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New docs reveal Third Grade Anti-Israel event much worse than thought

New docs reveal Third Grade Anti-Israel event much worse than thought

Ithaca (NY) presentation by Bassem Tamimi and Jewish Voice for Peace incited hatred of Israel.

On Friday morning, September 18, 2015, the third grade classes at the Beverly J. Martin School in Ithaca, NY, heard a presentation on “human rights” by Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi and local anti-Israel activists, including Ariel Gold of the local chapter of the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace.

On Sunday night, September 20, Legal Insurrection broke the story, Anti-Israel activism hits elementary school in Ithaca, NY. Because of Tamimi’s notoriety for exploiting children in videotaped confrontations with Israeli soldiers, Tamimi’s mere appearance in a third grade class raised suspicions about the event.

After our report, a firestorm of controversy erupted, with the Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District (ICSD), Dr. Luvelle Brown, conducting an investigation, after which he issued a statement that the event was “politically skewed, inflammatory, and not endorsed by the Ithaca City School District.”

The Superintendent’s statement, though, contained few details of his investigation.

But now Legal Insurrection exclusively has obtained documents pursuant to a Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL) request that show the event was even worse than we thought.

While numerous documents, including a video of the event, have been withheld by ICSD, what was produced is enough to declare without doubt that the event was an anti-Israel presentation in which both the activists and the teacher leading the discussion skewed the conversation against Israel to the extent that one or more students were incited to express hatred of Israel.

The reaction to Brown’s statement from anti-Israel activists was furious, with JVP national launching a petition drive claiming the statement was part of an effort to silence Palestinian voices. The activists involved claimed that the event was just about peaceful coexistence and was not anti-Israel. Based on those activists’ representations, a letter writing campaign was launched demanding that Brown retract his criticism of the event. We now know that these complaints about the Superintendent’s handling were not based on fact.

1. Activists Launch Campaign Against Superintendent

As detailed in an Update to our original report, the Beverly J. Martin School Principal issued a statement to the public, in which she denied any anti-Israel sentiment was expressed or that the students reacted with anti-Israel sentiment. The statement reads in pertinent part:

There were many adults present in the class and at no time was there an anti-Israel, anti-Palestine, anti-Jewish, or anti-Muslim stance. The children took away from this experience several messages .”I can be an ambassador for peace.” “ You can make friends across borders and that is a good thing.” “Children want the option to live peacefully and to go to school. Children can help stand for these desires.” “Everyone should work things out to live together.” And “love will make peace, not hate.” The children had meaningful, relevant, and appropriate conversations.

Gold also gave a television interview to similar effect:

The well-funded anti-Israel national Jewish Voice for Peace organization launched a petition drive against the Superintendent. The email announcing the petition drive reads, in part:

After Bassem spoke with students, a right-wing law professor at Cornell started a smear campaign in the conservative blogosphere, and a campaign of intimidation against the elementary school.

Not because Bassem said anything false or inappropriate — he didn’t. Not because Bassem is in anyway unsavory — he isn’t. In fact, he’s been recognized for his human rights activism by both the European Union and Amnesty International. They objected because he dared to speak up for Palestinians.

Defenders of Israel’s illegal and racist occupation have already forced the school district to apologize. We need to send a strong message and make it clear that New Yorkers say no to censorship, and yes to human rights.

Add your name to our open letter right now — NEW YORKERS WILL NOT BE SILENCED.

We’ll be buying ads in local newspapers to share our open letter, and make it clear that human rights advocates will not be silenced. It is critical that you add your name and help us fight back.

Picking up on the claims that the event was just about peace, members of the community have criticized the Superintendent’s condemnation (as well as me for reporting on it).

Maura Stephens, who works at the Park School of Communications at Ithaca College (and has been a critic of my Israel positions), wrote an op-ed in The Ithaca Journal, Tamimi is champion of human rights:

I was shocked to read Superintendent Luvelle Brown’s abject apology for the visit by nonviolent Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Tamimi to Beverly J. Martin School.

Tamimi is the kind of person we want our children to meet.

His work revolves around inclusion, love, nonviolence and reconciliation. Brown’s objection to Tamimi’s sharing of simple truths about life under ongoing oppression in an occupied land is an insult to many who actively champion human rights….

Third-graders understand the healing powers of love. They can grieve and sympathize with those who’ve suffered loss. If we won’t speak truth to these children, on whose shoulders so much will soon rest, we’re doing their generation a grave disservice.

People in positions of local authority, such as Superintendent Brown, must stand firm against political pressure. I believe the vast majority of Ithacans will support Brown if he defies bullies who threaten and intimidate educators.

To Superintendent Brown: Please retract the apologia. Applaud and support BJM Principal Eschbach and those who invited Palestinian speakers to share their lives and dreams. We will fully support you if you do so.

Additionally, 31 parents at the Beverly J. Martin school (it’s unclear if any had children in the class), led by Ithaca College Park School of Communications employee Nicole Koschmann, submitted a letter to the editor of the Ithaca Journal, Teachers know best about school speakers, which reads in part:

We, 31 Beverly J. Martin Elementary School parents, are writing in regards to recent news regarding the Palestinian human-rights activist visit at BJM on Sept. 18….

We parents believe teachers are the professionals in their field regarding the developmental stages of their students, what is appropriate, and what relates to the standards that need to be taught. They are trained in this. Law professors at Cornell University do not have this expertise. Political activists do not have this expertise. This knowledge lies with teachers and their principal….

The reactionary swell created outside of BJM as a result of this event is especially shameful when one considers the amount of resources the teachers and administrators have had to divert from their job of educating our children.

Our children were not preyed or imposed upon by the visitors that day. Instead, they were exposed to a perspective and a situation.

The conversation will continue at school and at home. We are not afraid of differing opinions. In fact, teaching students to disagree respectfully, and with patience and compassion, is one of the key elements of teaching human rights. Unfortunately, this is not a lesson many adults have learned.

But was this really an event about peace and gaining diverse perspectives? Do these people criticizing the Superintendent and demanding a retraction of the condemnation have their facts straight?

Superintendent Brown, who is emerging as the good guy and voice of reason in this controversy, knew, in his words, exactly what happened.

Read on.

2. The FOIL Request and Response

We served a fairly broad request under the Freedom of Information Law, which is similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act, seeking records regarding, among other things, the Tamimi appearance.

ICSD, after taking an additional 30 days to which it was entitled by statute, produced some records last week. Those records include a partial transcript, discussed below, and many internal and external communications which may be the subject of future posts at Legal Insurrection.

But some documents were so heavily redacted as to be meaningless.

ICSD Tamimi Foil - Redaction 1

ICSD Tamimi Foil - Redaction 2

In some cases documents contained some information, but the redactions cover most of the text:

ICSD Tamimi Foil - Redaction 3

Other documents have been withheld completely under broad assertions of exemption without any identification of what they are. While 143 pages about the Tamimi visit were produced, 72 pages were withheld in their entirety. So there is more to the story.

We intend to challenge the redactions and withholding of documents and videos, first by administrative appeal, and then by litigation if need be. It took us over a year of litigation to obtain the key police records in the David Gregory ammunition magazine controversy; we will exhibit that same persistence here if required.

We are currently searching for pro bono counsel to assist us in appeal and litigation. If there is anyone licensed in NY State who is interested, contact us.

3. Superintendent Brown stands strong against pressure

The Superintendent’s statement of condemnation reads, in part (emphasis added):

… The assumed purpose of the talk was to focus on human rights and peace. Upon further investigation, we have learned that the speakers went beyond the original intent of the talk. Additionally, school administration was not informed beforehand of the invitation to include one of the speakers….

In a closing statement of how students could help, a speaker spoke of solidarity and being freedom fighters for Palestine….

The Ithaca City School District’s position is that such statements are not developmentally appropriate for third graders, nor aligned with the New York State standards. The statements were politically skewed, inflammatory, and not endorsed by the Ithaca City School District.

Despite the efforts of Jewish Voice for Peace and local activists, Superintendent Brown has not retracted his condemnation of the event.

As these letters were coming in and the campaign against him was mounting, Brown revealed in an email why he was not backing down—he knew from his investigation what actually took place at the event and did not have to rely on the flowery explanations given by the activists who organized the event:

(yellow highlighting added)

ICSD Tamimi Foil - Brown I Know Exactly What Happened highlighted

Not all of the contacts with the ICSD have been critical of the Superintendent. There were may emails of support produced, such as this email urging him to withstand the pressure campaign:

ICSD Tamimi Foil - Email to Tamimi Pressure from Ariel Gold

4. “Janna Jihad” video incites anti-Israel student reactions

Prior to the FOIL production, we knew that videos were shown to the third grade students, but we didn’t know which videos. One of them, which we have not been able to identify, involves Tamimi’s daughter, Ahed, the most famous Tamimi media star. Here is the key part of the description by activist Mary Grady Flores from the ICSD document production:

ICSD Foil - Flores letter re Ahed Video

The second video, which was identified in the ICSD document production, was of Jenna Jihad Tamimi, believed to be Bassem Tamimi’s niece. Janna goes by the stage name “Janna Jihad.”

As explained in a prior post, Janna has been used by the Tamimi media operation to confront Israeli soldiers for the cameras since she was age 5. Her most recent internet hit, which has millions of views on Facebook, showed her confronting Israeli police in Jerusalem, shouting “we will kill you.” Along with Bassem Tamimi’s daughter Ahed, the most famous of the child activists, Janna is a rising international anti-Israel child star who will be featured in a motion picture along with Ahed to be released this winter. Janna also is being portrayed in international media as the “youngest journalist.”

Here is the video shown to the Ithaca third graders. I have marked it to start where the English starts, but you can scroll back in it if you want to hear the Arabic commentary by the announcer:

ICSD refuses to produce the video taken by the activists of the students watching and reacting to this video on the ground that the video contains personally identifiable information regarding students protected by federal educational privacy laws. We intend on challenging, in court if necessary, the withholding of the video in its entirety.

But ICSD did release a document which purports to be a partial transcript of the ending portion of the video Flores took (Gold apparently videotaped the first part of the event). The partial transcription cannot be independently confirmed because ICSD refuses to produce the audio or video, but it is consistent with what the activists have written on social media. The transcript shows adults appearing to steer the conversation against Israel.

Here are some key portions (full transcript here).  The “filmer” apparently refers to Flores, who was taking the video, though the transcript is not clear on that. “Brooke” is Brooke Burnett, a teacher in the school and friend of Gold, through whom the event was arranged. Tamimi is reflected by the intitials “BT,” and “Ariel” is Ariel Gold, of Jewish Voice for Peace.

(Yellow highlighting added)

Transcript Bassem Tamimi at Third Grade 1 highlighted

Transcript Bassem Tamimi at Third Grade 2 highlighted

Transcript Bassem Tamimi at Third Grade 3 highlighted

Transcript Bassem Tamimi at Third Grade 4 highlighted

Transcript Bassem Tamimi at Third Grade 5 highlighted

It is beyond any serious doubt that the event was an anti-Israel event, that it was meant to incite the third grade students against Israel, and that it achieved its goal.

Now you can understand why Superintendent Brown reacted the way he did after investigation.  He knew exactly what happened.

5. Problems beyond this event

It would be a mistake to view this event in isolation.

While it was wildly inappropriate, as the Superintendent acknowledged, the documents produced indicate potential problems in the Beverly J. Martin School and possibly elsewhere in the ICSD when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. That’s a separate issue for another time.

This event is a microcosm of a larger problem in education. We know about anti-Israel bias at the university faculty level. But we now know that there are efforts to indoctrinate even third graders.

We will continue to push for full access to all documents to which we are entitled under FOIL.


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We will continue to push for full access to all documents to which we are entitled under FOIL.

Excuse me if the answer to this is common knowledge, but who wields the magic marker to make the redactions in the FOIL documents? And isn’t the FOIL kind of useless, when you can’t see all the documents?

Really great job.

This is right out of Hillary’s playbook. The strong Democrat flavor of choice in the City and Town of Ithaca. The Board of Ed. would have the Superintendent turn it over to their retained legal counsel in the window of allowed “thirty days”. Their first response would be redact and stone wall. Each part of the litigation gives another allowed window of time. It might be as much as 1 to 2 years to get to the bottom of this. The larger the issues, the longer amount of time to disclosure. The hope is it will just go away. What this particular school district has never encountered to this degree or at this level is a conservative investigator of the magnitude as is Dr. J. nor the exposure in the media as is L.I. to challenge their accountability.

“We parents believe teachers are the professionals in their field regarding the developmental stages of their students, what is appropriate, and what relates to the standards that need to be taught. They are trained in this. Law professors at Cornell University do not have this expertise.”

Get it, Prof? You just don’t know as much about the fraught world of Middle Eastern politics as the average elementary-school teacher. And what do you really know about peace and love and understanding anyway?

But I would bet that in almost any other context, the authors of that letter would give great deference to the wisdom of Ivy League professors.

    Milhouse in reply to Radegunda. | November 9, 2015 at 1:56 am

    No, they’re not saying anything about his knowledge of “the fraught world of Middle Eastern politics”. They’re saying he doesn’t know as much as the average elementary school teacher about childhood development, and what sort of material is appropriate for children of a particular age. They’re pretending the only issue is the complexity of the issue, as if the only problem with teaching third-graders The Turner Diaries were that it’s got some long words.

      Radegunda in reply to Milhouse. | November 9, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Well, duh, I know that’s what they’re literally saying. But the subtext, of course, is that Prof. Jacobsen has no intellectual basis from which to critique the political content of the lessons being imported to young children.

      Since when is expertise in child development a prerequisite for weighing in on the ideological bias and dishonesty of what children are being taught? Since when is it the best foundation for understanding what Bassem Tammimi is really up to?

      Leftists are usually telling us that parents know nothing compared with Ivy League professors. But if the Ivy League professor is a pro-Israel non-leftist, then a bunch of anti-Semitic lefty parents say he can’t possibly be qualified to evaluate what elementary-school teachers know about the Middle East.

      It’s rubbish, and you know it.

        Milhouse in reply to Radegunda. | November 10, 2015 at 12:23 pm

        No, the subtext is not at all about an “intellectual basis from which to critique the political content”. On the contrary, the subtext is the exact opposite: that no expertise in political analysis is called for, because the political content of Tamimi’s presentation is uncontroversial and beyond dispute. The only possible basis on which this event could be criticised is that it was beyond the children’s capability to process. And that is a matter of child development, a subject on which Prof Jacobson has no expertise, so it should be left to the judgment of the professionals, i.e. the 3rd-grade teacher.

I came to this site following an article on the stifling of free speech at yale.

Then I find this article declaring the organization Jewish voice for peace an anti-israel organization, obviously in an attempt to silence it, then proffessing A wish to protest is hatred of Israel?

I guess free speech is okay as Long as the statement is agreeable?

    Milhouse in reply to koba. | November 9, 2015 at 1:52 am

    JVP is an anti-Israel and antisemitic organization. That is the simple truth, and if you don’t like it tough luck. You have the right to be an antisemite if you like, but if you choose that then you don’t have the right to deny that that is what you are.

      sdharms in reply to Milhouse. | November 9, 2015 at 6:06 am

      the name of the commenter you were replying to, Koba, is a name given to Stalin. there is a book about Stalin, titled, “Koba the Dread”.

    BenfromJlem in reply to koba. | November 9, 2015 at 2:13 am

    Perhaps you would be more comfotable if we taught children like they did in the terretories

    dystopia in reply to koba. | November 9, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Silencing speech? Isn’t that standard operating procedure for you and your Comrades on the left? It is also standard operating procedure for Hamas and Hezbollah.

    Please make a contribution. Head to the Gaza Strip. Approach Hamas and tell them you are a Jewish Voice for Peace. Tell them you insist in remaining a Jew in name only. Take out lots of life insurance you childish, vapid, dilettante.

    objection in reply to koba. | November 9, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Given you moniker, we can only assume you are a Stalinist. Funny to hear a Stalinist talk about free speech.

    DaveGinOly in reply to koba. | November 10, 2015 at 2:00 am

    The “Yale” story concerns young adults and their ability to communicate their own thoughts freely. This story is about children and an attempt to politically indoctrinate them, i.e., to teach them what to think. School is a place for learning, not indoctrination. If you can’t see the differences between these stories, you’ve probably been indoctrinated yourself.

mumzieistired | November 9, 2015 at 1:10 am

Indoctrination at its creepiest.

And the parents don’t seem to mind.

Bet the taxpayers do. Or would if they knew what was going on.

From the JVP homepage I can clearly see that they are openly critical of the Israeli policy towards the palestinian people and areas. What I fail too see is anti-semitism.

Also my point was, the article:

Clearly mocks the students of Yale for silencing voices they disagree with, while this article attempts to silence critics of Israel by naming them anti-semitic and hateful. Different motive, same result.

    This is me in reply to koba. | November 9, 2015 at 4:30 am

    The Tamimi family continue to put their children in harm’s way and incited them to violence. Now they come to my country and try to brainwash our children to do the same. You attempt to defend this by invoking the first amendment.

    You said “I guess free speech is okay as Long as the statement is agreeable?” No, only when it doesn’t incite violence or slander others.

    Estragon in reply to koba. | November 9, 2015 at 8:20 am

    No one is trying to “silence” anyone. There are any number of free and appropriate formats for expression.

    There is NO “right” to make political presentations to schoolchildren on class time.

    RuthC in reply to koba. | November 9, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Hi koba

    “this article attempts to silence critics of Israel by naming them anti-semitic and hateful”.

    What you express here is a common allegation, that antisemitism is unfairly used in in order to “silence” critics of Israel.

    This argument is used so frequently it has its own term, proposed by the left-wing scholar David Hirsh, the Livingston formulation. Rather than deal with the substance of the criticism, one flings the criticism back with an accusation that it is made in bad faith, in order to “silence”. In fact JVP is an antisemitic organization because it is an organization dedicated to a discriminatory denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination.

    For more analysis of contemporary left-wing antisemitism, read David Hirsh’s recent essay examining antisemitism in the progressive movement.

    Helen in reply to koba. | November 9, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Koba, we’re talking about 3rd graders here. They should be learning their multiplication tables not being indoctrinated into the anti-Israel ways of thinking.


    The affairs of a free nation the size of a speck of dust rating the ire of the entire leftist and fascist world? For example, where are these morons on the horrid torture and genocide in North Korea?

    Common sense just blows your assertion off the face of this blog.

    The left has always been anti-Semitic – which makes Jewish leftism so pathetic.

    Milhouse in reply to koba. | November 10, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    JVP denies that Jews have the inherent human right to defend themselves from deadly attackers. It claims that Arabs have the right to attack Jews whenever they like, and the Jews must submit to being killed, robbed, raped, and driven from their homes. That is antisemitism.

      Sammy Finkelman in reply to Milhouse. | November 10, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      They probably didn’t explain it that way to the third-graders. (even if, when you get into it, taht’s waht they say)

      The problem is they are totally lying about what’s going on.

Great work, Professor! I hope you can engage your state’s press association, assuming they still have some interest in the FOIL and access to public documents. In SC, the attorney who authored our state FOIA and open meetings laws (he was head of drafting for the legislature at the time) became the consulting attorney to the state press association on these matters. Although now retired, he still offers his time pro bono to organizations in FOIA court battles.

If you can force courts to limit the blatant and serial violation of these laws by public bodies, you will have an effect far beyond this issue alone. As it stands in most states, the only penalty for public officials who refuse to comply is the possibility of being ordered to do so – IF the requester has the resources to sue.

The main problem is that parents actively don’t want to know about what goes on in their children’s schools because if they knew they might have to feel guilty about sending them there.

So please continue to rub their faces in it.

Child-sacrifice culture.

I am surprised that the organizers were allowed to record the students during the presentation.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to davod. | November 9, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Yea, I am a school nurse and we would have to get permission from the parents to let an outside entity record our students. Which makes the districts claim of not being able to release the video because of student privacy concerns kind of interesting.

Go get’em Prof.

Pretty much what that kid at Merced/CA did, no?

[…] conservative blog Legal Insurrection has been trying to obtain documents and videos connected to the visit to the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School by Bassem Tamimi, once convicted […]

[…] website Legal Insurrection — is now weighing filing a lawsuit against the school district to force a release of the video recorded of the class […]

Meanwhile, not one kid in that class knows the difference between “there,” “their” and “they’re,” or how to use an apostrophe.

Public school: It might have been OK for Wally and Beav, but it’s a lost concept at this point.

I’m Jewish. I’m a left-leaning liberal. I disagree with most Israeli policies regarding Palestine. I also believe that the Palestinian leadership and most of the actions they are taking are reprehensible. While not a BJM parent, I am a parent of an elementary school student in Ithaca and I personally know a student in this class. So, that is my perspective.

From the documents produced, I have to generally agree with this “conservative blogger” and with Dr. Luvelle Brown regarding this incident. Any activist who claims that their children are “resources” to be used in this conflict is despicable, and should not be allowed to blather to our children in our schools. I’m pretty sure the UN and international law weigh in on the indoctrination, recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts. I wonder if that was discussed in this presentation.