Lawfare Project, disturbed by recent anti-Semitic and pro-terror incidents in New York public education, encourages Commissioner and Regents to respond

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For more than 18 months, questions surrounding the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School’s (BJM) invitation to notorious anti-Semite and Israel hater Bassem Tamimi, have gone unanswered. However, after the school and the Ithaca City School District were forced to comply with a court order compelling the production of records and communications, including video evidence, arising from Cornell University Law Professor Bill Jacobson’s personal Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) battle, the LP’s worst fears were confirmed: A New York public elementary school had hosted rabid anti-Israel activist Bassem Tamimi in a presentation to third graders, ages 8-9, in which he indoctrinated them with hate for Jewish people and the Jewish state, with the self-identified goal of building the next generation of “freedom fighters for Palestine.”

The LP sent a detailed letter to MaryEllen Elia, New York’s Commissioner of Education, as well as Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents, Betty Rosa, and Regent James Tallon, who oversees the Ithaca jurisdiction. It is crystal clear that the nature and content of the Tamimi event was unequivocally developmentally inappropriate for elementary school students–and frankly, unsuitable for any audience, considering its rampant factual and historical inaccuracies.

Bassem Tamimi is the cousin of Ahlem Tamimi, the mastermind of the suicide-homicide bombing of the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem in which 15 innocent civilians (including 7 children) were murdered and more than 130 injured. Bassem is known for the manner in which he exploits his son, Mohammed, pushing him both literally and figuratively toward Israeli soldiers at checkpoints in disputed territories, teaching Mohammed and other children to provoke the soldiers by approaching threateningly and often throwing rocks that injure the soldiers and the innocent Palestinian civilians traveling through those checkpoints. The goal of the exercise is to capture any potential Israeli
defensive response on video, create propaganda films with the footage, and distribute them, out of context, for international consumption. Most importantly, since the date of his presentation to New York’s children, Tamimi’s U.S. visa has been revoked–a result of the exposure of evidence proving that Tamimi lied on his visa application regarding his status as a convicted criminal by a foreign government.

Tamimi advocated for students to join a so-called “freedom fight,” which inherently includes components of violence and terror against innocent Jews and Westerners in order to “liberate” the territory upon which the state of Israel is situated. It is objectively outrageous for an individual with Bassem Tamimi’s close terrorist connections and obviously violent ideology to implore young children to commit to such an ideological position, let alone to engage in the behavior of a “freedom fighter.”

It is important, also, to put this situation into context. Just last month, a scandalously offensive cartoon appeared on the New York Regents exam for 10th graders, depicting fat Israeli soldiers with stars of David on their backs, using a “peace table” for cover while they shoot at Arabs. This portrayal of the Israel Defense Forces represents a false narrative and a perversion of reality, and it does so in ways that are intended to manipulate New York’s children. As you can imagine, there is heightened sensitivity in the Jewish community when looking at the test question in conjunction with other incidents, including the Tamimi event, and it leads to increased concern that New York schools are being improperly, and even dangerously, politicized.

We remain exceedingly concerned that these types of presentations can occur anywhere in New York and even nationwide unless there are stringent rules put in place, and we sincerely hope that what occurred at BJM can be a learning lesson for all schoolteachers and administrators. Indeed, this particular event would have gone without investigation or public censure had it not been for Professor Jacobson’s hard work: had he not lived in Ithaca and seen the social media announcements regarding the event, there would have been no response at all. It is unacceptable that this event would have gone unnoticed without a concerned community member’s scrutiny, and we hope that, moving forward, the New York Regents and the Commissioner of Education will exercise vigilant oversight in all New York schools.

The civil rights of New York’s children are violated when they are exposed to such unacceptable content. Children have the right to an education free of incitement to violence, free of a distorted view of history, and free of such reprehensible indoctrination.

We thank Commissioner Elia, Chancellor Rosa, and Regent Tallon in advance for their attention to these issues. We expect they will agree that, in order to guarantee that this incident is not repeated, New York’s educational leaders must take a serious look into the questions raised, and take steadfast action to address them.

If you would like to make your voice heard, we encourage you to reach out directly:
Commissioner Elia: commissioner@nysed.gov
Chancellor Rosa: regent.rosa@nysed.gov
Regent Tallon: regent.tallon@nysed.gov