Middle East studies in the News
Learning Some Hard Lessons About Newton's Curriculum [incl. James Gelvin]
by Charles Jacobs and Ilya Feoktistov
New information has surfaced regarding the Newton Public School controversy. Compelled to comply with state law, the school's administrators recently were forced to release an initial batch of 9th- and 10th-grade history lesson plans used to teach about the Middle East.
Most of the information, initially withheld from the public despite requests from parents, taxpayers and even a Newton alderman, was delivered to Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT's) offices in response to a public records request. Once our request is completed, we will post the records on this website. Newton citizens, especially those who are Jewish, will not be pleased.
For two years, we have been told by Superintendent David Fleishman and others that the Arab World Studies Notebook (ASWN) was removed from all classrooms and has not been used to teach Newton students since 2011. But the official documents we received show that Newton South High School assigned readings from the AWSN to 9th-grade students in at least three separate classes in the last school year – months after claims that it was "eliminated."
The AWSN has been condemned by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) as a fraudulent anti-Israel text created by Saudi-funded organizations. After a parent complaint about the AWSN was rebuffed in 2011, grassroots Jewish groups lobbied for more than a year until the schools claimed to remove it. But school documents now show that the AWSN continued to be taught. We are not sure if this is a matter of integrity or incompetence.
Apart from the Saudi hate-lesson, the materials released validate our claims that Newton South educates students to adopt anti-Israel viewpoints through the use of biased textbooks, readings, maps and pseudoacademic exercises. Until now, our knowledge of what Newton students are being taught was limited to what we received from students in only a few of classes. We now know that almost all the teachers in Newton South teach from the same problematic anti- Israel materials we saw previously.
The teachers' class notes we received directly contradict Newton school officials' claims that any anti- Israel materials are balanced by pro- Israel materials. For example, school administrators claimed that a series of assigned maps (created by a Palestine Liberation Organization propaganda unit, but never identified as such) were balanced by maps with a pro- Israel viewpoint. No such maps can be found. Several maps show Palestinian refugee dispersal and camp locations but there is no map showing the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands.
Several Newton teachers use a textbook written by James Gelvin, an anti-Israel ideologue and a pioneer of the academic boycott against Israel. Gelvin wrote the textbook while receiving payments from Sheikh Zayed, the anti-Semitic Emirates billionaire whose $2 million gift Boston's Jewish heroine, Rachel Fish, forced Harvard University to reject because of the anti Semitism of his "think tank."
In Newton schools, students are given an assignment called POV, which purports to show the Israeli and Palestinian "points of view" on various events in the history of the conflict.Yet these points of view are often either blatantly or subtly anti-Israel.
Centuries of Islamic religious teaching that Jews are to be a subjugated people, not permitted self-rule, are erased from Newton's "history" lessons. To ensure that students won't see Judeophobia as a root cause of the conflict, they are given a doctored, whitewashed version of the Hamas Charter from which the terror group's genocidal anti-Jewish pronouncements are removed so that the jihadist murderers can be falsely portrayed as mere militant nationalists.
Newton officials have sought to deflect accusations that they permit biased instruction by saying that it's not anti-Israel but only an exercise in "critical thinking." ("We don't teach students what to think, but how to think," Fleishman says.) Newton teachers' class notes tell a different story. Just as with the cleansed Hamas Charter, one teacher insists that the Arab war against Israel "is not inherently a religious conflict. This is a conflict over land." (Emphasis hers.) Many Middle East scholars would disagree, so why not let students decide for themselves? Newton students, the documents show, are made to debate whether the Jews have a right to a homeland of their own, but are never asked to ponder if any other people, such as the Palestinians themselves, deserve a state.
"Critical thinking" is increasingly being used throughout our nation to justify teaching hatred and the demonization of Jews. But is there a public school anywhere in America where students receive critical thinking lessons about Islamist honor killings, female genital mutilation, the enslavement and forced conversion of infidel women, or today's forced exodus and slaughter of Christians from the Middle East? It's doubtful. These topics are made taboo; they don't fit the anti-Western, anti-Judeo- Christian narrative that permeates our schools. A week or so before we received the public records from Newton, 478 high school students from Newton signed a letter defending "the history department in the face of allegations by [APT] that Newton's Middle East curriculum is anti-Israel." It was published in The Jewish Advocate and The Newton Tab.
One suspects, from both the language and content of the letter (posted on APT's website) that it was not written by students alone. People can judge for themselves. Ironically, students who parrot their teachers are expressing an image opposite of the one young people like to present: that of cool, independentminded, even rebellious youth. How were they herded into a pack of 478 conformists? What happened to the courage to, in the words of their generation's bumper sticker, "question authority?"
It takes no courage to whine about Israel – Jews won't beat you up. Bravery today would be to stand up for black slaves in Sudan and Nigeria, abused and oppressed women under Islamic rule, Sharia-compliant hanging of gays. Sadly, the most these victims will likely get from today's students (and our nation's leaders) is hashtag activism.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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