JIMENA Participates in California’s Education to End Hate Initiative and Urges State to Protect Students from Antisemitism

JIMENA’s Executive Director, Sarah Levin, participated in a statewide panel discussion addressing antisemitism, convened by the California Department of Education (CDE) on August 23, 2023.  

As part of the CDE’s “Education to End Hate” initiative, this roundtable assembled members of the Legislative Jewish Caucus, Jewish communal leaders, and California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond for a discussion on addressing antisemitism in public schools. Alongside Sarah Levin were Dr. Anita Friedman, Executive Director of Jewish Family and Children Services of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin & Sonoma Counties, and Rabbi Meyer May, Executive Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.  

This conversation took place the same day California Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration circulated a letter to school leaders across the state, reminding them that Ethnic Studies courses must not “promote, directly or indirectly, any bias, bigotry, or discrimination against any person or group of persons on the basis of any category protected by Education Code Section 220,” which includes religion, ethnicity, and nationality.  

This development is welcomed by JIMENA and we regard this as one of many steps the State must take to protect Jewish students and society as a whole from the rising incidents of antisemitism and the influence of antisemitic ideology in our public schools. It is our hope that further communication from Governor Newsom and other elected leaders will more explicitly call out antisemitism and its perpetrators involved in public education.  

California State Senator Scott Wiener, who represents the city of San Francisco, was clear that “specific, tangible steps” are needed to stem an anticipated “surge of antisemitism in our public education system,” focusing his comments on “Liberated Ethnic Studies” whose proponents are shopping curriculum to unsuspecting school districts. He stressed that “calling out antisemitism…is really the issue” and that it is important for the State to be precise about what is happening, the State has “the responsibility to educate school districts…and hold them accountable.”  

As JIMENA’s Executive Director, Sarah Levin, emphasized during the convening, “Education can’t combat antisemitism if there are elements of antisemitism within the education system – such as antisemitic board members, administrators, etc. – or if antisemitic ethnic studies educators are being contracted by the education system to train teachers and schools.” All panelists unanimously agreed that Ethnic Studies must not be allowed to become a vehicle for harm and that the highest-quality training for our educators is critical in keeping hate out of schools.   

During the gathering, JIMENA Director Sarah Levin reinforced the necessity of defining antisemitism as the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in Israel, the assertion that the state of Israel is a racist endeavor, and the belief that teachers applying double standards to the state of Israel, both inside and outside the classroom, is antisemitic. Sarah reminded participants that Jewish students deserve to be protected from hate in schools and called for a zero-tolerance policy for antisemitic bullying. She reminded participants that school boards approving antisemitic class content such as voting yes on course outlines that advance anti-Zionism and boycotts of Israel is deeply problematic and will be met with a response from the Jewish community.  

JIMENA stands alongside our national and state-level partners, ready to offer support to diverse educational agencies as they take proactive measures to counter and combat antisemitism.   The complete video of this session is available for viewing here.   Additionally, please feel free to access and share JIMENA’s thoughtfully curated collection of state-approved lesson plans on Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, as well as antisemitism, available here.