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StandWithUs Letter to SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews Expressing Concern over BDS Resolution

June 9, 2021


Vincent Matthews, Ed.D.

Superintendent

San Francisco Unified School District

555 Franklin Street

San Francisco, California 94102


VIA EMAIL: (matthewsv@sfusd.edu)


Dear Superintendent Matthews,


We write on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit education organization supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. The purpose of this letter is to express our deep concern over the recent biased, antisemitic, politically-charged Resolution in Solidarity with the Palestinian People (“Resolution”) passed by the United Educators of San Francisco (“UESF”), the collective voice of San Francisco Unified School District (“SFUSD”) teachers and paraprofessionals. We believe this resolution may lead to systemic violations of SFUSD policy which would harm many students, staff, and parents. We urge you to act swiftly to prevent this from happening.


We find the timing of the resolution especially concerning given the sharp rise in antisemitic incidents throughout the country: Jews are being attacked for wearing a yarmulke; synagogues, campus Jewish centers and kosher restaurants are being vandalized and Jewish restaurant patrons assaulted; and discriminatory BDS resolutions—such as the one at issue here—proliferate on college campuses nationwide. Just this week in San Francisco, a prominent Jewish-owned cafe and community center was vandalized with antisemitic graffiti.


We are deeply concerned that the Resolution will cause the Jewish community—especially Jewish students and staff—further harm at this time. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement systematically promotes national origin discrimination against Israel as well as antisemitism more broadly. The purpose of BDS is not to protest or change Israeli government policy as some claim, but to isolate and pressure Israel until it ceases to exist. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti has said, “we oppose a Jewish state” and that Jewish people “are not entitled to self-determination.” Furthermore, there are countless examples and reports showing how similar BDS campaigns in North America fuel hatred against local Jewish communities. This resolution only adds more fuel to the fire of rising antisemitism.


The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which has been endorsed by the Biden Administration, recognizes that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” is a form of antisemitism. The stated goal of the BDS movement meets this part of the definition, and many of its actions meet other parts as well.


SFUSD Board Policy 6141 states that “[d]istrict curriculum shall not reflect adversely upon persons because of their… ancestry, national origin, group identification… [or] religion… the perception of one or more of such characteristics; or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.” SFUSD has an urgent responsibility to enforce this policy, now that UESF is promoting antisemitism and national origin discrimination against Israelis at an institutional level.


Furthermore, in regard to teaching controversial issues, Board Policy 6141 states that curriculum, “should be designed to develop students’ critical thinking skills, ability to discriminate between fact and opinion, respect for others and understanding and tolerance of diverse points of view.” Any teacher who translates UESF’s resolution to their approach in the classroom would be blatantly violating every aspect of this policy.


The resolution advances a narrow and destructive political agenda rather than critical thinking. It omits so much context that it thoroughly misleads the public about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demonstrating a refusal to distinguish fact from opinion. It endorses a movement which literally seeks to shut down cooperation and dialogue with any Israeli who refuses to support dismantling Israel. This is the exact opposite of “respect for others and understanding and tolerance of diverse points of view.” To permit a union representing the very teachers and paraprofessionals tasked with carrying out SFUSD policy to take such a biased and discriminatory position with no condemnation by SFUSD signals a tacit SFUSD seal of approval. Many people may not even realize that the UESF does not speak for the district. This leaves many Jewish and Israeli students within your school district feeling threatened, marginalized, and targeted by their teachers.


While the Resolution may be protected free speech, SFUSD also has a free speech right to condemn it, and a responsibility to ensure the Resolution does not result in violations of district policy. As such, we ask:


1. That SFUSD condemn the Resolution and the BDS Movement, make clear it does not reflect SFUSD’s official position, and state that there will be no tolerance for BDS within SFUSD’s schools or classrooms.


2. That SFUSD issue a statement acknowledging that for many individuals, Zionism is an integral part of their Jewish identity. This statement about Jewish identity has been adopted already by many administrators facing similar hateful activity, including the California State University system. Doing so will go a long way toward making Jewish students feel protected and valued within your school district.

3. That all teachers and paraprofessionals receive diversity and equity training this summer specifically on what constitutes antisemitism and how best to protect against a hostile environment for Jewish students. We suggest that such training incorporate an understanding of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, the consensus international definition of antisemitism. We are also happy to recommend education providers who can conduct these trainings.


4. That in accordance with Board Policy 6141, SFUSD establish an ongoing process for curriculum and district policy development, selection, and/or adaptation with “input from students, parents/guardians… and other community members,” with the explicit purpose of ensuring that UESF’s resolution does not harm Jewish and Israeli students or lead to any other violations of SFUSD policy.


We are ready to assist you in any way we can to ensure SFUSD is able to enforce its policies effectively and ensure a safe learning environment for Jewish and Israeli students moving forward.


Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter. Given the urgency of this matter, we look forward to your response by June 17, 2021.


Roz Rothstein

CEO and Co-Founder

StandWithUs


Yael Lerman

Director

StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department


Carly Gammill

Director

StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism

StandWithUs

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StandWithUs (SWU) is an international and non-partisan Israel education organization that inspires and educates people of all ages and backgrounds, challenges misinformation and fights antisemitism.

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