A firestorm of controversy erupted in Ithaca, NY, hometown of Cornell University and Ithaca College, when it was learned that local anti-Israel activists brought highly controversial Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi to third grade class.

Tamimi is best known for using children, including his own, to confront Israeli soldiers to create viral video and photo opportunities. He also is an advocate of children taking part in resistance activities, including stone throwing. To pro-Palestinian activists, however, he is a symbol of Israeli repression.

The third-grade presentation was skewed and biased against Israel, according to a statement issued by the Ithaca City School District Superintendent, after an investigation. Among other things, after seeing videos and hearings stories of how Palestinian children suffer at the hands of Israelis, the third graders were urged to become “freedom fighters for Palestine.”

Nonetheless, Jewish Voice for Peace defends the event, and has launched a campaign claiming that Palestinian voices have been stifled and suppressed in Ithaca and elsewhere in upstate NY. It was the leader of the local chapter of JVP and the coordinator of Tamimi’s national speaking tour, Ariel Gold, who appears to have arranged the third grade event.

The event and the call to become “freedom fighters for Palestine, are being portrayed by those who arranged and participated in the event as being blown out of context, that the third grade students merely were urged to become freedom fighters for peace and justice, like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Alex Dunbar of the Syracuse NBC affiliate, reports (the video is cut off at the end):

Human rights is a standard topic in 3rd grade social studies but parents and the Ithaca School Superintendent were surprised to hear that Palestinian activist Bassem Tamini was a speaker in an Ithaca elementary school classroom on September 18th. The superintendent says Tamimi played a video for Beverly J. Martin 3rd graders that referenced Israelis killing Palestinians and said the 8 and 9 year-olds could help by becoming freedom fighters for Palestine. In an interview Tuesday over Facetime, Tamimi stood by his presentation.

“This is what I teach my son and my daughter and my children the same age. If I accept it for my children, I think it will be acceptable for anyone in the world.”…

In a statement, the superintendent called the presentation inappropriate for 3rd graders and politically skewed. In an interview, Gold described the presentation as advocating for peace. She was reminded that Tamimi acknowledged asking the children to be freedom fighters for Palestine.

“Freedom fighters with love,” said Gold. She was then asked if that a tough distinction for children to make and Gold said “Martin Luther King was a freedom fighter and children learn about Martin Luther King every day.”

The Ithaca School Superintendent said administration was unaware Tamimi would be speaking to students. The district said it is reviewing its policies on guest speakers and visitors to buildings as a result of the presentation. When asked about that statement and an investigation into the circumstances of the presentation Gold said “What I want to say is this type of bullying and intimidation – which is really what has occurred here is bullying and intimidation – to attempting to silence Palestinian voices.”

In the full Tamimi interview Dunbar posted at the CNY Central Facebook page, however, Tamimi makes clear that when students were urged to become freedom fighters for Palestine, he was hoping they would become activists for the Palestinian cause (if video doesn’t load, go to Facebook link above):

When a guest speaker comes to an elementary school, it’s usually to share stories about what they do for work. But this was not the case in Ithaca where a Palestinian activist was allowed to give a presentation to 3rd graders and it’s raising big questions. TONIGHT — Hear why the activist believes the topic was appropriate for children.

Posted by CNYcentral.com on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

In a more complete interview with Gold posted on CNY Central’s Facebook page, Dunbar pressed her on the justification for the appearance, and despite Tamimi’s statement as to the purpose, she insisted it was all about promoting love and peace (if video doesn’t load, go to Facebook link above) :

When a guest speaker comes to an elementary school, it’s usually to share stories about what they do for work. But this was not the case in Ithaca where a Palestinian activist was allowed to give a presentation to 3rd graders and it’s raising big questions. TONIGHT hear from a mother of one of the students —

Posted by CNYcentral.com on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Trying to turn students into Palestinian activists is the entire purpose of Tamimi’s national tour, as he indicated in an interview with Times of Israel in which he justified his advocacy of using young children to create viral video and photo events:

“When we are able to get a video like this, we can use it to great effect,” he said. “When enough people here see these videos and hear our stories, it can start a kind of intifada [popular Palestinian uprising] against Israel in the United States.” …

Perhaps most pronounced among the criticisms directed his way is that of child exploitation, in that he urges children to throw rocks at soldiers in order to provoke confrontations captured on video and later disseminated. This is a charge he does not deny.

“Our cameras are our weapon,” he said. “And when we force IDF soldiers to confront our children, our cameras are a way for us to fight Israel and the occupation.” …

“Six years ago, we developed a model of protest,” he added. “We have a weekly demonstration where we clash with the army … and we film it to show the world the realities of how we live.”

Amid the current escalation of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stone throwing has become a more prominent issue within Israeli politics after the murder of 64-year-old Alexander Levlovich, who was killed when his car was pelted with rocks while he was driving home from a Rosh Hashanah dinner in East Jerusalem. In one of several other recent incidents, an Israeli family suffered minor wounds after it was targeted during a ride home to Tekoa following a Sukkot meal in Efrat….

When asked if stone throwing is “nonviolent,” Tamini said: “In the context of our resistance, no it is not violent … Can stone throwing technically be violent? Yes. But for our protests at Nabi Saleh, they are our voices, our expressions of resistance against an enemy.”

Gold also made clear her view of Israel:

“I believe a Jewish state is racist,” she told The Times of Israel. “Any country that favors one group of people over another is racist. We need people like Tamimi who can demonstrate that reality.”

When this reporter asked if she was also advocating boycott or dissolving any other nation-states or countries involved in conflict, she said she was not.

The controversy is not going away, as these comments at the Legal Insurrection Facebook post indicate:

https://www.facebook.com/106154574485/posts/10153649836039486

The comments at CNY Central’s Facebook page, where the two videos have been viewed a combined 15,000 times, is just as vigorous:

 

https://www.facebook.com/cnycentral/videos/10153157446005382/

 

There is little doubt what this event was about. It was turning young children against Israel and for Palestinians.

Whether that was appropriate in a third grade class is something the Ithaca School district is going to have to address beyond issuing a statement.