In November, Fieldston—a prestigious Manhattan private school associated with the Ethical Culture movement—experienced an anti-Semitism scandal that came to a head after a guest speaker made disparaging comments about the Holocaust and a teacher rushed to defend them. After displaying indifference to the concerns of Jewish parents, the school’s administration did recently fire the teacher in question. Ammiel Hirsch and Joshua Davidson, the rabbis of two prominent Reform synagogues in New York City, warn that the “primal loathing” of Israel found on college campuses threatens to spill over into primary and secondary schools:
The events at Fieldston have broad importance, and are reflective of a much bigger problem. Anti-Israel activism has spread beyond the college campus and into the elementary and high-school classroom. In Newton, Massachusetts, a high school taught that Israel was “murdering and torturing Palestinian women.” In 2016, a Palestinian activist visiting an elementary-school classroom in Ithaca, New York inveighed against Israel and called on students to “be the freedom fighter” for the Palestinians.
A hateful obsession with Israel too often descends into hatred of Jews, even if it doesn’t start there. Hateful words lead to hateful deeds. This environment produces, teaches, accelerates, and normalizes anti-Semitism. Anti-Israel activity on some college campuses has led to verbal and even physical assaults on Jewish students. And we must be honest with ourselves. It is happening in our space—in the heart of intellectual liberalism.
Jewish parents should be especially worried. When teachers and professors turn the classroom into an arena for anti-Israel animosity, students become unwitting pawns instead of safeguarded learners. They should feel they can ask questions without fear of scorn, explore their own ideas, and draw their own conclusions. Academic malpractice is unfolding with too little pushback from parents and community leaders.
When Rabbis Davidson and Hirsch came to Fieldston to speak about anti-Semitism, the teacher at the heart of the scandal, who had not yet been dismissed, greeted them with an obscene gesture.