In a January 7 letter to private New York educational institution Ethical Culture Fieldston School (ECFS), Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Max Rose (D-NY) raised concerns about the school hosting a speaker who compared Israel to the Nazis.
The letter was addressed to ECFS school head Jessica Bagby, and Fieldston Upper's principal, Nigel Furlonge. The congressmen cited a December article from Tablet reporting that Columbia Law School lecturer Kayum Ahmed gave a presentation in the school's main auditorium in November about apartheid.
During the question-and-answer session, Ahmed reportedly said, "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. 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."
Gottheimer and Rose wrote that Ahmed's remarks troubled them, pointing out that under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, "By drawing comparisons between the Holocaust and the State of Israel, these statements misrepresent current events while devaluing the horrors of the attempt to eliminate European Jewry. We must object to such abhorrent ideas being excused or becoming normalized."
They concluded the letter with a list of demands for the school.
"As Jewish members of Congress dedicated to combatting anti-Semitism, we would like to understand how such a speaker could be invited to address ECFS students, what steps the school has taken to hold those responsible accountable, how the school has communicated to students and parents that such rhetoric is unacceptable, and how ECFS will implement processes to prevent future incidents," Gottheimer and Rose wrote. "We also encourage you to work with groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to pursue dedicated programming to better educate students, faculty and administrators about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in order to remedy the situation."
According to the ECFS website, the school teaches grades Pre-K-12 on campuses in Manhattan and the Bronx; Ahmed spoke at the Bronx campus. The Tablet report states some Jewish students who attended Ahmed's lecture "registered the moment with fear and confusion." Parents of Jewish students who heard about the comment were similarly "shaken and outraged."
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told the conservative news site Washington Free Beacon in November, "To blame the victim in this manner was really outrageous and these virulent views — saying that Jews who escaped the Holocaust are now the perpetrators of injustice — has no place in our society and certainly not in our schools where we're educating young people."
He added, "To be entirely clear, it is OK to criticize the policies of the Israeli government, but it is profane to use the Holocaust to demonize the Jewish people."
ECFS and Ahmed did not respond to the Journal's requests for comment.