On Wednesday, the New York State Education Department apologized for including an ‘anti-Israel’ political cartoon on its global studies Regents Exam.

The exam was administered to 10th graders back on January 24.

In an earlier post on the controversy, we wrote that critics—including students, teachers, and a prominent NY politician—had charged that the cartoon was offensive anti-Israel propaganda.

As we highlighted, the cartoon depicts three armed and obese Israeli soldiers huddled behind an overturned table, which they’re using as a protective shield. One says, “I knew this peace table would come in handy someday.” Via a multiple-choice question, students were asked to reflect on the cartoon’s meaning and “main idea.”

[Cartoon in the January 24, 2017 NY State Regents Global Studies Exam]

Initially, as we noted in our post, the Department of Education was unwilling to find any fault with the cartoon. Indeed, a spokesperson initially defended its use in the statewide exam.

But this week officials “changed their tune” after meeting with representatives from the American Jewish Congress (AJC).

[credit: The Times of Israel]

NY State Education Department Issues an Apology

A NY State Education Department spokesperson, Jonathan Burman, reportedly confirmed that Jhone Ebert, the agency’s senior department commissioner for education policy, had spoken directly with the AJC about the cartoon controversy.

The AJC had started an online petition that drew over 1,300 signatures in less than a week.

The New York Post reports:

The AJC petition condemned the cartoon as ‘blatantly anti-Israel, disparaging of Israeli soldiers … and is entirely inappropriate to include on a test administered to young minds.’

The petition, sent to Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa as well as the education agency, demanded an apology.

After seeing the petition, AJC reported that a top Education Department official called the group to discuss the complaint.

The department, according to AJC president Jack Rosen, then issued the following statement:

‘We regret this test question was included in the Regents exam and apologize to those who were offended by it. We are reviewing our internal procedures to vet all questions to ensure inappropriate questions are not included on future exams.’

‘Political cartoons contained on Regents exams are sometimes very pointed and thought-provoking but they are never intended to represent the point of view of the Board of Regents or the Education Department on a given issue.”

The statement doesn’t appear on the NY State Department of Education website or on its social media platforms. However, the veracity of the above transcript was confirmed by agency spokesperson Berman.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), who as we mentioned in our prior post had demanded that the Department and Board of Regents issues an official apology after he received complaints from teachers who administered the exam, praised the Education Department for “seeing the light”:

After a week and half, the NYS Department of Education finally apologized for this heinous political cartoon. Better late than never. How a cartoon like this was approved in the first place is beyond my comprehension. I hope that our educators will be more sensitive in the future and use common sense in selecting appropriate cartoons.”

[Dov Hikind]

The Apology is Good, But Will There Be Follow Up?

It’s good news that my state’s Education Department expressed regret over this incident.

As I noted in my prior post, the image isn’t nearly as disgusting as other cartoons that routinely surface and circulate on the internet, maligning the IDF as Nazi-like baby killers.

Still, the cartoon is hateful. Basically, it portrays the Israeli soldiers in a highly derogatory manner, managing to depict them as both klutzy louts and aggressive war-mongers. It’s also incredibly biased, placing sole blame on Israel for the absence of peace.

[Cartoon in the January 24, 2017 NY State Regents Global Studies Exam]

This cartoon should’ve never appeared on a statewide exam, as the NY State Education Department now admits.

So the critics have been vindicated, and got the apology that they deserved. The Education Department did the right thing—even if it did a long time to own up to its error, and the apology seemed to be occasioned only after considerable prodding, mounting public outrage and bad press.

All’s well that ends well? Not so fast.

As we noted in our prior post,

…this cartoon should’ve never been part of the test and the Board of Regents should issue a formal apology for the mistake.

But even if it does, that shouldn’t be the end of it.

The NY State Education Department should now open a transparent investigation into the incident to determine which teachers found the cartoon online and chose to put it in the test. That’s important because parents and taxpayers have a right to know whether this was a one-off, or if these teachers are disseminating other anti-Israel materials in their classrooms—and not just on this one Regents exam.”

Bottom line:

The insertion of a blatantly anti-Israel cartoon into a NY State high school exam is concerning: it’s the latest example of how discriminatory and biased messaging appears to be filtering down from America’s college and university campuses into the public education system. Federal, state, and local educators should continue to monitor the ways in which anti-Israel activism is starting to work its way down the education chain, implementing correctives as necessary.

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman