'No Zionists' and 'No Straights': Tweets From Teacher Rattle Elite New York City School

January 9, 2020

As anti-Semitic attacks proliferate across New York City, the social media postings of one outspoken teacher at an elite Bronx private school are raising fresh concerns among Jewish parents and students. 

"Making latkes tonight for my birthday and channukah [sic], text me if you want to come over, no Zionists," J.B. Brager, a history teacher at the prestigious Ethical Culture Fieldston School, tweeted on Dec. 20. 

That posting and others singling out straight individuals for criticism and portraying Israel as a genocidal aggressor in its conflict with the Palestinians have caught the attention of Fieldston students and parents, particularly given that Brager is slated to teach an elective history course titled "Nazi Germany and the Holocaust" later this month. 

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School, founded by progressive Jews in the late 19th century, has grappled with accusations of anti-Semitism in recent years. Among other issues, the school organizes students into ethnic and racial "affinity groups" starting in the third grade but has firmly refused to establish a Jewish affinity group, a Fieldston parent told the Washington Free Beacon. That has contributed to a perception among parents that administrators at the avowedly progressive school do not consider Jews a minority worthy of recognition, understanding, or protection. 

The school’s treatment of Jewish issues has come under increasing scrutiny as a wave of anti-Semitic attacks have set New Yorkers on edge. On Wednesday, congressmen Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.) and Max Rose (D., N.Y.) condemned recent remarks delivered at a Fieldston assembly, where a guest speaker argued that Holocaust survivors living in Israel are guilty of perpetrating similar atrocities against Palestinians. The comments by A. Kayum Ahmed, a top officer at George Soros's Open Society Foundations, drew condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League and left many in the community concerned about the school’s direction.

"There should be no place in our national discourse for hate-filled speech targeting any group," Gottheimer and Rose wrote in a letter to Fieldston’s head of school and principal. "As Jewish Members of Congress dedicated to combatting anti-Semitism, we would like to understand how such a speaker could be invited to address ECFS students, what steps the school has taken to hold those responsible accountable, how the school has communicated to students and parents that such rhetoric is unacceptable, and how ECFS will implement processes to prevent future incidents."

In the wake of the assembly, Brager, who identifies as Jewish, defended Ahmed’s remarks in a series of tweets, writing, "I refuse to ‘reaffirm the value’ of ethno-nationalist settler colonialism." After the school sent a letter to students and parents calling Ahmed’s remarks "deeply hurtful," Brager tweeted, apparently in reference to the letter, "I have never been more disappointed in my employer than I am today and have never been closer to quitting." 

Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Free Beacon that Brager’s rhetoric is particularly troublesome for a teacher of history. 

"The big lie is 'Israel apartheid', 'Israel Nazi.' However a person reaches that world view, even if they're Jewish, that is extremely dangerous to the Jewish people," Cooper said. "The school has to do something, and if they don't, the parents may vote with their feet. You don't have to put up with that crap. Not in America and not when all the leaders here say they're serious about fighting anti-Semitism." 

Fieldston and Brager did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Brager’s Twitter account was locked after the Free Beacon began seeking comment.

Brager, who uses the pronoun "they," graduated from the University of Maryland in 2010 with a degree in American Studies, according to a C.V. posted online. Brager received a Ph.D. in women’s and gender studies from Rutgers University in 2018.

Brager began as a teacher at Fieldston last year and has maintained an active social media presence on both Instagram and Twitter. Parents and students speaking to the Free Beacon on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal by school administrators, particularly as it relates to the cutthroat college admission process, said Brager’s provocations on social media had become a subject of intense interest in the community. 

In addition to "Nazi Germany and the Holocaust," Brager has taught a required high school course on U.S. history before 1940, a subject on which Brager has also been outspoken. "It’s still Native American Heritage month, because oh wait, America is a violent fiction and its ‘founders’ were genocidal criminals," Brager tweeted in November. 

Parents who spoke with the Free Beacon expressed concern that the school itself has not placed any boundaries on what sort of public speech is appropriate for teachers, particularly given that the vast majority of high school students now have access to social media. Others said the sort of public remarks Brager has made about Jews and Israel would not be tolerated about any other minority group.

In addition to publicly supporting organizations that promote boycotts of Jewish-made goods, Brager has expressed opposition to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order intended to combat anti-Semitism as well as a hostility toward straight people. 

"This is deeply anti-Semitic and really scary on multiple levels that I’m having trouble processing right now," Brager tweeted in response to the order, which was widely praised by the mainstream Jewish community and organizations established to combat hatred.

In October, Brager posted a photograph of a service dog with a caption that expressed hostility to straight people, writing, "No touch no talk no straights," and adding an accompanying hashtag, "#idonotwanttoseeorbeseenbystraightpeople."

Brager is also an advocate for the legalization of prostitution, a frequent subject of Brager’s Twitter account. As an artist, Brager has designed a set of t-shirts that state, "Sex work is work. Decriminalize now."