'The whole premise was that Israel should be dismantled'

Massachusetts parents say public school teachers union sowing anti-Israel bias

Rhetoric during a webinar last week on ‘The Struggle Against Anti-Palestinian Racism’ was the last straw for many who say students are being ‘indoctrinated’ in the wake of Oct. 7

Reporter at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Anti-Israel demonstrators display signs outside the home of US Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a protest on November 19, 2023, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Illustrative: Anti-Israel demonstrators display signs outside the home of US Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a protest on November 19, 2023, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

NEW YORK — As Yael Magen listened to the speakers during the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) training webinar titled “The Struggle Against Anti-Palestinian Racism,” her disbelief gave way to anger.

“It was worse than what I thought it would be. The whole premise of the webinar was that Israel should be dismantled, that all the violence in the region is because of the Jews, and that Zionism is a multimillion-dollar state-funded Israeli propaganda machine,” said Magen, whose son David is a freshman at Marblehead High School.

The March 21 webinar was designed to spark discussion among teachers about Palestinian history, according to the MTA. Promotional materials for the webinar listed some of the questions that would be asked, including, “How does Palestine fit into the larger framework of colonialism and imperialism?” and “Why is anti-Zionism not antisemitism?”

With 117,000 members representing teachers at public schools, colleges and universities, the MTA has significant power to shape curriculum. That reach, combined with the tsunami of antisemitism flooding the country, troubles Magen and other Jewish parents of Massachusetts students.

“They are indoctrinating a whole generation of students to hate Israel and to hate Israeli Jews. They are trying to villainize the Jews and say we don’t have the right to exist,” Magen said.

It was the latest in a series of MTA statements and actions focused on the October 7 Hamas-led terror onslaught that saw 1,200 people butchered in Israel and 253 abducted to the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war aimed at rescuing the hostages and removing the Hamas terror organization from power.

On November 4, 2023, the MTA executive committee called for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. A month later, on December 3, 2023, the board approved plans for its professional development division to design a set of curriculum resources for MTA members that focused on the history and current events in “Israel and Occupied Palestine.”

That same month the board approved a resolution directing its leadership to pressure the Biden administration to “stop funding and sending weapons in support of the Netanyahu government’s genocidal war on the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Residential homes, severely damaged during Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, line a street in the Olives Neighborhood of Kibbutz Be’eri on January 1, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

Both the New England branch of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Israeli-American Council (IAC) condemned the webinar.

Jacob Donnelly, the IAC’s New England activism manager, described the webinar as antisemitic, anti-Israel propaganda.

“From delegitimizing the existence of Arab-Israelis by referring to them as ‘Palestinian-Arab,’ to demonizing Zionism as a ‘propaganda machine,’ the MTA is espousing dangerous antisemitic, anti-Israel rhetoric,” Donnelly said. “The Israeli-American Council is deeply concerned that the MTA is using its influence to spread Jew-hatred in Massachusetts schools.”

Israeli-American Council New England activism manager Jacob Donnelly addresses the Massachusetts Teachers Association on March 26, 2024. (Screenshot/ used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“Far from stopping the rising tide of antisemitism, the MTA is contributing to the anti-Jewish atmosphere that currently permeates all levels of the Massachusetts school system,” he added. “We wish to work with the MTA to limit antisemitism and are offering to host an ‘Understanding Antisemitism’ training, so we stop hate together.”

MTA president Max Page stands by the association’s decision to hold the webinar.

“As the largest union in New England, we stand for fundamental values on which the vast majority of our members agree: our commitment to support public education, to win outstanding public schools and colleges for every resident, and to work toward a fairer, more racially and economically just Commonwealth,” said Page in a March 21 statement.

In his statement, Page acknowledged that members will have “starkly diverging views,” but that “we do not run from those disagreements; we seek to engage with them. We are confident enough in our values, and dedicated enough to open debate, that we can invite members into a space where they form committees, set agendas and participate in difficult conversations.”

When I left the former USSR in the early ’90s, I never expected my own children in the United States of America to be impacted by propaganda in schools

“The particular viewpoints expressed in these individual workshops do not represent the official views of the MTA. Our member-led events will always be open to discussion and debate, and we urge our members to learn and participate,” he added.

However, from Irene Margolin-Katz’s perspective, the MTA has neither promoted discussion nor debate.

“I heard a lot of these slogans on television when I was growing up in the former USSR. When I left the former USSR in the early 1990s, I never expected my own children in the United States of America to be impacted by propaganda in schools,” Margolin-Katz said.

Irene Margolin-Katz of Newton, Massachusetts, with sons Noam, left, and Isaac. (Courtesy)

A resident of Newton, Massachusetts, Margolin-Katz has three children, one of whom attends Newton South High School. She and her husband moved to the Boston suburb largely because of its reputation for having excellent public schools.

However, they recently pulled their youngest child Isaac out of the local public school system because they felt the curriculum was slowly being politicized, while their concerns about it were being dismissed. He now attends Solomon Schecter, a Jewish day school.

They couldn’t do the same for their middle child, Noam, who is neurodivergent and requires access to special education teachers and resources that Newton South High School offers.

While she’s grateful for those resources, Margolin-Katz says she constantly worries about antisemitism in the schools — from teachers as well as peers.

“He might not understand if someone is being antisemitic or bigoted. I want to be 100 percent sure when I send him to school he’s not being discriminated against, but I can’t be sure,” Margolin-Katz said, adding that the webinar has only increased her concern.

This isn’t the first time questions were cast about an MTA-endorsed curriculum.

Last October, during a unit on the Middle East, students in Marblehead High School’s World History Class were given a homework assignment that asked them to, among other things, explain Palestinian monotheism in relation to the Jewish people and how Moses guided the Jews to Palestine, said Magen’s son, David Magen.

Yael Magen and son David Magen. (Courtesy)

“They erased Israel completely. The homework, and slides used in class, erased thousands of years of history and made Judaism sound like something folkloric,” said the 14-year-old David.

After David brought the issue to his teacher and the department head, they ultimately changed the materials.

Nevertheless, both David and his mother see it fitting into a larger pattern of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish materials being introduced into the classroom — with the webinar being the final straw.

The two spoke before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on March 26 regarding David’s actions against antisemitism at his school and the previous week’s MTA webinar.

“Until this started happening, I wondered how it is that students in college have the views they do about Israel. Now I kind of understand how they get there. There is so much misinformation being pushed,” Magen said.

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