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Santa Ana School Board Passes Anti-Israel Ethnic Studies Courses

The Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) Board of Education approved two ethnic studies courses that Jewish groups say contain anti-Israel bias.

By Aaron Bandler | Jewish Journal | May 4th, 2023

The Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) Board of Education approved two ethnic studies courses that Jewish groups say contain anti-Israel bias.

The course, titled “Ethnic Studies: World Geography,” passed by a margin of three votes in favor and one abstention; the other, “History 10 Ethnic Studies World Histories Course,” passed unanimously. StandWithUs alleged that the former course “promotes bias and bigotry against Israel and the Jewish people” and the latter “includes at least one book that promotes similar bias.” Unit 2 of the geography course, titled “Colonialism’s Impact on Migration,” states: “The concept of migration will be introduced and focus on the avenues through which colonial empires have maintained hegemonic influence over flows of migration within nations and internationally around the globe through genocides, tourism, wars, neocolonialism and settler colonialism.” It then provides several links to supplemental material, one of which is a January 2020 Middle East Monitor op-ed claiming that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has resulted “a massive wave of ethnic cleansing that saw the forced removal of approximately 300,000 Palestinians from the newly-conquered territory.”

The op-ed particularly focused on Israeli military “firing zones” in the West Bank that have “ethnically cleansed Palestinians” and suffocated “the Palestinian way of life,” arguing that the sole purpose of these firing zones is to provide “an Israeli legal justification to confiscate nearly a fifth of the West Bank for future colonial expansion.” The op-ed cites the Palestinian villages of Masafer Yatta in the South Hebron Hills as an example of this. Left unsaid in the op-ed is that there has been a legal dispute between the Palestinians and Israelis since 2000 on whether or not the Palestinian were permanent residents when the area was declared a firing zone––which Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) defined as a “firearms training ground”––in the 1980s, as Israeli law provides the military with the authority to declare an area a firing zone if the residents are temporary. In May 2022, the Israeli High Court of Justice unanimously ruled in favor of the Israelis, although JTA noted that that the United Nations, European Union, the Biden administration, some members of Congress and some Jewish groups were urging the Israeli government not to pursue further demolitions and evictions regardless.

The course then provides a list of “essential questions” about “European colonialism” and “American hegemonic actions” as well as the following question about Israel: “How has the settlement of Israelis after WWII changed the socio-economic status and sovereignty of Palestinians over time?”

Unit 4 of the course, titled “How Political Geography Marginalizes Minority Groups,” discusses “how the distortion of arbitrary geographic borders by Western colonial powers has caused famines, political corruption, and internal and external strife for first nations.” The unit includes a critique of “the plan by the United Nations to divide Palestine between Jewish and Palestinians areas” and “state sanctioned violence against Palestinians, Rwandans, and Kurds will be placed in their proper context as consequences of European imperial nation-making.” The unit also focuses on how the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip has affected Palestinians, providing a link to a video in the supplemental materials section on how it has adversely affected Palestinian fisherman in Gaza. Though the video acknowledges that the blockade is in response to Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, it doesn’t mention that, according to The Washington Institute, “Iran and Hezbollah have also smuggled weapons and rocket manufacturing materiel by sea, evading the Israeli blockade by dropping floatable items for Palestinian fishermen to pick up near the Gaza coast.”

“The World Geography course outline accuses Israel of state sanctioned violence against Palestinians, falsely framing Israel’s legitimate defense of its citizens against terrorism,” Jany Finkielsztein, a researcher for the CAMERA Education Institute, said in a statement to the Journal. “The Santa Ana School Board approved the Ethnic Studies World Geography course outline with clear evidence of its anti-Israel slant. CAMERA is alarmed by the upsurge in attempts to embed anti-Israel content into social studies courses.”

As for the World History course, the book referenced by StandWithUs is sociologist Michael Mann’s 2004 book“The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing,” which will be used for teacher reference. Mann calls Israel “the main contemporary example of settler-conquerors,” arguing in the book that “for half a centuryIsraelis have been cleansing the occupied territories of native Arabs, most murderously in the late 1940s, renewed again in the Jewish landgrabbing of the past few years. Israelis have mainly cleansed within their own occupied territories, devising the typical settler state: democracy for the settlers, lesser rights for the natives.”

“The ethnic studies courses approved by SAUSD’s board falsely portray Jews as colonizers in Israel, erasing 3,000 years of their history and connection to their ancestral home,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in a statement. “They cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a deeply one-sided and inaccurate way, and completely ignore Jewish refugees who fled or were expelled from Arab states and Iran. This violates the spirit, if not the letter, of California law regarding K-12 ethnic studies, as well as SAUSD policy about how to teach controversial issues.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement, “Perhaps the SAUSD is unaware that this curriculum masks its anti-Jewish and extreme anti-Israel propaganda as historical fact. American Jews across the US are the #1 target of religious-based hate crimes according to the FBI. We cannot have young impressionable students indoctrinated to such biases, distortions, omissions and lies about the Jewish people and the Jewish state of Israel.”

AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “It is really a shame that California school districts are rushing to approve biased and bigoted curricula that will only serve to spread further hate, division and antisemitism among students throughout the state when it appears that the law mandating that such curricula be taught is not now, and may never be, operative. Unfortunately, school districts don’t know this yet. They are being misled into thinking they must act quickly to abide by the law by groups like the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Coalition, whose anti-Zionist educator activists are ideologically and financially motivated to ensure their curricular development and professional training services are widely adopted. But in fact, school districts do not have to, and should not move forward with costly, divisive, and bigoted ethnic studies programs unless and until the state legislature makes this bill operative.”

Rachel Lerman, general counsel and vice chair of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, told the Journal, “We suspect that Santa Ana’s curricula embraces the discredited antisemitic ideologies that were contained in the rejected first draft of California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. We are currently investigating. If that turns out to be the case, then Santa Ana is taking a very ugly road and one which they may come to regret.”

The board did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.


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