An elite pre-K-12 private school in New York, established with the mission of integrating the study and practice of ethics in their curriculum, has been accused of harboring antisemitic attitudes and has so far failed to address the problem effectively.
According to a report by Tablet Magazine, published on Wednesday, several complaints about disturbing episodes at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School have gone unanswered, with many members of both the school's administration and faculty expressing concern but refusing to be quoted by name in fear of retaliation.
Among the incidents reported was a lecture by Kayum Ahmed, a member of the staff of the Open Society Foundations. The speech addressing about 500 high-school students was devoted to apartheid in South Africa. However, within it, Ahmed suggested that after suffering from the Shoah, Jews became perpetrators by founding the State of Israel and oppressing the Palestinians.
"Xenophobic attacks are a shameful part of South African history, but in some ways it reflects the fluidity between those who are victims becoming perpetrators," the speaker said. "I use the same example in talking about the Holocaust. That Jews who suffered in the Holocaust and established the State of Israel today—they perpetuate violence against Palestinians that [is] unthinkable," he added, according to Tablet.
After this remark, whispers could be heard from the audience, but no one from the school staff intervened.
"If someone was coming to Fieldston to talk about apartheid and went off on a rant about the pea-sized brains of women who belong in a kitchen, or repeated racist tropes, or ranted about any form of homophobia or racism or sexism, immediately—immediately—teachers would have stood up and said, 'that's not how we feel, that's not an idea we share,'" a parent told Tablet.
"And immediately after that a note would have gone out to every parent, condemning the remarks, offering counseling for those harmed and detailing education to prevent similar incidents in the future. And yet the students in that assembly saw none of that, because it's part of the assumption at Fieldston that Jewish students are rich and white and thus privileged, so it doesn't matter," the parent added.
The report noted how the school was founded by the son of a rabbi and has traditionally had a strong Jewish population, including among the families involved in supporting it. Today as in the past, some of its students are descendant from Holocaust survivors, making this episode especially painful.
In another instance, a history teacher tweeted a number of messages connected to Holocaust Memorial Day, none of whom related to Jewish persecution, but at least one expressing his support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
According to Tablet, Jewish parents and students said that the number of uncomfortable situations for Jewish pupils has been especially escalating since 2015.
"We have heard complaints from parents over the years about Fieldston in terms of incidents of bias against Jewish students," an Anti-Defamation League spokesman told Tablet. "At the school's request, we conducted one anti-bias training for school safety officers back in 2017, but, unfortunately, we had not been able to get back into the school since that time."
The report pointed out that often Jewish students have been made feel, or even explicitly told by classmates, that they were not entitled to complain as "white and privileged" people.
"The school has a problem saying the words Jewish or Jew, and calling out hate against this community," a parent told Tablet.