June 16, 2021
Brent Jones, Ph.D.
Seattle Public Schools
Office of the Superintendent
MS: 32-150; PO Box 34165
Seattle, Washington 98124-1165
VIA WEBSITE SUBMISSION
Dear Superintendent Jones,
We write on behalf of StandWithUs Northwest, 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 Seattle Education Association (“SEA”), the collective voice of Seattle Public School (“SPS”) educators. We believe this resolution may lead to systemic violations of SPS 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.
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.
Not surprising, the Resolution ignores that Jewish identity came into being in the land of Israel. The Jewish people have maintained a continuous presence in Israel throughout history and, despite repeated expulsions, have maintained an unbroken connection to that land. For centuries, yearning for a return to Israel/Zion has been a central component of Jewish identity. Today, Jews fulfill their inalienable rights to self-determination in the State of Israel. Recognizing these realities, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism includes, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” as a form of antisemitism. This has been endorsed by the Biden Administration. The Resolution meets this definition because it seeks to deny the Jewish people’s connection to their ancestral home and to strip Jews of their right to self-determination there.
The Resolution also endorses the antisemitic “End the Deadly Exchange Seattle” (“DX”) campaign. DX is an antisemitic conspiracy theory that falsely blames Jews in the U.S. and Israel for police brutality and racial injustices in America. DX activists cite as “evidence” trips by United States law enforcement leaders to Israel, where they focus on saving lives from threats like terrorism and gun violence, rather than other aspects of policing. DX activists classify these trips as “military trainings,” even though they have no bootcamp-style field training and are not conducted by the Israeli army. These distortions are then used to falsely blame Jewish groups and Israel for injustices in the U.S. This is classic antisemitism and the latest in a long pattern of Jews being scapegoated for social ills. The result is exactly what we see play out across the country—increased divisiveness leading to hateful acts and violence against Jews. For instance, there is evidence that the DX conspiracy theory helped influence the shooter who murdered Jews in a New Jersey deli in December 2019. DX activists rely on this antisemitic campaign to target and marginalize Jewish students, and normalize anti-Zionist and antisemitic sentiment in schools.
Applicable SPS Policies at Risk of Systemic Violation
SPS Policy No. 2015 seeks to select and adopt instructional materials that “implement, enrich and support the educational program of [SPS] schools.” Specifically, Policy No. 2015 states that all instructional materials adopted should: “[p]rovide sufficient variety to present opposing views of controversial issues in order that students may develop the skills of critical analysis and informed decision-making;” “[r]epresent the diversity of students and contribute to the development of understanding issues of gender, ethnic, cultural, occupational, and religious groups;” and “[e]liminate, in all instructional materials, bias pertaining to sex (gender), race, creed, color, religion, ancestry, national origin…” SPS has an urgent responsibility to enforce this policy, considering that SEA is promoting antisemitism against Jewish students and national origin discrimination against Israeli students at an institutional level.
Moreover, SPS Policy No. 2340 states that “[i]nstruction about religious matters and/or using religious materials shall be conducted in an objective, neutral, non-devotional manner and shall serve a secular educational purpose…[s]tudy of these disciplines, including the religious dimension, shall give neither preferential nor disparaging treatment to any single religion or to religion in general and must not be introduced or utilized for devotional purposes.” Adherence to this policy requires that SPS educators serve a secular purpose in their instruction. Otherwise, they might—inadvertently or otherwise—show favoritism or disproval for an individual religion.
In regard to teaching religion as part of any study, Policy No. 2340 states that criteria, “shall seek the same neutrality, objectivity and educational effectiveness expected in other areas of the curriculum. In addition, materials and activities should be sensitive to America’s pluralistic society and should educate rather than indoctrinate.”
Neutrality in this matter mandates that SPS educators not take sides in a politically charged debate that effectively singles out students based on religion, ethnicity, ancestry, and/or national origin. Doing so would lead to the very indoctrination prohibited by SPS policy. Put another way, any teacher who translates SEA’s Resolution to their approach in the classroom would be blatantly violating many aspects of SPS policy.
The Resolution advances a narrow and destructive political agenda rather than the neutrality SPS policy requires. 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. To permit a union representing the very educators tasked with carrying out SPS policy to take such a biased and discriminatory position with no condemnation by SPS signals a tacit SPS seal of approval. Many people may not even realize that the SEA 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, SPS 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 SPS condemn the Resolution and the BDS Movement, make clear it does not reflect SPS’s official position, and state that there will be no tolerance for promotion of BDS or antisemitism within SPS’s schools or classrooms.
2. That SPS 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 educators 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 SPS Policy No. 2015, SPS establish an ongoing process for curriculum and district policy development, selection, and/or adaptation with the explicit purpose of ensuring that SEA’s resolution does not harm Jewish and Israeli students or lead to any other violations of SPS policy.
We are ready to assist you in any way we can to ensure SPS 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 23, 2021.
CEO & Co-Founder
StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department
Carly F. Gammill
StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism