Ethnic studies model curriculum no longer includes BDS, state officials say

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The Israeli-American Civic Action Network (ICAN) is happy to report that the California Department of Education has confirmed that references to the antisemitic boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement have been removed from the latest draft of the state’s ethnic studies curriculum.

ICAN is proud to be among the leading organizations on this issue in partnership with AJC, IAJF, the SF JCRC, and JPAC. Together, we mobilized thousands of Israeli and American advocates across California who contacted their legislators to express their concerns about bringing antisemitism into our public schools. ICAN also wishes to thank the California Legislative Jewish and LGBT Caucus members and staff for their support of an inclusive ethnic studies curriculum.

ICAN expresses its deep gratitude to the cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. Both cities unanimously passed resolutions condemning the antisemitic aspects of the draft curriculum. Their leadership had a significant impact on ensuring BDS’s removal from the curriculum.

ICAN advocates and leaders will continue to closely monitor the development of the draft curriculum to ensure that the final version adheres to the original intent of the ethnic studies legislation.

Read an excerpt below from the Jewish News of Northern California:

As conflict continues to flare up in the Bay Area and across the state surrounding a draft of an ethnic studies curriculum for public high schools — which was highly critical of Israel and omitted Jews as an ethnic group for study — officials with the California Department of Education have told Jewish lawmakers of at least one requested change: references to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement have been deleted.

The development comes as a modest win for Jewish and pro-Israel groups pushing for revisions to the draft, which the California Legislative Jewish Caucus said reflected an “anti-Jewish bias,” but significant questions remain about the more-than-400-page document which will be used as a guide for state high schools. Revisions are ongoing at the CDE.

Many state senators and assembly members in the 16-person Jewish caucus supported the 2016 bill to create a statewide model for ethnic studies — the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity with a focus on people of color.

But the model released last summer was roundly criticized by a host of Jewish interest groups including the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the group of Jewish lawmakers, which drafted a letter calling it “inaccurate and misleading in several respects” and saying it “effectively erases the American Jewish experience.”

Spokespeople for Armenian, Hindu and Korean ethnic groups also complained of being left out, and still others criticized the draft for being overly ideological; an editorial in the Los Angeles Times called it “jargon-filled” and “all-too-PC.”

The draft curriculum is in the process of being revised to address many of these concerns.

Months remain until the new version will be released, as the CDE plans to present an updated version to the state Instructional Quality Commission on Aug. 13 (the presentation was scheduled for April but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic). Usually the IQC publishes documents for discussion 10 days in advance.

The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum will then enter another public comment phase (the first round saw more than 10,000 submissions), which will lead to a final draft.

By law, a final version must be approved by March 31, 2021, a deadline already postponed one year by the state legislature.

The CDE “assured” the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California and the legislature’s Jewish caucus that BDS does not appear in the current version of the draft, representatives of those organizations said. However, it could still be reintroduced during the next public comment phase.

“They took it out. They did make those assurances,” said Julie Zeisler, executive director of JPAC, speaking about conversations she has had with officials at the CDE since the release of the draft.

“I think they were taking out all of the really specific items, the inflammatory things people were very concerned about,” she said, including references to BDS and to a controversial Palestinian rap lyric.

If a celebration at the end of this could be possible among the multiplicity of cultures that is California, that would be beautiful.

Seth Brysk, the S.F.-based regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said he believed removing references to BDS aligned with public statements made by Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Superintendent Tony Thurmond.

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