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UCR Professor: “Zionism Politically Toxified Our Schools”

Jewish Journal

By Aaron Bandler

January 12, 2021

Photo: Amerique at Creative Commons


A UC Riverside professor tweeted on January 12 that “Zionism politically toxified our schools.”


The tweet in question came regarding a debate on Twitter over the #DefendEthnicStudies. Groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement like Jewish Voice for Peace had planned to use the hashtag calling for the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum to include Arab American Studies; pro-Israel groups such as StandWithUs and the American Jewish Committee countered by using the hashtag to argue that anti-Israel groups are pressuring the state to insert their bias into the curriculum.


Dylan Rodríguez, a Media and Cultural Studies professor at UC Riverside and the 2020-21 president of the American Studies Association, weighed in on the matter by tweeting, “Most California public education administrators don’t understand how Zionism politically toxified our schools and curricula. It prevents us from teaching historical material about entire populations. This must not continue.”


He added in a subsequent tweet: “A number of Zionist organizations want to convince us that Arab American Studies is ‘anti-semitic.’ This is not only intellectually insulting but is also an inherently racist position.”


Jewish groups denounced Rodríguez’s tweet.


“Jewish self-determination is a right enshrined in international law, not a toxic subject to be avoided,” Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Los Angeles Deputy Director Ariella Lowenstein said in a statement to the Journal. “Education should seek to broaden understanding, not disparage other points of view. And contrived positions featuring wild accusations will not improve the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, which ADL has long supported. It is lamentable that some would prefer to advance a radical political agenda and promote bias, rather than teach about the rich diversity and bring increased understanding of our communities and histories.


“ADL does not oppose Arab American Studies. What we oppose is the teaching of bigotry against Jews or Israel under any banner or subject heading.”


Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Journal in a phone interview that the Ethnic Studies issue is part of a broader campaign to “demonize Zionism” and tell Jews that they have to leave behind their Zionism if they want to engage in social justice issues.


“This is very instructive about how certain movements and groups and individuals will always seek to move the goalposts,” Cooper said, adding that ideally, the curriculum would reflect the diversity of California’s population as a whole, including Arabs and Jews.


“What this professor is putting forward, at least he’s doing it honestly,” Cooper continued. “It’s not enough to have Arab-Americans in whatever comes out at the end. God forbid it should include American Jews and their love for Israel! That’s about as honest of a statement of where things are heading.”


Carly F. Gammill, director of the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “This is exactly the type of hate that we must keep out of California’s ethnic studies model curriculum (ESMC). Zionism is a central part of identity for many Jews, the vast majority of whom naturally support their people’s right to self-determination in their ancestral home. To suggest that Jews and others ‘toxify’ schools or somehow silence others by expressing their identity or supporting basic Jewish rights is dehumanizing and abhorrent.


“UC Riverside should strongly condemn this professor’s statement and California education officials should take note of what to guard against as they finalize the ESMC.”


AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin similarly said in a statement to the Journal that the #DefendEthnicStudies hashtag “is used by activists aggressively campaigning to require students — both in high school and college ± to take a course in ethnic studies to graduate. These ‘courses’ are disguised as education, but in reality are based on a narrow and radical form of ethnic studies called, ‘Critical’ Ethnic Studies, a highly divisive and politically-motivated discipline that aims to indoctrinate students into a specific ideological vision and promotes political activism, including anti-Zionism and BDS.”


She added that Rodríguez’s “offensive” tweets shows the importance of adding safeguards to the curriculum “to ensure faculty are not permitted to use their classrooms to indoctrinate students and mobilize political activism, including anti-Zionism.”


The Stop Antisemitism.org watchdog tweeted, “Imagine being THAT obsessed with hating on Jews that you think an entire state’s educational curriculum is set up in their favor!”


When asked to respond to Stop Antisemitism.org’s tweet, Rodríguez responded: “I reject the premises enabling their weaponization of the terms ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘hate.’ Ironically, their tweet trolls exemplify the very toxicity I referenced in my original post.”


The university declined to comment on the matter.


In November, various Jewish groups praised changes to the ESMC that included removing language that accused Jews of having “racial privilege” and included a lesson on “Antisemitism and Middle Eastern Jewish Americans.” The deadline for a final ESMC draft is March 2021.


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