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Contact: Nicole Rosen

Santa Cruz, CA, August 29, 2023 – Only days after California Governor Gavin Newsom warned schools not to adopt ethnic studies curricula being peddled to school districts that contain “bias, bigotry or discrimination,” 76 organizations exposed that one of the main players tasked with developing what will likely become the statewide ethnic studies standard is also one of the founders of the newly launched and highly controversial Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism.

Christine Hong, co-chair and spokesperson of the University of California (UC) Academic Senate-appointed Working Group for developing the ethnic studies admissions requirement and lead writer of the course criteria aiming to set the state-wide standard for high school ethnic studies courses, is part of the Founding Collective of the recently established Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism. The Institute’s mission is “to support the delinking of the study of Zionism from Jewish Studies” and, according to a recent podcast showcasing the new Institute, “to locate [Zionism] instead in the context of radical ethnic studies.” Interviewed alongside Emmaia Gelman, her fellow Institute founder and acting director, Hong stated, “Is there a place within ethnic studies to discuss the extraordinary violence of Zionism, the settler-colonial violence, the militarism that is inflicted on Palestine and the Palestinian people? Absolutely!... A critique of Zionism is part and parcel of the field [of ethnic studies].” Gelman has accused the ADL of “racism” and “white supremacy.”

The Institute’s website states that, “Like the US, Israel is a settler colonial state,” and its inaugural conference, slated to take place at UC Santa Cruz on October 13 and NYU Law on October 14, is titled “Battling the ‘IHRA definition’: Theory and Activism” and aims to attack the most widely-accepted definition of antisemitism. Conference participants are required to “confirm their agreement” with the Institute’s anti-Zionist ‘points of unity,’ which identify Zionism as “a settler colonial racial project” linked to “group supremacy,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “racism,” and urge “join[ing] in resistance” against Zionist repression.

The conference is co-sponsored by the UC Ethnic Studies Council, the group behind the UC ethnic studies admissions requirement proposal.

According to Hong and Gelman, an important goal of their Institute is “pushing back” against American Zionist organizations, which they called the “antagonists” in all of ethnic studies’ struggles against racism and colonialism. Hong asserted that Jewish groups’ attempts to keep antisemitism out of high school ethnic studies classrooms in California are examples of “US fascism.”

“The University of California Ethnic Studies Council, representing 300 faculty in ethnic studies departments throughout the University, recently launched a campaign to revive and aggressively promote within the Academic Senate a proposal to make a university-style ‘critical’ ethnic studies course a requirement for UC admission,” wrote the organizations to the members of California’s Jewish Legislative Caucus in a letter organized by AMCHA Initiative. “The proposal’s authors, who are members of the Council’s leadership team, argue that post-AB 101, a UC ethnic studies admission requirement with course criteria developed by the Council’s ‘experts’ would allow them to ‘set the standard of what a college preparatory ethnic studies course should consist of,’ since every high school would be forced to adopt a curriculum consistent with these criteria in order for their students to be UC-eligible. This is a deeply frightening prospect, given the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist sentiments of the UC ‘experts’ behind this proposal and their contention that their sentiments about Jews and Israel constitute core elements of ‘authentic’ ethnic studies.”

Hong is also a vocal proponent of the academic boycott of Israel, has signed a statement pledging to bring the antisemitic boycott to her university and integrate it into her academic work, including her teaching, and has committed her entire UCSC department to do the same. In addition, Hong and her Council colleagues are strongly aligned and work closely with leaders of the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium (Liberated), whose founders and affiliated educators were involved with developing the antisemitic first-draft of the state-mandated model curriculum and are now peddling an even more antisemitic version of the first draft curriculum throughout the state, and the motivation behind Newsom’s warning. Santa Ana Unified has already adopted courses that include blatantly antisemitic and anti-Israel content, and Jefferson Union High School District, Hayward United, and Castro Valley United have hired Liberated ethnic studies contractors.

A large advertisement for the Liberated services is prominently displayed on the homepage of Hong’s CRES department, and a CRES course on K-12 ethnic studies, “with a particular focus on the Liberated Ethnic Model Curriculum,” is being taught for the fourth year in a row by an LESMCC leader who is also on the Steering Committee of the UC Ethnic Studies Council and helped to write the UC ethnic studies admissions requirement proposal and course criteria.

“If the Council-backed proposal is ultimately approved, virtually every high school in the state will be offering ethnic studies classes based on the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist version of ethnic studies promoted by UC ‘experts,” warned the organizations in their letter. “The guardrails you added to AB 101 have not worked and simply cannot work in the face of such an effort by university ethnic studies faculty, who contend that antisemitic portrayals of Jews and Israel are core elements of their field and are furiously working to ensure that their biases are incorporated into high school curricula. There is, however, a way to apply the emergency brake on this runaway antisemitic ethnic studies train. As you know, a last-minute amendment to AB 101 stipulated that the bill’s provisions ‘become operative only upon an appropriation of funds by the Legislature for these purposes,’ and according to a recent memorandum, no such legislative funding has been allocated for AB 101’s graduation requirement since the bill’s passage. If you truly want to ‘ensure that the teaching of ethnic studies is free from anti-Jewish bias and discrimination,’ you must act now to keep AB 101 unfunded and inoperative.”

AMCHA has led several efforts to warn about the dire harms of a Liberated curriculum. Its director, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, was the first to expose the way in which Liberated’s narrow form of ethnic studies is deeply antisemitic and anti-Zionist. AMCHA has also led several coalition efforts to educate officials about the dangers of a curriculum based on Liberated’s ethnic studies. Rossman-Benjamin testified before the California Senate Education Committee and the Assembly Education Committee against AB 101, the bill that mandated an ethnic studies course as a high school graduation requirement, and she provided evidence that if AB 101 became law, most school districts would adopt some version of the rejected antisemitic first draft.

AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating antisemitism at colleges and universities in the United States. The organization monitors more than 450 campuses for antisemitic activity, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the U.S. government. AMCHA is not a pro-Israel advocacy organization, nor does it take a position on current or past Israeli government policies; criticism of Israel that does not meet the IHRA and U.S. government criteria is not considered antisemitic by the organization. AMCHA has recorded more than 5,000 antisemitic incidents on college campuses since 2015 which can be accessed through its Antisemitism Tracker.

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