Lawmakers approve overhaul of California program that rocked Jewish community

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J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA – Jewish lawmakers critical of early drafts of an ethnic studies program said they were happy with a version of the program that cleared both houses of the legislature from California last week.

The bill making ethnic studies compulsory would make the state the first in the country to require the course, which examines race and ethnicity with an emphasis on people of color.

The California Liberal Jewish Legislative Caucus had criticized the program’s original model, introduced in 2019, saying it featured “anti-Jewish bias.” They and others accused him of portraying Israel in a negative light, of barely mentioning anti-Semitism, and of including rap lyrics that they said contained an anti-Semitic trope.

Assembly member Jose Medina, the author of the bill to mandate ethnic studies and a staunch supporter of the discipline, also signed a letter condemning the project (Medina is one of a handful of non-Jewish members of the Jewish Caucus). Governor Gavin Newsom said at the time that the measure as drafted “would never see the light of day,” and the model was revised.

The revised curriculum, which was approved by the state Board of Education in March, includes two lessons on the Jews of California – one on American Jewish identity and another on the experience of Mizrahi Jews. , or Jews of the Middle East. He also removed sections deemed anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the Jewish caucus expressed its “sincere hope” that the revised Model Ethnic Studies curriculum would benefit students statewide, underscoring the “guardrail” language it has used. helped to insert into legislation to allay the concerns of Jews. groups. This language prohibits discrimination in ethnic studies classes based on religion and nationality – including against Israelis – and prohibits the use of the original draft.

California Governor Gavin Newsom gestures during a press conference at the governor’s emergency services office in Rancho Cordova, Calif., April 14, 2020 (AP Photo / Rich Pedroncelli, Pool, File)

Despite the safeguards, however, a handful of the original writers of the 2019 curriculum began working directly with school districts to implement independent ethnic studies courses from the statewide version. The model curriculum should be used as a model in schools across the state, but although California “encourages” its use, the legislation also allows districts to use existing programs or, if they wish, adopt. a “locally developed” course approved by the school board.

Bill is now heading to Newsom’s office.

While the revised agenda has satisfied some Jewish organizations, including the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council, others remain staunchly opposed to the bill. In a statement last Thursday, the anti-Semitism watchdog Amcha Initiative denounced its adoption and called for a veto from the governor, arguing it is not doing enough to prevent the teaching of “overtly anti-Semitic” and anti-Zionist content. in classrooms.

The ethnic studies debate in California has become a flashpoint in the larger national debate about what schools should teach about history and racism in the United States. Proponents say ethnic studies can paint a more comprehensive and inclusive picture of the experiences of the state’s diverse populations. Opponents accuse such programs of teaching a version of Critical Race Theory, a legal and educational framework that says racism is embedded in the country’s institutions, which exacerbates racial tensions and amounts to progressive indoctrination. .

Jewish critics of the Ethnic Studies program see it as a fulcrum for marginalizing Jews and demonizing Israel.

David Bernstein, founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, said in a statement: “We have warned the Jewish community that critical racial ideology will continue to spark anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.

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