“Jews of color” but not white Jews could be considered marginalized populations to be studied in California’s soon-to-be-mandated Ethnic Studies’ curriculum for K-12 schools.
Jews aren’t oppressed, according to critical theorist and ethnic studies movement leader Artnelson Concordia (whose ethnic studies gold rush I’ve covered in the Wall Street Journal). Or at least, even when repeatedly asked, he did not deny it at B’nai B’rith synagogue during a Jewish outreach event this month, saying “Jews of color” but not white Jews could be considered marginalized populations to be studied in California’s soon-to-be-mandated Ethnic Studies’ curriculum for K-12 schools.
Concordia is an ethnic studies activist currently employed by the Santa Barbara Unified School District, where he is helping them implement a new ethnic studies course to study “historically underrepresented groups” that will be required for high school graduation. Before he became a consultant, Concordia worked on a version of the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum that Governor Gavin Newsom initially rejected for being anti-Semitic, before passing a revised version this month. Ethnic studies has a long, controversial history in the state. And as of last week, ethnic studies will soon be a course requirement for every high schooler in California. But isn’t the first time that ethnic studies activists have gotten into hot water with the California Jewish community.
In 2016, the California state legislature passed a bill requiring the State Board of Education (SBE) to create an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) to help guide districts interested in creating an ethnic studies course. The original draft of the ESMC was widely derided for being antisemitic, such as the inflammatory political statement: “the state of Israel was founded on Palestinian land.” It repeated common tropes about Jews controlling the media and expressed support for BDS, a Palestinian activist group with ties to Hamas. The outcry was swift and overwhelming: tens of thousands of Californians publicly expressed their opposition. Governor Newsom rejected the curriculum, saying it was “offensive in so many ways” and “would never see the light of day.”
In response, the SBE went back to the drawing board and created a revised curriculum sans the anti-semitism. It passed this year without issue.
When the SBE revised the curriculum, they also started fresh with a new team of authors. But the ethnic studies activists who authored the original curriculum didn’t simply disappear. Instead, they created a private ethnic studies consultancy called the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Institute. Members of this group are the primary advocates of ethnic studies within the state, and many of them have been hired as consultants by California school districts (particularly Santa Barbara Unified and Salinas). Tolteka Cuauhtin is the most infamous of the bunch. Earlier this year he was one of the subjects of a Chris Rufo piece exposing how ethnic studies activists are making children chant to Aztec gods of human sacrifice.
Artnelson Concordia, the Santa Barbara ethnic studies consultant has become similarly controversial for both bringing Aztec chants to the classroom, and bringing on arguably antisemitic influences into the ethnic studies curriculum. In an attempt to clear the air between the Santa Barbara Jewish community and ethnic studies activists, Dan Meisel, the head of the local ADL chapter, moderated an outreach event with Concordia at B’nai B’rith synagogue earlier this month. His role in the event was puzzling, given Meisel’s role and the ADL’s explicit condemnation of the same ESMC Concordia helped author several years ago.
According to witnesses I have interviewed, Concordia, flanked by Santa Barbara District Superintendent Hilda Maldonado and Assistant Superintendent Shawn Carey, opened by inviting the congregation to participate by reading a Luis Valdez poem based upon what he called Mayan tradition. After presenting his definition of ethnic studies (an analysis of racial power dynamics in America based upon a Marxist “critical consciousness” lens), the floor opened for only a few minutes of Q&A.
Members of the Jewish community expressed their concern over the complete lack of Jewish representation in the ethnic studies curriculum. Jillian Wittman, a Jewish member of the B’nai B’rith synagogue who attended the event, asked, “how is our Jewish ethnicitiy represented in our school district?” Of primary concern was whether they would be treated as “oppressed” or “oppressors.” In the wake of both the 20th century and modern upticks in antisemitic violence, many Jews are understandably opposed to being cast as “oppressors” who weaponize their “whiteness” to subjugate people of color.
“[Concordia] didn’t really like my question,” Wittman tells me in an interview. He deflected from the question by saying “Ok, we need to focus on Jews of color.” Concordia elaborated by saying that having an ethnic studies class focus on Jews would be like having a gender studies course discuss the experiences of men. He would not say whether “white” Jews would be considered oppressed, despite their experience of the Holocaust. The air in the synagogue was immediately pervaded with “staleness,” Wittman describes.
“His answer floored everybody,” another attendee of the event, Clare Lopez, says. “It’s really contemptuous of the concerns of Jewish parents” who Lopez says are sensitive to the history of Jewish oppression and modern anti-Semitism.
Wittman and Lopez’s recounting of the event was corroborated by an email obtained by me that detailed a conversation between a Jewish father, Sullivan Israel, and Dan Meisel, the head of the ADL. Israel expressed concern to Meisel that “We allowed [Concordia] to come to one of our synagogues, and lecture us (according to an eyewitness who told me) on why Jews do not deserve a place in the curriculum, because we aren’t ‘people of color.'”
Sheridan Rosenberg, who participated in the event and is a leader of Fair Education Santa Barbara, which “advocates for our children, students, and teachers in our public schools and universities,” told me that she found the event “deeply disrespectful not only to the Jewish community but also to the community writ large.”
ADL head Dan Meisel did not reply to an email asking for his response to the event by press time. Neither did Concordia.
Concordia’s comments are offensive, completely ignoring the historical context of Jewish oppression (despite the color of their skin). The fact that he made these comments in a synagogue as a part of a Jewish outreach event rubs salt into the wound.
Why, then, did Meisel agree to moderate Concordia’s event at B’nai B’rith? The Jewish community did not have their fears assuaged. Many weren’t even included, and those that were invited received lackluster answers to their valid concerns. Yet the subtext of Concordia’s words was clear: ethnic studies is not for Jews. It’s coming to your schools, labeling you an oppressor, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The Jewish community in Santa Barbara (and throughout the world) should respond to these activists accordingly.DONATE
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