AJC Passport: Israel Blocks Members of Congress; Californias Ethnic Studies Curriculum


hello and welcome to AJC passport brought to you by E AJC. The diplomatic arm of the Jewish community each week. We'll chat with experts from around the world to help you better understand the weeds headlines and what they all mean for Israel L. and the Jewish people. I'm your host seth decoding the shocking news came early on Thursday morning wing as Israel reversed course on its decision to allow in the boycott supporting members of Congress Ilhan Omar and Russia to the with President trump pressuring Israel to deny by them entry with their I tin ARY revealed to be entirely one sided and anti Israel and with elections rapidly approaching in Israel and looming in the United States states. Their trip was now effectively cancelled. Aj slammed Israel's decision expressing love for the Jewish state but saying that in barring during the two representatives it quote did not choose wisely AJC CEO. David Harris joins us now to discuss this news David. Thank you for joining us in my pleasure. I think the number one thing a lot of American Jews are wondering today is why well assuming that the question is about Omar and to lead the two members of Congress I I think first of all one has to understand what was going on in Israel and then what what was going on here. Look the bottom line to just jump ahead for moment. Steffi is that at the end of the day Israel was faced with two choices but the less bad choice we believed was letting them into the country. The worst choice was barring them from visiting Israel so wipe Israel in the end do this well. It seems to me that there are three possible reasons why the first is as some Israelis have said they had a peak at at the planned itenerary of the two members of Congress and this was not about a trip to Israel in order to meet with Israelis and see Israel and hear different perspectives Specter's this was very politicized trip that focused on sort of everything that was perceived as bad and wrong with Israel so some some would call it a propaganda exercise. The second reason that Israelis offered was there is a law that people who support B. D. S. that is boycott. Divestment and sanctions action against Israel are not going to be admitted to the country while both of these Omar into leave have supported the BS movement and the third and perhaps APPs most intriguing explanation that we're hearing from Israel is this resulted from conversations between the United States and Israel and specifically typically involving the president of the United States who was very clear in saying that he hoped that Israel would not admit them so somewhere in an among those three reasons you have the explanation nation that being said as I mentioned a moment ago from our perspective. There's also a cost here and we believe at the end of the day from our balance balance sheet that the cost of refusing them entry might be even higher than the cost of allowing them to go in their propaganda exercise. AJC put out a characteristically characterisically thoughtful statement this morning I would say and it mentioned that every country has the right to determine for itself who can and cannot enter in light of that was it unsettling to see the president of the United States kind of put his thumb on the scale and tweet this morning and rumors abound that he was kind of pressuring rushing behind the scenes prior his tweet said it would show great weakness if Israel the two representatives and was that unsettling well look first of all to your I point Let's not forget that every democratic country does reserve the right to control entry into the country so this is not the first time that any democratic country in the world has refused entry to anyone the United States under various administrations including the previous administration in which also barred entry to Michael Ben Ari who was an extremist Israeli politician that they do want to see come to the United States at the time. I was two thousand in twelve so every country does this so some of what I'm seeing. The twitter storm in the reaction is kind of over the top. It's overblown as if this were the first time in history history that any country had denied entry to anyone and pointing the finger at Israel but having said that I still believe that these two members of Congress as members of Congress and given the US Israel relationship and given all the sensitivities in the political parties et Cetera et Cetera et cetera should have been allowed in and yes is an unusual. It's quite unusual for the President United States in this case as you say to put his thumb on the scale to weigh in publicly and privately early and to ask the Israelis to to reconsider this and then what we saw was a tweet from president of following these really news which depicted the Democratic Party as being embodied by these individuals Omar into lead so you already see some of the contours not just of next month's Israeli election Shen but next year's American election. I'm still kind of grappling with all. That's happened with news. That is coming out with. You know what the implications of this may be so I I I may disavow this hypothesis at some point down the road but isn't there a way of looking at this where Israel is the victim. I I mean a month ago Prime Minister Netanyahu on Yahoo Decides to let Omar and to Leib in his ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer says without equivocation that they would be permitted entry quote wrote out of respect for the US Congress then we have pressure behind the scenes from the president. We have the tweet this morning from the president you know talk about being caught hop between a rock and a hard place right very much so Israel would say because we've had discussions with the Israelis quietly in the hours hours and days leading up to their final decision or seemingly final decision barring entry look they would say you know a month ago. We did not have a sense of their full agenda so maybe we were still a bit hopeful that their agenda would include efforts to meet with mainstream. Israelis not necessarily who agree with Benjamin intimate on Yahoo but who fall within the you know the the contours of of mainstream Israeli society but we got a peek at their plan to gender they say we got a peak at WHO's funding them and the group that's funding them as a strongly pro. Ds Movement the Israelis assert so you have those developments plus plus the president of the United States on usually weighing in very publicly and saying you know I. I don't think this is something you WanNa do Israel and who knows what what was happening privately as well now. Look again to be absolutely fair here. It's very difficult for any Israeli Prime Minister of of whatever political party to simply ignore any American president of the United States in this case is donald trump at it could be any American president if if he makes a direct pitch to you and I don't know what form the pitch took. I don't think any of us were talking. Do those who know Oh don't talk and those who talk probably don't know but if the president had state says you know either as a personal request or as part of some larger discussion about out give and take please don't do this if you're sitting at home on a couch in the United States. It's easy to kind of reject that if you're the prime minister of Israel it's a little little harder. I'm not saying therefore that I agree with the prime minister as I said I have great respect for him but I don't agree but it you know it's only when you're sitting on the couch and have have no responsibility for your actions that you can kind of dismissal of these things sure let them in to Israel. It doesn't matter what they do. It doesn't matter if they create tumult. Well sure it doesn't matter what the president the United States says the things do matter so in the real world. You have a cost benefit analysis and it's a tough call as you said. It's between clean a rock and a hard place on this one. We just came out in a different place than I was really friends in her statement. Replying to this Ilhan Omar said that trump's Muslim ban has been exported to Israel and representative Alexandro Cossio Cortez said something on the lines of you know. It's no coincidence that these are two Muslim women being banned from Israel. I saw that and I kind of thought well hold on a moment. I was in Israel two months ago on an AJC project interchange trip that included a Muslim woman by the way Muslim women of color. Do you think there's anything to these accusations that Akasa Cortez and Omar are leveling against Israel the there's a bias a gender bias religion by a race bias to to the ban. I don't not at all I think they're simply trying to play at these cards knowing that they're toxic incendiary cards and I don't even think Selfie with all due respect that one has two point two individual Muslims that one saw entering entering every single day on just about every plane headed for Israel or at any number of entry points on the ground including luding from Jordan the West Bank people of every faith including many many many Muslims are entering Israel. I mean last year alone. According to the statistics of these the public statistics. We don't know what else there is. Something like thirty or forty thousand people entered from Muslim countries to visit Israel countries that have no diplomatic relations with the state of Israel so the idea of playing this card you know associating Israel with Donald well trump and with this the Muslim ban is a is a dirty card to play to be absolutely honest a very dirty card to play you know for some it will evoke you know enthusiasm in the United States but for many I think it will frankly only undermine any case or credibility that Omar and Toledo may have have with respect to this whole issue me. Were they going in good faith or not. I don't believe they were going in good faith. I simply believe that the cost of not not letting the mentor was potentially way higher than the cost of letting the mentor engage in their political stunts and Shenanigans and letting them leave at the end of the day there are four hundred thirty thirty five members of Congress their grand total of two people that were going in this delegation to people they come just after more than seventy seven zero. Republican and Democratic Democratic members of Congress came to Israel in the largest single gathering or collective gathering of members of Congress in one week so I think Israel L. is stronger than these two people way stronger the pro Israel movement the us-israel relationship role way stronger and I don't think we should cower in fear even as they pedal. It'll these ridiculous conspiratorial theories. Here's a thought experiment to close our conversation on. Let's say representative to leaves office had reached out to you and and said David Ilan and I were going to Israel. We're GONNA spend most of our time in the West Bank but we have time to go to one place in Israel. What is the best place is to go to to get a sense of the real Israel. What would you have told them David. If that question has been posed to you well I I I would have said first of all don't limit me me too one and I would have squeezed in it even into the one sentence more than one place look. I I first of all I think from their point of view they should've asked for at least one or two meetings with mainstream. Israeli political leaders are they so afraid of hearing hearing from them are are they are they somehow going to be what poisoned quote unquote by engaging with an Israeli political leader. They can't even talk to them so so on the one hand I would have said go there on the second hand. I would have said Go-to Yada Sham and understand the Israeli psyche Jewish history and the third hand I would have said and walk the streets of Jaffa and Tel Aviv and look at not just the vibrancy the diversity of the complexity of Israel L. but also look at the Muslim citizens of Israel in some cases wearing a he job with mosques open with Friday services full everything you would see contradicts everything you've allowed yourself to believe from a distance everything the nature of government in Israel the nature of democracy crecy the nature of pluralism the nature of minority rights of the nature of racial and religious diversity. Everything contradicts what you've allowed yourself to believe leave from Minnesota and Michigan through all kinds of narratives mythologies you've heard are you afraid of exposing yourself to it. So why was there I tin are- we so restricted that they were unwilling even to expose themselves to all of these sides of Israel. I'm not saying they would come back abandoning their pro. Palestinian policies also but were they really so fearful so on the one hand Israel was fearful of allowing them in but these two were also fearful of exposing themselves to mainstream extreme Israeli society that show. It's a shame all parties. I think are guilty here but it's a shame that they won't have that opportunity. David thank you for joining us. My my pleasure Steffi thank you in and the new curriculum didn't even last until the first day of school this month special committee in California announced a new model ethnic studies curriculum for possible statewide wide adoption. The only problem was that the curriculum though it helped elevate the stories of some minorities totally ignored an erased others and even traffic trafficked in some mild antisemitism. AJC and other Jewish groups swung into action and the California Legislative Jewish caucus helped lead the charge. This group composed of the Jewish members of the California state legislature announced this week that the new curriculum would not be rolled out and a new group. We'll work to revise the finished product state. Senator Ben Allen Chair of the California Legislative Jewish caucus joins us now Senator Allen. Thank you so much for joining. Yes happy to be here so tell me how did the issues with the California ethnic studies model curriculum. I come up well. They were first brought to our attention by the folks at the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council. They had been monitoring bring this issue for some time and had gotten a copy of the draft curriculum raise a whole set of concerns about what was in there and brought to our attention and we were then able to craft a response and raise the profile of some of the concerns that they had what is it about the content of the curriculum raised concerns among folks in the Jewish community well everything from the draft curriculum effectively erasing the American experience to Omitting Anti Semitism to denigrating Jews in some areas which is pretty ridiculous reinforcing some negative stereotypes against Jews to singling out Israel for condemnation there were just a number of things in there that were real concerned and this is just the stuff relating to the Jewish American community. There's a lot of focus on bigotry and hatred of all sorts of different forms mentioned in the glossary and various aspects of the curriculum. There's not a single mention of antisemitism in the Gloucester even though they have twelve different forms of hatred and bigotry he from Islam Phobia to Patriarchy Hetero Patriarchy colonialism and not a single mention of antisemitism so it's it was very problematic and we felt the need to to push back you know the Jews Caucus as a body supports the idea of ethnic studies. I think we love the vision that was articulated by advocates. You know I I have a quote here from Cynthia. Lou was one of the advocates for the bill that created the draft curriculum in the first place and she talked about how we hope that mutual understanding empathy and Rachel and cultural literacy will be the fruit this important law this is supposed to be about in our whole point at the end of the letter was it it'd be such a cruel irony if the very curriculum that is supposed to be about promoting understanding in an embassy would actually help to institutionalize the teaching of aspects of Anti Semitism to California's kids. What a crazy thing that would be yeah having no connection to the California Public School System Myself. It's kind of hard for me to wrap my head around. You know exactly what we're talking about here right. You know what what was this curriculum mm-hmm designed to be was going to be an elected was going to be something that schools would have to implement. You know what age kids are. We talking about. What students are going to come in contact with this curriculum. you know what what was the vision here well. It's a great that's a great question and it does deserve some explanation. This is a draft model curriculum so when this model model curriculum is finalized in whatever form it will be a suggestion effectively guide a guideline guidance to school districts around the state who might want to implement an ethics course so anyone who might WanNa do that would be able to turn to this as a as there's a guideline or they wouldn't be required to take this particular curriculum as their own but it is very these draft. Curricula are very influential in determining what school district to teach on the ground when they design courses for their students now here's the kicker though there is a bill making its way to the legislature that would require the teaching of ethnic studies as a graduation requirement Garmin for K. through twelve so if that were to pass then school districts would have to pull together ethnic studies curricula they teach their high school kids and this would certainly be very influential in that process is one of the reasons why when we saw this we knew the context of the bill we thought we had to get involved quickly forcefully and so what was the process by which this was designed obviously it seems like it was a flawed process but how did it happen that it went without input in put not only from the Jewish community from so many other minority communities well so they various three authors who were chosen by the covering part of education and there was an advisory committee that met with them to go over what they were producing. It turns out that one of the author is very committed to be yes and It's a tricky thing I think traditionally ethnic studies has focused on the four say four pillar groups of communities of color so our our Latino Community Africa Community Asian Pacific Islander and native American indigenous communities and not as that's traditionally been the focus of ethnic that makes study there are folks in the community said Hey. We really want to be included here. I'm one of the things we heard back from. Some of the folks of the adviser community basically said hey if you guys wanted to be included. Why didn't you speak up. Ah We didn't really know that was even an option or that was something that was being encouraged. Once we found out that that's what they were saying we we will speak up and we will certainly ask to be included. I think then folks from the Hindu Community and the Armenian community in many other communities started to realize that they needed to basically. We're being told that we all need to advocate for ourselves selves to be part of this conversation. No other state has done this before so this is all kind of new and I think it's a some extent this controversy Chrissy the result of of the growing pains of his academic discipline you know we at AJC pride ourselves on being coalition builders and you alluded to this it. Just you know make it explicit my colleagues in California actually worked and put out a joint statement in partnership with several other significant populations in California Koreans reopens Armenians Greek Americans Hindus organizations representing those communities to make clear that this is not just the Jews speaking out against this but it's it's something that really impacts a lot of people who view their stories as their minority stories. They're immigrants stories as ones that Dr or at least should be considered important to California and really to America an especially as we're in this moment where our discourse around immigration around privilege things like that is so fraught it's important to not ally the stories of the different communities that make up our beautiful patchwork not only of the state of California but of the country asshole yeah. I couldn't agree more. Let me let me take it one step further. I actually think that if we were to broaden out the curriculum to give students a better context of the long history of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment it would actually help sensitize a lot of white students to the historical stoorikhel context associated with the current anti-immigrant vitriol. If more shooting understood the kinds of slurs that were launched against their own ancestors coming from Italy coming from Ireland coming from wherever else in Europe there's terrible things that were being said in the mainstream media in cartoons on it a to`real pages of respected newspapers papers and magazines about Italian immigration for example and if people were to better understand that I think they would also better understand and better contextualized the current current anti-immigrant sentiment that is being hoisted upon folks coming from Latin America or elsewhere. Actually I think that would help to create more empathy amongst white students who are maybe descendents the very same immigrants who were attacked and Ila fi just because they were coming from Ireland or Italy or elsewhere. Oh yeah you know the good news. Now is that you know announced. Ah Late this week or or in the middle of this week rather is that we're GONNA see a change in this proposed curriculum so senator Alan. Are we starting from scratch. Now you know where do we go from here. What does this this process look like. And how can you make sure as a legislator that with this success that you've achieved that the Jewish caucuses achieved that AJC and other community groups have achieved. You've that systems will be put in place to prevent this kind of thing from happening again so great question first of all. It's unclear as to what exactly will happen. I think there are those in the leadership of of this decision making process. He wants to see the whole thing scrapped in to start at a new I think there's real strong argument for doing that. Given how fundamentally flawed this curriculum is there are others who I think would say well well. Maybe we can jettison the problematic parts in and take the good parts and kind of work to to rebuild the existing curriculum so that's the debate right now that's one of the conversations at the State Board and the Iq C. which is the instructional quality commission. It's IT'S GONNA tasked with overseeing this process so we'll see how it all goes. I do think that there is a fundamental agreement. Amongst leadership that whatever happens there needs to be major changes to curriculum and and I'm you know we've been talking about the Jewish communal. There's a lot of other stuff in there that I think is going to demand scrutiny as well just before we close famously or perhaps semi famously. Maybe this is not famous at all. Maybe this is really niche US House of Representatives has no Jewish caucus our listeners in different states across across the country. Maybe kind of scratching their heads wondering whether their state assembly or Senate has a Jewish caucus or maybe they know for sure that that state does or doesn't you are the chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus. We're just curious. What does that mean you know. Is that a helpful body to advance Jewish Jewish concerns to perform Jewish advocacy and California. Is it a model that you would want to export to other states as well. You know what is that like well. We wanted to make sure the Jewish community had a voice at the table. We have an important piece of the California story that California Fabric Jus been vitally important part of California Culture here in California and Ju- stood alongside all sorts of communities to stand up for civil rights and for inclusion and for a truly inclusive vision for the state and that's that's been part of our heritage. It's been part of our responsibilities with regards T- couldn't alarm and so we come together as a caucus and advocated for the Jewish community you need but also advocated for the Jewish community in the broader context of of of our goals of inclusion and and pluralism. I'll give you one example right when there was the tax on the powei synagogue here in California we already done the groundwork with the governor to talk about how we needed to get some more money down the pike to help with security grants to help institutions that might be at risk of attack hardened their facility so as to be able to better protect against hate violence and by the way that's money that is going go to mosques synagogues community centers churches all sorts of different institutions that might be at risk because of hate fueled bigotry and violence so so we were able to get funding for the Museum of Tolerance the Museum of the Holocaust to kind of keep telling those stories and make sure that new generation of Californians will know what it happened in the past and have a better context to fight against bigotry in the days ahead. We're able to get some funding for some of the Jewish summer candidate burned down during the fires and by the way they also serve the broader Los Angeles and Bay area communities a lot of communities kids coming from disadvantaged backgrounds who go up to those camping able to benefit from those cancers including many many non-jewish Jewish kids we're able to get funding for Holocaust survivors and we were able to get you know a bill just passed that I carried that made it so that. Hoa's can't discriminate against against folks who want to put them up on their door and we were able to include some language to help Muslims and Hindus and Christians as well who wanted to put in obtrusive but but meaningful religious in biology on their doors so as to be able to protect their freedom of expression right now we're working with Muslim community leaders to get a prayer space at Los Angeles International National Airport in the International Terminal Bradley Terminal so that folks have faith certainly focus of Muslim faith. You have to pray five times a day but people of all faiths can have a safe place the terminal where they can pray and or or have a moment of reflection so we're looking for ways to help advance engage both causes that are important to the Jewish community committee but that also branch out just the other day we went with the Latino Caucus to visit one of the detention facilities down on the border and learn about the challenges there and learn about the incredible work that the Jewish family services are doing with the ACLU with highest and and some of the other traditional refugee resettlement organization to assist asylum seekers who've been coming over the order and learn about ways that we can work further and deeper with our friends from Latino Caucus and other members of the legislature to kind of address our our shared goals in that respect so this is there's a place for Jewish members to come together defend our community stand up for our community but also reach out to other communities and help and work and collaborate and cooperate with them to advance mutually beneficial goals well center Allan. Thank you so much for the advocacy work that you do with the caucus and your broader responsibility in the California legislature thank you for being a friend and ally JC well. I appreciate you guys a great deal and by the way we've also been working hard on issues relating to Israel trying to make sure that folks understand. There's a lot of other aspects of what happens in Israel beyond the conflict we've been working on everything from you know memorandum of understanding associated with our institutions of higher learning between Israel and the State of California and the University of California work on water and conservation efforts on energy efficiency and clean energy and green energy and there's a lot of really interesting work happening in that space that we've been very involved as well and in fact we're probably going to bring a group of legislators out there including some members of Latino Caucus. We're looking at December as possible trip so we look forward to continuing to partner with you you and making sure that we're all doing our part well. The job is never done. Thank you so much Senator Alan thank you and now it's time for our closing segment good for the Jews where each week I share one final thought about a recent development in the world and try to answer that age old question is it good for the Jews Tel Aviv on fire good for the Jews. No this is not about arson or wildfires to things that are decidedly not good for the Jews. It's about the latest cinema sensation from Israel. A film called hauled Tel Aviv on fire. The name comes from a fictional soap opera filmed in Ramallah and aired on Palestinian and Israeli television a a junior writer for the show. Salaam is stopped one day at a checkpoint on his way home to Jerusalem. A random string of events leads to him sitting down with the commander of the checkpoint. WHO's wife it turns out as a huge fan of the show thus Salaam the unsuccessful Palestinian writer secretly enlists lists OSCE the Israeli soldier who turns out to have the soul of a poet to help him write scripts for the show and hilarity and something a little darker her ensues the movie is a great watch hysterical but also empathetic and viewers will walk away having laughed and also learn something about Israel that kind of experience is always good for the Jews you can subscribe to AJC passport on Itunes or on stitcher follow although us on soundcloud or learn more at AJC dot org slash passport the views and opinions of our guests don't necessarily reflect the positions of AJC JC. We'd love to hear your views and opinions or your questions you can reach us at passport at AJC dot org if you like this podcast insure to read it and write a review to help more listeners find us. Thank you for listening. I'm your host Steffi coking. This episode is brought to you by AJC the American Jewish Committee. Our producer is coupon down. Our Sound Engineer Erica's T._K. Broderick tune in next for another episode of A._J._C. Passport.

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