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Newton South Under Scrutiny Due To Anti-Semitic Text

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Last week, in a Newton Public School meeting, parents and community members readdressed concerns over how material regarding the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, and more generally the Middle East, has been used and taught within the classroom. There has been, over the past year, a maintained assault on school authorities for the use of texts that have been deemed anti-Jewish propaganda by many. This has brought forward strong claims of anti-Semitism against the school system, and though the readings were quickly reviewed by officials and soon removed from the curriculum, residents have continued to press  school officials for changes to be made, which include making curricula available to parents before it is implemented, in order to allow a public review and discussion of potential texts and materials to be used in the classroom.

The incident that initiated these debates occurred last year, in a world history class at Newton South High School. In October, the class was given readings from the Arab World Studies Notebook, a text that had previously come under sharp criticism as being extremely biased, and had been condemned as inappropriate for use in public schools. The American Jewish Society, one of the oldest Jewish advocacy organizations, issued an in-depth study of the text, concluding that it “appears largely designed to advance the anti-Israel, propagandistic views of [its] sponsors.”

The specific passage from the text used in the Newton South High School history class read as follows: “Over the past four decades, women have been active in the Palestinian resistance movement. Several hundred have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed by Israeli occupation forces since the latest uprising, ‘Intifada,’ in the Israeli occupied territories.”

Because of the community outcry, officials soon removed the chapter from the Arab World Studies Notebook from the required curriculum. Superintendent David Fleishman issued a statement in a subsequent School Committee meeting, acknowledging that the article did not meet the learning goals of the class, which in particular were about Islam and women. Community members have continued to pressure school officials, however, indicating that the initial response to the issue was not adequate, and that further efforts by the school must be made in order to resolve the continued impingement on cultural, religious, and ethnic freedom afforded students in the Newton public schools.

This select group of community residents has continued to attend School Committee Meetings since the incident, and to publicly voice their discontent with the response of school officials and teachers.

The school system has been accused of promoting anti-Semitism and hatred toward Jews by not appropriately addressing this indication of an unfairly balanced curriculum.

Many people, including Charles Jacobs of the organization Americans for Peace and Tolerance, assert that school officials and teachers must undo the harm they have caused. Jacobs’ organization is a Boston-based, non-profit advocacy group “dedicated to promoting peaceful coexistence in an ethnically diverse America,” and has become very involved in the issue, intent to continue the debate by addressing officials until the demands of the community are met.

“My goal is to make the community aware that anti-Semitic and anti-western materials are being used in the school system under the guise of global education,” declared Jacobs.

On the public front, there seems to exist some confusion on the stance of the school authorities. In a meeting last year, Fleishman asserted that the text had been used to provide students with “thoughtful and balanced perspectives,” though the text was eventually removed after review. During a June meeting, chairwoman Clare Sokoloff inaccurately insisted that the “Arab World Studies Notebook was never used.”

Some community members feel they have been largely ignored or ridiculed in these discussions. Jacobs said, in a statement following the recent meeting, that the chairwoman of the meeting, Sokoloff, was “rolling her eyes and smirking in a most disrespectful manner” during his presentation, though she later denied any such action.

While officials have made no indications toward a change in their current policies on the issue, they have continued to reiterate the actions that had been taken over the past year, such as the removal of the entire text in question from the curriculum.

In his statement during the Nov. 5 School Committee meeting, Jacobs was insistent of the group’s stipulations: “We want you to go into the classrooms and tell the affected students that Jews do not torture and murder women. They never did. And you should tell the students that they were lied to. And you should apologize to them and to all of us … I think that the group I speak for will agree that this is an absolute, non-negotiable demand on our part.” Whether these demands will be met remains uncertain, and the stalemate between the community and the school authorities persists.

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