We previously reported how activists in Ithaca, New York, arranged a one-sided anti-Israel presentation to the Third Grade classes at the Beverly J. Martin School, which included local Jewish Voice for Peace activist Ariel Gold and Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi.
Tamimi is best known for using children, including his own, to confront Israeli soldiers to create viral photo and video. He also advocates using children in protests, including setting up roadblocks, and rock throwing. Tamimi is on a national speaking tour, co-sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, and had two other appearances in the Ithaca area in addition to the third grade appearance.
When news of the third grade event came to the attention of the Ithaca City School District Superintendent Luvelle Brown, he launched an investigation, and at the end of that investigation issued a strongly worded statement condemning what had happened. The statement reads, in part:
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 sincerely regret that this has occurred.
Because the misuse of an elementary school classroom was so outrageous, the event has received widespread attention, including a report at the NBC-affiliate in Central New York. CNY Central reporter Alex Dunbar reported on the scandal, including interviewing me, School District: Ithaca 3rd graders exposed to anti-Israel rhetoric in the classroom:
The third grade class at Beverly J Martin Elementary School was supposed to be learning about human rights, but part of the presentation came from anti-Israeli activists Bassem Tamimi....
The school district says Tamimi told students they could help by "being freedom fighters for Palestine, to bring peace and protect the future of their children."
Cornell University Law Professor William Jacobson says the Ithaca School District needs to look at who from the school brought Tamimi into a classroom for a one-sided presentation without having permission.
"What is more inappropriate than that? That is not studying huan rights. That is political activism in a classroom where the children are only 8 or 9 years old," he said.
CNYCentral was told the Ithaca School superintendent would not answer questions on the investigation into the presentation today. A statement said the district is reviewing policies for guest speakers and visitors in schools.
The statement says school administration was not told of all the speakers or content beforehand....
Bassem Tamimi has not responded to an e-mail request for an interview. On his Facebook page, he link to an article about his elementary school presentation saying:
"When your enemy becomes nervous this means you are in the right direction."
Jacobson says Tamimi also has a history of using children in anti-Israeli activist videos.
"Whether it was anti-Israel or anti-anybody else, we should not be manipulating our school children, particularly elementary school children for political purpose," Jacobson said.
Rather than becoming introspective and questioning themselves as to why they feel the need to manipulate third graders, Jewish Voice for Peace is going on the offensive, claiming that the school's actions and my reporting have silenced pro-Palestinian voices.
This appears to be part of JVP's national campaign, launched yesterday in conjunction with Palestine Legal, to claim that pro-Israel groups have "stifled" their free speech.
On its national website, JVP and other anti-Israel groups that sponsored Tamimi's national tour, issued a press release, objecting to the "Undeserved Backlash" against Tamimi's third grade appearance. It reads, in part:
On Friday, September 18, 2015, internationally renowned Palestinian nonviolent human rights activist, Bassem Tamimi, was an honored guest speaker as part of the human rights curriculum in the third grade classroom of Beverly J. Martin (BJM) Elementary school. Unfortunately, the school has received undeserved backlash from community members who objected to Mr. Tamimi's human rights activism.
The Ithaca JVP, apparently in conjuction with the national office of JVP, also has started a petition drive which addresses the Tamimi appearance. (It also addressed an unconnected issue in Rochester, NY, with which I'm not familiar, but which I will investigate.) The JVP announcement reads, in part:
After Bassem spoke with students, a right-wing law professor at Cornell started a smear campaign in the conservative blogosphere, and a campaign of intimidation against the elementary school.
Not because Bassem said anything false or inappropriate — he didn't. Not because Bassem is in anyway unsavory — he isn't. In fact, he's been recognized for his human rights activism by both the European Union and Amnesty International. They objected because he dared to speak up for Palestinians.
Defenders of Israel's illegal and racist occupation have already forced the school district to apologize. We need to send a strong message and make it clear that New Yorkers say no to censorship, and yes to human rights.
Add your name to our open letter right now — NEW YORKERS WILL NOT BE SILENCED.
We'll be buying ads in local newspapers to share our open letter, and make it clear that human rights advocates will not be silenced. It is critical that you add your name and help us fight back.
This action appears to be part of the national JVP campaign, and likely funded by national JVP, because the announcement lists the contact person as Alana Krivo-Kaufman, who is JVP's East Coast Regional Organizer, and JVP's Oakland, CA, headquarters information.
The Petition page itself lists the petition as being by JVP at its Oakland, CA, headquarters.
There was a natural revulsion in the community and the school district headquarters that innocent third graders were manipulated and abused for political purposes.
The JVP activists are so blinded by their hate of Israel that they cannot see the distinction between Tamimi speaking in the area (which he did twice) and using a third grade class to propagandize 8-9 year olds.
There is no right to appear before third graders in a public school to push a political agenda. All the petitions in the world will not change that.
Keep digging, JVP, keep digging.