Over the last few decades, educators in colleges, high schools and, in some cases middle and elementary schools, have been teaching history and current events from a decidedly anti-Israel perspective. On Jan. 29 at the Newton JCC, CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) presented the program, “What’s Happening in Your School?” focusing on biased teaching, especially in the Newton public schools.
Anti-Israel bias in Newton schools went under the radar until 2011, when a Newton student told her father that she’d been assigned an article claiming that Israel Defense Forces soldiers had raped and killed hundreds of Palestinian women. The father spoke to the school principal, who replied, “Next year we’re going to be studying some things that are going to be even more upsetting to you about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Other parents began to look into the situation. Parents and students testified to widespread bias. CAMERA became involved. There were heated confrontations with the school superintendent and the school committee. One result was the publication of the monograph Indoctrinating Our Youth by CAMERA analyst Steven Stotsky.
At the JCC, Andrea Levin, CAMERA executive director, and Jonah Cohen, communications director, discussed anti-Israel bias in higher education and public schools. “For several years, while we worked on the serious mischaracterizing of Israel in the Newton schools,” said Levin, “we were not allowed to access the materials being used.” By law this material should be available to the public. CAMERA studied the results of a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request and reviewed the 500 pages that were eventually provided.
“Kids want to know all viewpoints, but with Israel that is not happening. Things have been worse lately, everywhere, in blue states and red,” said Cohen. “The head of the Washington, D.C., teacher’s union, who is pro-BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction, an anti-Israel movement), recently asked the police to cut all relations with Israel. We spent over a year studying this issue in Newton. If it can happen here, with a large Jewish population, it can happen anywhere.”
Cohen explained that a major problem in Newton, and other school systems, is the omission of facts, as well as pro-Israel viewpoints, in articles, texts, maps and videos. “A sign of classroom indoctrination, perhaps the essence of it, is omission: leaving out salient facts to promote a narrow point of view. Most American teachers aren’t malevolent ideologues. If they leave out facts, it’s because they themselves were misled. Often, they don’t embrace the ideologies they teach; rather, those ideologies have embraced them. They’ve become unwitting mouthpieces of doctrines which trickle down from partisan faculty at the universities. This is especially true at Centers for Middle East Studies, which are dominated by a narrow political and philosophical outlook…. In 2006, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued findings and recommendations to the president and both houses of Congress. It linked the absence of viewpoint diversity in Title-VI funded Middle East Studies programs with the growth of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel propaganda in American higher education. The Commission found “substantial evidence” that “many university departments of Middle East studies provide one-sided, highly polemical academic presentations, and some may repress legitimate debate concerning Israel.” The Newton situation, remember, erupted because high school teachers were sharing inflammatory articles recommended by the Harvard Outreach Center, which at the time was directed by a university firebrand who promotes BDS.”
“High school lesson plans use radical viewpoints from anti-Israel extremists, making fringe views look mainstream. This is cognitive manipulation,” Cohen continued. “In recent years, sociologists and social psychologists have conducted surveys on the political biases of professors in the humanities and social sciences. There is an absence of viewpoint diversity and it has had dire consequences for scholarship. According to Inside Higher Ed, recent studies suggest over 80 percent of humanities papers are never cited. That’s significant. Citations are regarded as the chief measure of a paper’s scholarly impact. So, either humanities scholarship is appalling. Indeed, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education bemoaned, ‘The amount of redundant, inconsequential, and outright poor research has swelled in recent decades, filling countless pages in journals and monographs.’ Or, an alternative interpretation is there’s just too much groupthink in the humanities for there to be any serious scholarly impact. This is a troubling situation. If nobody is reading your work, how do you know you’re not making capital errors? Or omitting vital information? In Newton’s lesson plans, we found sloppy factual errors and very serious factual omissions in a wide range of classroom materials—online videos, maps, handouts, internet articles.”
Widely used materials omit Israel’s many offers of peace and statehood to the Palestinians, all of which were turned down. (The 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, 1967 at Khartoum, 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and the 2008 Olmert Plan.) “These plans have been erased from the historical record, along with their rejections by the Arabs, including the ongoing refusal to accept any form of a Jewish state,” said Cohen. “Israel is depicted as being unwilling to compromise.” The curricula also ignore or minimize terror attacks against Israel. Some classes use a one-page summary of the Hamas charter, omitting all references to its dedication to the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel. “There is no mention of Palestinian and Fatah support for violence against Jews. Hamas and the PA are portrayed as moderates who seek a peaceful two-state solution, ignoring PA President Abbas’s repeated statements that he will never recognize any Jewish state, no matter what form, along with the fact that the PA financially rewards terrorists and their families.”
Cohen noted that Newton school curricula discounted the role of religion in the Middle East conflict, saying that the only issue is land. All references to the ideology of Jihad are omitted. “They also do not mention the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 Jews from Muslim countries where they had lived since ancient times or that there are no Jews left in these countries.
“Frequently omitted from Newton’s class lessons was the role of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who collaborated with the Nazis, produced pro-Nazi propaganda and recruited several SS divisions. This is a serious historical omission. Al-Husseini wasn’t a fringe figure, but a major leader in the first half-century, setting the course of the Palestinian cause. He helped cement the uncompromising positions of many Palestinians, such as Yasser Arafat, who proudly claimed him as kin.”
There are also no references to hate crimes against Jews. Instead, teachers used materials such as a TIME magazine article depicting America as Islamophobic, and omitted the information that Jews are the targets of 54 percent of the hate crimes in the U.S., despite being less than 2 percent of the population. “It is a victim culture and Jews are not on the list. In fact, they are depicted as victimizers,” said Cohen.
Both speakers emphasized the importance of parents being involved and raising awareness of what is being taught. Newton’s Middle East unit has been replaced with a unit on China. However, said Levin, “A Middle East Day was held in May of 2017 at Newton North High School, featuring a pro-BDS professor from Tufts and an anti-Israel activist from Mass Peace, both of whom leveled incendiary charges. Anti-Israel propaganda was spread to hundreds of students. Despite school committee assurances, it was allowed to happen. Many anti-Israel partisans continue to teach in our schools nationwide. Things are still fluid in Newton.” In response, CAMERA has developed a curriculum, “Eyes on Israel.”
Levin assured concerned parents that they can fight the bias. “The first step is to figure out what’s happening in your schools. Go online and look for curriculum outlines. There are red flags to look for, especially in courses such as world studies and modern world history.” Cohen added: “Ask if they’re using materials and videos from PBS. Without exception these materials are unacceptable for classroom use and are completely anti-Israel. Get a copy of the syllabus for your child’s classes. Ask what books and articles are being used.”
A member of the audience from the organization Stand With Us pointed out, “This also happens in Hebrew schools and Jewish day schools. Be aware of the program called Reframing Israel.” Levin acknowledged, “Private schools are also vulnerable.”
Levin reminded the audience, “The Gulf States fund these curricula, as does your tax money through Title VI.” Title VI of the Higher Education Act, through which the federal government supports Middle East studies centers, typically includes only faculty hostile to Israel for K-12 teachers. More than $13.4 million was allocated for 15 Middle East centers from 2014-2018. “Contact your congressional representatives about how your tax dollars are being used,” advised Levin.
“If you find something, let CAMERA know,” she continued. “The worst material in Newton was taken from the internet. Ask your school how they vet this material. Schools are required to provide information on what they’re teaching, but often ignore such requests.”
CAMERA monitors bias in media, universities, textbooks, encyclopedias and travel guides. For more information on CAMERA, go to camera.org. For a copy of Indoctrinating Our Youth and for help in countering anti-Israel bias in schools, go to schoolbias.org.
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