Since Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel, leaders and students at several American K-12 schools have released statements expressing bias or hatred against Israel and the Jewish people. Some have gone so far as to side with Hamas—a terrorist organization—and blame Israel for the massacre.
- The superintendent of Revere Public Schools and Massachusetts sent an email to staff that included a resource that claimed “Israeli terrorism has been significantly worse than that of the Palestinians.”
- After the October 7 attacks, West Essex School District board chair defended flying Black Lives Matter flags on school grounds. Black Lives Matter at School released a statement in response to the terrorist attack blaming “Israeli settler colonialism” for the attacks.
- San Francisco students chanted an antisemitic slogan during a school walkout. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” supports wiping Israel—the Jewish state—and its people off the map.
Through Black Lives Matter at School materials, “liberated” ethnic studies, and other efforts to imbed divisive ideologies in K-12 classrooms, antisemitism and anti-Israel bias are growing in America. So what is antisemitism, and what can you as a parent do to fight it in schools?
What is antisemitism?
The International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) provides a working definition of antisemitism: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
IHRA also provides a non-definitive list of examples of antisemitism on its website. While all of these examples are important for context, these few points are particularly salient in the wake of the October 7 attacks:
- “Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.”
↳ Pro-Palestine protestors often use an antisemitic chant during rallies: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” This chant calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, and, implicitly, the Jews that live in Israel—bordered by the Jordan River in the east and and the Mediterranean Sea in the west.
- “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”
↳ “Liberated” ethnic studies often casts Jews as “oppressors” based on these stereotypes.
- “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
↳ “Liberated” ethnic studies often seeks to delegitimize Israel by accusing the Jewish state of committing “apartheid” or “settler colonialism.”
- “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
↳ The ability to criticize governments without fear of retribution is key to a free society. However, mere criticism becomes antisemitism when one disproportionately criticizes the Israeli government or Israelis while turning a blind eye to other past or present atrocities.
- “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis” and “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
↳ Antisemitic incidents, including vandalism with antisemitic symbols and phrases, have skyrocketed after the October 7 attacks.
- “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”
↳ In recent weeks, pro-Hamas protestors have targeted Jews in the U.S. and abroad, as they decry Israel for taking up arms against terrorists. Protestors banged on a locked door of a library at Cooper Union as Jewish students hid inside. A group of pro-Palestinian protestors in New York assaulted a Jewish man during one demonstration. A mob of Harvard students, protesting Israel, surrounded and harassed a Jewish student walking on campus.
It’s important to note that antisemitism is not just about Nazis or the Holocaust. Further, antisemitism has often taken on a political nature. In a summary of a report on “Antisemitism and Political Violence,” the Anti-Defamation League states that “[s]cholars … have long suspected a fundamental link between antidemocratic movements and antisemitic worldviews.”
There are several ways antisemitism is infiltrating K-12 schools. Below, you’ll find some examples, tips on what to watch out for, and steps you can take to fight bigotry in your child’s school.
District Communications and Statements
- Language that groups people into “oppressor” or “victim” categories.
- Calling Israel a “settler colonial state” or an “apartheid state,” which casts the Jewish state as an oppressor.
- Saying Israel commits “genocide.”
- Language that calls for “decolonization.”
- Blaming Israel for the October 7 attacks, or using the phrase “both sides.” These tactics direct blame away from Hamas terrorists and toward Israel.
- Sharing Black Lives Matter at School resources. In addition to its own official statement, Black Lives Matter at School creates and provides curriculum and resources to schools that are anti-Israel, such as “Decolonize Palestine” and “Black and Palestinian Solidarity” curriculum.
What to do: If your district released a statement with the language above, ask the sender what compelled them to give that message. What does it say to Jewish families, and Palestinian families who do not wish to be associated with Hamas terrorists?
Send them the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s Definition of antisemitism. Please remember that communications with public officials—including public school officials—are public record and may be subject to public records requests.
Look for: Ethnic studies, particularly “liberated” or “critical” ethnic studies, often labels groups as “oppressed” or “oppressors” based on their race, sex, gender identity, religion, or other characteristics. Viewing the world through the lens of oppressor versus oppressed forces people to categorize conflicting groups—in this case, Jews and Palestinians—as one or the other. Liberated ethnic studies lessons often attempt to delegitimize Israel by calling it a “settler colonial” or “apartheid” state.
The Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium pushes an ethnic studies model that teaches bias against Israel and support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement—which seeks to punish the Jewish state through economic disengagement.
What to do: Know your state laws. Several states have added ethnic studies requirements in some form: California, for example, requires students to take ethnic studies before graduating high school. Indiana requires high schools to offer ethnic studies. Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada have all allowed schools to offer ethnic studies.
If your district offers an ethnic studies course, ask for their curriculum and related lessons. These may be posted on a district website, or you may have to file a public records request.
If there are troubling elements included in your district’s ethnic studies course, raise the issues to the superintendent, school board members, or the principal of your child’s school. Ask for the inclusion of the history of the Jewish people as part of ethnic studies. Encourage teaching a more positive version of ethnic studies. Constructive ethnic studies teaches students to build respect for one another and elevates the contributions of various ethnic groups without pitting people against one another.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training that Excludes Jews
Look for: If your district has a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI, sometimes JEDI) office, has it released a statement about the attacks? Does your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office offer training or resources on bias against Jews? Unfortunately, anti-bias training often fails to address antisemitism.
What to do: If your district has a DEI office, ask the officer to include resources like the following on its website.
- IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, as well as this Tikvah podcast with Kenneth Marcus on the definition.
- The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s antisemitism resources and history of Holocaust Survivors and the Establishment of the State of Israel.
- The U.S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism.
Open a dialogue with the DEI officer about offering a non-mandatory anti-bias training on antisemitism. Ask that the office consider adopting IHRA’s definition.
When conducting background investigations on potential school employees, the district may consider searching lists of individuals who have made antisemitic statements or are affiliated with antisemitic organizations. Canary Mission and StopAntisemitism both keep lists of individuals who’ve made hateful statements about Jews and Israel.
Whether or not you’ve seen troubling statements or lessons from your school, it may be worth asking a district or school official the following questions:
- Do you condemn Hamas’s terrorist attacks against Israel?
- Do you thoroughly vet resources used in ethnic studies or history lessons for bias against the Jewish people and Israel?
- Given Black Lives Matter at School’s statement on the attacks, will you [use, continue to use] resources from the organization in the district? If so, what does that say to Jewish families, as well as Palestinian families who do not wish to be associated with Hamas?