New York State’s Regulations for Private Schools Threaten Religious Freedom

Jan. 22 2019

In November, Albany issued a new set of guidelines for the state’s independent schools that not only increase the requirements placed on these institutions but also authorize public-school administrators to evaluate local private schools. Yaakov Bender, the principal of a Jewish school in New York, argues that the new policies pose a threat to the freedom of religious parents, and parents in general, to determine the educations of their children:

The parents who choose our school do so . . . because they want an education that is rooted in Jewish texts and informed by Jewish morality, history, culture, ideals, and hopes. What they do not want is a curriculum chosen by the local school district [or] a school schedule that is subject to the approval of the local school board or teachers who answer to Albany. . . .

Religious [schools] are also concerned that control over the academic curriculum today will lead to control over the values they teach tomorrow. These concerns are not so easily dismissed.

Witness what is occurring in England, where an all-girls Orthodox school was recently designated “inadequate” [by government bureaucrats] because students did not receive “a full understanding of the world.” The school was criticized for not affirmatively promoting respect for same-sex marriage, for not providing sex education, and for not teaching evolution, which conflicts with the school’s religious beliefs. In the eyes of the UK Office for Standards in Education, this all added up to a failure to provide students with “a well-rounded education.”

However well-intentioned New York’s regulators of today may be, history teaches that once the autonomy of independent and religious schools is undermined, the reach of the state will only expand. Even now, the government has “offered” to evaluate our Jewish- studies classes, which are chock-full of academic and intellectual value. But an evaluation today will lead to a suggestion tomorrow and a mandate down the road.

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Read more at Times-Union

More about: American Jewry, Freedom of Religion, Jewish education, Politics & Current Affairs

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat