Sunday, January 22, 2017

Second Class in the Classroom - Steve Feldman

by Steve Feldman

Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish People, is mentioned 11 times -- all in derogatory and slanderous terms.

You are a child sitting in a Philadelphia classroom. The teacher, by implication and action asserts that your life doesn’t matter – and furthermore, that your people and your country are guilty of oppressing and committing genocide against another people.

Do you argue with the teacher, risking retribution in the form of a bad grade or biased treatment for the remainder of the school year? Do you get up and walk out of the classroom, facing whatever punishment applies for that action? Or do you sit there silently and helpless, feeling oppressed as you conclude that the teacher -- and by extension the school system and the government -- are against you?

For some students, the above scenario and options may not be a hypothetical, since a collective of teachers and administrators known as the Caucus of Working Educators (a part of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers) plan to carry out an ad-hoc “Black Lives Matter Action Week” in the city’s public schools beginning January 23. The educators’ plan violates School Reform Commission/School District of Philadelphia policies requiring the SRC to approve the content of what is taught in the schools, and prohibiting political activities on school property and on school time. Black Lives Matter -- with its demonstrations and die-ins -- is a political movement.

While much of the generic “Black Lives Matter” rhetoric, dogma, demands and action-items are focused on domestic policy and situations, there are elements aimed squarely at U.S. foreign policy and geopolitics.

The “Black Lives Matter Network” is part of a confederation of more than 50 organizations known as “The Movement for Black Lives” (M4BL).

M4BL’s Website lists a multi-pronged platform, including one component labeled “invest-divest.” Within it, Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish People, is mentioned 11 times -- all in derogatory and slanderous terms. A few examples:
  • “Israel [is] a state that practices systematic discrimination and has maintained a military occupation of Palestine for decades”;
  • Israel is committing a “genocide taking place against the Palestinian people”;
  • “Israel is an apartheid state” engaged in “discrimination against the Palestinian people.”
Each of these as well as all of the other accusations against Israel are demonstrably false.
Not only could some of this rhetoric incite Jew-hatred in schools were it to be used, but the mere fact that all of it is also a lie presented as the truth renders it inappropriate for classroom use. Imagine a math teacher distributing handouts claiming that 1+2=5.

The BLM movement and its adherents have drawn the wrath of many for their anti-police rhetoric stemming from incidents that spawned this movement, but few have skewered them for its anti-Jewish rhetoric and attacks. For example, Black Lives Matter endorsed BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) -- a movement to delegitimize and isolate Israel and to also to cripple her economy.

Surely there are pupils who are the sons and daughters of police officers, and while city demographics are changing, there are no doubt still quite a few Jewish students sitting behind Philadelphia public-school desks and also Jewish teachers who may suddenly find their workplace less collegial come next week.

Schools are supposed to be institutions of learning; where young people from diverse backgrounds come together to learn to get along with one another in addition to receiving an education. They are not supposed to be places to promote politics, nor where divisiveness is sown and hatred introduced.

By introducing “Black Lives Matter” positions and materials into the schools, the only outcome can be division. That the materials and positions will come from teachers wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts and buttons -- as the Caucus of Working Educators campaign calls for -- impermissibly gives an official imprimatur to what could amount to hate-speech. After all, while the plan is to highlight BLM's "13 principles," what is there to stop a teacher from going beyond -- such as including the M4BL dogma which is anti-Israel?

Perhaps any hatred that such materials and rhetoric foment can be tamped down while the students are in the school building. But what happens when the school day ends? How will this be acted out in the schoolyard or in Philadelphia neighborhoods? Within the past month in Philadelphia a synagogue was vandalized twice and a site where a mikvah (ritual bath) is being constructed was vandalized -- so the concerns are real.

There is certainly nothing wrong with instilling pride in one’s heritage, ethnicity, or religion. It is admirable to give students the tools to elevate their situations. Further, discussion of societal issues should be part of the learning process.

But injecting politics with a week of “Black Lives Matter Action” is not the way -- especially given what we know about this movement. School Reform Commission officials and administrators at individual schools must prohibit this activity for the good of the school community. There should be no place for groups or movements that use lies to promote hatred.

Steve Feldman is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America: Greater Philadelphia. National ZOA and local ZOA leadership have sent a letter to School Reform Commission officials asking that the “Black Lives Matter Action Week” be cancelled.


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