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.
In fact, through the investigative and litigation efforts of Legal Insurrection, it has become clear that the Tamimi event was an anti-Israel propaganda event targeting young children, and as we just learned, caused at least one student to suffer nightmares.
The Attempt to Portray the Tamimi Event as Loving and Promoting Peace
On Sunday night, September 20, 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.
Gold was the mastermind behind the Tamimi event. 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.
Superintendent Calls Tamimi Event Politically Skewed, Inflammatory, and Not "Developmentally Appropriate"
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.
Documents Revealed Tamimi Event Inflamed Students Against Israel
When additional records were produced to me pursuant to the NY Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), it became apparent that New docs reveal 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.
That prior post has extensive documentation as to what happened, including these excerpts showing the school children expressing negative views of Israel in reaction to the presentation:
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.
Letter of Reprimand: Student Suffered From Nightmares
I have not yet seen the video of the event. It took several months of litigation, but we finally won a court order that the video (redacted to protect student privacy) be produced, Another Legal Insurrection victory: Ct orders video released of anti-Israel 3rd Grade event.
The video has not yet been turned over to us as the redaction process is proceeding, but I expect to have the redacted video in the coming weeks. The Order also required ICSD to have the court review in camera (privately) other documents withheld on various claims of exemption under the FOIL statute.
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 production.
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....
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.
It's a shame that it took us a year to get this disclosure, and only after extensive litigation. But that is what the FOIL law is for, to inform the public as to matters of public importance taking place in government.
And certainly a politically-skewed, inflammatory, developmentally-inappropriate event to a captive audience of young public school children, causing at least one student to have nightmares, is of public importance. So too is the apparent attempt at a coverup.