Middle East studies in the News
Activists Manipulate Third-Graders Into Hating Israel
Anti-Israel activism by faculty at colleges and universities receives a lot of media attention in part because campuses generally are open to the public and college students are able to report on what happens.
Faculty-inspired anti-Israel activism, however, is not limited to colleges and universities. I hear many parents and students complain that by the time many students reach college, they already have been turned against Israel.
Far under the radar, the attempt to demonize Israel is moving down the educational chain even into elementary schools, pushed by activists who accept no boundaries even for young children. Yet because such activities take place in schools to which access is limited, and the young students are not developmentally able to report on what happens, it's rare to obtain hard visual proof.
We have such proof.
On Friday morning, September 18, 2015, the third grade classes at the Beverly J. Martin School in Ithaca, NY, heard a presentation on "human rights" by Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi and local anti-Israel activists, led by Ariel Gold. We broke the story a couple of days later, Anti-Israel activism hits elementary school in Ithaca, NY.
Based on documents produced pursuant to a NY Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request and court rulings, previously we were able to document that the Tamimi event was an anti-Israel propaganda event. At least one third-grade student suffered nightmares and a Letter of Reprimand was issued to the school principal for attempting to cover-up the nature of the event.
Previously, though, we didn't have any video of the Tamimi Event, just the paper and electronic record of communications. While that paper and electronic record was shocking, only video could fully convey what happened.
After over a year of investigation and litigation, including a court order under the NY Freedom of Information Law, Legal Insurrection has obtained a partial video of the Tamimi Event. That partial video shows how, after the main portion of the presentation was over (for which there is almost no video), the third-grade students expressed strong hostility to Israel and were encouraged to do so.
That video, which has been blurred and bleeped to protect student identities, is embedded in its entirety below. As bad as I expected it to be, it was worse. I was shaken as I watched the manipulation of these 8 and 9 year olds in a public school.
This video, and the Tamimi event, should serve as a clarion call.
On Sunday night, September 20, 2015, Legal Insurrection broke the story, Anti-Israel activism hits elementary school in Ithaca, NY.
Because of Tamimi's notoriety for exploiting children in videotaped confrontations with Israeli soldiers, Tamimi's mere appearance in a third grade class raised suspicions about the event. The Tamimis are best known for the 2012 video of daughter Ahed confronting Israeli soldiers for the cameras, for which she received an award from then Turkish Prime Minister (and current President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Subsequent to the Ithaca third-grade event, Tamimi was barred from entry to the U.S.
Gold is an Ithaca-based anti-Israel activist who now works for Code Pink. She is best known for generating publicity through disrupting speeches and events, and even prayers at the Western Wall. Gold uses her own children in her anti-Israel activism.
Gold, who was Tamimi's national tour coordinator, arranged the Tamimi event at the elementary school. The discussion was guided by teacher Brooke Burnett, a friend of Gold, and partially filmed by Mary Anne Grady Flores, another Ithaca activist who is friends with Gold and Burnett.
[Bassem Tamimi and Mary Anne Grady Flores at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School][Image via Ariel Gold Facebook]
Gold has attempted to describe the Tamimi event as loving and promoting peace, even the call for the school children to become "freedom fighters for Palestine":
Tamimi also defended the event:
Initially, the principal of the elementary school, Susan Eschbach, also attempted to downplay the significance of the Tamimi event. In a September 22, 2015, statement to the school community Eschbach denied there was anything improper. The statement provided, in pertinent part (full text here):
Responding to the concerns about Tamimi's arrival at BJM....
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.
The statement from Eschbach to the community was rebutted, in substance, when Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District (ICSD), Dr. Luvelle Brown, later released a statement denouncing the event, Superintendent: Third Grade event "politically skewed, inflammatory" against Israel.
The Superintendent's statement provided, in part (emphasis added):
... The assumed purpose of the talk was to focus on human rights and peace. Upon further investigation, we have learned that the speakers went beyond the original intent of the talk. Additionally, school administration was not informed beforehand of the invitation to include one of the speakers.
The following statements are some of the most egregious examples from the presentation:
● At the beginning of the session, the speakers showed a brief video of a young Palestinian girl who references Israelis killing Palestinians;
●There was an indication by the speakers that Israel has broken many United Nations' laws and that Israel controls all of the resources of the geographic area;
● In a closing statement of how students could help, a speaker spoke of solidarity and being freedom fighters for Palestine; to bring peace and protect the future of their children.
The Ithaca City School District's position is that such statements are not developmentally appropriate for third graders, nor aligned with the New York State standards. The statements were politically skewed, inflammatory, and not endorsed by the Ithaca City School District.
... We recognize that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is very sensitive to many members of our community. We also recognize that this delicate topic was not presented in a manner consistent with its importance. We sincerely regret that this has occurred.
Jewish Voice for Peace, in which Gold is active, started a petition drive asserting that criticism of the Tamimi event was an attempt to stifle Palestinian voices, and 31 parents at the Beverly J. Martin school (it's unclear if any had children in the class), led by Ithaca College Park School of Communications employee Nicole Koschmann, submitted a letter to the editor of the Ithaca Journal, Teachers know best about school speakers, defending the Tamimi event:
We, 31 Beverly J. Martin Elementary School parents, are writing in regards to recent news regarding the Palestinian human-rights activist visit at BJM on Sept. 18....
We parents believe teachers are the professionals in their field regarding the developmental stages of their students, what is appropriate, and what relates to the standards that need to be taught. They are trained in this. Law professors at Cornell University do not have this expertise. Political activists do not have this expertise. This knowledge lies with teachers and their principal....
The reactionary swell created outside of BJM as a result of this event is especially shameful when one considers the amount of resources the teachers and administrators have had to divert from their job of educating our children.
Our children were not preyed or imposed upon by the visitors that day. Instead, they were exposed to a perspective and a situation.
The conversation will continue at school and at home. We are not afraid of differing opinions. In fact, teaching students to disagree respectfully, and with patience and compassion, is one of the key elements of teaching human rights. Unfortunately, this is not a lesson many adults have learned.
When additional records were produced to me pursuant to the NY FOIL, it became apparent that Third Grade Anti-Israel event much worse than thought:
The Superintendent's statement, though, contained few details of his investigation.
But now Legal Insurrection exclusively has obtained documents pursuant to a Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL) request that show the event was even worse than we thought.
While numerous documents, including a video of the event, have been withheld by ICSD, what was produced is enough to declare without doubt that the event was an anti-Israel presentation in which both the activists and the teacher leading the discussion skewed the conversation against Israel to the extent that one or more students were incited to express hatred of Israel.
With one exception discussed later, we don't have any video of the presentation itself to the young students. We do, however, have a description from Flores that she sent to the school district after the fact:
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."
We also knew that this video of "Janna Jihad," a member of the Tamimi Clan who has been used since age 5 for propaganda purposes, was shown to the students (a video of this video being shown to the class is discussed later.)
In that post, I wondered why the other teachers and staff didn't intervene, and whether that indicated a problem at the school itself:
Why didn't any of the teachers speak out against this clear political activism? Our investigation indicates that one of the teachers expressed support for the event after it happened. Was that teacher, who we believe is friendly with Gold, how access was gained? The District needs to investigate these connections.
Additionally, how could the school principal issue a statement denying that the event was anti-Israel?
From everything I have heard about Superintendent Brown, he is a good guy who takes this issue very seriously, as his email to me reflects. It will be interesting to see where this leads.
Clearly, there is a problem at the Beverly J. Martin School, where the anti-Israel fox has been let into the hen house.
It took several months of litigation, but we finally won a court order that the video (redacted to protect student privacy) be produced, and that certain additional withheld documents be submitted to the court for in camera (private) review, Another Legal Insurrection victory: Ct orders video released of anti-Israel 3rd Grade event.
After a review of the documents in camera, the Court ordered certain documents produced without redaction. Most significantly, ICSD was ordered to turn over to us, without redaction, a Letter of Reprimand from ICSD to school principal Eschbach. The Court ruled that such document was not covered by any of the FOIL exemptions from disclosure.
That Letter of Reprimand revealed an additional, and very troubling, fact we did not previously know and was not previously disclosed.
Contrary to the rosy and positive view of the event presented by Gold and Eschbach, it turns out that a parent had complained to the school that his child was suffering from nightmares as a result of the Tamimi Event.
The Letter of Reprimand provided certain fact-finding by ICSD (emphasis added):
On September 22, 2015, you received an email communication from a parent of one of the students who had been exposed to the presentation. The parent therein, set forth evidence that the student was suffering from nightmares as a result of the presentation....
The Letter of Reprimand also made the following factual findings, in which the school principal described herself as being "horrified" when she saw the video of the event:
Further, though you were in possession of video links depicting, in part, some of the egregious actions of the presentation, you failed to open or review them in a timely manner....
.... Having reviewed the videos, you described yourself as "horrified" by their content. However, you characterized the issue as one not affecting the school.
After the Court ruled in our favor, it took several weeks for the school district to provide us with video of the Tamimi Event, as it went through the redaction process.
There were two video clips. Both apparently were filmed by Flores. Gold also filmed part of the event and provided the video to the school district, but as of now, the video clips are not playable. (We have retained at our expense an expert on ".mov" files who is assisting the school district, by agreement, with trying to recover those files.)
Pursuant to Court order, the videos were to have student faces blurred and names removed, something I agreed to long ago but the school district initially rejected since it didn't want to turn over any of the video.
The video turned over to us by the district (for which I had to pay by court order) did a sloppy job redacting faces and names, so I hired a video editor to do a better job. The video of student discussions below is the result of our more thorough blurring of faces and removal of names, even though that was the district's responsibility.
We went to these efforts, at substantial expense, because we view the children subjected to the Tamimi event as victims of manipulation by the adults involved.
The Court order also said that the school district "may" muffle student voices if the voices revealed identity, but the School District did not do so.
The first video turned over by the district was a short video of the Janna Jihad video being played to the class. Bassem Tamimi is sitting to the left of the screen. He starts by stating:
"[Janna Jihad in the video is] Eight years old
This is the message for the world and from the Palestinian children"
The second, and main video, is a class discussion after the formal presentation was over. While we don't have video of the full presentation, you can see the themes mentioned in documents repeated by the students, particularly the "wall" (the security barrier), how families suffer, how Israel is wrong and Palestinians are right, and how only Palestinian children suffer.
There was no discussion, from anything we have seen, about the suffering of Israeli children at the hands of Palestinian terrorists, such as Bassem Tamimi's cousin Ahlem Tamimi. Ahlem masterminded the Sbarro Pizza suicide bombing, is a hero among the Tamimi clan in Nabi Saleh, and Bassem Tamimi has refused to denounce her.
While I think the whole discussion was inappropriate for third graders, if the school was going to hold an educational event, it would have been good to talk not only about Janna Jihad, but also about Malki Roth who was killed in the Sbarro Pizza massacre by Bassem Tamimi's cousin. It also could have been explained that the "wall" was built only after dozens of other children (and several hundred other civilians) were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers, and that the wall protects children. As to Gaza, the brutality of Hamas could have been mentioned, and the Israeli attacks put in the context of relentless Hamas rocket fire even after Israel accepted an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.
There is no evidence in what has been released of a balanced presentation. That there was no attempt at balance or explanation shows that this was a political propaganda event. The emotions of young children were manipulated by adults in positions of power and authority, and who occupied positions of trust.
In the video, you can see how heavily teacher Burnett pushed the students to view Israel negatively and to accept what the students had just been shown.
Gold accused Israel of violating "laws" by the United Nations, a complex topic on which there is much disagreement, but which is presented to young children as simple.
Tamimi, followed by Gold, stressed the role of children in struggle:
The "Woman" speaking in the video, who we believe to be Mary Grady Flores, also presents the "truth" as being only on the Palestinian side.
Tamimi urged the third graders to become activists and freedom fighters for Palestine.
The students reacted strongly to the presentation and discussion.
One student said he didn't want to see anymore videos, and got up to walk out:
Another student picked up on the part of the presentation about Tamimi's daughter allegedly being deprived of the ability to play sports:
Numerous students expressed anger and hatred towards Israel, and made suggestions as to how to fight back:
Here is the video of the class discussion after the presentation.
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