PZC Calls for Significant Changes to Antisemitic Ethnic Studies Sample Curriculum

(Sacramento, CA, August 2,2019) The Progressive Zionists of California (PZC) strongly opposes the anti-Israel bias and the exclusion of Jewish history—including Jews from the Middle East and North Africa and Former Soviet Union—from the Draft Ethnic Studies Model curriculum currently being considered by the California Department of Education. These shortcomings mean the curricula fails to satisfy the aims set by the law that mandated its creation, AB-2016.

PZC calls on the CDE to significantly rewrite the model curriculum in consultation with educators active in the Jewish community and with the plethora of anti-hate curricula developed by organizations that fight antisemitism.

In 2016, California passed a law mandating that the Board of Education create an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. A draft of that curriculum has now been made public. While PZC strongly supports the goals of this initiative, we are deeply disappointed that the current draft promotes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and other anti-Israel narratives, while excluding the Jewish community as a diverse and frequently targeted ethnic group. Fixing this curriculum is particularly critical because a new bill in the state legislature — AB 331 — would require high school students to take an Ethnic Studies course in order to graduate.

The sample curriculum is divisive, and erases Jewish identity and history. The goal of Ethnic Studies is to increase understanding of different cultures and positively engage students of color in academic settings. In a time of rising hate crimes against minority communities, especially Jews, it is baffling our community was not included or consulted on crafting lesson plans or resources.

The current draft curriculum fails to fulfill the mandate set for it in AB 2016: “The state is committed to its efforts to provide all pupils with excellent educational opportunities, without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, income, sexual orientation, or disability.” The curriculum gives voice to those who discriminate against Israeli citizens and denies the history of ethnic Jews, including Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.

By ignoring the historic Jewish presence in the Middle East and North Africa, the drafted curriculum fails to affirm the heritage of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, who were forcibly expelled from their countries, saw their money, homes, and private possessions stolen from them, faced severe discrimination, and escaped to Israel and other places including California. California is home to several thriving Middle East, North African, Sephardi, and Persian Jewish communities. The Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles comprises one of the largest communities of Persian Jews in the world. The sample curriculum excludes their histories and experiences entirely, which is unacceptable.

AB 2016 also mandates that the curriculum be culturally relevant. Jews are mentioned only four times in the sample course models which is surprising, given that Jews are well known for their unique ethno-religious identity. This exclusion promotes the type of ignorance about Jews that often breeds antisemitism. In the few times that Jews are mentioned, it is primarily in the context of being financially successful or as part of stereotypes that demonize Palestinians and Arabs. One section reads “With secure property rights, anyone could become successful, from an immigrant Jew like Lionel Cohen and his famous Lionel toy trains to an Austrian bodybuilder-turned-millionaire actor and governor like Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Another section describing Arabs stereotypes says Arabs are often described as “violent, treacherous, barbaric, hate Jews and America, secret plots to destroy America.” The Ethnic Studies sample curriculum fails these California Jewish communities throughout the state and does not adhere to the spirit of AB 2016 by excluding them.

PZC calls on the California Department of Education and California State Assembly considering AB 331 to significantly rewrite the model curriculum in consultation with educators active in the Jewish community, including groups such as JIMENA, 30 Years After, National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, and respectfully request the removal of BDS and other anti-Israel bias from the model curriculum.


PZC is a grassroots coalition of Democrats that supports the self-determination of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, addresses antisemitism wherever it arises, supports progressive policies in the California Democratic Party, and stands against the undemocratic policies of right-wing Israeli leadership.