Monday, February 08, 2021

Watching the Mainstream Jewish Community Stand Up to Lies About Ethnic Studies

When I saw Tablet Magazine had published a rapidly-going-viral article on the California Ethnic Studies curriculum, I felt a despairing sense of deja vu. I had already seen some other hit jobs on the curriculum floating around the Jewish media, and I knew that many of the claims undergirding the attacks were misleading if not false. Yet I assumed we were in for another scenario where the bad faith right-wing outrage machine, capitalizing on legitimate Jewish fears but also stretching way beyond them, would entirely drive the conversation about the curriculum and lead to unnecessary and damaging friction that would entirely blow up the hard work so many in the Jewish community had put in to ensure that Ethnic Studies fairly represented Jews.

You see, in the past when I'd found myself in predicting one of these trainwrecks from afar, I'd contact someone in the establishment Jewish community and plead with them to fire back. Don't let the bad faith actors occupy the field, don't let them control the narrative, don't let them poison the discourse without challenge. And over and over again, the response I got from the folks I talked to was "we don't want to give them any oxygen." The standard tactic in the face of these conservative narratives was to adopt an above-it-all posture of silence. It purported to be a stance of dignity -- not deigning to respond to such obvious falsehoods. In reality, it was an ostrich defense -- hoping that if they buried their heads in the sand, the problem would go away on its own.

And so when I sent out my now ritual missives on this issue; pleading with a leader of one of the organizations to push back against the Tablet narrative racing around the internet, I didn't expect much. And I wasn't surprised when the first response I got back was an instinct to just let it lie. The person I spoke with was worried that more attention might spark still greater backlash, threatening the incredible advances they had already made. 

I argued that silence was more likely to see those advances disappear -- to the extent they were added in deference to the Jewish community, if the perception is that the Jewish community is still unhappy, that doesn't exactly assist the credibility of those Jewish organizations who had been their advocates. More broadly, the folks in the California education system who had made these changes needed to know that the reward for working with concerned Jewish organizations wouldn't be to be left high and dry as soon as there was pushback. The last lesson we want someone to draw is that it's useless to try and assuage Jewish communal concerns because even if you do work with prominent community members you'll still come in for attacks and your erstwhile partners won't have your back.

And wouldn't you know it -- she listened. And others in the Jewish community seemed to have listened to.

It has been striking to see over the past week just how decisively the mainstream Jewish community has rallied against attacks from the communal right on the Ethnic Studies curriculum. Tye Gregory of the San Francisco JCRC had an early editorial out defending the latest draft. It was swiftly followed by columns by Sarah Levin of JIMENA, Hen Mazzig, and JPAC, all blasting the "misinformation" and "misrepresentations" being promulgated about the curriculum. A huge coalition of Jewish establishment heavyweights -- the ADL, AJC, Holocaust Museum, even StandWithUs -- released a united statement urging support for the Ethnic Studies curriculum and condemning bad faith attacks.

I haven't seen anything like it. And it's made a huge difference. The Tablet article's author has been thrown on the defensive, with a weak authors' note appended to the piece that does less to address the substantive criticisms than it does make evident just how effective the pushback has been. In the space of a few days, the article has gone from "the story" in the Jewish press (per Bari Weiss) to almost uniformly discredited. It seems obvious to me that the folks who had been pressing the histrionics about the Ethnic Studies have been taken a bit aback. And why shouldn't they? They're use to peddling this sort of nonsense without any resistance. This was new for them.

I hope it is the start of a trend. I hope it is the start of a more muscular Jewish center, one that knows that it cannot make the problem of right-wing zealots go away just by wishing it so. We'll see if the lesson takes. But boy, has it been nice to see our side throw some elbows of our own for a change.


Daughter of Zion said...

Uniting our youth is essential

Last year, an editorial in The Los Angeles Times ( observed that the ethnic studies curriculum seemed more about imposing predigested political views on students than about widening their perspectives. “…too often the proposed ethnic studies curriculum feels like an exercise in groupthink, designed to proselytize and inculcate more than to inform and open minds. It talks about critical thinking but usually offers one side and one side only.”
Recently we were admonished by now-President Joe Biden that one’s vote reflects whether you are truly a member of a particular ethnic group.
Promotion of ethnic group think troubles me.
School districts will be free to pick and choose from the ethnic studies curriculum that is eventually approved. But cherry-picking from a huge document (that omits many small groups lacking political clout) can result in “grievance studies” tailored to the predominant ethnicity of various school districts. This will further the divisions in our country. However, a course in civic responsibility would offer a chance to unite our youth, which is essential if Americans are to successfully face the unknowns that lie ahead.
A close look at racial and ethnic history, if honest, will reveal that human nature is deeply flawed. The much maligned Founding Fathers understood this. Their profound declaration, that all men (generic, inclusive usage) are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, announced a struggle against the worst in human nature.
Part of American history has been our inevitably ongoing effort to achieve this ideal, which includes the idea that we can create one united nation out of many peoples,expressed as E Pluribus Unum.
Lincoln’s word’s are on point: We are “testing whether…any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”
Put another way,if we do not hang together,as Americans,in this increasingly dangerous world, we will hang separately.

DrMike said...

David: I know that you are a stickler for accuracy, so I urge you to take another look at the joint Jewish community organizational statement which you referenced. It appropriately pushes back against the poorly researched Tablet article and those who overreacted to it without knowing the entire story of what our community groups have accomplished in getting it revised. However, the statement--while endorsing the concept of ethnic studies-- does not endorse the existing draft: "While the curriculum is improved from where we started, it is not yet finalized and there remain problems that must be addressed." There is still work to be done here. And our community groups are withholding final endorsement of the model curriculum until they see how the State Board of Education chooses to address those problems.