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California Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Instituted Ethnic Studies Curriculum Deemed Antisemitic

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks to the media, at a voting center in Sacramento, California, March 3, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Gabriela Bhaskar / File.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have instituted an ethnic studies curriculum for public high schools that critics have slammed as being biased and antisemitic.

In his veto message, Newsom stated that he supported including ethnic studies as part of the required high school curriculum. However, he noted, the bill he vetoed “would require ethnic studies to be taught in high school at a time when there is much uncertainty about the appropriate K-12 model curriculum for ethnic students.”

“Last year, I expressed concern that the initial draft of the model curriculum was insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be substantially amended,” he added. “In my opinion, the latest draft, which is currently out for review, still needs revision.”

A letter to Newsom sent this month by dozens of organizations that was spearheaded by the AMCHA Initiative called the curriculum politically biased, saying, “We are especially concerned that the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist ideological orientation of Critical Ethnic Studies … will foster a toxic climate for Jewish and pro-Israel students throughout the state, and foment harm against them.”

As an example, the letter pointed to “a unit on ‘Irish and Jewish Americans: Redefining White and American,’ which requires students to write a paper ‘detailing certain events in American history that have led to Jewish and Irish Americans gaining racial privilege’ and asks students to ‘think critically about why and who is allowing this evolution in white identity.’”

“At a time when anti-Jewish sentiment, hostility, and violence has reached truly alarming levels, indoctrinating students to view Jews as ‘white’ and ‘racially privileged’ is tantamount to putting an even larger target on the back of every Jewish student,” the letter stated.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Initiative Director of AMCHA, said of Newsom’s veto, “We applaud Governor Newsom for keeping politics and antisemitism out of an educational curriculum.”

“There is an important distinction between the broad and worthy field of ethnic studies, with its goal of understanding and celebrating the contributions of California’s and our nation’s diversity, and the narrow field of ‘Critical Ethnic Studies’ that the developing California curriculum is modeled after,” she said. “The mission of this narrow understanding of ethnic studies is to promote political beliefs and political activism that are antithetical to the educational setting, inherently antisemitic ,and pose a dangerous threat to Jewish students.”

“We commend the governor for recognizing this important distinction, and we hope that moving forward, the state legislature will take steps to ensure that state-approved instructional materials and K-12 classrooms are free from political bias and not used to advance political causes,” Rossman-Benjamin concluded.

Watchdog group CAMERA, which was heavily involved in opposition to the bill, praised Newsom, with Senior Research Analyst Steven Stotsky, who monitors public school curricula, saying, “Governor Newsom demonstrated incisive leadership by vetoing the California bill that would have established the current flawed ethnic studies curriculum as a high school graduation requirement.”

“Exposure of the curriculum’s unconscionable anti-Israel advocacy and its deprecation of Jewish tenacity in overcoming discrimination in America played an important role” in convincing the governor, he asserted.

“Governor Newsom’s firm action reinforces what we at CAMERA have been underscoring for the past ten years — namely, the critical role of the public in foiling schemes by academic radicals and compliant education officials to inculcate America’s children with inaccurate, dishonest accounts of America’s founding and culture,” Stotsky concluded.

Ilan Sinelnikov, president and founder of Students Supporting Israel, which was also involved in the campaign against the bill, said, “After months of hard work, petitions, and letters to the legislators from a large coalition of organizations, the Governor of California did the right thing.”

“Students in high school should not be brainwashed by anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist propaganda,” he asserted. “Now it is our time to keep increasing Zionist education, work with high school students even more, and make sure that our community is always ready to protect ourselves against hate.”

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) welcomed the news of Newsom’s veto, stating, “The veto enables the Department of Education to reconsider its ill-conceived plan to produce a divisive program of ethnic studies.”

“AJC urges the Superintendent of Education continue efforts to improve the Ethnic Studies Model curriculum before its final adoption,” it added.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) told The Algemeiner that it was “pleased” by the veto, pointing out, “The Governor correctly understood that there were serious problems with the model ethnic studies curriculum, which wasn’t inclusive of all ethnic communities, including Jews.”

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