Oakland Educators Plan Unauthorized Teach-in Supporting Palestinians

Dozens of public school educators in Oakland, Calif. are planning to present pro-Palestinian lessons on Wednesday as part of an unauthorized teach-in.

The school district said this week that it opposed the event, and some Jewish groups and parents condemned it and called for teachers who participate to be disciplined.

The teach-in was organized by a group of activists within the local teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association. But the union president, Ismael Armendariz, emphasized that the materials had not been reviewed by his group.

The event’s anonymous organizers created a lengthy list of suggested curriculum materials for all grade levels, from pre-K through high school. The document calls Israel an “apartheid state” and refers to “the historic and unfolding oppression and genocide of Palestinians.”

Nate Landry, 40, a parent in the district who is acting as a spokesman for the organizers, said teachers saw the proposed curriculum as “a corrective” to mainstream education materials that take a pro-Israel view.

The suggested curriculum celebrates Palestinian music, food and poetry and recommends videos on the region’s politics from PBS and Vox. The curriculum also condemns antisemitism and states, “We must ensure that our Jewish students and colleagues feel safe, supported and heard at school.”

Much of the recommended material comes from pro-Palestinian advocacy groups.

A coloring book for elementary students features a Palestinian character who says, “A group of bullies called Zionists wanted our land so they stole it by force and hurt many people.”

It also introduces the argument that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to the land that makes up the Jewish state. Children are prompted to solve a maze and given the instructions, “Handala has his family’s old house key. Now, he needs your help to get back home to Palestine! Trace a way home for Handala.”

Another recommended book for younger students, “P is for Palestine,” teaches the alphabet: “I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grown-up!”

The accompanying illustration depicts a child and an adult flashing peace signs in front of a barbed-wire fence like the ones that Israel has constructed on its borders with Gaza and the West Bank.

Several Arab American groups whose materials are cited in the teach-in documents did not immediately respond Tuesday to interview requests.

It is not clear how much of the material will actually be taught in classrooms on Wednesday. The curriculum was presented as a list of resources for teachers to choose from.

Several leaders in the effort, including Mr. Landry, said they expected about 100 teachers to participate.

Tyler Gregory, chief executive of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area, said the suggested materials lacked “viewpoint diversity and age appropriateness.”

While the meaning of a term like “intifada” can vary, he said, “to many in our community, it refers to a time when buses were being blown up in the middle of Tel Aviv — that’s an incitement of violence.”

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, superintendent of the Oakland schools, said in a memo to parents on Monday that she opposed the teach-in. She cited a school board policy requiring that “all sides of a controversial issue are impartially presented.”

It is unclear whether the district will discipline teachers who participate; a district spokesman did not respond on Tuesday night.

Oakland and other progressive cities in the San Francisco Bay Area have been the sites of some of the country’s most vocal criticism of Israel and the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 15,500 people, according to the health authorities in Gaza. At the University of California, Berkeley, where the group Students for Justice in Palestine was founded in the 1990s, the campus has been roiled by intense protests and charges of antisemitism.

Last month, the Oakland City Council approved a resolution calling for a cease-fire but rejected an amendment that would have denounced Hamas for its Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, which killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

And the Oakland teachers’ union has also been vocal on behalf of Palestinian rights and a co-sponsor of local protests.

Shira Avoth, an Israeli American and the mother of an Oakland seventh-grader, said the teach-in would not be her son’s first encounter at school with criticism of Israel. His English teacher, she said, had displayed a poster with the message “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” That slogan is contested; while some use it as a call for freedom and equal rights, others have used it to call for the elimination of Israel.

Ms. Avoth, 49, said the teach-in curriculum amounted to “misinformation” and disputed what she characterized as its portrayal of Israelis as white colonizers from Europe, which omits the fact that many Israelis, like her own family, were expelled from other Middle Eastern countries.

She said her son would be attending school on Wednesday ready to discuss the topic. “He feels he should show up and represent himself,” she said.

Joshua Diamant, an Oakland music teacher who is active in the union, said that he was wary of the teach-in curriculum materials — but would be equally wary of materials slanted in the opposite direction.

“I would like to see us build a culture in this district where we can actually engage in dialogue about Israel-Palestine and other contentious issues — and not shout slogans past each other,” he said. “The voices I want to see uplifted for our students are the voices of the people on the ground in Israel and Palestine working on peace.”

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