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An enduring myth about developmental growth is that adolescents, particularly in our digitized, internet era, are thick-skinned and bias-savvy, so much so that it’s nearly impossible to pull one over on them. The truth is that they are vulnerable to deception and dishonesty, especially when it’s cloaked in a mantle of virtue.

A small group of self-appointed educational “experts” behind California’s proposed new ethnic studies curricula are counting on just that “open-mindedness” – that naive vulnerability. Fortunately, they represent a fraction of the genuine scholars that want to do right, by the complex material, and by their students.

A shockingly clear bias is embedded in these proposed curricular guidelines: that Israel is a white supremacist state, that Zionism is inherently racist and that the thousands-year old embrace of Israel by world Jewry does not and never did exist.

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After more than twenty years as a Head of School, and as a longtime coach/mentor to Heads and their board leadership, I’m troubled by the thinly veiled agenda that’s driving this curriculum, not only because it’s a deeply flawed presentation of “history” – but because it’s a cynical exploitation of teenagers’ predisposition to side with people who are presented as oppressed or marginalized. I’m not so much disturbed by someone, with the best of intentions, who demonstrates gullibility; I’m far more upset by someone who exploits that gullibility.

The development and the attempted implementation of this curriculum do not exist in a vacuum; rather, they occur in the context of Hamas’ murderous attacks – and even more to the point, in the wake of incomprehensible support for Hamas and its actions. Such support can trace its origin to university classes and lectures based on curricula quite similar to the one submitted in Santa Ana, and it is abundantly clear that biased classes and the sloppy tagging of Israel with ideological epithets leads, unerringly, to anti-Jewish rhetoric and dangerous behavior. There are real-world consequences attached to these programs, and young Jewish students

This is at the heart of the proposed curricula: antisemitic dog whistles, camouflaged as support for an oppressed Palestinian people. Characterizing Israel as a “white supremacist state” and trivializing the connection between Zionism and Judaism, is political rhetoric at best, certainly not an academically sound presentation of history. This depiction of ethnic studies is not, as the authors imply, about multiculturalism or diversity.

When California removed the antisemitic material and invoked “guardrails” to remove the overtly anti-Jewish language from the curricula, these purported “experts” denounced the state’s actions – and said that they would disregard Sacramento’s decision. According to these self-appointed leaders of the ethnic studies movement, “authentic” ethnic studies must include the material that the Secretary of Education deemed antisemitic.

The presentation of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is almost laughably lopsided, except that the one-sidedness has real world consequences for American Jewish students. Labeling Israel’s actions as “ethnic cleansing,” and insisting that Israelis are “colonizers” isn’t merely rhetoric, it’s dangerous rhetoric. Conveniently sidestepping Hamas’ role, and erasing the fact that Jews were forced out of Arab and Persian/Iranian homes in which their ancestors had lived for centuries, is cynical polemics. In light of the horrific, barbaric attack on October 7 and the support shown – not merely to the Palestinian people, but to Hamas itself – it’s clear that the clumsy and intellectually lazy use of “genocide” and “apartheid” and “colonizer” have real-world consequences.

To state that which needs not be stated over and over again: legitimate criticism of Israel is… legitimate, as is criticism of all nations and ideological movements. Denouncing the legitimacy of the state itself, eradicating its history and denying the obvious intertwining of Jewish history and Zionism is not only abysmal “scholarship” – it’s a proven path to anti-Jewish political positions and physical actions. Not only do our schools have a responsibility to present and teach the truth; when we veer – innocently or knowingly – from acknowledged and academically sound history, we’re responsible for how people seize upon that false narrative, and for what they do with it, in word and in deed.

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