Thousands of Californians, including Holocaust survivors, petitioned Governor Gavin Newsom to veto Assembly Bill 101 by Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside), which would mandate an ethnic studies high school graduation requirement. The California legislature recently voted to advance AB 101 along party lines. Gov. Newsom has until October 10, 2021 to sign or veto all bills.
The Globe spoke with Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder and Director of the AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America. AMCHA presented the petition sent to Gov. Newsom encouraging his veto of AB 101. “The Holocaust survivors who signed the petition recognize this is a hugely problematic bill,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “This petition comes from people who have the most skin in the game.”
Rossman-Benjamin said AMCHA has been tracking AB 101 since the previous bill, and the one before that. “The model curriculum the state has been working on is activism and an agenda that would feature in curriculum particularly harmful to Jewish kids,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “If the model curriculum passes, it would force every kid to take ‘Ethnic Studies’ classes. Why force kids to take this curriculum? Why not let it be optional?”
Rossman-Benjamin said last week the LA Times editorialized against AB 101 and urged Newsom to veto the bill for the same reasons raised by the petitioners:
“Despite new ‘guardrail’ language, AB 101 does not, and by law cannot, prevent a school district from adopting the overtly antisemitic first draft or an even more extreme Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (LESMC) from being peddled to school districts by the first-draft’s authors. The Liberated curriculum includes overtly anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist lessons and explicitly promotes student engagement in actions to harm Israel, especially BDS,” wrote the petitioners.
The BDS movement paints Israel as vicious and evil, and says it should be discarded from American investments. It even calls for universities to divest from companies associated with Israel, and has perpetuated the growing anti-Semitism movement lurking on California college campuses.
“Ethnic studies is not a discipline; it is political activism, and is training students to be foot soldiers,” Rossman-Benjamin said, explaining the motive behind the move. “It goes against everything real education stands for – and it is dividing the world into ‘us and them.'”
“The signatories of the AMCHA petition letter are referring to the first draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC), which was roundly rejected by all Jewish communal organizations, Governor Newsom, the State Board of Education, and California’s Jewish Legislative Caucus for its antisemitic content and promotion of BDS,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “After that draft failed, the state went through multiple rounds of revisions and ultimately approved a curriculum that omitted the antisemitic and anti-Zionist content. In protest the authors of the first draft withdrew their names from the state’s final approved curriculum and founded the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Institute, and their curriculum is expected to be even more antisemitic than the original ESMC.”
“The Liberated group’s curriculum is anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist. It’s a ‘How-To’ for students to start a BDS movement on campus,” Rossman-Benjamin said. She went into detail:
“The Liberated group’s website smears Israel with false charges of ‘settler colonialism and ‘apartheid’ and uses classic anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish wealth and power to vilify Jewish organizations speaking out about anti-Semitism; encourages teachers to ‘create a space within your school’ to engage in anti-Zionist activism and to fight the ‘Zionist backlash,’ identified as ‘white supremacy’; promotes anti-Zionist groups calling for Israel’s destruction; and provides ‘skill-building’ and ‘training’ on how to start your own BDS campaign.”
“To his credit, Gov. Newsom vetoed the last bill, AB 331, and said it wasn’t ready for prime time,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “But Gov. Newsom did say ‘once the curriculum is in place, I can sign it.'”
So the State Board of Education approved the curriculum.
Rossman-Benjamin explained that while AB 101 encourages local school districts to use the state-approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, the bill permits local school districts to use any curriculum, including the highly controversial and overtly antisemitic first Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum draft or the even more dangerously antisemitic Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. “When you start to talk about 1,300 school districts and labor unions and universities, and knowing the bills’ author has been gathering support from the California Teachers Association (CTA), and the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), and all of higher education, the reality is that many, if not most districts will still prefer the highly problematic Liberated curriculum because of its overwhelming support from the state’s major teachers’ unions and higher education community,” she said.
“This will incite antisemitism. It is state-sponsored antisemitism. Californians should be very very afraid,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “Whenever antisemitism has prevailed, it is in a deeply dysfunctional society.”
“The Jewish community is simply not capable of challenging such an antisemitic curriculum in every one of the hundreds of school districts where it will likely be considered, and it is a moral outrage to expect Jewish parents to fight against antisemitism being taught to their children in a state-mandated course,” the petitioners said in the letter to the governor.
Last Monday, nearly 200 California high school students and parents signed a petition opposing AB 101, citing “[t]his bill will sanction the hounding of Zionist students in high schools across the state and encourage similar behavior across the nation.” And on Thursday hundreds of Holocaust survivors called on Newsom to veto the bill.
Last year AMCHA successfully urged Gov. Newsom to veto AB 331, the precursor of AB 101. Rossman-Benjamin was the first to expose the way in which the discipline of Critical Ethnic Studies is deeply antisemitic and anti-Zionist. AMCHA has led several coalition efforts to educate officials about the dangers of a curriculum based on Critical Ethnic Studies.
“Jew-hatred is not a partisan issue,” Rossman-Benjamin said, despite that AB 101 passed along party lines. “Antisemitism is a bell-weather of a society. It also addresses a sickness in a society.”
“In the Torah we don’t care about race, color or gender – it’s character that matters,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “It’s a deeply moral issue, and how you look at the world. This is abusive and toxic everywhere it is taught. And it all starts at the university – the people who define ethnic studies are at the university.”