Something is rotten in the Garden State – especially in its schools.
Something is rotten in the Garden State – especially in its schools. In the last three years, school board members or the school board itself in three separate school districts have openly expressed anti-Semitic beliefs, abused their positions to preach hatred of Israel, or adopted curricular material designed to indoctrinate children to hate Israel. Meanwhile, anti-Semitic assaults and other expressions of anti-Jewish hate have shot up in New Jersey.
The Board of Education of Newark, New Jersey, recently added an anti-Israel book to its mandatory curriculum. The book, A Little Piece Of Ground, by Elizabeth Laird with Sonia Nimr, was added to the sixth-grade curriculum for the 2022-23 school year. As described by Barnes & Noble:
Written by Elizabeth Laird, one of Great Britain’s best-known young adult authors, A Little Piece Of Ground explores the human cost of the occupation of Palestinian lands through the eyes of a young boy.
Twelve-year-old Karim Aboudi and his family are trapped in their Ramallah home by a strict curfew. In response to a Palestinian suicide bombing, the Israeli military subjects the West Bank town to a virtual siege. Meanwhile, Karim, trapped at home with his teenage brother and fearful parents, longs to play football with his friends.
Boy playing soccer – good! Mean Israelis in tanks – bad! You can get the idea from the book’s cover art:
According to a statement the Jewish News Syndicate received from the Zionist Organization of America (specifically, from its National President, Morton Klein, and the Director of its Center for Law and Justice, Susan Tuchman):
The book is filled with misleading anti-Israel statements and outright lies… Instead of building understanding of a complex subject, fighting prejudice and encouraging tolerance, this book will poison impressionable children—with little if any knowledge about the complicated Middle East conflict—to hate Jews, Israelis and the State of Israel.”
On the surface, Laird’s book is a story about Karim, a Palestinian Arab child living in Ramallah, a city located in what is commonly referred to as the West Bank. Readers see the world through Karim’s eyes and experiences. But Laird is clever, repeatedly sending the false and outrageous message to her young readers that Israelis are heartless and cruel, that their goal is to humiliate Palestinian Arabs and make their lives a misery and that Jews are stealing other people’s land.
The ZOA letter quoted several problematic characterizations and passages from the book. For example, the book describes Israelis as “the enemy,” “occupiers” and “animals.” Problematic passages include: “[T]he Israelis won’t be happy until they’ve driven us all out and grabbed every inch of Palestine for themselves,” and that Israeli soldiers are “playing with us. They’re the cats and we’re the mice.”
The school district’s response to questions about the decision to add the book was, if anything, more worrisome than the book itself. Newark Board of Education’s Acting Director of Communications Nancy J. Deering said that the move is “in alignment with New Jersey Student Learning Standards,” and that the district’s plan calls for a curriculum that “elevates historically marginalized voices, strengthens and sustains a focus on the instructional core and provides opportunities to learn about perspectives beyond one’s own scope.”
LIF reached out to Ms. Deering and asked whether Newark’s mandatory curriculum includes any content providing an Israeli perspective. Deering did not respond to LIF’s efforts to reach her.
Sadly, this incident comes as anti-Semitism has been increasing in New Jersey. Sometimes the anti-Semitism presents as anti-Israelism, sometimes not. Both forms have been openly expressed by fairly prominent individuals within or close to the New Jersey school system.
For example, in May 2021, Clifton Board of Education commissioners Feras Awwad and Fahim Abedrabbo exploited their positions to engage in vitriolic speech against Israel while on a school board meeting conducted over Zoom. This was during Israel’s response to rocket attacks against its civilians in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Abedrabbo (who heads the board’s Diversity and Equity Committee) and Awwad accused Israel of apartheid, colonialism, and of training American police to oppress black people (a scurrilous calumny dubbed “deadly exchange”).
A former member of the Englewood Board of Education filed an ethics complaint against the Clifton School board, Passaic County, and Awwad and Abedrabbo, but it was dismissed. The complainant filed an appeal, which is pending before the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division.
Instead of offering sympathy or condolences following the attack, Jersey City school board member Joan Terrell-Paige took the opportunity to condemn “brutes of the jewish community” in a Facebook post. Paige’s post also questioned whether the attackers may have had “a message” to send. Rather than being universally condemned, Terrell-Paige found support from community residents and from Congressional candidate John Flora. She neither resigned nor was forced out of her position, retiring at the end of 2021 with flowers and tributes.
James Harris, chair of the New Jersey Association of Black Educators, also criticized Hasidic Jews after the Jersey City murders.
In 2021, according to an ADL report, anti-Semitic incidents in New Jersey jumped by 25% over incidents targeting Jews the year before. Incidents targeting Jews reached a record high of 370, compared to 295 in 2020. That’s the second highest statewide tally in the nation for 2021.
There have been some prominent attacks this year, too. For example, on April 8, 2022, New Jersey resident Dion Marsh allegedly assaulted four visibly self-identified Jews, three of them with a car. He also stabbed one of the three with a knife.
Another person threatened violence against New Jersey synagogues earlier this month, according to FBI reports. An 18-year old New Jersey man, Omar Alkattoul, was arrested on November 10 and charged with sharing on social media “a manifesto containing threats to attack a synagogue and Jewish people.” According to the complaint, Alkattoul’s manifesto expressed anti-Semitic beliefs and asserted that the author acted on behalf of ISIS. Facebook had an account in the name of Omar Alkattoul, which is currently unavailable. A wiki page on historica.fandom.com has a picture of someone who may or may not be Alkattoul. The defendant is a senior in New Jersey’s Sayreville High School.
The FBI has received credible information of a broad threat to synagogues in NJ. We ask at this time that you take all security precautions to protect your community and facility. We will share more information as soon as we can. Stay alert. In case of emergency call police. pic.twitter.com/e64XSmQvNc
— FBI Newark (@FBINewark) November 3, 2022
— FBI Newark (@FBINewark) November 4, 2022
Middlesex County Man Charged with Communicating Threat to Attack Synagogue
— FBI Newark (@FBINewark) November 10, 2022
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