Letter to Governor Newsom: Remaining Concerns with the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum

Dear Governor Newsom,

I write on behalf of Progressive Zionists of California, a grassroots collective of activists and California Democratic Party leaders dedicated to reshaping the discourse around Zionism and antisemitism in California Democratic politics. 

Firstly, thank you for your leadership in ensuring that the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) remains free of antisemitic content. However, we continue to be concerned due to problematic content remaining in the second draft. For this reason we ask that you communicate directly with the Superintendent of Schools and the California Board of Education to ensure that the ESMC meet the following standards:

  1. The ESMC’s “Guiding Values and Principles” must be revised to remove language which can and will be used to justify bringing anti-Israel and antisemitic bias into our classrooms, in violation of AB 331. We encourage you to adopt the International Holocaust Rembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism across the state as a tool to guide the inclusion of materials regarding Jews and Israel. This definition was adopted by the Obama administration U.S. Department of State and has been used ever since.
  2. The State of California must draw clear red lines against antisemitism and discrimination, added to AB 331. The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum must not include the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, and other highly politicized conversations about Middle Eastern conflicts that create unsafe classrooms for Jewish and Middle Eastern minority students throughout California.
  3. The curriculum must be revised to add an inclusive unit about Middle Eastern communities, including Jews, Iranians, Arabs, and others, instead of the current discriminatory approach that arbitrarily favors one group over all others. We strongly recommended using JIMENA’s “Antisemitism and Middle Eastern-American Jews” as a starting point. 

In addition to the above, we are also concerned with lack of transparency in the writing and review process. After the California Department of Education released its second version on August 3rd, 2020, only days later it announced major changes to the curriculum, mere hours before the IQC was set to reconvene. We need your help in ensuring that any new sections of the curriculum will be held to the same standard of vetting as the rest, as well as clarity about why specific ethnic groups are being included, while others are arbitrarily excluded or barely mentioned.

We fully support the vision of AB 2016, however, we fear that this noble intention of the bill’s drafters will fail to live up to its goals because of extremists in the state who insist on using the curriculum as a vehicle for their political agenda. To this end, we also support the passage of AB 331, IF safeguards against antisemitism are included. In addition to adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, we urge you to also adopt an amendment to the CA Education Code prohibiting state-approved instructional materials and K-12 public schools from promoting one-sided political advocacy or activism in the classroom. The guidelines in LAUSD’s ethnic studies instructional materials and the UC system’s “Policy on Course Content” are potentially good models for this. 

We are immensely grateful for your leadership on this important issue.

Warmest regards, 
Susan George
Executive Director, Progressive Zionists of California