The cognitive war against Israel has been pursued on college campuses for well over a decade. It has persuaded many to view the Jewish state as a racist, colonial oppressor of an innocent indigenous people and an illegal regime that exists on land stolen from Palestinians. Now, these slanders, lies and distortions are being injected into younger and even more impressionable minds: those of schoolchildren.
A recent example of this was the Newark, New Jersey school board’s decision to include an anti-Israel book on its mandatory reading list. The book, A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird, found its way into the sixth-grade English curriculum for the 2022-2023 school year. According to its description on Amazon, it “explores the human cost of the occupation of Palestinian lands through the eyes of a young boy.”
The book depicts Israelis as an evil force that constrains the life of the young protagonist in a capricious and cruel way. Karim, the 12-year-old protagonist, complains that his father is “humiliated” by the Israeli checkpoints, but young readers are not told that such checkpoints exist because Israeli citizens have suffered decades of terror attacks.
Israelis are portrayed throughout the book as an inhuman military machine. “The Israeli tank that had been squatting at the crossroads just below the apartment block for days now had moved a few meters closer,” the reader is told. “He could imagine the great armored machines lying down there, like a row of green scaly monsters, crouched waiting to crawl back up the hill and pin the people of Ramallah down in their houses again.”
Some Israelis are literally rather than metaphorically dehumanized. “Human?” Karim says at one point. “You call those settlers human?”
A spokesperson for the Newark school district tried to justify the inclusion of the book by claiming that it “elevates historically marginalized voices, strengthens and sustains a focus on the instructional core and provides opportunities to learn about perspectives beyond one’s own scope” (emphasis added).
In a letter to Newark’s superintendent of schools, Morton Klein and Susan Tuchman of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) pointed out that the book will manufacture a false and negative image of Israel and Jews in the minds of students. They said the author was “clever, repeatedly sending the false and outrageous message to her young readers that Israelis are heartless and cruel, that their goal is to humiliate Palestinian Arabs and make their lives a misery, and that Jews are stealing other people’s land.”
“Students will also come away thinking that terrorism and violence against innocent Jews and Israelis are legitimate and even desirable,” they stated. “Laird repeatedly refers to terrorists who have harmed and murdered Jews and Israelis as heroes and martyrs.”
In Los Angeles, a school system that serves some 664,000 students, a similar process is taking place via an ethnic studies curriculum that defames Zionism and Israel with the usual cliches: Israel is portrayed as the embodiment of a white supremacist, racist, colonial regime, and accused of practicing South African-style apartheid.
The curriculum was so outrageous and one-sided that a lawsuit was brought by the Deborah Project in response. The complaint alleges that the curriculum “falsely and libelously makes the accusation and teaches and attempts to teach California’s public school teachers and children that the Jewish state commits unspeakable crimes, including genocide, ethnic cleansing, land theft and the imposition of apartheid, all of which accusations are false.”
“Defendants are injecting their views into the LAUSD curriculum—views which are, by design, racist—with the intention of driving Zionist ideas out of the public square, and to make it impossible for people committed to Zionism to manifest that commitment publicly,” the complaint asserted.
“The LESMC,” it adds, “also explicitly denounces the Jewish religious principle of Zionism, proclaiming falsely both that Zionism is morally wrong and that it is not actually a tenet of the Jewish religion.”
The curriculum, the complaint notes, “denounces as morally reprehensible an idea, a form of ethnic identity and a religious commitment, that is, and has for millennia been, central to Jewish belief, Jewish practice and Jewish identity: the commitment to Zion and to the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, their ancestral homeland, and the reconstitution and the defense of a sovereign Jewish state in that homeland.”
It appears that, just as Jew-haters are quick to define what does and does not constitute anti-Semitism—which they have no right whatsoever to do—these activists also feel free to define what Zionism is, whatever the Jews themselves might think.
None of this should be surprising, given the name of the primary defendant—the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium (LESMC). This is a group of radical educators that pushes an ideology of Marxist radicalism. It claims to “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy and heteropatriarchy” while challenging “imperialist/colonial hegemonic beliefs and practices on the ideological, institutional, interpersonal and internalized levels.” This gobbledygook is straight out of the radical left’s playbook.
The group states quite openly that the purpose of the curriculum is to transform educators and students into activists for progressive change and “connect ourselves to past and contemporary resistance movements that struggle for social justice on the global and local levels.” In other words, it is a recruitment program for radical “resistance movements.”
As the Deborah Project noted, the LESMCC’s “ultimate goal is, as they proclaim, to transform all public school students into ‘social justice warriors’ who will espouse, and act on, the political opinions held by the individual defendants in this case and espoused by all defendants.”
We are in the midst of a frightening spike in anti-Semitism. The number of anti-Jewish hate crimes is far in excess of those committed against any other ethnic group. In this context, curricula that vilify, slander and malign Israel, Zionism and Jews are a clear and present danger. They threaten to raise up a new generation of anti-Semites, schooled in hate and made to absorb the bias and prejudice of their teachers.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming book The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel-Hatred and Race Obsession are Destroying Academia.