New York schools pushing anti-Zionism have Jewish teachers wondering if they have a future

‘Teachers are abusing their access to children to peddle their own agenda’


NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 24: Students attend class on the second to last day of school as New York City public schools prepare to wrap up the year at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on June 24, 2022 in New York City. Approximately 75% of NYC public schools enrolled fewer students for the 2021/2022 school year due to the pandemic. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

One depressing example encapsulates the struggle the Jewish community is facing in many New York public schools.

A Jewish high school teacher, dismayed to find her co-teacher had begun wearing a keffiyeh in the days after Oct. 7, was left disturbed when the co-teacher started spreading anti-Israel propaganda in the classroom and encouraging children to boycott Israeli goods. More disturbing still was the response from the principal to do nothing when the Jewish teacher complained. She still struggles every day with her radical colleague and is planning to leave the New York education system at the end of this school year.

The teacher is, understandably, scared to speak out on the record about her experience. She is not alone. Many of her colleagues at schools across New York, who have spoken on the condition of anonymity, have had similar experiences and feel the same. Fight or flight? That’s the question most on their minds.

They feel they’re playing a sick game of whack-a-mole they can never win with colleagues and a department of education pushing a one-sided narrative against Israel.

“This town is burnt for Jews,” one Jewish teacher, who is trying to move her entire family out of New York, says.

Another, who organises resistance against antisemitism in schools, fears that in the future there won’t be enough Jewish teachers and pupils in the New York school system to mount an effective fightback.

“Teachers are abusing their access to children to peddle their own agenda,” she said. “How is your kid supposed to feel safe if they are Jewish? How are you supposed to feel safe as a parent?

“At my high school there are no Jewish students. One student said to me ‘Jews are racist’. I said ‘no’ and explained everything to him. But if I wasn’t there they would be no one to counter that view.

“You’re seeing the formation of the shtetl in front of your eyes. Parents are sending their kids to Jewish schools. People are questioning intermarriage and assimilation. And how will it be in 20 years?”

The tone, teachers feel, was set last November by schools commissioner David Banks when a pro-Israel teacher was attacked by a mob of students. However, he perversely claimed it was the “height of irresponsibility” to say the students were radicalised or antisemitic.

His lack of willingness to address this problem has seen it metastasise. A small sample of experiences shared with me includes:

An online seminar for teachers that defended the term “Jihad”. It taught that the word means “struggle” and gave examples of its use: “My Jihad is to stay fit” and “My Jihad is to build friendships”. It also defined Sharia Law as “personal religious and moral guidance”.

A student newspaper that published an anonymous op-ed saying Israel is responsible for “Genocide. Apartheid. Ethnic cleansing”. The author stated Israel bombed Al-Shifa hospital, rather than it being blown up by a misfiring Jihadi rocket, and called Israel’s war a “murder spree”. The author went to great pains to make clear they do not condemn Hamas.

A teacher who defended Hamas in the days after October 7 but is still employed by his Queens high school, is still posting offensive messages on social media - including one that states it’s impossible to be antisemitic — and even moderated an online Palestine curriculum meeting.

A Jewish teacher who is being shunned by colleagues who say “Oh my God, can you smell that?” when she walks past. Another who was called a “baby killer” by a colleague. Both instances were dismissed by school authorities when reported.

The Movement of Rank and File Educators (an offshoot of the biggest NYC schools union the UFT that represents virtually all Jewish teachers) holds weekly meetings on how to teach about Palestine. It also encouraged children to skip class to attend a Schools Out for Palestine rally.

Anti-Israel bias is only becoming more hardwired into the U.S. teaching system. From next year California is introducing “ethnic studies” across its 1,600 public schools. By 2030 students won’t be able to graduate from High School without it.

Scholars of ethnic studies say the “Palestinian experience” is central to the theory. They compare the treatment of Palestinians to the treatment of Native Americans and slaves.

Soon, to obtain a good grade pupils will have to take a (presumably negative) position on Israel. It’s hard to see what that has to do with American history or how it can possibly be described as a fair approach. Israel is once again absurdly lumped in with every apparent founding sin of the American nation.

How much worse will the education system become when those who've imbibed this poison in the classroom are themselves the teachers of tomorrow? One Jewish teacher who spoke to me remarked darkly that Gen Z — which polls show sides 50 per cent with Hamas — should be renamed the Hitler Youth.

But demonising Israel in the education system, like elsewhere in society, only makes the case for its existence stronger. The nation of refugees (rather than colonisers) is more and more in the minds of Jewish teachers and families in the US thinking of their own place of last resort.

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