The State of California Puts Anti-Semitism and Critical Race Theory on the Public-School Curriculum

January 29, 2021 | Emily Benedek
About the author: Emily Benedek, the author of five books, has contributed to, among other publications, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Tablet, and Rolling Stone.

In 2016, California passed a law mandating that ethnic studies become part of the high-school curriculum, and set a task force to work on developing such a course of study. Three years later, the task force came back with a 600-page document, that helpfully defined ethnic studies as the examination of “people whose cultures, histories, and social positionalities are forever changing and evolving,” as well as “mixtures, hybridities, nepantlas, double consciousness, and reconfigured articulations.”

The document also lists the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement alongside domestic America movements like Black Lives Matter and refers to the creation of a Jewish state as the nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”). Moreover, Emily Benedek notes, it neglects to mention Martin Luther King, Jr. or Thurgood Marshall as influential “people of color,” but does find room to praise Pol Pot. Nor does it mention anti-Semitism in its laundry list of other forms of bigotry. But, Benedek explains, all this is to be expected from a document shaped by the fashionable academic ideology known as critical race theory, the roots of which she traces to the backlash against the firing of George Murray by a California university in 1968:

In a speech a week before his firing, George Murray, who also served as the “minister of education” for the Black Panther Party, declared the U.S. Constitution a “lie” and the American flag a “piece of toilet paper” deserving to be flushed. He also attacked Jewish people as “exploiters of the Negroes in America and South Africa” and called for “victory to the Arab people” over Israel.

This approach saturates the model curriculum, which received ample criticism, as did a second version. Now the state government is evaluating third draft, which, writes Benedek, is little better:

For example, a historical resource was added with the following description of prewar Zionism: “the Jews have filled the air with their cries and lamentations in an effort to raise funds and American Jews, as is well known, are the richest in the world.”

To placate critics, the third version [also] has added lessons about Korean Americans, Armenian Americans, and Sikhs. Two lessons have been offered about Jews. One . . . teaches that Mizraḥi Jews coming to the United States from Arab lands were mistreated by “white” Ashkenazim. The other suggests that Jews of European descent benefit from “white privilege.”

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