Orgs. pen open letter denouncing CA's proposed ethnic studies course

The organizations said that vetoing the bill "is necessary because anti-Zionist advocacy and the promotion of BDS are an intrinsic part of critical ethnic studies."

California State University, Chico (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
California State University, Chico
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Ninety education, civil rights and religious organizations penned a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, asking him to veto a bill that requires students attending California State University to take an ethnic studies course as a general education requirement (GEC), citing research that purports harassment, bigotry and physical harm could fall onto Jewish students in the aftermath.
The bill, AB 1460 was passed by the California state legislature, awaiting the governor's signature. CSU approved a preferable alternative to the passed legislation.
“We are deeply concerned that without adequate safeguards, these courses could become vehicles for one-sided political advocacy and activism that will both subvert the academic mission of the university, and incite bigotry and harm against some CSU students,” wrote the organizations. “In particular, we fear that the anti-Zionist orientation of Critical Ethnic Studies – the version of ethnic studies likely to be taught in response to AB 1460 -- coupled with the willingness of many ethnic studies faculty to bring anti-Zionist advocacy and activism into their professional spaces, will foster a toxic climate for Jewish and pro-Israel students and foment harm against them.”
The organizations state there is a difference between an ethnic studies course, and the critical ethnic studies course mentioned in the bill. The former represents and celebrates "contributions of California’s and our nation’s diversity." While the latter promotes political activism and ideologies.
The organizations said that vetoing the bill "is necessary because anti-Zionist advocacy and the promotion of BDS are an intrinsic part of critical ethnic studies; critical ethnic studies faculty have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to promote BDS and anti-Zionist advocacy in their academic programming and classrooms; and faculty support and promotion of BDS is strongly linked to the harassment of Jewish students."
“While faculty have every right to engage in political advocacy and activism outside the university, recent studies suggest that many Critical Ethnic Studies faculty are bringing their extramural support for BDS and their anti-Zionist politics into their conference halls and classrooms,” wrote the organizations.
“And this type of anti-Zionist political activism directly corresponds to a rise in antisemitic incidents on campus,” said director of AMCHA Initiative Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who helped coordinated the letter.
Although unclear if CSU has any BDS-supporting faculty members, the organizations cited research noting schools employing faculty who support BDS are "five to twelve times more likely to sponsor events with BDS-supporting speakers and anti-Zionist content." They also noted that campuses with this category of faculty are five times more likely to experience incidents involving "harassment targeting Jewish students, including physical and verbal assault, vandalism, bullying, and suppression of speech."
“We therefore urge you to veto AB 1460, as well as to call on CSU Chancellor Timothy White and the CSU Board of Trustees to institute robust safeguards against using CSU classrooms and other academic or educational spaces for politically-motivated advocacy and activism,” wrote the groups, noting University of California's (UC) precedent policy against political indoctrination within the classroom.
“AB 331, a bill similar to AB 1460 which will make a course based on the high school ethnic studies curriculum a high school graduation requirement, is currently being considered by the California legislature and is equally problematic,” stated Rossman-Benjamin. “The legislators should amend that bill now to incorporate safeguards so that we can avoid this problem and protect students.”
AB 331, a 2016 law ordered the Board of Education to create a curriculum that would highlight the contributions of minorities in the development of California and the United States.
Last year the educational board released a draft of the said curriculum, which the California Legislative Jewish Caucus said “effectively erases the American Jewish experience,” “omits antisemitism,” “denigrates Jews” and “singles Israel out for condemnation.”
The draft provided sample courses in four main areas: African-American Studies, Hispanic Studies, Native American Studies and Asian American Studies. Supporters say the goal was to create inclusive and supportive environments for children of color.
State Sen. Ben Allen told the Los Angeles Times following the release of the 2019 draft that while he supported having an ethnic studies curriculum, he was “amazed that in a curriculum that has so much about bigotry and hatred of all sorts of different forms that there was not a single mention of antisemitism in the glossary.” He also pointed out that a number of other ethnic groups were excluded, including Irish Americans and Italian Americans.
The California State Board of Education rejected the 2019 proposal curriculum for the state’s schools in August of last year, saying it “falls short and needs to be substantially redesigned.” They have been reworking the draft since then alongside Jewish organizations to rectify the issue.
Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) released a statement a few weeks prior stating that the newly drafted Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum while an "improvement" from the previous draft is inadequate in representing the demographics of California. No consensus.