California Plan to Counter Antisemitism Misses the Mark

2024-04-08 06:00:18

American Jews today face threats mainly from two camps — the Islamists and the woke youth. One wouldn’t know it from reading California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Golden State Plan to Counter Antisemitism.

The document correctly notes that antisemitic violence escalated immediately after the October 7th terrorist mega terror attack on Israel, but it failed to articulate the significance of it. Without a clear idea of what’s going on in the country as a whole and California in particular, the issue of antisemitism can’t be properly addressed.

It is a burning issue. On November 5, 2023 in Thousand Oaks a Jordanian American anti-Israel protester and a computer science professor Loay Alnaji allegedly struck a pro-Israel activist Paul Kessler with a bullhorn, causing him to fall. Kessler died the following day.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, on November 16 cease-fire mob blocked the Bay Bridge. Seventy eight activists were arrested and, thanks to San Francisco District Attorney Brook Jenkins willingness to press charges, passions were tempered. Only twenty showed up to block the Golden Gate Bridge in February — and they were swiftly removed. Jenkins taught California a lesson here about the value of law enforcement in imposing peace.

Campus cops can stand to learn from her. At UC Berkeley, for instance, ceasefire mobs have been rocking the campus. In one February incident, a crowd of two hundred masked individuals broke into Zellerbach Playhouse where a pro-Israel event was scheduled to start, assaulting and spitting at a people and screaming racial slurs. The event was first moved to a different location, but eventually cancelled because the university didn’t have sufficient police force to hold back the mob. The investigation is stalled because the masked activists couldnt be identified.

UC Berkeley is far from the only campus with a raging antisemitism problem. The LA Times reports that “the U.S. Department of Education launched civil rights investigations into several California campuses, including UCLA, UC San Diego, Stanford, San Diego and Santa Monica College.” Although only a handful of schools became the subject of investigation, antizionist violence and intimidation are a persistent problem on California campuses.

Students start their college courses already indoctrinated — primary educational institutions in California are also plagued by Jew-hate. The Ethnic Studies Curriculum already taught across California high schools and set to become graduation requirement in 2025 permits anti-Israel bias. High schools can opt to teach the so-called Liberated Ethnic Studies which include antisemitic lessons. Sometimes educators add their own hate manuals. An Ethnic Studies teacher Chloe Gentile-Montgomery showed the students at a toney Menlo-Atherton High the widely circulated notoriously misleading map of Israel allegedly stealing Arab land along with several other historically inaccurate slides.

California public schools have been teeming with incitement. Middle and high school students across the state were pressed to attend anti-Israel rallies and teachers are free to brainwash students that Israel was to blame for the 10/7 massacre. In one Oakland elementary students were instructed to stick “stop bombing babies” notes on the door of the sole Jewish teacher. Also in Oakland, Jewish families started pulling kids out of public schools.

With this representative sample of California Jew-hate problem in mind, Newsom’s plan appears weak. Although doubling security grants to non-profits and places of worship seems like a good idea, the document other-lives-matters Jews. The program is peppered with mentions of Islamophobia, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian sentiment — a customary pairing with antisemitism. Such grouping is unfairly accusatory. We know that Islamists are major perpetrators of anti-Jewish crimes worldwide. In the context of the long-standing media portrayal of Arab-Israeli relations as “tit-for-tat violence,” invoking Islamophobia in the same breath as antisemitism insinuates that Jews brought hate upon themselves. But Jews in California and elsewhere are not lashing out against Muslims.

The Plan to Counter Antisemitism doesn’t show any sense that Jews are uniquely targeted; instead, Jewish problems are presented within the wider context of “hate” which can be addressed through already existing governmental programs. For instance, Newsom proposes that Ethnic Studies Curriculum should include lessons on Jewish Americans. He then promises to work to “ensure all ethnic studies courses are free from bias, bigotry, and discriminatory content” — presumably referring to the very Ethnic Studies he is promoting. In other words, the governor admits that California public schools teach hate but fails to act against it immediately. A bigger question to ask is how a course that stokes ethnic resentment will affect California Jews even if it’s not overtly antisemitic.

Under the rubric of Uplifting Jewish Heritage and Building Mutual Understanding, a special place was given to “Holocaust and genocide education”. Holocaust was the only historical Jewish topic singled out by Newsom — as if thousands of proud years of Jewish tradition do not exist. While stripping the Jewish experience of everything but the worst slaughter in history is unfair, pairing up the Holocaust with “genocide” is another example of other-lives-mattering. The Holocaust is a specifically Jewish subject that needs not to be universalized. Questions about usefulness of Holocaust education have been raised in the past. For our purposes, the Holocaust is not the most urging issue facing California Jews today.

What’s going on in California and North America in general is an intifada. Energized by the Hamas attack on Israel, Islamists and young people steeped in wokeness are turning on local Jews. So far, incidents of violence have been relatively low, but considering the growing number of both Islamists and the militant young, and their unwavering devotion to the cause, we can reasonably expect it to escalate.

If we want to snip Jew hate in the bud, we need to wholly reform k-12 education. There is no need for a separate Ethnic Studies course because every humanities course is already ethnic studies. The entire requirement can be nixed. Better yet, humanities education can be reoriented towards American exceptionalism as rooted in our founding documents.

We need more clarity about what kind of hate we are confronting today. To say that it’s antisemitism is to use too generic of a term. Our enemies call themselves antizionist; let’s use that label. When elementary school kids ask a Jewish teacher to “stop bombing babies” or a campus mob cancels an Israeli speaker, they are in their minds protesting not Jews but Zionists. When mobs in Berkeley and Thousand Oaks are encouraged by a slaughter in Israel, they are connecting all Jews to our historic homeland. This is the problem we want our government to address and we need to ask them to start talking of antizionism not as some kind of high-minded ideology but a form of hate. Instead of speaking of antisemitism and Islamophobia in the same breath, politicians need to talk of antisemitism and antizionism.

A Persistent problem with antizionist and other woke protests is masking. Authorities can’t punish law-breaking mobs if they can’t identify them. Public masking should be banned. COVID-19 measures are no longer relevant and as a health measure masking is inefficient.

We need to understand that what we are facing is not some mythical wave of protests, but low grade — for now — civil unrest. Just like in Israel, intifadas escalated into sustained rocket attacks and a large scale pogrom and, it will escalate here. But as Brooke Jenkins’ willingness to enforce the law teaches us, enthusiasm for rioting wanes quickly when it’s met with force. Newsom can send the National Guard to ensure security for Jewish and Israeli events on campus — and conservative speech, for that matter.

Our long term prospects are grim, but with a little clarity we can start addressing Jew hate and see where it leads us. Maybe the young people can be taught a lesson. Maybe Islamists can be held at bay. To ask our elected officials for protection, we need clarity of vision. And elected officials can use less equivocation.

[Featured Image: Berkeley Holocaust Discussion Disruption]


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