Although many in the Jewish community thought that after two years of tireless work the risk of antisemitism and anti-Zionism being promoted in California schools was in the rear-view mirror, the issue is heating up once again with the stakes even higher than before.
The new threat involves AB 101, a bill moving through the California legislature that makes ethnic studies courses a requirement for high school graduation. But what is less known about the bill is that it will permit school districts to teach the rejected and highly antisemitic original Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) to be taught in California classrooms. This overtly antisemitic and anti-Zionist first draft outraged the Jewish community and the Legislative Jewish Caucus and was flatly rejected by the State Board of Education and Governor Gavin Newsom who said it “would never see the light of day.”
However, despite learning of the fine print here from nearly 70 rabbis, more than 1,000 California residents, and 75 religious and civil rights organizations, shamefully, every member of California’s Jewish Legislative Caucus supported the bill when it came before the California Assembly for a vote. And this month, in a petition signed by more than 4,000 concerned citizens, the California Jewish community said enough is enough. They criticized the legislators and demanded they use their final chance to stand up for Jewish students and the Jewish community by opposing the bill when it comes before the Senate.
The petitioners pointed out that many alarming new developments raise the stakes even further, including skyrocketing anti-Zionist-motivated antisemitism; California school districts committing to adopt the original antisemitic draft; and the two largest teachers’ unions in the state and several University of California ethnic studies departments, essentially those responsible for training the high school teachers, endorsing the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
We were “deeply disappointed that not only did every Legislative Jewish Caucus Assemblymember vote in favor of AB 101, but Caucus Chair Jesse Gabriel even made a speech on the Assembly floor that spoke about the bill in glowing terms and belittled concerns about antisemitism that were shared by a non-Jewish Assemblymember,” wrote the petitioners.
“Anyone who understands the threats that are currently facing the Jewish community can understand why AB 101, as well-intentioned as it may be, will unleash a torrent of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist sentiment, hostility and aggression into classrooms throughout the state if it becomes law. The vast majority of California Jews understand this. As the CA Senate stands poised to vote on AB 101, please stand up and oppose this bill. There is still time to do the right thing,” continued the petitioners.
And here’s why the petitioners are right to be alarmed.
The dethroned original authors of that first draft have for many months been hard at work carrying out a covert campaign to promote their curriculum – including its anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist lessons — throughout the state, and they’ve been successful. They’ve garnered support from the two biggest teachers’ unions, as well as from the state’s higher education ethnic studies community. They’ve also been vigorously lobbying individual school districts and some, such as Hayward Unified, have already adopted it. If AB 101 becomes law, most school districts will likely follow suit.
Especially now, as violence in the Middle East is spilling over into vicious attacks on Jews all over the world, including in California, AB 101 directly threatens the safety and well-being of Jewish students in our state. Our legislators, particularly members of the Jewish Legislative Caucus who are self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish community in the California legislature, must vote no on this bill.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is the director of AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism at colleges and universities in the United States. AMCHA monitors more than 450 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity, and it has recorded more than 3,500 anti-Semitic incidents since 2015 on its daily Anti-Semitism Tracker.