Describing Jews as 'Privileged,' Ethnic Studies Curriculum Sparks Backlash

California Department of Education curriculum will lay the groundwork for a required ethnic studies class

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January 20, 2021

The latest draft of a state-mandated public school curriculum is generating concerns among Jewish groups, who say California's proposed ethnic studies agenda raises troubling questions about the treatment of Jews compared with other minorities.

The draft curriculum is intended to serve as the foundation for schools to fulfill California's required high school ethnic studies class. It includes a sample lesson on Jews, recommending students discuss how Jews "sometimes have experienced conditional whiteness and privilege." Though the proposed curriculum touches on the experiences of several other ethnic groups, the word privilege is applied to only Jews.

The draft also highlights the contributions to the Arab-American experience of several prominent anti-Semites, from the late journalist Helen Thomas to the Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.).

Prominent Jewish leaders and activists slammed the proposed curriculum, which is open for public comment until Jan. 21. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called the curriculum a "tragedy," describing it as "woke gone wild with skin color and specific groups installed in a new pecking order."

Others, including Lawfare Project executive director Brooke Goldstein, called it an "embarrassment."

"The Jewish people are the oldest and most persecuted ethnic group in history," Goldstein told the Free Beacon, but "according to this so-called ‘ethnic studies’ curriculum, we are ‘privileged’ while antisemitism and antisemitic themes are celebrated."

The California Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment. State law requires that all California high school students enroll in an ethnic studies course starting next year, and the guide is intended to "help districts and schools as they begin to develop their own ethnic studies curriculum reflecting their student demographics and community," the website says.

This is not the first time California's K-12 curriculum has sparked controversy. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) accused the California Department of Education in 2019 of developing a "blatantly anti-Semitic, anti-Israel" ethnic studies curriculum after local activists tied to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement were brought in to help build the lesson plans.

At the time, a group of nearly 100 Jewish and pro-Israel groups publicly protested the curriculum, saying at the time that it "erases the American Jewish experience, fails to discuss anti-Semitism, [and] reinforces negative stereotypes about Jews."

The latest proposal is the third draft circulated by California’s Department of Education.

Published under: Anti-Semitism , California