[News] SF public school program comes under Israel lobby pressure

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 4 10:52:35 EDT 2015


  US public school program comes under Israel lobby pressure

Charlotte Silver 
<https://electronicintifada.net/people/charlotte-silver> 
<https://electronicintifada.net/location/san-francisco> 3 September 2015
*https://electronicintifada.net/content/us-public-school-program-comes-under-israel-lobby-pressure/14819*

An Israel advocacy group’s campaign to thwart implementation of an 
Arabic language program in San Francisco public schools has ended in 
failure.

Last May, the board of the San Francisco Unified School District 
unanimously passed a resolution 
<https://rpnorton.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/arabic-vietnamese-path-fewer-haney.pdf> 
to implement Arabic and Vietnamese into the city’s Language Pathways 
program. The program was established more than 40 years ago to ensure 
<http://web.sfusd.edu/Services/translation/Lists/Translated%20Documents%20Archive/Attachments/204/Lau%20Plan%20for%20Parents%209.09-ENG.pdf> 
that students from an array of language backgrounds receive equal access 
to education.

San Francisco has one of the most progressive language programs in the 
United States, providing learning opportunities in more than a dozen 
languages 
<http://www.sfusd.edu/en/assets/sfusd-staff/programs/files/english-learners/2015-16%20EL%20Program%20Guide%20-%20English.pdf>.

But soon after the May resolution passed, board members began hearing 
complaints about the Arab Resource and Organizing Center 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/aroc>, a San Francisco Bay 
Area-based activism group which campaigned for the language program. The 
complaints came from people who had been mobilized by the local chapter 
of the Jewish Community Relations Council 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/jewish-community-relations-council>, a 
subsidiary of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/jcpa>.

JCPA is an umbrella organization that lists 125 JCRC chapters around the 
country. It co-founded the Israel Action Network 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/israel-action-network>, a $6 
million initiative devoted to combatting the “delegitimization” of 
Israel by attacking grassroots activism expressing solidarity with 
Palestine.


    “Political agenda”

In June, JCRC leaders Rosalind Franklin and Rabbi Doug Kahn 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/rabbi-doug-kahn> met with the 
superintendent of the school district and president of the board of 
education to present their concerns about the city working with AROC.

In a follow-up letter, Franklin and Kahn cast AROC as a “hateful and 
inflammatory” group and state that it “has a political agenda that is 
anathema to peaceful, inclusive and civil discourse.”

JCRC excoriate AROC’s anti-Zionist activism in the Bay Area, including 
their part in the successful Block the Boat 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/block-boat> campaign.

AROC was a central organizer with other local activist groups and labor 
unions to successfully prevent 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/charlotte-silver/bay-area-activists-declare-victory-after-israeli-carrier-cancels-all-ships> 
the unloading of an Israeli cargo ship at the Port of Oakland during the 
assault on Gaza last summer.

The JCRC’s letter asserts that Zionist students and teachers would not 
feel safe with AROC serving as a school resource.


    Bullying

JCRC has a long history of bullying institutions from working with 
groups it views as sympathetic to Palestinians. In 2011, it attempted to 
prevent a local museum from displaying children’s art from Gaza 
<https://electronicintifada.net/content/gaza-childrens-images-war-censored-under-pressure-us-israel-lobby/10373> 
after Israel’s 2008-2009 attack.

Authors of resolutions for San Francisco’s school district have a 30-day 
window to rewrite a resolution after it has been passed. JCRC pressured 
the authors to rewrite the resolution to exclude AROC as a partner while 
trying to rally support from other board members and community 
organizations to cast AROC as a hate group.

JCRC’s Franklin and Kahn wrote in a letter to Noah Sochet, a member and 
former chair of the Peace and Justice Commission in the neighboring city 
of Berkeley who had given his support for AROC, that the group “has 
expressed overt ‘hatred’ against those who believe in the Jewish 
people’s right to freedom from oppression and for national 
self-determination.”

JCRC’s letter also tries to portray AROC’s executive director, Lara 
Kiswani <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/lara-kiswani>, as someone 
who promotes hate. JCRC selectively quoted Kiswani from a local panel 
discussion <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZMp83syN40> about a boycott 
resolution put to vote among student workers 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/nora-barrows-friedman/student-workers-have-spoken-us-labor-union-backs-israel-boycott> 
at the University of California 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/university-california> last November.

During board meetings, AROC members told The Electronic Intifada, JCRC 
showed a heavily edited clip of Kiswani as she placed the Palestine 
liberation movement into a political context.

Kiswani told The Electronic Intifada that JCRC was trying to cast AROC 
as a hate group so that the city could no longer work with them.


    Smear campaign

For some on the school board, the question boiled down to the mere fact 
that AROC is an anti-Zionist organization, Kiswani said.

By the time the 30-day window closed, none of the three original authors 
were willing to reintroduce the bill.

Kiswani says the Arabic Pathways program will emphasize culture and 
history and give all students a chance to broaden their understanding of 
the Arab world.

According to AROC, there is a growing Arab community in San Francisco 
with an increasing number of refugees from Yemen and Syria.

While its political organizing attracts more media attention, AROC has 
been working with the city for years to improve services to the Arab 
community. In 2012 they successfully lobbied the city to provide Arabic 
language interpreters across the school district.


    Core values

JCRC’s attack on AROC’s involvement with San Francisco’s public schools 
takes place within a broader effort by Israel lobby groups to conflate 
criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism and hate speech.

The board’s acceptance of AROC as a partner with the school district 
despite the JCRC’s protest has been seen as an implicit rejection of the 
characterization of anti-Zionist groups as hate groups.

“The city has a history of working with social justice organizations 
that are anti-racist and hold anti-Zionism as a core value,” Kiswani 
said. “AROC [is] one of them. The attempt by JCRC to censor and repress 
this work failed.”

/Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in San Francisco. Twitter: 
@CharESilver <https://twitter.com/CharESilver>/.

-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
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