Middle East studies in the News
Anti-Israel Activism Hits Elementary School in Ithaca, New York
An uproar is brewing in Ithaca, New York, after anti-Israel activists bragged on Facebook how they managed to bring Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi to a third-grade class as part of a presentation on the suffering of Palestinian children at the hands of Israel.
According to the activists, the event took place on Friday morning, September 18, 2015 at the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School.
Tamimi is best known for his use of children, including his own, for media purposes. The game goes like this: Tamimi's children and other children from the village of Nabi Saleh are encouraged to confront Israeli soldiers in the hope of provoking a reaction. The children are surrounded by a phalanx of photographers and videographers waiting for the viral moment when the Israeli soldier reacts, which then is fed to the media through the Tamimi media operation and international activists who often participate.
Tamimi's daughter Ahed (the blond girl in this 2012 video) is world famous for such staged confrontations, having been given a heroism award by the anti-Israel Prime Minister of Turkey for this performance:
Tamimi's son, Mohammad, was the subject of a recent media frenzy after he threw rocks at Israeli soldiers and when they moved to arrest him, a soldier was set upon by local women and children, all as the video rolled. Rock throwing has become a serious problem, with numerous motorists killed and injured as a result, yet it is an activity Tamimi encourages (for which he has been arrested).
This all is a very dangerous exploitation that puts the children at risk. Yet Tamimi glorifies and encourages the use of children for such purposes, as we documented extensively in the following posts:
So why was Tamimi in tiny, geographically-isolated Ithaca, to begin with?
Tamimi's connection to Ithaca runs through Ariel Gold, an anti-Israel activist who used to work as a community organizer for the anti-Israel Sabeel Int'l – North America. Gold now self-describes her occupation as a Community Activist "delegitimizing zionism." Like Tamimi, Gold involves her children (ages 12 and 14) in her anti-Israel activism, promoting them through radio and speaking appearances, as well as Facebook and videos. [Note: Though Gold widely promotes her childrens' images and names, I have removed them from photos — such as the Featured Image — and other references in this post.]
During a late 2014, early 2015 trip to the town of Bil'in in the West Bank, Gold and her family met the Tamimi family, including Bassem and Ahed. It is no surprise, therefore, that Gold serves as the coordinator for Bassem Tamimi's national speaking tour, which is ongoing. It was that tour that brought Tamimi to Ithaca and neighboring Cortland.
And it was that connection which appears to have landed Tamimi before the third graders at the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School accompanied by Gold's 12-year old daughter (who does not attend the school) and Mary Anne Grades Flores, a local environmental and political activist.
How precisely access to the elementary school students was arranged is not presently known, as Ithaca school officials have not yet responded to my emails seeking such information (see email later in post).
The appearance before the third graders was, according to the descriptions posted by Gold and Flores, overtly political in purpose and content.
Gold posted the Featured Image on Facebook (with her daughter's face showing, though we blurred it) with the following text:
"Bassem Tamimi speaking about the Palestinian struggle for human rights to the third grade class at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School."
Gold also posted a photo of Tamimi with Gold's daughter outside the school, with this description (name redacted by me) :
"Bassem Tamimi and [________] Gold about to speak to the third grade class at Beverly J. Martin Elementary school about human rights."
Flores posted the same class photo of the presentation (Featured Image) with the description:
"This am, at our local BJM School, 3rd grade classes listened and spoke about Human Rights for children in Palestine with Bassem Tamimi, father of 4 children, from Nabi Saleh, who's village land has been stolen by Israeli settlers."
In a comment to that same post, Flores wrote:
"It was amazing how clear the children were about human rights. Bassem was so gentle with them."
[Bassem Tamimi and Mary Anne Grady Flores with students at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School][Image via Ariel Gold Facebook]
[Bassem Tamimi and Mary Anne Grady Flores at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School][Image via Ariel Gold Facebook]
Flores further posted an image of Tamimi in the class holding a poster (name redacted by me):
"Holding the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Bassem Tamimi, father of 4, of Palestine and 12 yr old Ithacan [________] Gold spoke to BJM 3rd graders about Palestinian children struggling living under Israeli occupation. I am a witness to the gentle way the discussion happened and I am a witness to what is happening in Palestine. Denial of Human Rights by Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza."
Flores also described how Gold's daughter told a story to the children (name redacted by me):
"What an honor to be with the 3rd grade at BJM with Bassem Tamimi, Ms Burnett, [________] Gold, and her mom, Ariel. Thank you [__________] for reading that wonderful story from a Palestinian child's dreams, speaking with his mom, about what life could be like without the occupation wall. You were wonderful."
There are a lot of unanswered questions here.
For example, why was this class in this school chosen? Gold's daughter doesn't even attend the school. Why the third grade class when the third-grade curriculum (to the extent available online) does not appear to include the highly contentious Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
If the human rights of children was the theme, was Tamimi's own media exploitation explained to the children? And was the suffering of Israeli (Jewish and non-Jewish) children explored?
For example, Tamimi's relative, Ahlam Tamimi, escorted a suicide bomber in 2001 during the Second Intifada to the Sbarro Pizza restaurant in Jerusalem, resulting in death and injury to numerous children:
[Victims of Sbarro Pizza restaurant suicide bombing][click image for video]
Were those children discussed?
Or was this video shown of Ahlam Tamimi expressing her pleasure, years later, with the damage she caused?
Ahlam Tamimi was released along with hundreds of other terrorists in the exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and now resides in Jordan. Ahlam is celebrated as a Palestinian hero for killing Israeli children:
Before Tamimi took her life, 15-year-old Malka Chana Roth was a volunteer at a youth camp organised by Etgarim, the Israeli Outdoor and Recreation Association for the Disabled. Her parents have since established a charity in her memory. www.kerenmalki.org helps young disabled kids stay at home, by providing specialist equipment and therapeutic services. And one in three of the beneficiaries are Israeli Arabs.
In sharp contrast, students at An-Najah University, unbelievably, recreated the atrocity at in a macabre exhibition to mark the first anniversary of the Palestinian intifada. According to a BBC report, 'The room-sized installation had broken tables splattered with fake blood and body parts. A university branch of the militant Palestinian group Hamas built the exhibit, which recreates the scene of last month's attack on Sbarro Pizza house in Jerusalem.'
Was that discussed with the third graders?
Was Bassem Tamimi asked the question framed by the parents of one of the victims of the Sbarro massacre, who note that Ahlam was not the only one from Nabi Saleh to murder Israelis:
"Bassem Tamimi, tell us in simple words: are you as delighted by your cousin Ahlam Tamimi's massacre of Jewish children as she is? Have you criticized it ever, anywhere? Will you condemn it here and now?"
When Gold's daughter explained to the third graders how the security barrier allegedly makes Palestinian children suffer, did the school teachers present explain that the barrier was built only after the Sbarro suicide bombing and similar attacks caused several hundred Israeli civilian deaths?
The Israeli operation and initial construction of the security fence resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of suicide attacks carried out by Palestinian terrorist organizations: in 2002 there were 60 suicide attacks, while in 2003 this number decreased by more than 50% to 26 suicide attacks. There was also a considerable decrease in the number of fatalities: from 452 Israelis killed in 2002 to 214 Israelis killed in 2003.
The barrier may inconvenience children, but it also has saved the lives of hundreds if not thousands of children.
Was this a legitimate, balanced educational endeavor, or a propaganda event meant to turn young children against Israel? And if the latter, what was it doing in a public school before children too young to balance the information presented on their own?
I sent the following email to school officials on Friday and again Saturday, without any response as of this writing:
Dear Superintendent Brown and Principal Eschbach:
I run a popular politics and law website which, while based in Ithaca, has a large national and international audience.
I am writing about the reported appearance of Bassem Tamimi before the third grade class at the Beverly J. Martin School. My website has written extensively about Tamimi, who is a very controversial figure because of his advocacy of using children to confront soldiers and his media operation which uses children (including his own) confronting soldiers to create viral photo and media ops.
I am writing about this, and would like to get the school's and the District's position on the following:
1. Do you consider it appropriate for someone with Tamimi's background to appear in an elementary school class?
2. How was this arranged? Was permission granted in advance, and by whom?
3. What actually took place during Tamimi's presentation, and was it monitored in any way by the school administration? If so, how?
4. Is there a recording of the presentation? If so, would you make it available?
5. What steps, if any, were made to make sure the children received a balanced presentation and it was not a political activism event?
6. What is the school's and District's policy on political activism in the classroom? Was that policy followed in this case?
7. Is the Middle East conflict a part of the third grade curriculum? If so, please provide details. If not, why was this event allowed in the classroom?
8. Have there been any events this school year in which "pro-Israel" speakers were brought to elementary school classes? If so, please provide details.
9. Who, other than the children enrolled in the class, was present during the presentation?
10. Would either of you be willing to speak on-the-record? If so, at what number can I reach you?
11. If there is anything else you think I should know, or any statement you wish to make, please provide that to me as soon as possible so that I can include it in my article.
I look forward to your prompt responses.
William A. Jacobson
Legal Insurrection website.
In a bit of bitter irony, the day after Tamimi appeared before the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School students, Tamimi again glorified and promoted the use of young children to confront the police for the cameras.
In that case, Tamimi was promoting a rising Palestinian child "journalist" Janna Jihad Ayyad, currently age 9. Tamimi posted a viral Facebook video of her in Jerusalem, in which she shouts (at 1:15) "we will kill you."
["We will kill you"]
Tamimi is no stranger to Janna Jihad (her media name). Tamimi's daughter Ahed is co-starring in a movie to be released over the winter about the two child activists, and also appears in an anti-Israel dance video in which their heroism in the face of soldiers is glorified.
[Note added 9-22-2015: A commenter points to a UK Daily Mail article that Janna Jihad is a Tamimi and a cousin of Ahed, so she's another Tamimi child exploited by the Tamimi media operation.]
Here is a video Janna Jihad, when she was just 5 years old, confronting Israeli soldiers. The video was produced by Tamimi Press.
Media manipulation and exploitation of young children is nothing new to the Tamimi media empire. They start them at an even younger age than the third graders at the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School.
There also are important lessons here. Many people have become aware of the anti-Israel educational activism of college professors. But it's moving down the educational food chain, to high schools and even elementary schools.
If I hear back from the Ithaca school district, I'll either update this post, or prepare another post.
I received the following statement this morning from the Principal of the Beverly J. Martin School. It does not answer most of the questions I posed.
Frankly, it is nonsense. Read the descriptions on Facebook from Gold and Flores and it is clear that the goal and content of the presentation was to present Palestinians as victims of Israelis, without any counterbalancing information to the students.
It is even more troubling that the school is relying on Amnesty International (which has a known and documented anti-Israel bias), and the Dorothy Cotton Institute in Ithaca (whose Israel-related project is run by the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist Rabbi Brian Walt, who led a Dorothy Cotton delegation to visit the Tamimi's village) to design the school curriculum on human rights.
From the description, there are no neutral or Zionist groups involved in the planning or implementation process, and there is no mention of speakers to give the Israeli perspective. The statement seems oblivious to the fact that all of the sponsors of the tour are anti-Israel. The Ithaca School District has a problem which goes beyond this incident.
Here is the school's statement, in full:
Responding to the concerns about Tamimi's arrival at BJM.
In keeping with the 3rd grade curriculum standard to study human rights, as well as the ICSD ongoing efforts to bring authenticity and local relevance to our studies, human rights activists were brought into the classroom. Operating on the local, national, and international stage the activists included a former classmate who is 12 years old, as well as Ariel Gold (a former parent and previous presenter on human rights to BJM), Mary Ann Grady, locally known anti-war activist, and Bessem Tamimi, an international activist sponsored by Amnesty International, Jewish Voice for Peace, Interfaith Peacebuilders, and Friends of Sabeel North America. BJM has also been working with Amnesty International and the Dorothy Cotton Institute to develop a designation as a Human Rights School.
During the presentation, the 12 year old spoke of her friendship with Tamimi's daughter, and described how they shared dancing experiences with each other. She also read a story to the class. During the discussion the adults also shared examples of children's responses to soldiers in the village, and what it means to live with a wall, as well as images of struggle.
There were many adults present in the class and at no time was there an anti-Israel, anti-Palestine, anti-Jewish, or anti-Muslim stance. The children took away from this experience several messages ."I can be an ambassador for peace." " You can make friends across borders and that is a good thing." "Children want the option to live peacefully and to go to school. Children can help stand for these desires." "Everyone should work things out to live together." And "love will make peace, not hate." The children had meaningful, relevant, and appropriate conversations.
This unit on Human Rights will also be followed later by a deeply resonating study of the power of reading. Two of the books in that study include The Librarian of Basra and Naseem's Secret School. Both of these children's books present situations where people make challenging decisions about how to live in the face of fear and to work for the rights of all, in this case, the access to education.
The fifth grade at BJM is also studying Human Rights, having recently written their own convention. Dilemmas, conflicts, multiple perspectives come to bear in all of this work. If there weren't conflicts to critically analyze, there would not be a need for human rights.
The Beverly J Martin community works with a global perspective in a local microcosm of our world.
I have received no response from the Superintendent, but The Blaze did, New York Elementary School Invites Palestinian Activist Who Incited Attacks on Israelis to Speak to Third-Graders:
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.
In the wake of the controversy, the Ithaca City Schools superintendent said Thursday he is now reviewing the school visitor policy....
Ithaca City Schools Superintendent Luvelle Brown told The Blaze Thursday that he is reviewing the school visitor policy in the wake of the Tamimi visit.
"I have asked for an immediate review of current visitor policies and procedures," Brown told TheBlaze via email in response to questions about Tamimi's visit.
Brown said that Tamimi was "not an invited guest" but rather had accompanied two others who had been invited to speak about "universal human rights" which is part of the New York State third grade curriculum.
However, the school's earlier statement sent to the Legal Insurrection blog said that Tamimi was one of the individuals "brought into the classroom" to "bring authenticity and local relevance to our [human rights] studies."...
The superintendent on Thursday addressed some of those issues which TheBlaze forwarded him.
Brown said that it was his understanding that the suffering of Jewish children was not discussed with the third grade children; nor was the issue of Tamimi's relative Ahlam Tamimi raised. Ahlam Tamimi was an accomplice to a 2001 suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 15, including 7 children and a pregnant woman. Nor were the children told that Israel's security barrier (which Palestinian activists usually call a "wall") was erected in order to keep suicide bombers out of Israel and that since then suicide attacks have virtually ended, saving scores of children's lives.
Asked if any pro-Israel voices were invited to the classroom, Brown said, "No other speakers have been into this classroom to talk about human rights at this time."
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