Tablet Needs to Retract its Article on Ethnic Studies

The Progressive Zionists of California requests that Tablet magazine retract its article on California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) and apologize for spreading misinformation about an ongoing battle against antisemitism. This fails to uphold the most basic tenets of journalistic ethics: to seek truth and report it, and to minimize harm. The article contains numerous factual errors and endangers the efforts of Jewish activists to curb antisemitism in public schools. 

Overall, the fight to remove antisemitism from the ESMC has been a model for Jewish community engagement. Though the beginning of this work in 2019 was marked by numerous major institutional failures, over the last year and a half, over 80 organizations (including PZC) have fought nearly every day to improve this working document for the sake of teachers, students, and Jews in California. 

Below are some of the many errors in the article: 

  • The author falsely claims that JIMENA’s lesson plan teaches, “Mizrahi Jews coming to the United States from Arab lands were mistreated by “white” Ashkenazim.” This is not present in JIMENA’s lesson plan.  
  • The article misrepresents a source cited deep in an appendix of the curriculum as part of the curriculum, when it in fact refers to text in an adjacent document not referenced in the curriculum. 
  • The article does not include the multiple transparency issues regarding the ESMC approval process, which nearly every Jewish organization involved with this advocacy considered a central part of our activism. 
  • The first (2019) draft of the curricula is presented as the only curricula in active consideration.  The author also mostly ignores the current December 2020 draft that followed as a result of sustained advocacy except to misrepresent what is actually in it. The only link to a draft presented is from a 2019 meeting agenda. There are no links or further information about the December 2020 draft. 
  • The complaint about the ICS lesson plan links to a biased oped, rather than the text of the lesson plan. Both the December 2020 and January 2021 revised text of this lesson plan are available online here and here.  This article hyperbolically calls the December 2020 ICS plan explaining the nuances of assimiliation and conditional white privilege as “echoing Nazi propaganda.” While the December lesson plan was not artful in describing either topic, it was revised in the January draft. 
  • The article does not note that, because of Jewish organizations lobbying, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism will be enshrined in a State Board of Education created and approved curriculum for the first time ever.
  • The article implies that only AMCHA and ACES were active in changing the curriculum, when in fact a broad and diverse coalition of Jewish organizations came together: JIMENA bringing together a broad interfaith coalition and writing a lesson plan on antisemitism and racism that affects Mizrahim, StandWithUs organizing legions of high school students, AJC building diverse coalitions, JPAC directly lobbying elected officials, Jewish Federations and JCRCs bringing their members together, the ADL offering its considerable expertise on antisemitism education, IAC organzing its considerable grassroots base into taking action, and the California Legislative Jewish Caucus taking a brave and principled stand against the antisemitism in the first draft. PZC organized progressive Zionists at several stages of the ESMC process, bringing in many Jews in their 20s and 30s. 

We believe there are legitimate ongoing issues in the model curriculum that should be addressed, from clarifying that the Third World Liberation Front is a complex political movement that has also harbored and uplifted vicious antisemites, to revising exercise questions for “Important Historical Figures Among Marginalized Communities” to ensure that the legacies of more controversial figures receive well-meaning scrutiny. We would also like to see an explicit acknowledgement that antisemitism is expressed across the political spectrum. 

These relatively minor issues should not detract from the tremendous success that Jewish elected officials, community leaders and activists have had in stripping the curriculum of its most odious and dangerous elements, and in advocating to recognize antisemitism as an axis of oppression.

Several organizations — many of them explicitly anti-Zionist — remain insistent that the first draft be re-implemented. It would be a shame to see a year and half’s worth of hard work be ruined because some elements of the community cannot or will not accept a win. And it would be a tragedy to see a Jewish publication’s inaccurate portrayal of this process partially to blame.