Boston-area residents file lawsuit over school district’s alleged antisemitism in curriculum
Several residents of the Boston suburb of Newton, Mass., have filed a lawsuit in a local superior court over what they alleged as bias in the school district’s teaching of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the public school’s system.
The 469-page legal complaint, Dechter et al. v. Newton School Committee et al., submitted by several Newton residents and represented by attorney Karen Hurvitz, purportedly details the history of residents attempting to address and correct bias in the curriculum.
The plaintiffs claim that Newton Public Schools has deliberately failed and refused to comply with the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution, with the Massachusetts Student Anti-Discrimination Act and with civil-rights regulations that require schools, through their curricula, to encourage respect for the human and civil rights of all individuals regardless of race, identity, religion, color, sex and national origin.
The plaintiffs and their attorney were provided with documentation by Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) executive director Ilya Feoktistov, whose investigations over the past several months formed the basis of this action.
According to APT, evidence described in the complaint purportedly shows “how Newton teachers taught that Jews and Christians deliberately forged their holy texts to contradict the Muslim Koran; that Zionism has ‘little connection’ to Jewish history in ‘Palestine’; that the Jews took advantage of the Holocaust to gain sympathy for Zionism at the expense of ‘Arab plight’; and that the Israelis treat the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews.”
Feoktistov said that “in looking for the sources of the antisemitic and anti-Israel bigotry in the Newton curriculum, we discovered a few bad apple teachers who view their teaching positions as giving them license to promote their personal political agendas.”
‘Education should be based on fact, not propaganda’
The concern over anti-Israel bias in the school system began in 2011, when a Newton resident complained to school officials regarding the use of a supplemental text called The Arab World Studies Notebook, which contained “false and defamatory” anti-Israel sentiment. While the school board eventually removed the textbook, accusations and further evidence of anti-Israel bias within the school system have continued, reaching a fever pitch during a Newton School Committee hearing in late November 2018.
At an event hosted by the Boston-based watchdog CAMERA in Newton in late January, a panel of experts discussed the anti-Israel bias found in Newton Public Schools, particularly when it comes from the use of outside materials, and noted that what is happening in Newton is part of a nationwide trend of anti-Israel materials being used in high schools and middle schools across the country.
In addition to The Arab World Studies Notebook, Newton Public Schools have been criticized by local Jewish leaders for hosting the “Middle East Day” program, where BDS speakers and an anti-Israel film were screened.
“It’s unacceptable that Newton has presented school-wide programs promoting radical extreme political messages, including pro-BDS speakers. This is indoctrination, not education, and it has to stop,” Andrea Levin, president and executive director of CAMERA, told JNS.
“Newton history teachers and school administrators must think either that anti-discrimination laws do not apply to them, or that these laws do not protect their Jewish and Israeli students,” said the president of APT, Charles Jacobs. “There is no academic freedom to brainwash students with fake history and pro-Arab or antisemitic propaganda that is, these days, alarmingly too common on the left in America.”
The superintendent of Newton Public Schools, David Fleishman, did not respond to an inquiry by JNS asking for a reaction to the lawsuit. Local Jewish groups, including the New England branch of the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Community Relations Council and Combined Jewish Philanthropies, also declined to comment.
Levin said the lack of cooperation and transparency by Newton school district leaders led to this lawsuit.
“The superintendent and school committee have treated with contempt the reasonable requests of parents and residents for access and transparency regarding what’s being taught about the Arab-Israeli conflict in the classroom,” she said.
“Entirely justified efforts to remove biased materials, much of it taken off the Internet, have been stonewalled. There would never have been a lawsuit if the school hierarchy had done its job and been accountable to its constituents.”
Hurvitz, the attorney for the taxpayers, stated that her clients are not asking for monetary damages.
“This is the type of teaching that leads to antisemitism, and it has,” she said. “The taxpayers here are merely asking NPS to perform their duties and obey the law, which requires that their curriculum encourage respect for all people. Education should be based on fact, not on stereotypes and propaganda.”