If some radical educators have their way, “Israel” will become a dirty word in California schools.
Under the guise of a new law mandating ethnic studies “training” in the state, a group dedicated to the tenets of critical race theory—and especially its most vile component, anti-Semitic opposition to the Jewish state—are marketing a curriculum that viciously maligns Israel and attacks its very reason for being.
The law raises a fundamental question as to whether Zionism—a belief supporting the self-determination of the Jewish people to a state in their indigenous homeland—is protected by the laws of our land.
California recently passed AB 101, a statute requiring high school graduates to have taken a class in ethnic studies. After years of wrangling by citizen groups, teachers’ unions and legislators aimed at eliminating racial bias in any such ethnic studies curriculum, the bill was passed, including a model ethnic studies curriculum that assuaged most of the interest groups.
Unfortunately, the model was only offered as an example of an acceptable curriculum—not mandated.
Unfortunately, too, one of the leading developers of ethnic studies curricula in California—Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium (LESMCC)—believes the proposed model is woefully unacceptable and is marketing a curriculum steeped in racially biased principles, including utter disdain for Zionism and the modern state of Israel.
While California’s model curriculum supports multiculturalism and diversity across California’s many major ethnic and racial groups, LESMCC leaders believe ethnic studies must focus only on four racialized groups: Black Americans, Chicano/Latinos, Native Americans and Asian American Pacific Islanders (AA/PI).
Conspicuously absent from this list are Jewish Americans and Middle Eastern Jews living in California, especially since Jews are the targets of more hate crimes than any other ethnic group in the state.
Even more telling, Palestinian Arabs have been—against all geographic logic—squeezed into the AA/PI category, while Jews, the indigenous people of the same Middle East region, are excluded.
Most egregiously, according to LESMCC’s website, its model curriculum shamelessly asserts “Zionism is a nationalist, colonial ideology.”
But LESMCC’s vision is not just anti-Zionist. It is fundamentally based in critical race theory—CRT—which holds that race and ethnicity should be the primary distinctions in social organization and that the focus of all political action should be on power struggles among racial, ethnic and “marginalized” groups.
Thus, proponents of the LESMCC’s model curriculum believe that ethnic studies must “critique empire, white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of society.”
Perhaps you recognize these code words, which define “intersectionality”—a popular outgrowth of CRT. It holds that some identities are victims—and therefore inherently righteous—and some are privileged (like Jews, like white people) and thus are oppressors.
Though AB 101’s ethnic studies requirement doesn’t kick in until 2030, the Los Angeles Unified School District moved the requirement up to August 2020, and is also committed to “integrate Ethnic Studies into the PreK-8 curricula.”
The Castro Valley (California) school board this January approved a contract with LESMCC to provide training and teaching materials. Nearby Hayward schools signed on to use LESMCC services in 2021.
LESMCC is now being sued on behalf of several California citizens by the legal aid group The Deborah Project. The Deborah Project argues that the LESMCC is violating a number of California and federal statutes that protect religious and ethnic groups from bias and discrimination.
A crux of the case against LESMCC is whether Zionism is indeed an essential element of Jewish religion and/or ethnicity.
LESMCC maintains, outrageously, that Zionism is strictly a political movement, completely separate from religious Judaism—independent of Jewish belief, Jewish practice and Jewish identity.
This argument—that Zionism is not a fundamental component of Judaism—attempts to prove that belief in or commitment to Zionism and the Jewish State of Israel are not protected under laws that shield ethnic and religious groups from hate speech or unfair treatment.
But, as The Deborah Project’s legal complaint states, “Zionism is a central religious tenet of Judaism.” It goes on to explain that according to Jewish teaching, “it is essential for the Jewish people to have a physical home in the land of Israel, subject to Jewish sovereignty, so that the Jewish people can worship God together in that place.”
Indeed, the Torah is fundamentally the story of the birth of the Jewish people and God’s promise to them—repeated over and over—that the Land of Israel is their eternal inheritance.
Not only the five books of the Bible, but also the Talmud, Mishna and Psalms are replete with references to the return of the Jewish people to Zion. Jewish prayer is recited facing Jerusalem, and these prayers repeatedly express yearning for return to Israel, most notably the closing Passover prayer, which aspires to “next year in Jerusalem.”
But lest we become trapped in the argument of our enemies’ making, let’s step back and ask: Why should schools be teaching that Zionism—or any belief, whether creationism or capitalism, Marxism or holistic medicine—is inherently false and evil?
For that matter, should schools be teaching that racial and ethnic identities are the most defining political markers, rather than, as Martin Luther King dreamed: “That my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”?
In short, the greatest danger posed by ethnic studies and critical race theory is their obsession with seeing the world’s people as indelibly defined groups (e.g., ethnic, religious, gender) that are entitled to hierarchical social justice based on subjective judgments of their relative worthiness.
Students or teachers shouldn’t be condemned in any curriculum for being a Zionist in a land where speech is free—whether you’re a Jew, a Christian or an atheist. While Zionism is indeed an inextricable Jewish belief, it is also based on a powerful political commitment to the self-determination of all peoples.
Efforts to teach that some racial or ethnic groups are superior and others bad, that some religious beliefs are worthy and others evil, are themselves racist and bigoted.
While we may celebrate diversity in our society, we also treasure free speech and the ability to make political judgments without intervention by radical teachers and biased political curricula.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.