies curriculum, as outlined in several recent proposals, would only serve to maximize animosity along racial, religious and ethnic lines. By presenting some minority groups as inherently oppressed and others as innately privileged and oppressive, ethnic studies in its current form is setting the stage for combative community relations.

Ethnic studies grew out of a well-meaning attempt to include those who have historically been marginalized and excluded from mainstream conversations. Teaching a more complete picture of history—in particular, the history of Black and Latinx people—makes sense in theory. But California's execution of this laudable goal has been a lot more complicated.

Somehow, in their attempt to fight bigotry, the authors of the ethnic studies model curriculum ended up working with individuals and organizations with a history of hating Jews. They set up an antagonistic framing in which Jews are seen as oppressive and powerful, adopting age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes into educational materials that are ostensibly designed to combat racism.

Much of this is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of anti-Semitism. Other forms of bigotry, such as anti-Black racism, aim to exclude by deriding the capabilities of targeted groups. Jew-hatred does not function this way. Rather, it is centered on a belief in Jewish perfidy and omnipotence. It frames itself as "punching up" against a nefarious cabal of financiers, shady operatives, spin doctors and marketers who are collaborating to impose their will on the world by stealth.

This conspiracy theory spreads so easily because it often looks and sounds similar to legitimate critiques of power. It is not at all uncommon to see discussions about everything from mainstream media consolidation to Wall Street regulation end with some casual anti-Semitism.

A healthy ethnic studies curriculum should recognize that discrimination is nuanced. The unique history of the Jewish community in America has been one of hard-won success in the face of many stumbling blocks. In defiance of hatred, exclusion and coordinated discriminatory campaigns, Jews have survived and thrived in America.

This is not the same experience as the Black or Latinx communities—and it doesn't have to be. There is no hierarchy of oppression. The bigotry and marginalization Jews have faced and continue to face is very real. Just because our pain looks and feels different than the pain of other communities does not mean it isn't real.

California Governor Gavin Newsom
California Governor Gavin Newsom CAROLYN COLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

California's proposed ethnic studies curriculum ignores the long history of systemic Jew-hatred in the United States. It fails to educate about the nuances of the Jewish experience in a way that draws students together in mutual understanding and respect. It needs to find a better way to grapple with the reality that many Jews have found tremendous success in this country, yet our community also suffers by far the highest number of hate crimes per capita. Jewish success and Jewish persecution are not mutually exclusive. Both are part of the American story.

Many Jewish organizations have engaged with California officials in an attempt to address ethnic studies and reduce the amount of Jew-hatred in the curriculum. Sections about the discriminatory "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" (BDS) campaign and direct praise for terrorist leaders were thankfully removed.

But this is ultimately a Band-Aid. Until the hateful attitudes that caused so much Jew-hatred to be included in the first place are gone, these problems will continue to fester. All the original curriculum authors resigned in disgust and signed an open letter asking for their names to be pulled from any future credit for the curriculum. These same authors are reportedly promoting the original version of the curriculum, with all its Jew-hatred, to be taught in schools.

Why were three rounds of editing required to get it to a point where it is maybe just about acceptable to enough people? Even in its latest versions, the ethnic studies curriculum still fails to educate honestly about the American Jewish experience. It still treats Jews as a villain-class category and classifies anti-Semitism as a subcategory of bigotry in general, rather than a specific type of hatred. In fact, the fight over the California ethnic studies curriculum is a straw man. No Jewish organization can seriously claim that the problem of rampant discrimination and hostility against Jewish students on American college campuses has been fixed. We have a problem of systemic Jew-hatred in American academia that is staring us in the face.

There is an incredibly important conversation taking place at the moment about what it means to be a citizen in a multicultural, multiracial and multi-faith society. White supremacy is on the run, and marginalized groups are stepping forward to demand a seat at the table and figure out where we go from here. There's also an important conversation surrounding the issue of critical race theory, and whether ethnic studies as a discipline is so perverse that it's incapable of being fixed.

I applaud and welcome that conversation. The Jewish community should be actively involved, not only in fighting for the legitimate rights of other minority groups, but also in advocating for ourselves. These conversations are going to be emotionally fraught and difficult. They are still necessary. Jews, as a minority group that has suffered grievously in the past century and all throughout history, deserve a seat at the table to advocate for ourselves and explain our story the way we want to tell it.

It starts by showing up on March 7 in Los Angeles for a socially distanced protest at 11000 Wilshire Boulevard, in front of the federal building. Join the End Jew Hatred Movement and a long list of partner organizations to protest California's proposed ethnic studies curriculum and oppose systemic Jew-hatred in education.

Brooke Goldstein is founder and executive director of The Lawfare Project, a partner organization of the #EndJewHatred movement. Follow her on Twitter: @GoldsteinBrooke.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.