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The ADL’s Objection to Ethnic Studies Curriculum Prioritizes Zionism Over Students

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By Ian Firstenberg

The Oakland Unified School District on May 28 voted to adopt a resolution to Assembly Bill 331 in support of a statewide high school ethnic studies draft curriculum. The Anti-Defamation League immediately wrote a letter to the district urging them to “reject the flawed initial version.”

The letter read:

“As supporters of AB 331, we were shocked by the initial ESMC’s hostility to the Jewish community. It neglected any discussion of antisemitism among the glossary of different forms of prejudice and oppression.”

While the cause for concern is warranted and well intentioned on the surface, the sentence immediately following offers insight into the group’s deeper issue:

“Further, it incorporated harmful antiJewish stereotypes in its inappropriate and biased criticism of Israel in a curriculum intended to focus on American ethnic groups.”  

The letter goes on to detail how the curriculum has been condemned by the LA Times editorial board and a number of other Jewish organizations.

Anti-semitism is a very serious concern, especially as racists and bigots have been emboldened by the rhetoric of this administration. The charge of anti-semitism is inflammatory by its very nature, as well it should be.

Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic; it is anti-Zionist. Zionism and Judaism are not the same thing — one is a race and religion that has history dating back a few thousand years and the other is a colonial project that began in the mid-1800s. However, the impression one would get from that letter and much of the political rhetoric, here and in Israel, is that Zionism and Judaism are one in the same.

Jewish anti-Zionists protest for Palestinian rights. (Photo: Danny Hammontree/Flickr)

That false equivalency is drawn deliberately, with an overarching goal of undermining criticism of the state of Israel.

Israel, despite being repeatedly condemned for human rights violations internationally, is inexorably linked to the Jewish identity in America, so much so that any condemnation of the state and it’s continued apartheid is labeled anti-Semitic.

The perils of this false equivalency ripple outward in unforeseen ways, but the intent is clear: to shield the apartheid state from criticism of its apartheid. In this case, the cost is the quality of education for Oakland students. In other cases, Palestinian children pay the price with their lives. Neither situation should be acceptable.

The ADL’s objection to the curriculum is heavily rooted in fixed support of Israel and forwards the notion that even questioning the righteousness of Zionism is somehow anti-semitic, which is not necessarily or even often true. 

The attempt to dictate education for Oakland students to suit the Israel state agenda is not only disturbing but very well could be counterproductive to their cause.  


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