In a stunning development, Luvelle Brown, Superintendent of Schools, Ithaca (NY) City School District, has acknowledged that serious anti-Israel agitation took place when controversial Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi appeared with local anti-Israel activists before third graders, ending in a call to activism:
"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."
Brown stated, among other thing, that such statements and others were inappropriate:
"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."
The full letter is later in this post. But first, the background of how we reached this point.
Bassem Tamimi and Ariel Gold
On Sunday night, September 20, 2015, Legal Insurrection broke the story how Anti-Israel activism hits elementary school in Ithaca, NY:
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.
That third grade event took place on Friday, September 18.
In our post, we detailed Tamimi's background of dangerously encouraging young Palestinian children to confront Israeli soldiers and police for the purpose of generating viral video and photos.
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 own children Ahed and Mohammad are the superstars of the Tamimi media machine, along with 9-year old cousin Janna Jihad Tamimi who has been used for this purpose since she was 5.
[Tamimi children Ahed (Blond) and Mohammad, 2012 Video]
Tamimi's history of such exploitation is set forth in the September 20 post, and also in these prior posts:
- Bassem Tamimi and the Use of Children as Political Props
- Real or Pallywood? Activist's children confront Israeli soldiers on eve of his U.S. Speaking Tour
- Ithaca Jewish Voice for Peace celebrates anti-Israel child exploitation
We also noted that the appearance in the third grade class involved Ithaca-based anti-Israel activist Ariel Gold, who also uses her own children as part of her anti-Israel activism. Gold self-describes her occupation as a Community Activist "delegitimizing zionism." Gold's history includes organizing the failed attempt to force the local GreenStar Food Coop to boycott Israeli products, and a contrived arrest at the 2015 AIPAC conference as part of a Code Pink protest.
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.
Based on the Facebook postings of Gold and activist Mary Anne Grades Flores, who also attended, it was clear that the presentation to the third graders was political and meant to demonize Israel. One of the speakers, in addition to Tamimi, was Gold's 12-year old daughter who doesn't even attend the school.
Flores posted an image of Tamimi in the class holding a poster (Gold's daughter's 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...."
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."
[Bassem Tamimi and Mary Anne Grady Flores with students at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School][Image via Ariel Gold Facebook]
Prior to publishing the September 20 post, I made multiple attempts by email to get answers from Superintendent Brown and School Principal Susan Eschbach (see prior post for copy of my letter). I received no response prior to my post.
Outrage, Then School Denial Event Was Anti-Israel
There also has been an outpouring of outrage in Ithaca and the broader community, a reaction to the political exploitation of third graders. Had this happened in high school, it would have been bad enough. But to drag third graders into the anti-Israel agenda was just too much for people to bear.
In response to that reaction, on September 22, Principal Eschbach sent me a statement defending the appearance, insisting that there were no anti-Israel statements. The full statement is available in the prior post, it reads in part (emphasis added):
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....
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....
In an update to my prior post, I called that school response nonsense:
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.
I have been proven correct. The presentation to the third graders was an anti-Israel propaganda event.
Superintendent Acknowledges Anti-Israel Nature of Event
Late last night I received an email from Superintendent Brown, as follows in full (emphasis added):
I apologize for the delayed response. After learning of the appearance of Bassem Tamimi in one of our classrooms, I asked for a thorough investigation and review. In response to your concerns and questions, I offer the following clarification:
On Friday, September 18th, as part of the New York State social studies curriculum on human rights, two speakers presented to the third grade at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School. 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.
At a minimum, we are taking immediate action in the following areas:
● We will review policies and procedures for guest speakers and visitors to our schools.
● The teaching of human rights is a complex task which is required by NYS standards. We are undertaking a thorough review of how we teach this important subject.
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.
After receiving the statement, I requested a copy of the full investigation report and findings, but as of this writing have not received the materials.
The letter itself leaves too many questions as to what happened, how, what was shown to the students, and who said what.
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.
Does anti-Israel agitation extend beyond that school, and what steps will the School District take to make sure that the classrooms are not turned into anti-Israel political theaters?
We will continue to follow this story until all the questions are answered.