California model curriculum offers problematic lesson on American Jews

Its first draft, completed in spring 2019, led to complaints from California’s legislative Jewish Caucus, but the changes may not be enough.

By World Israel News Staff

California is about to ratify its model ethnic studies curriculum after a contentious process that led to four drafts, took over two years and drew nearly 100,000 public comments.

Its first draft, completed in spring 2019, led to complaints from California’s legislative Jewish Caucus, which said it included content that denigrates Jews and erased the American Jewish experience.

It cited course materials that referred to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which the House of Representatives condemned as anti-Semitic, as a global social movement but left out “any meaningful discussion of anti-Semitism.”

The fourth and apparently final draft leaves much to be desired say critics. The lesson title dedicated to Jews is “Jewish Americans: Identity, Intersectionality, and Complicating Ideas of Race.”

Melissa Landa, founding director of the Alliance for Israel, writes that the original draft spoke of Jews’ “conditional whiteness” and “white privilege.” But the fourth draft only deleted the latter, keeping “conditional whiteness,” thus maintaining “the essence of the message” that Jews are privileged over other groups, somehow enjoying superior social advantages.

The lesson also fixates on the racial appearance of Jews, talking about how Jewish Americans “can range from light skinned to Middle Eastern to Jews of color.”

While it’s true that Jews can look different one from another, Landa notes, “Most American Jews do not define themselves through a racial lens, as the current iteration of the curriculum suggests.”

Landa says the curriculum barely touches on Jewish contributions to American society. It profiles 11 contemporary American Jews, “some of whom were selected primarily for their multi-racial identity…,” she writes.

Given the vast number of American Jews who have contributed materially to advancing American life, Landa concludes that the ‘model’ curriculum has failed where Jews are concerned.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve the final draft, an 894-page tome, this week.

“We’ve worked to bring justice to what we believe the ethnic studies movement to be about,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond told reporters, defending the curriculum, which has been criticized by other ethnic groups as well.

AP contributed to this report.